Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Salad

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In this series on Italian regional cooking, I have been working my way around the Italian peninsula. The series started with the northern regions and now it is moving into the central areas. Todays post is on Umbria, the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a border with another country. The region is mostly mountainous and hilly and presents a landscape rich in forests, water resources and valleys. Lake Trasimeno is located here.

In literature, Umbria is referred to as il cuore verde d’Italia (the green heart of Italy). The phrase is taken from the poem, Barbarian Odes,  by Giosuè Carducci, an italian Nobel prize-winning poet.  The poem is one most familiar to Italian school children and is entitled “Le fonti del Clitumno” (“The Head-waters of the Clitumnus”), a description of that spot in the hills of Umbria where the Clitunno River had its beginning. Carducci wrote the ode between July and October 1876. It is generally considered one of Carducci’s best poems combining pastoral beauty with nostalgia for the glories of ancient Italy.

The flocks still come down to you, o Clitumnus, from the far mountains that move with the murmur of breeze-swept ash groves and fresh scent of sage and thyme in the damps of evening.

The young Umbrian shepherd immerses his reluctant sheep in your waters.

By a farmhouse a barefoot mother sits and sings, nursing her child, who looks to the shepherd and smiles.

The pensive father with goatish hair, at his painted cart, turns on his hips like the beasts of old, with the strength of a young bull, like those square of breast, erect and crowned by crescent horns, sweet in their eyes and snow-white, much beloved by gentle Virgil.

The darkening clouds hang like smoke on the Apennines: grand, austere and green from the spreading mountains, Umbria watches. Hail, green Umbria, and you the fount of god Clitumnus.

I feel in my heart the ancient home, my fevered brow touched by the olden gods of Italy.

English Translation

The region is named for the Umbri tribe, one of the many tribes who were absorbed by the expansion of the Romans. The Umbri probably sprang from neighboring tribes in northern and central Italy, at the beginning of the Bronze Age. The Etruscans were the chief enemies of the Umbri. The Etruscan invasion came from the western coast towards the north and east, eventually driving the Umbrians inland. Nevertheless, the Umbrian population does not seem to have been eradicated by the conquerors. After the downfall of the Etruscans, Umbrians aided the Samnites in their struggle against Rome (308 BC). However, the Romans defeated the Samnites and their allies. The Roman victory started a period of integration under the Roman rulers, who established colonies in the region.

Perugia, the Capital

Perugia, the Capital

The modern region of Umbria is different from the Umbria of Roman times. Roman Umbria extended through most of what is now the northern Marche region. After the collapse of the Roman empire, Ostrogoths and Byzantines struggled for supremacy in the region. The Lombards founded the duchy of Spoleto, covering much of today’s Umbria and when Charlemagne conquered the Lombard region, some Umbrian territories were given to the Pope. After the French Revolution and the French conquest of Italy, Umbria became part of the Roman Republic (1798–1799) and later, part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon’s defeat, the Pope regained Umbria and ruled it until 1860.

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Following Italian unification in 1861, Umbria was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. The present borders of Umbria were fixed in 1927 and in 1946 Umbria became part of the Italian Republic.

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The charm of Umbria derives from its fusion of art, nature, peacefulness and the inspirations behind its artistic masterpieces and small Medieval towns. Umbrians have a deep appreciation of art and, throughout history, the region has produced its share of talented artists. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Umbria was home to a well-respected art school (known as the “Umbrian School”) that taught venerated artists such as Raphael, della Francesca and Perugino. Old paintings and frescos can still be found all over Umbria, not just in famous museums (such as the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia) but on the walls of tiny churches in the quiet hilltop towns. Romanesque architecture thrived in this region at the beginning of the twelfth century and some beautiful examples that have survived the years are the Cathedrals of Spoleto and Assisi, St. Silvestro and St. Michele in Bevagna. The Gothic styles are also present in almost every city. The Renaissance movement can be seen in the region’s magnificent monuments.

Roman Theater

Roman Theater

When it comes to music, Umbria steps away from its traditions and embraces contemporary music. Each July, the region hosts the Umbria Jazz Festival, one of the most renowned international music festivals in the world. Famed musicians such as Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie have played at the festival and every year it attracts new talented artists.

The food industry in Umbria produces processed pork-meats, pasta, lentils, truffles and cheese. The other main industries are textiles, clothing, sportswear, iron and steel, chemicals and ornamental ceramics. Umbrian agriculture is noted for its tobacco, olive oil and vineyards that produce fine wines. Regional varietals include white Orvieto, Torgiano and Rosso di Montefalco. Another typical Umbrian product is the black truffle found in Valnerina, an area that produces 45% of this product for Italy.

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The most renowned Umbrian pork comes from the black pigs of Norcia, an ancient town in southeast Umbria. Norcia has been the center of sausage-making and other pork dishes for so many centuries that pork butcher shops in Umbria are called “Norcineria.” Traditional Umbrian pork dishes include salame mazzafegati (a pork liver sausage made with orange peel, pine nuts and raisins) and porchetta, an herb-stuffed pork roast.

Greens are a very popular vegetable found across Umbria and commonly include rapini (broccoli rabe), bietola (swiss chard) and chicoria (chicory). Greens are usually blanched, drained and sautéed with olive oil, chili pepper and garlic. These sautéed greens are then enjoyed as a vegetable side dish or are used as fillings in sandwiches, to top pizza, stirred into eggs or tossed with pasta. Rustic tortas are made with blanched greens and eggs, flavored with onions, pancetta and garlic. The tiny lentils from the Umbrian town of Castelluccio are prized across Italy for their earthy, sweet taste and their ability to maintain their shape even after long simmering.

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Umbrians are masters at grilling and it is not uncommon to find indoor grills in their kitchens. Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio. Pecorino or pork rind flavored breads are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough.  Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves.  A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit.  Other desserts include torcolo, a sponge cake brimming with raisins and candied fruit, or ciaramicola.  This meringue covered round cake is made with a rich egg batter flavored with lemon rind and a spicy liqueur called Alchermes.

Regional Cuisine

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Truffle Festival

Insalata Di Farro (Farro Salad)

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium shallots, minced or 1/4 clove garlic and 1/4 medium red onion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or 1/2 teaspoon minced anchovy or both
  • 1 tablespoon minced capers or finely chopped, pitted black olives
  • 1 cup (total) chopped fresh parsley, chives, thyme or basil (or any combination)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 cups farro
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped 
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated ricotta salata or other firm or semi-firm cheese
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Squeeze of lemon juice

Directions

Combine shallots, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, capers and herbs in a bowl.

In a large saucepan, bring  chicken stock to a boil.

Add the farro to the stock, lower heat to a strong simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the farro is tender but somewhat chewy.

Drain and let cool until no more than warm.

Add cooked farro to the ingredients in the bowl and mix. Add vegetables, tomato and cheese and mix.

Salt and pepper to taste. Add more olive oil to taste. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and serve at room temperature.

White Lasagna with Besciamella (Lasagna in Bianco )

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Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup minced shallots (about 6)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 pound grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup), divided
  • 12 (7 by 3 inch) no-boil lasagna sheets

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Cook shallots in butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add flour and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, 3 minutes. Add nutmeg, then slowly whisk in milk and stock. Bring to a boil, whisking, then simmer, stirring occasionally, just until sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to warm, stirring occasionally. Stir in eggs, Marsala, sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup cheese.

Spread about 1 1/4 cups sauce over the bottom of an 11 by 8 inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Repeat layering 3 more times, then top with remaining sauce and remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, until browned, 45 to 55 minutes.

Umbrian Mixed  Grill

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This dish is often served with the region’s classic lentils.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless pork loin
  • 1 pound boneless beef loin
  • 1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut into chunks
  • 4 thick slices pancetta or prosciutto, cut in 1-inch squares
  • Coarse salt to taste
  • Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium bell peppers, seeded and cut into 2-inch squares
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Small bunch of fresh sage, leaves only
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

Cut the meat, sausage and chicken into 1-inch cubes. Season the pork with coarse salt and pepper and rub with the garlic; season the beef  with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the sage; season the chicken with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the rosemary. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the peppers until just crisp-tender. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half.

Thread the skewers in this order: Pork, bell pepper, chicken, pancetta, sage leaf, beef, bell pepper and sausage. Do not crowd the pieces. Place the skewers in a nonmetal dish large enough to hold them in a single layer and drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil over them. Let them marinate for several hours in the refrigerator, basting and turning them often.

Heat the grill and lightly oil the grill rack. Remove the skewers from the marinade, place them on the grill, and baste with the marinade. Grill, turning and basting the skewers, until done to taste, about 8 to 12 minutes.

Apricots with Amaretto Syrup

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 10 firm-ripe large apricots
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
  • 6 amaretti (Italian almond macaroons; if paper-wrapped, use 3 packets), crumbled (1/3 cup)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts for sprinkling

Directions

Peel apricots with a vegetable peeler, then halve and pit. Finely chop 2 halves and set aside.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook sugar, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Stir in Amaretto (be careful; syrup will spatter) and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes.

Working in 2 batches, poach apricot halves in syrup at a low simmer, turning, until almost tender, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apricots, hollow sides up, to a platter.

Add crumbled amaretti to syrup and cook over low heat, crushing cookies with back of a wooden spoon, until melted into a coarse purée.

Stir in reserved chopped apricot and gently simmer, stirring, until syrup is deep brown and slightly thickened. Cool syrup slightly.

Spoon syrup over apricots and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 


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Millions of people flock each year to New Orleans to celebrate one of the biggest events in the city: Mardi Gras. This holiday revolves around parades, costumes and lots of traditional food. The problem, however, is that many of us don’t have the time to fly down to the Big Easy for this special event. While you may not be in New Orleans for Fat Tuesday fun, you can bring the fun to your living room or backyard.

Make your Mardi Gras party a masquerade and ask people to wear masks and costumes. You can pick a theme like a 17th century ball (the attire of choice for many of the Mardi Gras balls in New Orleans), a favorite celebrity or even characters from comic books or movies. Or, you can simply ask that your guests come in their favorite costume without giving the dress a specific theme.

Traditional food during Mardi Gras includes slow-cooked dishes like gumbo, red beans and rice, chili or jambalaya. Finger food is always welcome, as well as any food that is purple, green or gold. A King Cake is traditional.

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Bright and colorful decorations are key to any Mardi Gras party. Purple, green, and gold are the official colors of the holiday, so be sure to incorporate them into your decor You can hang purple, green and gold streamers and beads along fences or the stairs. A fun idea is to get enough beads for everyone coming to the party that you can hand to them to wear as they walk in the door.

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The other most frequently tossed items from floats are doubloons, aluminum coin-like objects bearing the insignia of the float krewes. Decorate your table with an assortment of colorful doubloons and encourage your guests to take some home as souvenirs. Scatter confetti on the tabletop and light some votive candles.

I have lived for some years near New Orleans, but I have not developed a taste for their traditional seasoned dishes. So here is my suggested dinner party menu for 8 for some great food that is somewhat close to the New Orleans style.

Don’t forget to play New Orleans jazz or Zydeco music and, then, there are the drinks.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The Hurricane became popular at Pat O’Brien’s bar in 1940’s New Orleans, after it debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair. It was named after the hurricane lamp-shaped glasses the first drinks were served in. It’s said that O’Brien created this rum drink as a means to get rid of the large stock of rum his Southern distributors forced him to buy.

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Hurricane Cocktail

1 cocktail

  • 2 ounces light rum
  • 2 ounces dark rum
  • 2 ounces passion fruit juice
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • Juice of a half a lime
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon grenadine
  • Orange slice and cherry for garnish

Directions

Squeeze juice from half a lime into cocktail shaker over ice.

Pour the remaining ingredients into the cocktail shaker.

Shake well.

Strain into a hurricane shaped glass.

Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

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Citrus-Marinated Shrimp with Louis Sauce

Makes 10 to 12 appetizer servings

Ingredients

Shrimp

  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 2 limes, halved
  • 1 orange, halved
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 pounds unpeeled, large fresh shrimp
  • 2 cups fresh orange juice
  • 2 cups grapefruit juice
  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 1 grapefruit, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Garnish: citrus fruit slices

Louis Sauce

  • 1 (12-ounce) jar chili sauce
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons grated onion
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Greek seasoning
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

Directions

Make the Louis Sauce:

Stir together all the ingredients. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Make the Shrimp

Combine the lemon, lime and orange halves, crushed red pepper and salted water to cover in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; add shrimp and cook about 2 minutes or just until the shrimp turn pink. Plunge shrimp into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain.

Peel shrimp, leaving the tails on. Devein.

Combine orange juice with the remaining ingredients, except the garnishes in a large shallow dish or heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Add shrimp, cover or seal and chill 25 minutes.

Drain off liquid. Serve shrimp with Louis Sauce and garnishes.

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Fried Green Tomatoes

Serves 8-12

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups cornflake crumbs
  • 8 medium green tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • Louis Sauce, recipe above

Directions

In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and cayenne. In another shallow bowl, beat the eggs and milk. Place cornflake crumbs in a third bowl. Pat green tomato slices dry with paper towels. Coat with flour mixture, dip into egg mixture and then coat with crumbs.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Fry tomato slices, four at a time, for 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown, adding more oil as needed. Drain on paper towels.

Place fried tomatoes on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 4-5 minutes or until tender. Serve along side shrimp and Louis sauce.

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Blackened Steaks with Horseradish Cream and Butter-Basted Potatoes

Serve with the Arugula Salad on the side. Recipe below.

8 Servings

STEAKS

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 3 lbs boneless grilling steaks (such as ribeye, top sirloin, or strip)
  • 4 tablespoons blackening seasoning
  • 8 oz whipped cream cheese spread
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 4 tablespoons prepared horseradish

POTATOES

  • 8 medium white baking potatoes
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons herb-seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 slices bacon, cut into 2 inch pieces

Directions

For the potatoes

Preheat the oven to 475ºF.

Cut potatoes into quarters; place in microwave-safe bowl. Top with butter and cover; microwave on HIGH 5 minutes.

Stir potatoes to evenly coat with butter; microwave 5 more minutes or until potatoes are hot and just beginning to soften.

Transfer potatoes to 2-quart baking dish and arrange in single layer. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and pepper.

Arrange onions evenly over potatoes; top, evenly, with bacon pieces. Bake 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender and bacon is browned and semi-crisp.

For the steaks

Coat grill rack with cooking spray; preheat an outdoor grill.

Season both sides of steaks with blackening seasoning. Place steaks on grill; close lid (or cover loosely with foil). Grill 4-6 minutes on each side or until 145°F (for medium-rare).

Whisk remaining ingredients until blended and smooth. Serve horseradish cream with steaks.

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Arugula, Orange and Fennel Salad

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 4 navel oranges
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 (5-ounce) bag arugula, washed, stemmed, and spun dry
  • 2 medium fennel bulb, quartered and sliced very thin 
  • 2 small sweet onion, sliced very thin
  • Black or green olives, slivered

Directions

Slice off top and bottom of each orange with a serrated fruit knife or sharp paring knife, removing some flesh with the peel and reserve. With the flat end of an orange on a cutting board, cut off peel with a sawing motion from top to bottom, working all the way around the orange. Working over a bowl to collect juice, cut between membranes to separate orange segments and set aside. Repeat with the three other oranges.

Squeeze juice from orange tops, bottoms and membranes into bowl (you should have about 1 cup) and strain into a sauté pan. Add vinegar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 7 minutes. Pour hot liquid into a bowl and whisk in olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Stir in salt and pepper.

Toss arugula with fennel, onion and 1/2 cup of the dressing. Divide among 8 plates and add reserved orange segments to each plate. Drizzle with a little of the remaining dressing and top with olives. Serve immediately.

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Country Corn Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. Whisk together the egg, yogurt and oil. Stir into the dry ingredients just until combined.

Transfer to an 8-in. square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375°F for 20-25 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cut into small squares and serve warm

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King Cupcakes

Makes 1 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk (110°)
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packages dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 4 teaspoons
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water
  • Purple, green, and yellow sugar sprinkles

Directions

Combine milk, yeast and 1/4 cup sugar in a bowl. Stir well and set in a warm place for about 10 minutes. In another bowl, combine butter and next 3 ingredients; stir in 2 teaspoons lemon juice.

Combine flours, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and kosher salt in an electric mixing bowl. Add milk/yeast mixture and butter mixture, and beat, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons flour if dough is too sticky, until dough is smooth and forms a shaggy mass. (It should remain soft.)

Place dough in a well-greased bowl, turning to the grease top. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 12 x 8 inch rectangle. Combine remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 4 teaspoons sugar and sprinkle evenly over dough. Roll dough into a log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Places pieces into paper baking cups in a muffin pan; let rest 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush cupcake tops with beaten egg and bake 20 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Combine powdered sugar, water and remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled cupcakes and top with sprinkles.

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Valentine’s Day Traditions

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, US store shelves are stacked with candy hearts, chocolates and stuffed animals, but not every country turns to greeting cards and heart-shaped candies to their declare love. Some exchange wooden spoons and pressed flowers, while others hold a special holiday for the loveless to mourn their single lives over black noodles.

Italian Love Locks

Italian Love Locks

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Valentine’s Day is synonymous with love and Italians traditionally are considered to be lovers. Known in Italy as “La Festa Degli Innamorati,” Valentine’s Day is celebrated only between lovers and sweethearts. Young sweethearts in Italy profess their love for each other with a more recent tradition, attaching padlocks or “lucchetti” to bridges and railings and throwing away the key. The tradition of locking padlocks to bridges, railings and lamp posts began in Italy a little more than four years ago after the release of the best-selling book “Ho voglio di te” (I want you) by the Italian author, Federico Moccia. This was followed by the popular movie with the same name, starring Riccardo Scamarcio and Laura Chiatti. In the story, young lovers tie a chain and a padlock around a lamppost on the north side of Rome’s Ponte Milvio and inscribe their names on it, lock it and throw the key into the Tiber River below. The action suggests that the couple will be together forever.

Although Valentine’s Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark (celebrated since the early 1990s according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark), the country has embraced February 14th with a Danish twist. Rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops.

With a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in the world, it’s little wonder France has long celebrated Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers. It’s been said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. Today, Valentine’s Day cards remain a popular tradition in France.

Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday for young couples in South Korea and variations of the holiday are celebrated monthly from February through April. The gift-giving starts on February 14th, when it’s up to women to woo their men with chocolates, candies and flowers. The tables turn on March 14th, a holiday known as White Day, when men not only shower their sweethearts with chocolates and flowers, but also with a special gift.

With Carnival held sometime in February or March each year, Brazilians skip the February 14th celebration and instead celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” on June 12th. In addition to exchanges of chocolates, flowers and cards, music festivals and performances are held throughout the country. Gift giving isn’t limited to couples, either. In Brazil, they celebrate this day of love by exchanging gifts and sharing dinner with friends and relatives, too.

Like many parts of the world, South Africa celebrates Valentine’s Day with festivals, flowers and other tokens of love. It’s also customary for women in South Africa to wear their hearts on their sleeves on February 14th. Women pin the names of their love interest on their shirtsleeves, an ancient Roman tradition known as Lupercalia. In some cases, this is how South African men learn of their secret admirers.

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Dinner For Two

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Risotto with Fresh Pear Sauce

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb (12 oz) Carnaroli rice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, heated
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 oz Gorgonzola cheese

Pear Sauce

  • 1/2 clove of garlic
  • 1 sprig marjoram, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 small to medium pears

Directions

To Make The Sauce:

Peel the pears and cut them into small pieces. Finely chop the garlic. Wash the marjoram and pull off the leaves.

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and, once hot, add the pear. Saute for a minute. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic and marjoram. Cover with the broth and cook until the pears are soft.

Remove the pan from the heat. Let the pears cool, then puree the pan contents using a hand blender. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and keep the sauce warm until serving.

To Make The Risotto:

Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and, once hot, add the onion.

Cook slowly so that the onion doesn’t brown. Add the rice and toast it for a couple of minutes or until it becomes transparent. Add a pinch of salt.

Add a couple of ladlefuls of the hot broth to the rice. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, add more broth.

The rice should take about 16 to 18 minutes to cook, depending on its quality. When al dente, remove the pot from the heat and add half the Gorgonzola and butter, cut into pieces. Stir and cover. Let rest for two minutes.

Then add the remaining Gorgonzola and Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir until creamy. Pour the pear sauce into the bottom of individual serving bowls and spoon the risotto on top.

Garnish with a sprig of marjoram and a grating or fresh black pepper.

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White Sea Bass with Orange-Fennel Relish

U.S. white sea bass is a sustainable choice–not to be confused with Chilean sea bass. Other good fish choices are Gulf of Mexico caught snapper or halibut or mahimahi.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½  teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • Half of a (12-ounce) fennel bulb
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange sections
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 1 ounce halved Castelvetrano (green) olives (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 (6-ounce) white sea bass fillets
  • 2 teaspoons butter

Directions

Combine the first 4 ingredients, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Remove fronds from the fennel bulb and chop them to measure 2 tablespoons. Remove and discard fennel stalks. Cut fennel bulb in half lengthwise and save one half for another use. Discard the core. Thinly slice the fennel bulb half. Add sliced fennel, orange sections, onion and olives to the orange juice mixture; toss gently to coat. Stir in fennel fronds.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add butter to the pan; swirl until butter melts. Add fish and cook 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with relish.

valentinesday4

Cheddar Biscuits

Make the entire dozen and freeze the extras.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup milk; (up to 2/3 cup)

Garlic Butter

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and garlic powder. Whisk together to combine thoroughly. Add chunks of butter. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour until it is coarse and pea-sized (doesn’t need to be fine).

Add oil, grated cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup milk. Stir together. Keep adding milk a bit at a time, just until the dough is moistened and no longer dry and powdery. (Shouldn’t be sticky, just moist enough to hold together).

Drop approximately 1/4 cup portions of the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet using an ice cream scoop or large spoon. Bake for 15-17 minutes until lightly golden.

While biscuits are baking, melt 3 tablespoons butter is a small bowl in your microwave. Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and the parsley.

When biscuits come out of the oven, use a brush to spread this garlic butter over the tops of all the biscuits. Use up all of the garlic butter. Serve warm.

valentinesday3

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Ingredients

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 pint Strawberries; hulled, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (orange liqueur)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

Directions

In the top of a double boiler (not directly over heat), sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup buttermilk; let stand to soften, about 5 minutes. Place water in the bottom of the double boiler and bring to a simmer.

In a separate small pan bring cream and 3 tablespoons sugar to a boil.

Add to the gelatin mixture in the top part of the double boiler and place the pan over the simmering water; whisk until gelatin dissolves, 5 minutes. Stir in remaining buttermilk thoroughly with a whisk.

Divide mixture into two dessert bowls. Cover; refrigerate until set, 4 hours.

Meanwhile, mix strawberries with Grand Marnier and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Let stand for about 1 hour. Top panna cotta with strawberries and juice collected in the bowl..

valentine


Med cover

The traditional eating habits of the Mediterranean people are based on the agricultural products of their region, which has a long growing season and a rather mild climate. The traditional diets of the Greeks, French, Italians, Spaniards and Middle Easterners reflect distinct cuisines and culinary practices, but they also have a great deal in common.

Certain foods, such as beef and butter, were never very popular in the Mediterranean region because the region did not support the expansive grazing lands required to raise large quantities of buffalo and steer. Most cheeses are made from sheep’s milk and are lower in cholesterol than those made from cow’s milk. The region’s climate is favorable to growing olive trees, so olive oil is abundant and used in cooking instead of butter. With its monounsaturated fat, olive oil is much healthier than butter.

The Mediterranean peoples consume fish, poultry, game and lamb rather than beef. The meat of sheep, goats and chickens contains some fat, of course, but Mediterraneans usually consume far less meat than their northern European neighbors. Wine, which has certain health benefits, is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and regions like Italy and southern France have, historically, produced wine and wine is what is served with meals.

Med6

Research suggests that the benefits of following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern may be many: improved weight loss, better control of blood glucose (sugar) levels and reduced risk of depression, to name a few. Eating like a Mediterranean has also been associated with reduced levels of inflammation, a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Mediterranean Diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil and it features fish and poultry—lean sources of protein—over red meat, which contains more saturated fat. Red wine is consumed regularly but in moderate amounts. Here are a few recipes that can get you started on eating like a Mediterranean.

Med1

Eggplant Souvlaki with Yogurt Sauce

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for the grill
  • Pinch each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small eggplant, trimmed and cut into 20 1/2-inch-wide half-moon pieces
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 2 6-inch whole-grain pitas
  • 2 cups lightly packed trimmed baby spinach leaves

Yogurt Sauce

  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves or 1 teaspoon dried

4 metal or wooden 12 inch skewers (soaked if using wooden) or 8 smaller skewers (6-8 inches)

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon zest, 1/4 cup lemon juice, garlic, oregano, olive oil, salt and black pepper. Transfer half of the dressing to a second large bowl. Add tomatoes and eggplant to the first large bowl, tossing to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes.

To prepare salad:

To the second large bowl, add cucumber, bell pepper, olives and onion; toss well with dressing and set aside.

Prepare the yogurt sauce:

In a small bowl, combine all yogurt sauce ingredients. Set aside in the refrigerator until serving.

Heat grill to medium-high and lightly oil the grate with cooking oil. If it is too cold to grill where you live, a stovetop grill or grill pan can be used.

On each skewer, thread tomatoes and eggplant, dividing ingredients evenly among the skewers. Mist skewers with cooking spray.

Place skewers on the grill; close lid and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice, until tender. On an indoor grill turn skewers often to cook evenly.

Mist pitas with cooking spray and grill, turning once, until lightly toasted and warm, about 1 minute. Cut into quarters and divide among 4 serving plates.

Add spinach to the salad and toss. Serve with souvlaki, yogurt sauce and pita bread.

Med3

Farro, Shrimp & Tomato Risotto

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 28 oz canned or boxed Italian diced tomatoes with juices
  • 2 large leeks, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 1 large bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups farro, rinsed
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Directions

In a large Dutch oven, add tomatoes, leeks, fennel, farro, broth, tomato paste and 1 1/2 cups water; stir to break up tomato paste. Cover, bring to boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes or until the farro is tender.

Remove lid, add shrimp and stir to combine. Replace lid and continue cooking until shrimp are pink and opaque throughout, about 2-3 minutes. Divide among soup bowls and garnish with parsley.

Med5

Swiss Chard with Olives

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches (about 1 1/4 pounds) Swiss chard, trimmed and washed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup pitted and roughly chopped Kalamata olives (about 16)
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions

Separate leaves from the stems of the Swiss chard. Roughly chop leaves and set aside. Cut stems into 1-inch pieces.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and red pepper, and saute until onion is translucent about 6 minutes.

Add Swiss chard stems, olives and the water; cover and cook 3 minutes.

Stir in Swiss chard leaves; cover and continue cooking until stems and leaves are tender, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Med4

Lemon Chicken with Potatoes & Artichokes

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 6 small red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 6 – 5-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot starch
  • 12 oz package frozen artichokes, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus additional for garnish

Directions

Season chicken with salt and black pepper. In a large skillet with a cover over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add chicken and cook for about 1-2 minutes on each side to quickly brown. Remove chicken pieces to a plate.
Reduce skillet heat to medium-low and add the remaining oil and garlic; cook for 1 minute, until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the potatoes and peppers and cook for about 4 minutes, until the potatoes begin to brown.

In a small bowl combine the lemon juice, yogurt and arrowroot and whisk until smooth. Stir yogurt mixture into the skillet. Stir in artichokes and dill. Return chicken pieces to the skillet, nestling them on top of the vegetable mixture.

Cover the skillet and cook for 30 minutes, until the artichokesand potatoes are tender and the sauce is thickened.

Serve chicken and vegetables with the sauce and garnish with additional dill.

Med2

Whole-Wheat Pizza

Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus and, subsequently, gained popularity throughout the Middle East region. The cheese is white, with a distinctive layered texture, similar to mozzarella and has a salty flavor.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for baking sheet
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound homemade or store bought whole-wheat pizza dough at room temperature, recipe below
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) haloumi or feta or ricotta salata cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Oil a pizza pan.

Place tomatoes, garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in a food processor; season with salt and pepper. Pulse 3 to 4 times until ingredients are incorporated but chunky.

Place the dough in the pizza pan. Using your hands stretch the dough until it covers the surface of the pan.

Spread tomato sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with cheese and pine nuts; season with salt and pepper.

Bake until the crust is golden, 15 to 20 minutes.

Toss arugula with vinegar and 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle arugula and olives over baked pizza. Cut into serving pieces.

Quick Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

Makes 2 one pound loaves.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm (115 degrees) water
  • 2 packets (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour

Directions

Place water in a large bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Brush another large bowl with oil.

In the bowl with the yeast, whisk in the sugar, oil and salt. Stir in flours with a wooden spoon until a sticky dough forms. Transfer to the oiled bowl; brush top of dough with oil.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm spot until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. With floured hands, knead until smooth, about 15 seconds; divide into two balls.

Use one ball of dough for the pizza above and freeze the second dough for another time.


vegetarian-food-pyramid

Vegetarian dishes can shine as the main attraction, especially when using fresh and flavorful ingredients. Use spices and herbs often, add lots of flavor with grains and beans, include good fats to carry flavors and salt to bring them together. Roasting vegetables also make them delicious.

It can be challenging to serve healthy meals on a budget. Meatless meals are built around vegetables, beans and grains instead of meat, which is more expensive. You may be able to save money by going meatless once or twice a week. In addition, meatless meals offer health benefits. A plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. This kind of healthy eating is the central theme of the Mediterranean diet — which limits red meat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats — and has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Plan some meals that feature entrees you like that are typically meatless, such as lasagna, soup or pasta. Occasionally, try substituting protein-rich foods for meat in your favorite recipes, such as, using beans and legumes in casseroles, salads, burritos and tacos. The following recipes show you that meatless dinners can be good tasting. Give then a try.

Dinner 1: Potato Vegetable Skillet Cake and Green Bean Mushroom Casserole

veggie1

Vegetable and Potato Skillet Cake

Ingredients

  • 3/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 (8-ounce) russet potatoes, peeled, shredded and squeezed of excess moisture
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 parsnips, shredded
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the vegetables and onion. Sprinkle with flour, salt, Italian seasoning and nutmeg and toss to coat. Stir in the eggs and mix in thoroughly..

Heat a 10 inch skillet over medium heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of oil. Pour in the vegetable mixture and press gently. Cook, running a spatula around the edges of the skillet occasionally, until the bottom is very brown, about 12 minutes.

Place a round platter upside down over the top of the skillet. Grasp sides of the skillet and platter with oven mitts and invert the potato cake onto the platter. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet  and slide the potato cake back into the skillet (browned-side up) and continue to cook over medium heat, loosening the edges with a spatula and shaking the pan occasionally to loosen the bottom. Cook until the bottom is browned and crisp and cooked through, about 12 more minutes. Invert the skillet again to remove the potato cake. Cool 5 minutes before cutting into wedges.

veggie2

Green Bean Mushroom Casserole

Ingredients

  • 12 oz fresh green beans
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 oz mushroom blend, sliced (such as, shiitake and oyster mushrooms)
  • 6 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2/3 cup shredded Italian Fontina cheese, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried Italian bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and plunge into a large bowl filled with ice water; set aside for 5 to 8 minutes, then drain. Cut beans into 2-inch pieces.

In a large skillet on medium-high, heat oil. Add mushrooms and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until mushrooms release their juices. Reduce heat to medium and add shallots, garlic, thyme, pepper and salt.

Cook, stirring constantly, until shallots become translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in flour; stir to coat. Slowly add buttermilk and continue to cook, stirring until buttermilk starts to thicken and mixture is creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in broth and green beans. When broth is absorbed, after 1 to 2 minutes, stir in 1/2 cup cheese.

Transfer mixture to a medium greased baking dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs and remaining cheese over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes

Dinner 2:  Butternut Squash Pie and Orange Beet Salad

veggie3

Butternut Squash Pie with Hazelnuts

Ingredients

  • 1 (3-pound) butternut squash, halved lengthwise, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes or 3 cups cubed squash from the supermarket or one 16-oz package of frozen and defrosted cubed squash
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 frozen 9-inch pie crust (in a pie pan)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl, mix squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange squash in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until squash is tender and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until browned, 7 to 9 minutes. Add wine and cook, scraping up any brown bits, for 1 minute more.

Add onion to the bowl with the squash and add Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, hazelnuts, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper and toss gently to combine. Transfer mixture to the pie crust, pat down lightly and bake until crust is golden brown and the filling is hot, about 40 minutes. Set aside to let cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

veggie4

Beet, Orange & Burrata Salad

Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream.

Burrata Cheese

Burrata Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 beets (about 11 oz), ends trimmed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 tablespoons white or regular balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 5 cups (5 oz) baby arugula
  • 6 oz fresh burrata or fresh mozzarella cheese, broken into about 8 pieces

Directions

Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Wrap beets in foil and roast in a baking pan until tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Set aside to cool. Peel and cut each beet into 12 slices.

Use a sharp knife to slice peel off the oranges. Cut each orange into 6 round slices.

Squeeze pieces of orange peel (there should be some flesh still attached) into a mixing bowl to yield about 2 tablespoons juice. Whisk in garlic, vinegar, 2 teaspoons water, oil, mustard, parsley, salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss arugula with 3 tablespoons orange vinaigrette. Divide among serving plates and top with oranges, beets and cheese. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.

Dinner 3: Pappardelle with Tomatoes and Almonds and Bibb Radish Salad

veggie5

Pappardelle with Tomatoes, Almonds and Parmesan

If your market doesn’t carry fresh basil this time of year, use 2 tablespoons of basil pesto instead.

Plum tomatoes are a good choice during the winter months.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds plum (Roma) tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup shredded basil leaves or 2 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 1 small fresh hot red chile, minced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound dried pappardelle pasta
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes with the vinegar, olive oil, shallots, oregano, basil and chile and season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain. Add the pasta to the tomato mixture and toss. Mix the almonds and Parmigiano together, sprinkle over the pasta and serve right away.

Bibb and Radish Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

veggie6

Ingredients

  • 3 heads of Bibb lettuce, leaves torn
  • 8 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with the radishes and chives. Chill until ready to serve.

In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the buttermilk and vinegar.

Gradually whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss well.

Dinner 4: Tomato Risotto and Broccolini with Lemon Crumbs

veggie7

Tomato Vegetable Risotto

Ingredients

  • 32 oz carton lower-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 28 oz container diced Italian tomatoes, drained and liquid reserved
  • 1/2 cup dry white
  • 1 box (10 oz) frozen corn kernels, defrosted
  • 1 box (10 oz) frozen green beans, defrosted
  • 2 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Put the reserved tomato juice and the vegetable broth into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low heat, with a ladle nearby.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or a wide, heavy saucepan. Add the onion, a generous pinch of salt and cook gently until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, until the grains of rice are separate and beginning to crackle. Stir in the drained diced tomatoes and salt to taste and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and coat the rice, 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the wine and stir until it has evaporated and been absorbed by the rice. Begin adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls (about 1/2 cup) at a time. The stock should just cover the rice, and should be bubbling, not too slowly but not too quickly. Cook, stirring often, until it is just about absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this fashion, adding more stock and stirring when the rice is almost dry.

After the rice has cooked about 15 minutes, stir in the defrosted corn and green beans. Continue adding broth until it is all used.

You do not have to stir constantly, but stir often and when you do, stir vigorously. When the rice is just tender all the way through but still chewy (al dente), in 20 to 25 minutes, it is done.  Stir in the basil and Parmesan and remove from the heat. Serve in wide pasta bowls.

veggie8

Broccolini with Lemon Crumbs

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of country white bread, torn
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Salt
  • 2 bunches Broccolini (8 ounces each) or broccoli rabe (rapini), ends trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, very finely chopped
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccolini and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well, shaking off the excess water; pat dry with paper towels.

In a food processor, pulse the bread until large crumbs form.

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the breadcrumbs and cook them over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden. Remove from the heat. Stir in the crushed red pepper and lemon zest and season with salt. Transfer the crumbs to a plate to cool.

In the same skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the broccolini, season lightly with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccolini is lightly browned in spots, about 4 minutes. Transfer the broccolini to a serving platter and sprinkle the lemony bread crumbs on top. Serve right away with lemon wedges.

Dinner 5: Stuffed Shells and Green Bean Slaw

veggie9

Cheese Stuffed Shells with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Ingredients

SAUCE:

  • 3 cups canned Italian tomatoes
  • 12 oz roasted red bell peppers (from a jar packed in water), drained, patted dry and roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup packed parsley sprigs, roughly chopped, plus extra for garnish

SHELLS:

  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn, defrosted
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 30 large pasta shells
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 3 oz grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded

Directions

Prepare sauce:

In a medium saucepan, combine tomatoes, roasted peppers, garlic, rosemary, oregano, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Bring to a simmer on medium-high heat, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a blender and add parsley. Remove plastic center from blender lid to allow steam to escape, hold a kitchen towel loosely over the opening and purée.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, prepare pasta shells according to package directions, cooking until just al dente. Drain thoroughly and place on clean kitchen towels.

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan cheese, basil, chives, egg and corn. Season with black pepper.

Spread 1 cup sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish that has been coated with olive oil cooking spray. Fill pasta shells with about 1 rounded tablespoon of ricotta mixture and place in the baking dish, stuffed side up. You may have a few extra shells that do not fit in the baking dish.

Cover shells with remaining sauce and mozzarella. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling. Let cool for 10 minutes, garnish with additional parsley and serve.

Beekman Boys

Green Bean Slaw

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds thin green beans
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into fine julienne
  • 1 medium parsnip, cut into fine julienne
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into fine julienne
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the beans until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, rinse and pat dry. Slice the green beans lengthwise, if they are not thin.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, about 30 seconds. Stir in the vinegar, water, mustard, honey and celery seeds. Add the carrot, parsnip, red pepper and onion and toss until warmed through, about 1 minute.

Transfer to a large bowl. Add the beans and toss well. Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.


wintersalad

This is not the season for cold potato salad or any other cold salad when you are trying to warm up. Then again, forget any memory of overcooked, withered spinach salads adorned with hard-boiled eggs and greasy bacon dressing. Good warm salads are filled with delicious flavors and appealing textures. The first key to a great warm salad lies in learning to barely wilt the greens, so that the warm vinaigrette brings all the flavors together but doesn’t make the salad soggy. The second key lies in the complementary combination of ingredients.

When a dressing is warm, it has a more pronounced flavor than when it’s cold, plus the heat really brings out all the flavors of the salad. You have to be careful when you dress the greens, though, because you want them to be just slightly wilted.

You can accomplish this in several ways.

Heat the dressing in a pan. Then pour the warm vinaigrette over the bowl of greens, add the garnishes and toss. This method work well with hardier greens like spinach, escarole and kale. You can wilt mesclun this way, too; just dress the greens a little more lightly and serve them immediately.

Or you can arrange the raw greens on serving plates, top with just cooked shrimp or chicken and then drizzle the hot dressing over all. This method is better when the greens are particularly tender, like mizuna or mesclun. Whichever wilting method you choose, just remember you don’t want to fully cook the greens, so don’t put them directly into a hot sauté pan. Don’t wilt the greens until you’re ready to serve them; this type of salad looks and tastes best when freshly dressed.

wintersalads3

Warm Spinach Salad with Cannellini Beans and Shrimp

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound baby spinach (7 cups)
  • 3 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 pound shelled and deveined large shrimp
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Directions

Spread the spinach on a large platter. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon.

Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and cook it in the pan with the bacon fat over moderately high heat until barely pink, about 4 minutes. Add the beans, season with salt and pepper and toss until heated through, about 1 minute. Pour the shrimp and beans onto the bed of spinach.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook over moderately low heat until softened, about 1 minute. Add the mustard to the skillet and whisk in the red wine vinegar, then whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Season the dressing with salt and pepper, pour it over the salad and garnish with the bacon. Serve immediately.

wintersalads4

Warm Winter-Vegetable Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1 small sweet potato (about 8 ounces), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 small celery root (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 small beet, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 ounce feta, crumbled (1/4 cup)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a medium roasting pan, toss the onion, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, celery root and beet with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

Season the vegetables with salt and pepper and roast for about 45 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender and lightly browned in spots.

Meanwhile, spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast until golden, about 6 minutes. Transfer the walnuts to a work surface and coarsely chop.

In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar with the lemon juice, mustard and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and fold in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the vegetables and walnuts to the dressing and toss. Top the salad with the feta and serve warm or at room temperature.

wintersalads1

Warm Chicken Salad with Green Beans, Almonds and Dried Cherries

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken breast cutlets (about 6)
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon apricot jam
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 5 ounces baby arugula
  • 1 head radicchio, cored and shredded
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high; season chicken with salt and pepper. In two batches, cook chicken until cooked through, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. When cool enough to handle, slice chicken crosswise.

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 inches salted water to a boil. Add green beans; cover and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Rinse under cold water until cool; drain well.

Make dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, jam, mustard and remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss arugula and radicchio with half the dressing. Divide salad among four plates; arrange chicken, green beans, cherries and almonds on top. Drizzle with remaining dressing; serve immediately.

wintersalads2

Spinach Salad with Salmon

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless salmon fillets, (6 ounces each)
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 10 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic-Rosemary Vinaigrette

Balsamic-Rosemary Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

For the Vinaigrette

In a blender combine vinegar, mustard, garlic, rosemary, water, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. With machine running, add oil in a thin stream; blend until creamy.

For the Salmon

Heat broiler, with rack set 4 inches from the heat. Place salmon on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Broil, without turning, until opaque throughout, 7 to 9 minutes. Let cool briefly, then flake.

Divide spinach and tomatoes among serving plates. Top with salmon, blue cheese and pecans. Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette. Pass the remaining dressing with the salad.

wintersalad3

Steak and Potato Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds small potatoes, halved
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 pound sirloin steak (about 1 inch thick)
  • 1 heart romaine lettuce, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 5 ounces baby arugula
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus wedges for serving
  • 1/3 cup shaved Parmesan (1 ounce)

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with 2 teaspoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown and tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, heat 1 teaspoon oil over high. Pat steak dry; season steak with salt and pepper and cook until browned and medium-rare, 3 to 5 minutes per side (reduce heat if skillet begins to scorch). Transfer to a cutting board; let rest 5 minutes, then thinly slice against the grain.

In a large bowl, combine romaine and arugula. Add potatoes, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons oil and toss to combine.

Top salad with steak and Parmesan and serve with lemon wedges.


Umbrian dinner

Umbria is a region of both historic and modern central Italy. It is the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a border with another country. The regional capital is Perugia. Umbria is known for its landscapes, traditions, history, artistic legacy and influence on Italian culture. The region is characterized by hills and historical towns such as Assisi, Norcia and Orvieto. Umbria is bordered by Tuscany to the west, Marche to the east and Lazio to the south.

Despite being landlocked and somewhat economically depressed — or perhaps because of these things — Umbria is the quintessential embodiment of all things Italian. This is certainly true of its cuisine, which emphasizes the virtues of Italian cooking: simplicity, tradition and respect for fresh, local ingredients. Any list of the products for which Umbria is famous would include farro, a grain; prosciutto and other pork or wild boar products from the town of Norcia and the well-known black truffle.

Umbrian pigs live on the land and eat acorns and chestnuts that give the meat its characteristic flavor and texture. Umbrians take special pride in how their pigs are raised and treated, especially in the mountainous area of Norcia. Over the centuries, the word norcino, or person from Norcia, became synonymous with butcher. The most important cured meat in Umbria is, without a doubt, Prosciutto di Norcia IGP, followed by pork sausages and mazzafegati, a pork and liver sausage that can be traced back to Renaissance tables.

The best of Umbria’s cheeses are mature pecorino sheep’s cheese and fresh or ripe goat’s milk cheese. The lentils of Castelluccio di Norcia are utilized for soups, main courses and side dishes. Everything is seasoned with the golden and fruity olive oil produced in this region. Umbrian oil of high quality is awarded with a PDO quality mark (Protected Designation of Origin).

Umbria is particularly suitable for wine growing and its mild climate gives this land top-quality white and red wines, including among the many well-known labels, Assisi Grechetto and Sagrantino di Montefalco. The wines of Montefalco have an interesting history, having been identified as important local products. In the 1400s, a city council made it illegal for people who owned grapevines in the area to neglect them and the fruits they produced. As a result, Montefalco wines are some of Italy’s finest wines. Each year, around Easter, the town holds a wine festival celebrating the fruits of its winemaking labors.

Pretend you are in Umbria this weekend and make this dinner for your friends:

Umbrian dinner 1

Arugula, Pecorino, Pine Nut and Pear Salad (Rucola con Pecorino, Pignoli e Pere)

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 5 oz. baby arugula
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 oz. Pecorino Romano
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

Combine water and raisins in a bowl; let sit 20 minutes and drain. Toss lemon juice with the pears in a bowl. Arrange arugula on four separate salad plates; season with salt and pepper.

Top each plate with some of the pears and shave pecorino over the top of each salad; sprinkle with raisins and the pine nuts.

Whisk balsamic, salt and pepper in a bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in oil until emulsified; drizzle dressing over each salad plate.

Umbrian dinner3

Tagliatelle with Goose Ragù (Tagliatelle al Ragù d’Oca)

If goose is difficult to find, you can certainly substitute duck.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 oz boneless, skinless goose breast, diced
  • 3 oz goose liver, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary
  • 3/4 tablespoon minced sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 1/2 carrot, minced
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (14 ­oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lb fresh tagliatelle pasta
  • Grated parmesan, for garnish

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium ­high. Cook goose breast until browned, 5–7 minutes; transfer to a bowl. Cook liver until browned, 4–6 minutes; transfer to bowl with the breast.

Add remaining oil to the skillet; cook rosemary, sage, chili flakes, celery, carrot and onion until golden, 8–10 minutes. Add wine; cook until evaporated, 5–7 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper; cook until thickened, about 20–22 minutes.

Stir in reserved goose breast and liver.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water; toss pasta and reserved water in skillet with the sauce. Garnish with parmesan.

Umbrian dinner 2

Pork with Juniper Berries (Filetto di Maiale con Bacche di Ginepro)

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the Potatoes:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 10 oz green beans, trimmed
  • 1½ tablespoons minced sage
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Pork:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz guanciale or pancetta, minced
  • 1 (1 ­lb) pork tenderloin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock

Directions

To make the potatoes:

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium ­high. Cook potatoes until golden, 10–12 minutes.

Stir in green beans, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium; cook, covered, until potatoes and green beans are tender, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; keep warm.

To make the pork:

Wipe the skillet clean and heat the oil over medium ­high. Cook guanciale until crisp, 2–3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer guanciale to a plate.

Season pork with salt and pepper; add to the skillet and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, 8–10 minutes. Add juniper berries, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and garlic and cook 1–2 minutes. Add wine; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, until evaporated, 12–15 minutes. Add stock; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, slightly covered, until an instant ­read thermometer inserted into the pork reads 145° F.

Let pork rest 5 minutes, then slice ½” thick; divide between plates. Simmer sauce until thickened, 10–12 minutes. Discard herbs and stir in reserved guanciale, salt and pepper; spoon over pork. Serve with potatoes and green beans.

Umbrian dinner 4

Umbrian Snowflake Cookies (Biscotti ai Cereali)

Corn flakes—both mixed into the batter and coating the cookies’ exterior—give these crumbly chocolate chip treats a crunchy, nutty flavor. Served at festivals, wineries and charity bake sales, they’re a favorite of the residents of the Umbrian hill town of Montefalco.

Makes 28 Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 cups corn flakes cereal (2 cups lightly crushed, 4 cups whole)
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

Directions

Heat the oven to 350° F.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

In the bowl of an electric  mixer, cream granulated sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add dry ingredients; mix until dough forms.

Fold in crushed corn flakes and the chocolate chips. Divide dough into 28 balls; roll in the whole corn flakes. Space 1″ apart on parchment paper—lined baking sheets.

Bake until golden and crisp, 20–22 minutes. Let cookies cool; dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.



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