The province of Caserta is in the Campania region of Italy located 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Naples. It is an important agricultural, commercial and industrial area. The Roccamonfina Regional Park is the location of an extinct volcano whose eruptions shaped this region long ago. It is an ideal habitat for the chestnut forests, vineyards and olive groves that are found in the area.
Festivals and fairs that marry both the sacred and the pagan recall the history, culture and traditions of Caserta Province – in particular, the Sagra delle Pallottole, a food festival held every year in San Leucio. The event features a historic procession in which participants wear traditional clothing and the local women prepare and serve potato croquettes. Exhibits, events, concerts and the famous float parade all enliven the streets in celebration of one of the most colorful times of the year, Carnevale.
The cuisine of Caserta is made of simple recipes using local products.
Buffalo mozzarella is produced with craftsmanship in this province. It is often made into different shapes: round, braided, knotted or small balls. The water buffalo milk is also used to make butter and other cheeses such as, burrino, burrata, smoked provola and fresh or dried ricotta. Salaprese is a sheep’s milk cheese that is not matured but eaten right after having absorbed the salt. It tastes fresh and sweet, with a strong hint of sheep’s milk.
Local farms supply meat used to prepare cold cuts such as capicollo, prosciutto di Monte, pancetta tesa and the filet, Vairano Patenora. The province is also famous for its salsiccia, a sausage seasoned in special terra-cotta vases.
The Campanella artichoke, porcini mushroom, the many varieties of apple, the golden plum and the chestnut are all delicacies that distinguish the local cuisine.
Desserts consist of honey and walnut biscuits; pigne are glazed sweets and a pastry called serpentone that is stuffed with honey and walnuts.
The wine list is long as well and includes Asprinio di Aversa, Falerno del Massico and Galluccio, all labeled DOC.
Culinary Specialties of Caserta
Mozzarella di Bufala Salad
- Buffalo mozzarella (1 large ball for every 2 servings)
- All purpose flour
- Salt & pepper
- 2 eggs
- Olive oil for frying
- Mixed salad greens
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 small chili pepper
- Handful of basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
Make the sauce first.
Grill the red pepper, turning it often until it starts to char evenly on all sides. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin, cut open the pepper and clean out the seeds and any pulp. Cut the flesh into smaller pieces and place in a food processor along with the oil, chili pepper, garlic, basil, salt and mascarpone. Process until smooth. Taste and correct for salt. Place in the refrigerator to thicken while you prepare the other ingredients. Remove the sauce about 5 minutes before serving and give it a good stir.
Tip: You can make the sauce in advance to save time. It will keep for a few days. If you want a thicker sauce, leave out the olive oil.
Prep the mozzarella.
Set out a plate for flour and another for the breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Drain the mozzarella and slice each ball in half. Gently pat both sides of the slices dry with a paper towel. Dredge each piece of cheese in the flour, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs, making sure to cover the cheese entirely; set aside on waxed paper. Repeat until all the cheese is breaded. Depending on how many cheeses you are using, you may need more breading ingredients.
You can serve all the cheese on one platter with the salad or as individually plated servings. Arrange the salad greens accordingly.
Heat the olive oil. You want at least an inch of cooking oil, so use a small pan and fry the cheese in batches. Gently slide the slices into the oil. They are ready to turn over after about 3 minutes, or when the bottom has turned golden brown and firm. Gently turn them and cook for another 3 minutes. When golden and crunchy on all sides, transfer the cheese to paper towels to drain and lightly salt them.
Let them cool slightly, but be sure to serve them warm-hot. You can also slice them in half. Drizzle the pepper cream sauce directly over the cheese and garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Linguine with Colatura di Alici and Erbe di Campo
- 1 lb (500 gr) linguine
- 1 ½ lbs (700 gr) wild greens or broccoli rabe
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon colatura di alici (Italian anchovy sauce)
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
Wash and clean the broccoli rabe and cut them into 2-inch pieces; set aside.
In a large pan, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until lightly golden, add the broccoli and season with salt. Cook over medium heat until the broccoli is tender, then remove the pan from the heat.
Place a pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the pan with the broccoli. Toss the mixture over low heat, add the colatura and chili; toss again to coat the pasta evenly.
Add a couple of ladles of pasta cooking water to create a creamier sauce. Serve hot.
Salt Cod Baked in Spicy Tomato Sauce
- 2 pounds (900 g) thick salt cod fillets
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (chili)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 cans (each 12 ounces; 340 g) Italian plum tomatoes, pureed
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- Vegetable oil for frying
- All-purpose flour for dredging
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Salt cod must be soaked overnight before cooking to remove the salt. Place it in a bowl with cold water to cover and soak for 24 hours, changing the water three or four times.
If you’re in a hurry, try the quick-soak method. Rinse the cod under cold running water for 15 minutes. Place it in a pan with cold water to cover and gradually bring to a boil. Drain the fish and rinse in cold water. Repeat the boiling and rinsing process two or three times.
Cut the cod into 4 x 1 1/2-inch (10 X 4-cm) pieces, then pat dry with paper towels and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
Sauté the garlic in the olive oil until golden. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the hot pepper flakes and parsley. Stir, then replace the skillet on the stove. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and oregano. Simmer 5 minutes and set aside. Remove and discard the garlic.
Heat the vegetable oil in another skillet over moderate heat. When a cube of bread browns in about 1 minute, the oil is ready for frying. Flour the cod fillets lightly and fry until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Arrange the cod fillets in a bake-and-serve dish and cover with the tomato sauce. Bake for 20 minutes.
Limoncello Sorbet Cups
- 2 cups water
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup limoncello
- Lemon zest from two lemons
- 1 pinch salt
- Lemon cups (1 hollowed out lemon per serving)
Bring the water and sugar just to a boil in a sauce pan, stirring frequently, until you have a thick, clear syrup. Turn off the heat and let cool.
Transfer the syrup to a bowl and add the lemon juice, lemon zest, limoncello and salt. Stir well and transfer to a ceramic baking dish or plastic container, cover and freeze for at least 3 hours.
Check the sorbet periodically and move it around with a fork. When ready, scrape the sorbet with a fork; then use an ice cream scoop to serve.
To make the lemon cups:
Slice ¾ of an inch off the stem side of the lemons. Using a paring knife and teaspoon, carefully cut and scoop out the lemon pulp. Do this over a bowl so you can save the juice. Slice about ¼ inch from the bottom of the lemons, so they will stand.
Freeze the cups along with the sorbet. When the sorbet is ready, fill the cups and place them back in the freezer until serving. You can make a batch of several sorbet cups in advance.
Enna is a province in Sicily, Italy. It is located in the center of the island and is the only province in Sicily without a seacoast,yet it possesses the greatest number of ponds and lakes.. The capital city sits on a high elevation giving a gorgeous view of the region.There are many castles, cathedrals, churches and interesting archeological areas, 8 lakes, many nature reserves and forests within the province.
Some of the interesting sites in Enna are:
- Villa Romana del Casale, a huge ancient Roman “villa”, where there are many well-preserved Roman mosaics.
- Morgantina, an ancient town in the province, whose important archeological discoveries are housed in many large museums around the world.
- Torre Pisana, a very large tower that provides an extensive panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
- Lake Pergusa has a forest inside a wildlife reserve, where thousands of rare birds can be found.
- The Autodromo di Pergusa is the most important racing circuit of Southern Italy. It hosts international competitions, such as Formula One, Formula 3000, and the Ferrari Party with Michael.
- Schumacher and other champions.
- Built in 2009, Regalbuto is a popular theme park in the area.
Enna’s cuisine is characterized by simple dishes that reflect an agricultural and sheep farming community. Vegetables, oranges, lemons, eggs and cheese are used in many local recipes.
Pastas with mashed beans, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplants or tomatoes are common. Wild asparagus are a great local favorite and so are bitter chicory and wild fennel. Black Lentils from Leonforte, near Enna are well-known and used quite often in Sicilian cooking.
Baked or grilled pork, lamb or goat meat and strong cheeses complete the typical menu.
Cookies stuffed with dried figs, honey, fruit candy and roasted almonds along with a glass of limoncello, fare typical holiday celebrations.
Quite famous is Piacentinu, a cooked, semi-hard cheese. It is round in shape and available in various ages. Traditionally, it is made in the province of Enna, Sicily, using whole sheep’s milk, pepper and saffron. Since the 1100s, piacentino has been known for its saffron color. Ruggero the Norman (1095-1154), the king of Sicily, asked local cheese-makers to make this cheese with saffron because he believed that spice caused an uplifting, anti-depressing effect. Pepper, a rare and precious spice at the time, was also added to the cheese because it was a popular ingredient in the Sicilian Court. Today, this cheese is still made using whole, raw milk from sheep that graze primarily on veccia, a leguminous weed found in and around Enna. The plant gives the cheese its distinct flavor.
The milk, together with sheep or goat rennet, is heated to 140 degrees F and then whole black peppercorns and saffron are added. Once a mass has formed, the cheese is left to cool in its whey. The cheese is ready after a week. A wheel of piacentino is usually 14 to 16 inches in diameter and weighs between 13 to 26 lbs. The cheese has a soft rind, a yellow color and a delicate, savory flavor.
Source: (D. PAOLINI, Guida agli itinerari dei formaggi d’Italia, Bologna, Edagricole, 2003)
Specialties of the Enna Cuisine
Black Lentils Enna Style
This lentil dish is often served with fish.
- 1/2 of a large onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1 cup black lentils, washed and drained
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil
Place lentils in a saucepan with 2 cups of cold water, cover, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to simmer. Cook gently for 15 minutes. Mix in the vegetables, cover the pan and continue cooking gently until lentils are tender, about 35-40 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
- 4 large artichokes, cleaned
- 2 lemons, one cut in half and the other cut into thin slices
- 4 cups water
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups seasoned dry bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Place cleaned artichokes in bowl with lemon halves and water.
While the artichokes are soaking, prepare the stuffing by heating the butter with 3 tablespoons of oil in 8-inch skillet. Add minced garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add bread crumbs and dried Italian seasoning. Stir for 1 minute while the bread crumbs brown slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.
Spread the leaves of the artichokes open by hitting the chokes upside down on a work surface to spread the leaves open. Fill each with about 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture.
Place each artichoke in a deep pot with water 1/4 of the way up the side of the pot. Add 1 teaspoon salt to water and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over artichokes and place lemon slices on top. Cover: bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook on low for 45 minutes or until tender. (the size of the artichoke will vary the cooking time). Remove from the heat and serve room temperature.
Enna’s Ground Pork Ragu
Adapted from “The Southern Italian Table” by Arthur Schwartz
Makes 7 cups
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- One 12-oz. can tomato paste
- 1 quart water
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Grated cheese for serving
In a 4 quart saucepan saute the onion in olive oil until wilted.
Add the pork and break up over medium heat until its raw color disappears.
Add the wine and simmer for a few minutes over slightly higher heat.
Add tomato paste and water; stir and bring to a simmer.
Add salt, pepper, cinnamon, chocolate and sugar. Stir until chocolate melts, reduce heat and simmer for around 30 minutes.
Serve over pasta with grated cheese.
Salmoriglio is a Sicilian marinade and sauce that is easy to make and add a great deal of flavor to poultry and fish. Use the recipe below to marinate chicken for up to two days in the refrigerator, shrimp for up to 30 minutes or to pour over grilled fish.
- 1/2 cup of lemon juice
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 3 to 5 smashed and chopped garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Combine lemon juice, garlic and seasonings and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in olive oil for a creamy semi-emulsified sauce for already cooked fish.
For a marinade, combine all the ingredients in a gallon sized plastic zippered bag and shake with chicken or shrimp to combine. Double the recipe to marinate a whole chicken. For a change of flavor, use three tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley instead of or in addition to the oregano.
- 3 to 4 swordfish steaks
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Sea Salt and freshly ground Pepper to taste
Try to get swordfish with the skin on if grilling outdoors; this will help keep the fish from drying out. Rub or brush olive oil on the fish. Oil the grill (use a grill pan or fish basket) or non-stick pan.
Over medium heat, cook the steaks for 3 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the pieces. Salt and pepper after each side is cooked, not before. When the fish is done, it will be opaque and a knife will slide into it easily.
If the fish had skin, remove it after cooking. Drizzle Salmoriglio over the fish; garnish with lemon wedges and flat-leaf parsley if desired.
Fruit and Animal Shaped Marzipan
This authentic Italian recipe is at least 5 centuries old and originates in Enna, Sicily.
During the Easter season every year, shops sell marzipan figures and fruit decorated in festive colors. They are garnished with colored sweets, foil covered chocolates and red and gold processional flags.
The origins of these elaborate sweets are in the Sicilian convents. Impoverished families enrolled daughters, whom they could not afford to feed or marry, into convents where they knew their daughters would be fed and safe. The nuns produced traditional Easter and Christmas cakes along with brightly decorated fruits. Small wheels were built into the entrance gates to the convents and money was exchanged for the ornately decorated little cakes. The money earned from the bakery supported the nuns and the upkeep of the convents.
2 1/4 pounds shelled almonds, blanched in boiling water
2 1/4 pounds sugar
Assorted food coloring (paste recommended)
Dry the blanched almonds well in a hot oven if you blanch them yourself. Grind using a mortar and pestle; if you use a food processor, pulse rather than blend so that the almonds are ground but not so fine that they give off their oils.
Dissolve the sugar in a little hot water. Add the ground almonds and simmer over very low heat, stirring constantly until a paste-like mixture comes away easily from the sides of the pan. If you want to color the marzipan, divide it into bowls and color as desired. Paste colors are recommended rather than liquids for strong, true colors. Allow the marzipan to cool enough to handle easily.
Either roll or pat the marzipan onto a cornstarch-dusted surface and cut into shapes or pat into molds that have been dusted with cornstarch. Allow to dry at room temperature until firm.
Source: 2009 All Things Sicilian.
Whole grains generally are packed with nutrients and fiber, which aid in healthy digestion and weight management. These are the “good carbs” that help balance your diet and can fill you up.
Time-saving tip: cook extra grains and store portioned leftovers in the freezer — you’ll be ready when you need them for a recipe.
Farro And Chicken Chili
Farro is popular in Italy and, more recently, in North America and other European countries as well, for its roasted, nutty flavor and distinctive chewy texture. Farro’s tough husk makes it more difficult to process than other commercially produced grains, but that husk also helps protect the grain’s vital nutrients. With a higher fiber and protein content than common wheat, farro is also especially rich in magnesium and B vitamins. As a type of wheat, farro is unsuitable for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat sensitivity or allergy. As with all grains, pearled farro will take less time to cook.
- 1 cup semi-pearled farro
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups chopped onions (2 large)
- 2 cups chopped zucchini (2 small)
- 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
- 1 fresh jalapeno chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped*
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Two 14 1/2 – ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
- One 14 1/2 – ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
- One 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
Rinse farro. In a medium saucepan bring 2 cups of water to boiling. Stir in farro. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until farro is tender. Drain off any excess water and discard.
In a large skillet bring 2 cups water to boiling. Add chicken breasts. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 12 minutes or until no longer pink (165 degrees F). Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a cutting board. Cool slightly. Coarsely dice the chicken. Set aside. Retain the chicken cooking water.
In a 4-quart Dutch oven cook onions, zucchini, carrots and chili pepper in hot oil about 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in chili powder, cumin, crushed red pepper, broth, tomatoes, tomato paste and the chicken cooking water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 20 minutes.
Stir in cooked farro and diced chicken. Cook and stir until heated through. Ladle chili into serving bowls. Top each serving with cheddar cheese.
Note* Chili peppers contain volatile oils that can burn your skin and eyes. When working with chili peppers, wear plastic or rubber gloves. If your bare hands do touch the peppers, wash your hands and nails well with soap and warm water.
Beef Steaks With Kasha Pilaf
Buckwheat Groats are soft white seeds with a mild flavor, but when toasted they develop a more intense flavor. Groats can be steam-cooked like rice for salads and side dishes or ground into fresh flour. Buckwheat flour makes delicious pancakes. Buckwheat groats are gluten-free seeds from a plant related to rhubarb. The outer husk is pulled away and the grain-like fruit is harvested and eaten. First cultivated in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, kasha eventually took root in Eastern Europe, where it became a classic side dish. Buckwheat is very nutritious and provides a complete protein, including all the essential amino acids. Use buckwheat groats in any recipe that calls for whole grains. Be sure to purchase buckwheat groats that have been toasted.
- 2/3 cup buckwheat groats
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion (1 medium)
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup dried cherries
- 1/4 cup coarsely snipped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound beef tenderloin
- 1/4 teaspoon steak seasoning
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
In a medium saucepan bring 1-1/2 cups water to boiling. Stir in buckwheat groats; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender (you should have about 2 cups of cooked groats). Set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or just until the onion begins to soften.
Drain cooked groats, if necessary. Add onion mixture to the cooked groats. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the cherries, basil, vinegar and salt.
Let stand at room temperature while you prepare the beef.
Cut beef crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices. Evenly sprinkle beef pieces with the steak seasoning. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the same skillet; heat over medium heat.
Cook beef pieces in hot oil about 4 minutes or until medium (145 degrees F), turning once halfway through the cooking time.
Serve beef pieces over groats mixture. Sprinkle with toasted almonds.
Amaranth Biscuit Topped Stew
Amaranth is often popped like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a popular treat in Mexico called “alegría” (meaning “joy”). Although amaranth derives its name from the Greek for “never-fading flower,” it is its highly nutritious seeds, not its vibrant red blooms, that are its most valuable asset. Like buckwheat and quinoa, amaranth is an especially high-quality source of plant protein including two essential amino acids, lysine and methionine. Amaranth is packed with iron and calcium and its fiber content is triple that of wheat. Amaranth is completely gluten-free and suitable for those with celiac disease. It is an especially digestible grain, making it a good choice for people recovering from illness.
- 1/2 cup whole grain amaranth
- Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
- 1 1/2 pounds lean pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon dried sage, crushed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups cubed sweet potato
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup butter
Place amaranth in a small bowl. Stir in 1 cup boiling water. Cover and let stand for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a 3-quart rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.
Sprinkle pork with sage and toss to coat. In a large nonstick skillet brown pork in hot oil over medium-high heat. Transfer pork to the prepared baking dish.
Add mushrooms, onion and garlic to the same skillet. Cook and stir about 5 minutes or until the onion is tender. Stir in sweet potato cubes and 1 cup water. Bring to boiling.
In a small bowl stir together 1/4 cup cold water, the cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt; stir into the mixture in the skillet. Cook and stir until mixture thickens.
Pour the mixture over the pork in the baking dish. (Sweet potatoes will not be done yet.) Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.
For the biscuits:
In a large bowl combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, thyme, black pepper and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add soaked amaranth and any liquid remaining in the bowl. Stir until combined.
Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, drop about ¼ cup of the biscuit dough into eight mounds on top of the stew.
Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the biscuits are browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a biscuit comes out clean.
Quinoa Salmon Cakes
The quinoa plant is a relative of beets, spinach and Swiss chard, but we treat its seeds as we would a grain, preparing and eating them in much the same way. Available in light brown, red and even black varieties, quinoa is filling and has a mellow flavor. It is a good source of manganese, iron, copper, phosphorous, vitamin B2 and other essential minerals and has the highest protein content of any grain. It is especially high in lysine, an amino acid that is typically low in other grains. Quinoa’s protein is complete, containing all nine essential amino acids – a rarity in the plant kingdom. Quinoa is gluten-free and easy to digest.
While it’s best to rinse all grains before cooking, pre-washing is especially advisable for quinoa, in order to remove the bitter saponin coating on its outer hull that sometimes remains after processing. To do so, simply run cold water over quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer, rubbing the seeds with your fingers. (Avoid soaking quinoa, however, as saponins can leach into the seeds.)
After rinsing, combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes, or until the grains become translucent and the germ appears as a thin white ring around each grain. This recipe will yield 3 cups of cooked quinoa. Quinoa holds lots of water, so you have to make sure you drain it thoroughly after it’s cooked. Fluff with a fork.
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 12 ounces cooked salmon or two 6 ounce pouches pink chunk salmon, drained
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (1 medium)
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
- 3/4 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
- 6 cups arugula
- 1 lemon, cut into thin wedges
- One 6 ounce carton plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Dash freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl stir together cooked quinoa, salmon, onion, 2 tablespoons chives and the garlic.
In a medium bowl stir together panko and lemon pepper seasoning; then add milk, eggs, egg whites and oil, stirring until combined. Add the panko mixture to the salmon mixture; stir until well mixed.
Generously coat twelve 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with cooking spray. Divide salmon-panko mixture evenly among the prepared cups, using a heaping 1/3 cup in each cup.
Bake about 25 minutes or until tops are golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center of a cup registers 160 degrees F. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Divide arugula among six serving plates. Run a knife around the edges of each cup to loosen; remove cakes from muffin the cups. Arrange on top of the arugula. Serve with lemon wedges and the lemon mustard sauce.
For the lemon-mustard sauce:
Stir together yogurt, mustard, 1 tablespoon chives, the lemon juice and black pepper. Serve sauce with warm salmon cups.
Barley-Stuffed Red Bell Peppers
A staple of soups and stews, barley is the oldest known domesticated grain and comes in hulled and pearled varieties. Hulled barley is the true whole-grain form, with only the outermost hull removed, whereas pearled barley is polished to remove the bran layer and often the inner endosperm layer as well. Pearled barley is both easier to find and the type called for in most recipes. Barley is an excellent source of fiber (one cup cooked contains 13 grams); its insoluble fiber helps maintain large populations of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract. Additionally, barley has been shown to aid in regulating blood sugar after meals (more so than other grains) for up to 10 hours, Like wheat and rye, barley is a gluten grain and is therefore unsuitable for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
If you cannot find quick cooking barley then combine 1 cup pearled barley and 3 cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 45-60 minutes.
- 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
- 2/3 cup quick-cooking barley
- 2 large red bell peppers
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)
- 1/2 cup shredded zucchini
- 1/4 cup finely diced onion
- 1/3 cup soft bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- Several dashes of bottled hot pepper sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium saucepan combine mushrooms, broth and barley. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until barley is tender; drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Halve sweet peppers lengthwise; remove seeds and membranes.
In a medium bowl combine egg, tomato, 1/2 cup of the cheese, onion, zucchini, bread crumbs, basil, rosemary, onion salt and hot pepper sauce. Stir in cooked barley mixture.
Place peppers, cut sides up, in an ungreased 2-quart baking dish. Spoon barley mixture into peppers. Pour the barley cooking water around the peppers to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the dish with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes or until barley mixture is heated through and the peppers are tender. Sprinkle each pepper with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 2 minutes more or until the cheese is melted.
Most Italian Americans, I know, grew up on spaghetti and meatballs. However, meatballs can sometimes be difficult to make because it is tough to get the texture and the seasonings just right. Often, they come out spongy or dry or dense.
Here are some of my tips for making good meatballs.
Some recipes call for beef and others call for pork. Some call for a mixture of beef and pork. Others call for beef, pork and veal. Then, there are the decisions about how much cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs to add or whether the meatballs should be cooked in the sauce or separately.
Meatballs need seasoning. As a rule, about 1 teaspoon of salt per pound will make for perfectly seasoned meat. Herbs are also important. Without them, your meatballs will end up tasting like a burger. Change the flavor a bit with herbs like mint, oregano and marjoram.
When using all beef to make meatballs, the meat should not be too lean. You need some fat for flavor, so buy ground beef that is labeled 75% lean. Another way to add flavor is to use part ground beef and part ground pork in the meatball mixture.
Eggs are not used for moisture. They are in the meatball mix to bind the meat, breadcrumbs, cheese and herbs together. For one to two pounds of meat, you won’t need more than one egg.
Be sure not to add too many bread crumbs–about a half cup per pound of meat will be enough.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl at once and use your hands to mix them. The light touch of your hands incorporates all of the ingredients without crushing the meat.
Depending on how you’ll serve the meatballs, you should roll them to the size appropriate for the dish. In soup, for instance, you’ll want small, bite-sized meatballs. If they’re on top of spaghetti, make them medium. If they are the main course, make them 2 inches in diameter.
If you roll meatballs with dry hands, the meat mixture will stick to your skin. To remedy this, wet your hands with water.
I never fry meatballs to keep them healthy. Baking or broiling work just fine.
Here is my basic formula for meatballs:
- 1 pound ground meat (pork, beef, veal, chicken, turkey or a combination)
- 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 finely minced garlic clove
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
Preheat the broiler or heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a rimmed cookie sheet.
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. With wet hands form into 12 equal sized meatballs. (Use an ice cream scoop to make them uniform in size.)
Place the meatballs on the prepared pan and broil 5 minutes each side or until completely brown. Or bake the meatballs in the oven for about 25 minutes.
If I am making the meatballs to go with spaghetti, then I simmer them in the sauce for the last hour of cooking.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 leeks, white and pale green parts, chopped
- 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups pearl barley
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed fennel seed
- 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/2 cup chopped parsley for garnish
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
To make the soup:
In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and garlic and saute until very soft, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and wine, stir to combine and cook for 4 minutes. Add the barley and the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the barley is tender, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Oil a rimmed cookie sheet.
To make the meatballs:
In a mixing bowl, combine the chicken, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, the 2 tablespoons parsley and tomato paste. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and mix with your hands. The mixture will be very sticky.
To form the meatballs:
Use two small spoons or a small ice cream/melon scoop to form small (1 inch) meatballs. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink in the center, about 10-12 minutes.
Add the meatballs to the soup and stir in gently. Serve the soup garnished with the 1/2 cup parsley.
Italian Meatball Stew
My mother made this often when I was growing up and I made it for my children when they were young. This dish is popular with kids if you find the right combination of vegetables that appeal to them.
- Basic Meatball recipe above, cooked
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Large baking potato, peeled and diced
- 4 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch-long pieces or the equivalent frozen
- 26-28 oz. container crushed Italian tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion, carrot and garlic until softened. Add the potato, green beans, tomatoes and seasonings.
Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and cook mixture until the potatoes and beans are tender.
Gently stir in meatballs and heat until the meatballs are hot and the mixture has thickened slightly.
Meatballs Stuffed With Mozzarella Cheese
This makes a great entrée with a salad and Italian bread. If you make them smaller, they are very good as an appetizer.
- Double batch of the Basic Meatball recipe, above
- 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes or mini fresh mozzarella cheese balls called pearls
- 3 cups store-bought marinara sauce or homemade spaghetti sauce
Heat the oven to 450°F. Line a 15 x 10 inch baking pan with parchment paper; set aside.
Form meatball mixture into 2″ balls.
Press a cheese cube or ball in the middle and seal the meat around it.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly brown all over. Place in a large serving bowl.
Heat marinara sauce and pour over the meatballs in the serving bowl.
Italian-American Meatball Lasagna
This is another favorite from my childhood days that my children and husband are also crazy about.
- One recipe of basic meatballs from above
- 12 traditional lasagna noodles
- 4 cups homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- Two 15 ounce containers ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a rimmed cookie sheet.
In a large bowl, combine the meatball mixture. With wet hands, shape into mini meatballs, using 2 teaspoons of mixture for each. Place the meatballs on the prepared cookie sheet and bake until brown all over, about 15 minutes.
To make the lasagna:
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Add noodles to the boiling water one at a time and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and place the noodles on kitchen towels.
Stir the chopped basil into the marinara sauce. Reserve 1 cup of the sauce for the top layer.
In a medium bowl, blend ricotta, egg, parsley and ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese.
To assemble the lasagna:
Spread 1 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Top with 4 noodles, overlapping. Layer half of the mozzarella slices on top of the noodles, followed by half the ricotta cheese. Spread the ricotta with a spatula. Scatter half the meatballs over the noodles. Pour half 1 cup of the marinara sauce over the meatballs.
Top with 4 more noodles and layer with the remaining mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Scatter remaining meatballs over the cheese. Pour 1 cup marinara sauce over meatballs.
Top with the final 4 lasagna noodles. Spread with the reserved 1 cup of sauce. Top with the remaining Parmesan. Cover the dish with foil.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 15 minutes until bubbly and slightly browned. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Flatbreads are breads made with flour, water and salt that are rolled into a flattened dough and baked. Many flatbreads are unleavened—made without yeast—although some are slightly leavened, such as pita bread. Flatbread became known in Ancient Egypt and Sumer in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), when the Sumerians discovered that edible grains could be mashed into a paste and then baked/hardened into a flatbread. Unleavened breads (such as matzoh which is not prepared with leavening) are usually flatbreads that hold special religious significance in Judaism and Christianity.
Flatbreads may contain such ingredients as curry powder, diced jalapenos, chili powder or black pepper. Olive oil or sesame oil may be added, as well, and flatbreads are usually thin. Cheese and tomato sauce are not usually added to flatbread.
Pizza, on the other hand, is usually made from dough containing yeast that is topped with cheese, tomato sauce, meats and vegetables. The crust is usually thin and most of the surface is covered with the toppings.
Focaccia is popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil, salt, sometimes herbs and may at times be topped with onion, Focaccia can be used as the bread to accompany a meal. The primary difference between conventional pizza and focaccia is that pizza dough uses very little leavening (baker’s yeast), resulting in a very thin, flat and flexible crust, while focaccia dough uses more leavening, causing the dough to rise significantly higher. The added leavening firms the crust and gives focaccia the capacity to absorb large amounts of olive oil.
Makes two 12-inch breads
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the parchment paper
- 1/3 cup cool water, plus extra as needed
Mix the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix well. Pour in the water and mix until the ingredients come together to form a dough. Add a little more water if the dough is dry and a little more flour if the dough is sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a counter and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Place the dough on a lightly floured counter, dust with flour and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes at room temperature.
To shape the dough:
Cut 2 sheets of parchment paper into 14-inch lengths. Lightly brush the parchment paper with olive oil. Cut the dough into 2 pieces.
Place a piece of dough on each piece of parchment paper. Brush the top of each piece of dough with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Using your hands, flatten and stretch the dough until it thins out to about 10 inches. If it shrinks back, just wait 10 minutes for the gluten to relax.
Turn the dough over and brush the top of each with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Turn again and stretch into a 12-inch circle, or until the dough is very thin but not yet transparent, about 1/8-inch thick and even in thickness if possible. Season each dough circle with the remaining salt.
Heat a large nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium high heat for 2 minutes and carefully transfer one dough circle to the skillet and cook 3 minutes, or until browned lightly on the bottom. Turn and cook the second side until it also begins to brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and repeat with the second dough circle.
Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature with salami, cheese, peppery extra-virgin olive oil and ripe tomatoes.
For 1 pizza
- 1/2 of the recipe for All-Purpose Dough, recipe below
- 1/2 of the recipe for All-Purpose Pizza Sauce, recipe below
- 1 cup sliced or shredded mozzarella cheese
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Fresh basil leaves
- Olive Oil
Prepare pizza dough as directed in the recipe below. About 2 hours before baking, remove chilled dough from refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature to proof.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
Oil a 14-16 inch pizza pan.
Place one ball of dough in the pan and stretch the dough to fit the pan. Top the dough with All-Purpose Pizza Sauce, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and several basil leaves brushed with olive oil.
Place the pizza on the bottom rack of the oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until toppings are bubbly, cheese is turning golden, and edges of pizza are golden brown.
All-Purpose Pizza Dough
- 5 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt or 2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fast-rising active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon water, at room temperature
- Olive oil cooking spray
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook or in a large bowl using a large spoon, combine all ingredients except olive oil cooking spray. Mix on low or by hand about 3 minutes, until ingredients are combined and all the flour is moistened. Dough will be soft.
If using an electric mixer, increase speed to medium; mix 2 minutes longer. If working by hand, continue mixing with the spoon; or turn dough out onto a counter and knead.
Mix long enough to form a smooth, supple dough, about 3 minutes. If dough seems very stiff, incorporate more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, as you mix. If dough is wet and sticky, sprinkle in more flour as you mix. Dough should be tacky but not sticky.
Lightly coat an 8-quart bowl with cooking spray or oil. Form dough in a smooth ball and place in the bowl, turning once to coat surface with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, without letting wrap touch surface of dough. Let dough stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Then refrigerate dough overnight or up to 3 days. (Dough will continue to rise in the bowl until nearly doubled, then will go dormant from the cold.)
Two hours before assembling the pizzas, remove chilled dough from refrigerator. Mist a large baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray or lightly rub with olive oil. Cut dough in three portions. Form each portion in a smooth round ball.
Place each ball of dough on prepared baking sheet. Lightly mist with cooking spray, then lightly cover with plastic wrap. Let dough stand to come to room temperature.
All-Purpose Pizza Sauce
- One 28 ounce crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl whisk together all ingredients. Taste and adjust the salt, if needed.
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoon salt , divided
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 pounds sweet yellow onions , cut into eighths and thickly sliced
In a large bowl, mix 1/2 cup warm (105 to 115°F) water with honey. Sprinkle with yeast and set aside to let stand for 5 minutes, or until foamy.
Stir in flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, 1/4 cup of the oil and 1 cup warm water, then transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic.
Transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl, turning the dough to coat. Cover and let stand in a warm draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently, for 1 hour or until onions are very soft and golden brown. Set aside to let cool.
Punch down dough, then transfer to a lightly oiled 15-inch x 11-inch jelly roll pan or large baking sheet and pat dough out to the edges of the pan. Cover and let stand 45 minutes, or until puffed and well risen. Spread onions over the dough, then cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Uncover dough and bake on the lowest oven rack for 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and crisp. Cut into pieces and serve.