Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Marinara

Giuseppe_Verdi00

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest Italian composers of all time. Giuseppe Verdi was responsible for some of the best operas, which are still widely known and revered today: La Traviata, Aida and Rigoletto, to name just a few. Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene after the eras of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture.

Verdi was born to Carlo Giuseppe Verdi and Luigia Uttini in Le Roncole, a village in the province of Parma (Emilia-Romagna region) in Northern Italy. When he was still a child, Verdi’s parents moved from Le Roncole to a nearby village, Busseto, where the future composer’s education was greatly facilitated by visits to the large library belonging to the local Jesuit school. It was in Busseto that he was given his first lessons in composition. Verdi went to Milan when he was twenty to continue his studies. He took private lessons in music and voice while attending operatic performances and concerts. Eventually, he decided to pursue a career in theater composition.

After his studies, Verdi returned to Busseto, where he became the town music master and gave his first public performance at the home of Antonio Barezzi, a local merchant and music lover who had long supported Verdi’s musical ambitions. Because he loved Verdi’s music, Barezzi invited Verdi to be his daughter Margherita’s music teacher and the two soon fell deeply in love. They were married in May 1836 and Margherita gave birth to two children. Unfortunately, both died in infancy while Verdi was working on his first opera and, shortly afterwards, Margherita died of encephalitis at the age of 26. Verdi adored his wife and children and was devastated by their deaths.

His first opera, Oberto, performed at La Scala in November 1839, was successful and La Scala’s impresario, Bartolomeo Merelli, offered Verdi a contract for three more works.
It was while he was working on his second opera, Un giorno di regno, that Verdi’s wife died. The opera was a failure and he fell into despair, vowing to give up musical composition forever. However, Merelli persuaded him to write Nabucco and its opening performance in March 1842 made Verdi famous. It follows the plight of the Jews as they are assaulted, conquered and subsequently exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco. The historical events are used as background for a romantic and political plot. The best-known piece from the opera is the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”.

A period of hard work – producing 14 operas – followed in the next fifteen years. These included I Lombardi in 1843, Ernani in 1844 and, for some, the most original and important opera that Verdi wrote, Macbeth (1847). It was Verdi’s first attempt to write an opera without a love story, breaking a basic convention of 19th-century Italian opera.

Nabucco

Nabucco

Sometime in the mid-1840s, Verdi “formed a lasting attachment to the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi who was to become his lifelong companion”. Their cohabitation before marriage was regarded as scandalous in some of the places they lived and eventually Verdi and Giuseppina married. In 1848, Verdi bought an estate two miles from Busseto. Initially, his parents lived there, but after his mother’s death in 1851, he made the Villa Verdi at Sant’Agata his home, which it remained until his death.

Rigoletto

Rigoletto

During this time, Verdi created one of his greatest masterpieces, Rigoletto, which premiered in Venice in 1851. Based on a play by Victor Hugo (Le roi s’amuse), the opera quickly became a great success. There followed the second and third of the three major operas of Verdi’s “middle period”: in 1853 Il trovatore was produced in Rome and La traviata in Venice. The latter was based on Alexandre Dumas’ play, The Lady of the Camellias, and became the most popular of all of Verdi’s operas worldwide. You can listen to the drinking song, “Brindisi” from La Traviata, in the video below performed by two of my favorite opera singers, Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti.

In 1869, Verdi was asked to compose a section for a requiem mass in memory of Gioachino Rossini, as part of a collection of sections composed by other Italian contemporaries of Rossini. The requiem was compiled and completed, but was cancelled at the last minute. Five years later, Verdi reworked his “Libera Me” section of the Rossini Requiem and made it a part of his Requiem Mass, honoring the famous novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni, who had died in 1873. The complete Requiem was first performed at the cathedral in Milan in May 1874.

Verdi’s grand opera, Aida, is sometimes thought to have been commissioned for the celebration of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and there had been a plan to inaugurate an opera house as part of the canal opening festivities, but Verdi turned down an invitation to write an “ode” for the new opera house. In 1869, the organizers approached Verdi (this time with the idea of writing an opera), but he again turned them down. When they warned him that they would engage the services of Charles Gounod and Richard Wagner, Verdi began to show considerable interest and agreements were signed in June, 1870.

Aida

Aida

Teresa Stolz was associated with both Aida and the Requiem, as well as, a number of other Verdi roles. The role of Aida was written for her and she performed the opera at the European premiere in Milan in February 1872. She was also the soprano soloist in the first and in many later performances of the Requiem. After Giuseppina Strepponi’s death, Teresa Stolz became a close companion of Verdi until his death.

In 1879 the composer-poet Boito and the publisher Ricordi pleaded with Verdi to write another opera. He worked slowly on it, being occupied with revisions of earlier operas, and completed the opera seven years later. This opera, Othello, his most powerful and tragic work, a study in evil and jealousy, is notable for the increasing richness of detail in the orchestral writing. Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, whose libretto was also by Boito, was based on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, Part 1 with Victor Hugo’s translation. It was an international success and is famous for being one of the world’s best comic operas.

Othello

Othello

While staying at the Grand Hotel et de Milan, Verdi suffered a stroke on January 21, 1901. He gradually grew more feeble and died nearly a week later. Arturo Toscanini conducted a combined orchestra and choir composed of musicians from throughout Italy at Verdi’s funeral service in Milan. To date, it remains the largest public assembly of any event in the history of Italy.

Completing 25 operas throughout his career, Verdi continues to be regarded as one of the greatest composers in history. His works are noted for their emotional intensity, tuneful melodies and dramatic characterizations. He transformed the Italian opera, with its traditional staging, old-fashioned librettos and emphasis on vocal displays, into a unified musical and dramatic entity. As Verdi matured he played with the expectations of listeners, who expected scenes to unfold in familiar patterns. Instead, he would break off an aria and transition into a charged recitative or blur distinctions between forms and styles to make the music responsive to the dramatic moment and the text. The music of Verdi, one of Italy’s most outstanding composers, makes up some of classical music’s most timeless treasures and his operas are among those most frequently produced in the world today.

Busseto's Tribute to Verdi

Busseto’s Tribute to Verdi

Emilia Romagna

Verdi lived in Busetto in the heart of the Italian province of Parma, in Emilia-Romagna. When one thinks of luxurious Italian food, it is usually classic Emilia Romagna cuisine. The area is known for its flavorful produce dishes. Bright green asparagus is served with Parmigiano Reggiano and melted butter. The sweet chestnut, known as Marrone di Castel Rio, comes from Emilia Romagna, as do porcini mushrooms. Local shallots and olive oil pressed from local olives are prized for their quality. Pasta is a favorite food in the region. While polenta, rice and gnocchi were staples in Emilia Romagna cooking, fresh egg pasta is now more popular. Most areas consider tagliatelle their favorite shape and serve it with ragù. Recipes also include tortelli, or large pasta squares, filled with ricotta and greens and served with melted butter.

In addition to the Romagnola breed of cattle, rabbit, game birds and poultry are eaten. Wild duck and tomatoes are stewed with herbs, white wine and served with risotto. Cappone ripieno, or roasted capon, is stuffed with with a marsala flavored veal and ham filling. Other popular meats include pork, lamb and mutton. Proscuitto di Parma and fresh fruit are served together for a refreshing appetizer.

Emilia is well known for Parmigiano Reggiano, but the Grana Padano and Provonole Valpadana are also extremely high quality. Cheeses are used young, while sweet, or aged to develop a sharper flavor for grating. Ravaggiolo and squaquarone are also creamy piquant cheeses used in cooking. After so many rich dishes, it’s appropriate that many Emilia Romagna desserts are based on fresh fruit. Melons, stone fruits, berries and pears are most often served.

crostini di polenta with moules

Toasted Polenta with Mussels

You can use any seafood to top the polenta. The same combination may be successfully used in bruschetta or crostini recipes.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups polenta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb mussels, steamed and removed from the shell
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Olive oil for brushing

For the tomato sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Fresh basil
  • 1 – 26-28 can diced Italian tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper

For the green sauce:

  • 1 cup green parsley, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Cook the polenta in salted water with the olive oil, in proportions according to package directions. You want a thick polenta, not thin. Pour the polenta into a loaf pan and leave it to set overnight; or for at least two hours.

The next day, cut the loaf into slices. Place the slices on a wooden board and brush with some olive oil. Next arrange the slices, oiled side down, on a greased oven rack. Brush the other side with olive oil.

Bake in 200°C/390°F oven until golden brown on top, for about 30 minutes. Then remove from the oven; let it cool.

Meanwhile prepare the mussels and sauces.

In a skillet heat the olive oil; add chopped garlic and the mussels. Then add the wine and let it cook until all liquids evaporate.

To cook the tomato sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan; add chopped onion and sauté until golden. Next add chopped garlic. Stir and sauté briefly, then add the canned tomatoes. Lower the heat and cook until the liquid evaporates and the sauce thickens.

Remove from heat and let the sauce cool slightly. Then place it in a food processor and blend with a small bunch of fresh basil, salt and pepper.

To make the green sauce:

Place all ingredients for the sauce in a food processor. Blend until fairly smooth.

Carefully remove the polenta slices from the rack and arrange on a serving platter. Top with the tomato sauce and green sauce. Then arrange the mussels on top. Serve warm.

tagliatelle

Tagliatelle with Chestnuts, Pancetta and Sage

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces pancetta (Italian unsmoked cured bacon), chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 8 ounces bottled peeled roasted whole chestnuts, coarsely crumbled (1 1/2 cups)
  • 8 ounces dried flat egg pasta such as tagliatelle or fettuccine
  • 2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions
Cook pancetta in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, 1 tablespoon sage and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in chestnuts and remove from heat.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander and add to the pancetta mixture in the skillet. Add the reserved cooking water along withthe  cheese and butter and cook, tossing constantly, over high heat until pasta is well coated, about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve sprinkled with parsley and remaining tablespoon sage.

parma pork

Pork Tenderloin Prosciutto Parma

Serve with broccoli rabe. Try to purchase authentic Italian Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano for this dish—even though it is more costly, the superior flavor is worth the expense.

10 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 pork tenderloins, (1-1 1/4 pounds each), trimmed
  • 4 thin slices Italian Parma ham, (Prosciutto di Parma), divided
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Directions

Combine sage, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Butterfly the tenderloins, so they can be flattened, stuffed and rolled. To do that, make two long horizontal cuts, one on each side, dividing the tenderloin in thirds without cutting all the way through. Working with one tenderloin at a time, lay it on a cutting board. Holding the knife blade flat, so it’s parallel to the board, make a lengthwise cut into the side of the tenderloin one-third of the way down from the top, stopping short of the opposite edge so that the flaps remain attached. Rotate the tenderloin 180°. Still holding the knife parallel to the cutting board, make a lengthwise cut into the side opposite the original cut, starting two-thirds of the way down from the top of the tenderloin and taking care not to cut all the way through. Open up the 2 cuts so you have a large rectangle of meat. Use the heel of your hand to gently flatten the meat to about 1/2 inch thick.

Cover each butterflied tenderloin with 2 of the prosciutto slices, then spread 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano over the ham, leaving a 1-inch border. Starting with a long side, roll up each tenderloin so the stuffing is in a spiral pattern; then tie the roasts at 2-inch intervals with kitchen string.

Lightly brush the roasts all over with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, then rub with the reserved herb mixture. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large, heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the roasts, bending to fit if necessary, and cook, turning often, until the outsides are browned, 3 to 5 minutes total.

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast, checking often, until the internal temperature reaches 145°F, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. To serve, remove the string and cut the pork into 1-inch-thick slices.

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pizza header

First offered at a few big-city Italian restaurants in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, pizza started to come into its own at Chicago’s Pizzeria Uno – the first restaurant built around this “foreign dish” – in 1943. Nationally franchised takeout pizza was born at Pizza Hut in 1958, Little Caesars in 1959 and Domino’s in 1960 and from then on, pizza was an established part of the American culinary landscape.

But what about homemade pizza? When did Americans start making their own pizza at home, from scratch, rather than driving down to the pizza parlor for takeout?

According to The Food Timeline, the first known American cookbook pizza recipe appeared in 1936, in Specialita Culinarie Italiane, 137 Tested Recipes of Famous Italian Foods. But it wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that pizza made it out of the Italian neighborhoods and into the American mainstream. In 1945. American GI’s were coming home from Europe and some of them returned with a new-found love for Italian food – such as pizza – at that time a treat available only at Italian restaurants. By 1954, the first yeast-crust pizzas were making an appearance, as evidenced in The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cookbook. See the recipe page below – hardly the “real thing”. Source: (http://www.foodtimeline.org/)

first cookbook

Have a pizza party. Make the dough, sauces and toppings ahead of time and let your guests have fun making their own pizzas.

Pizza Doughs

All-Purpose Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 5 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon fast-rising or instant dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon water, at room temperature
  • Olive oil or nonstick cooking spray

Directions

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 the 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 the surface with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, without letting wrap touch surface of dough. Let dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate the 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 the refrigerator. Mist a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or lightly rub with olive oil. Cut dough into four portions. Form each portion in a smooth round ball.

Place each ball of dough on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly mist with cooking spray, then lightly cover with plastic wrap. Let dough come to room temperature.

Multigrain Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup rye flour (or cornmeal or additional whole wheat flour)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons honey
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant yeast or fast-rising yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups water, at room temperature

Directions

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook or in a large bowl using a large spoon, combine all ingredients. 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 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 bowl, turning once to coat surface with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, without letting wrap touch the 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 bowl until nearly doubled, then will go dormant from the cold.)

Two hours before assembling the pizzas, remove chilled dough from the refrigerator. Mist a baking sheet with cooking spray or lightly rub with olive oil. Cut dough into four portions. Form each portion in a smooth round ball.

Place each ball of dough on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly mist with cooking spray, then lightly cover with plastic wrap. Let dough come to room temperature.

Tips:

  • At this point, extra dough may be placed in freezer bags that have been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray. Seal, label and freeze up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before using.
  • As a substitute for a baking stone, use an inverted baking sheet placed on an oven rack. For easy pizza assembly, invert another baking sheet on the counter and cover the underside with parchment paper (for baking). Mist the paper with cooking spray, then prepare the pizza on the paper.
  • Closely watch pizzas that are placed on parchment paper while baking. The high heat from the oven can cause some papers to ignite. Carefully read labels and instructions to avoid using papers in a hot oven that could cause fires.

 Pizza Sauces

All-Purpose No Cook Pizza Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 – 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions

In a medium bowl whisk together all the ingredients. If necessary, add more water to thin. It should easily spread over the dough. For an 8 to 10 inch pizza, use 1/4 cup of the sauce.

Pesto alla Genovese Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

In a medium skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil; add garlic. Cook and stir for 10 seconds; remove pan from heat. Immediately add to remaining oil.

In a food processor combine the garlic oil, basil, cheese, lemon juice and half the nuts; cover and process 20 seconds or until mixture resembles a thick green sauce. (If the contents are very thick and pasty, drizzle in a little water and process for a few more seconds. If too thin, add more shredded cheese)

Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl and stir in the pepper and the remaining nuts.

For pizza: top dough with mozzarella cheese slices, drizzle some pesto sauce over the cheese, top with sliced plum tomatoes and bake.

Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto sauce and refrigerate (the plastic wrap will help keep the pesto a bright green). Chill for up to 5 days; for longer storage, transfer to freezer containers. Seal, label and freeze up to 3 months.

Multipurpose Herb Oil

Ingredients

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic (or 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Spanish paprika, mild or hot
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl whisk all ingredients together for about 15 seconds, long enough to evenly distribute the ingredients. Because most spices and herbs settle quickly, always whisk the oil mixture before drizzling or pouring. Let the herb oil stand at least 30 minutes at room temperature for flavors to meld.

Store, tightly covered, in a cool dark place up to 2 weeks.

Sauce Variations

  • Spicy Puttanesca Sauce: Add 1/2 cup chopped pitted kalamata or ripe olives, 1 tablespoon capers and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper to the all-Purpose Pizza Sauce.
  • Tomato Basil-Pesto Sauce: combine All-Purpose Pizza Sauce and Pesto alla Genovese
  • Garlic Sauce: Add 2 to 3 tablespoon of garlic oil (see Caramelized garlic recipe) and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper to any pizza sauce.
  • Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage: thinly slice 3 Roma tomatoes and drain on a paper towel; saute 1/2 bunch of chopped broccoli rabe with olive oil and garlic;  saute 1/4 lb diced Italian sausage and thinly slice 1/2 lb mozzarella cheese. Layer cheese, tomatoes, broccoli and sausage on a 14 inch round of All-Purpose pizza dough and bake until crust is brown.

Toppings

Cheese

To any one of the above pizzas add: 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella, provolone, Fontina cheese, Parmesan or 1/4 cup feta, chevre or blue cheese.

Meat

Add 1/4 cup sliced cooked chicken, salami, pepperoni, crisp-cooked bacon or pancetta, ham or any type of cooked sausage to each of the above pizzas.

Seafood

Marinate seafood in 1/2 cup of Multipurpose Herb Oil (see recipe). Place 1/4 cup cooked shelled clams, scallops, shelled mussels, shrimp, tuna, calamari or octopus strips to each of the above pizza.

 Some Of My Favorite Pizzas

artichoke

Marinated Artichoke Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe All-Purpose Pizza Dough or Multigrain Pizza Dough 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ounce marinated artichoke hearts, drained and sliced thin
  • 1 ounce fire-roasted red peppers, drained and sliced thin
  • 6 small Roma tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick and marinated in 1/2 cup Multi Purpose Herb Oil (see recipe); drain before using.
  • 1 cup sliced black olives
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Remove dough from the refrigerator 2 hours before assembling pizzas. About 45 minutes before baking, place an oven rack one-third the distance from the bottom of oven. Place a pizza stone or invert a heavy baking sheet on the rack. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Cook onions in hot oil about 10 minutes, until translucent. Stir in sugar and balsamic vinegar; cook until juices bubble. Transfer onions to a strainer set over a bowl. Drain for 3 minutes. Return drained juices to the skillet. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until the consistency of honey. Remove from heat. Return onions to the skillet. Stir to coat, then set aside.

For pizzas, stretch each dough portion into an 8-10 inch circle. One at a time, transfer to a pizza peel (pizza-size spatula) or rimless cookie sheet dusted with flour. Evenly divide onion mixture, artichokes, peppers, tomatoes and olives and spread on each circle. Sprinkle top with cheese.

Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until toppings bubble and pizza edges are golden brown. Rotate pizzas halfway through baking time. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing.

mushroom

Mushroom-Garlic Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe All-Purpose Pizza Dough or Multigrain Pizza Dough
  • 1 recipe Caramelized Garlic, recipe below
  • 1 ½ cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 ½ cups sliced cremini or button mushrooms
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups shredded provolone cheese
  • 4 teaspoons Multipurpose Herb Oil, see recipe 
  • 1/4 cup of fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped

Directions

Remove dough from refrigerator 2 hours before assembling pizzas. About 45 minutes before baking, place an oven rack one-third the distance from bottom of oven. Place a pizza stone or invert a heavy baking sheet on the rack. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons oil from the Caramelized Garlic recipe. Cook and stir mushrooms in hot oil for 4 to 5 minutes, just until they begin to glisten. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

For pizzas, stretch each dough portion into an 8-10 inch circle. One at a time, transfer to a pizza peel (pizza-size spatula) or rimless cookie sheet dusted with flour. Top each pizza with 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, one-fourth of the sautéed mushrooms (about 1/2 cup) and 6 to 8 cloves of garlic (from Caramelized Garlic).

Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until toppings bubble and pizza edges are golden brown. Rotate pizzas halfway through baking time. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Just before serving, drizzle each pizza with 1 teaspoon Multipurpose Herb Oil and sprinkle with parsley.

Caramelized Garlic

Place 1 cup of peeled garlic cloves (3 to 4 bulbs) in a small saucepan with enough olive oil to cover the garlic (about 1 cup). Simmer over medium heat about 20 minutes, until garlic is a rich dark golden brown on the outside. They should develop what resembles a crust. Stir occasionally to prevent garlic from sticking to the pan and burning. Remove from heat. Let garlic stand in the oil for 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer garlic cloves to a plate lined with paper towels. Transfer remaining oil to a jar with a tightly fitting lid. Separately refrigerate garlic cloves and oil, tightly covered, up to 2 weeks.

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Marjoram is a sweet tasting herb that is used interchangeably with oregano. It has tender leaves and stems, grows well just about anywhere and is a great kitchen windowsill garden choice. It is a very tender plant and in most areas, it is considered to be an annual plant. It needs full sun to develop properly. Cut back the stems and leaves as they grow and marjoram will provide you with multiple cuttings in one season. The flavor of marjoram is most pronounced when it is not cooked for a long period of time. Add it fresh to a dish during the last 5 to 10 minutes of the cooking process.

Native to the Mediterranean and Eurasia areas, marjoram has been cultivated in Egypt for over 3000 years and has been grown in England since the 13th century. The name, marjoram, is thought by most authorities to have originated from the Greek words for mountains and brightness/joy/beauty. Oregano and marjoram were commonly called “joy of the mountains” due to their beauty and abundance on the Mediterranean mountain sides, where they grew wild.

Wild Marjoram

It is important to note that in much of the history and folklore of the genus, it is difficult to distinguish between sweet marjoram and oregano, since many authors have used the name marjoram to describe both plants, and historically, both (sweet marjoram) and (wild marjoram/oregano) have been called marjoram. The physical similarity of the plants and the difficulty with proper identification have been a historical problem that persists still today.

Sweet marjoram has long been an herb of love. According to Roman legend, the goddess of love, Venus, gave the plant its scent “to remind mortals of her beauty”.  A similar legend surrounds Aphrodite, Venus’s counterpart in Greek mythology, who is said to have created sweet marjoram and grew it on Mount Olympus. Marjoram has been used in love potions and spells and as a wedding herb in nosegays and bridal bouquets. In ancient Greece and Rome, a crown of marjoram was worn by the bride and groom during the wedding ceremony. There is more than one folk tradition linking marjoram to love and dreams. According to one legend, if a woman placed marjoram in her bed before going to sleep, Aphrodite would appear in a dream to “reveal her future spouse’s identity”.

Sweet marjoram was a popular culinary herb in Europe during the Middle Ages, when it was used in cakes, puddings and porridge. Records of its culinary use date back to the 1300s in Spain and Italy, when it was added to stews and shellfish. Marjoram was a common salad herb and was also used to flavor eggs, rice, meats and fish during the Renaissance. Both marjoram and oregano have been used to make teas and, prior to the introduction of hops, wild marjoram/oregano was an ingredient in beer and ale.

Sweet marjoram has a wide variety of culinary uses. It can flavor liqueurs and herbal vinegars and it is used in a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. Leaves, flowers and tender stems can be added to stews, poultry stuffing, syrups, salad dressings, cheese mixtures for sauces and spreads, seafood, omelets, pizza and sausages. Sweet marjoram compliments mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, squash, peas and asparagus. It combines well with other herbs, especially garlic and parsley.

With its sweetness, marjoram is a natural addition to desserts. If you lived in the 16th century, you may have been treated to sugar flavored and scented with marjoram flowers. Many chefs use sweet marjoram for crème brulee, ice cream, custards, pies/tarts and other fruit desserts. The herb also complements apples, melons and tropical fruits like papaya and mango. Commercially, sweet marjoram is an ingredient in many processed foods, where the seeds are used in meat products, candy, beverages and condiments.

Italian Marjoram Flavored Tomato Sauce

In Italy, the most popular sauce herb is marjoram.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red chili, dried
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 -26 to 28 oz containers Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 handful marjoram, roughly chopped

Directions:

Mix together all the above ingredients, except for the marjoram, in a saucepan and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Add marjoram and simmer for 5 minutes.

Note: This sauce is good on pasta with meat added to it, on vegetables and in recipes where a tomato sauce is needed. It also makes a good pizza sauce.

Red Pepper and Fennel Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 2 fennel bulbs, about 1¼ pounds
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Slice them into 1/4-inch slices.

Trim and clean the fennel and cut it lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices. Blanch in boiling salted water for one minute. Drain, cool to room temperature and pat dry.

Arrange the peppers and fennel in a serving bowl.

Pour the vinegar into a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion. Stir in the garlic, marjoram and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Marinate for an hour at room temperature before serving. Serves 4 as a salad or 6 as an appetizer.

Pasta and Squash with Marjoram

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz Penne Pasta
  • 1 medium butternut squash, about 2 lbs.
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh marjoram leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a 10×15-inch jelly roll pan with aluminum foil.

Using a large, heavy knife, cut off the ends of the squash and peel.

Cut squash in half, remove and discard seeds. Cut squash into 3/4-inch cubes.

Place squash in a mixing bowl and drizzle with oil. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat squash evenly.

Spread in a single layer on the foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain.

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add marjoram to butter and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. (Do not allow butter to brown.) Stir in stock and season with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Stir in cream; simmer, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes.

Toss together cooked pasta, squash and sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Tip: Winter squash, including butternut, is hard and has a tough skin. To make it easier to cut, pierce the squash in several spots with a knife, then microwave on High (100%) power for 1 to 2 minutes. Let it stand 2 to 3 minutes before cutting.

Swiss Chard Torte

Serves 8 as an appetizer or 4 as a main course served with a side salad.

For the crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and finely ground
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the filling:

  • 2 big bunches Swiss chard (or spinach), thick stalks removed, leaves roughly chopped
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1/4 cup yellow raisins, soaked in 2 tablespoons Marsala or white wine
  • 5 or 6 marjoram sprigs, leaves chopped
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese

Directions:

In a large bowl mix together the flour, the salt and the ground fennel. Add the Marsala, stirring it in briefly. Add the olive oil and stir until a sticky ball forms. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead quickly until it’s relatively smooth, only about a minute or so. The dough will feel a little oily. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest, unrefrigerated, for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

While the dough is resting, fill a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Blanch the Swiss chard for about 2 minutes. Drain it into a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking. Squeeze as much water out of the chard as you can. 

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until it softens, about a minute or so. Add the chard, seasoning it with salt, black pepper and the fennel seeds; sauté about 2 minutes longer. Add the raisins with their soaking liquid and the almonds. Take the pan off the heat and add the marjoram. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, then add the eggs and the Grana Padano cheese, mixing them in well.

Roll out the dough and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan, leaving a little overhang all around. Pour in the filling, and smooth out the top. Trim the dough overhang neatly all around. Drizzle the top with a little olive oil. Bake until the crust is browned and the filling is firm, about 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Red-Wine Pot Roast with Porcini

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup low-salt beef broth
  • 1/2 ounce of dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 4-pound boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks with some leaves, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram, plus sprigs for garnish
  • 1 26-28-ounce container Italian peeled chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup dry red wine

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring broth to simmer in saucepan. Remove from heat and add the mushrooms, cover, and let stand until soft, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a cutting board. Chop coarsely. Reserve mushrooms and broth separately.

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Transfer beef to large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings from the pot. Place pot back over medium heat. Add onion and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and reserved porcini mushrooms; sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add wine; boil 5 minutes. Add reserved mushroom broth, leaving any sediment behind. Boil 5 minutes.

Return beef and any accumulated juices to the pot. Cover; transfer to the oven. Cook 1 1/2 hours. Turn beef, add chopped marjoram. Cover and continue cooking until tender, about 1 1/2 hours longer. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and keep refrigerated.)

Transfer beef to a cutting board; tent with foil. Cut beef into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer to a platter.

Remove any fat from the surface of the sauce in the pot and season with salt and pepper. Spoon a little sauce over the meat on the platter and garnish with additional marjoram. Serve the additional sauce on the side.


Italians were some of the first European explorers and settlers in California. Religious work and the search for new fishing grounds were initial reasons for Italians to explore what later became the thirty-first state, but their reasons for staying, expanded after arriving in California. Though we often associate Italians in California with San Francisco, the initial settlers, who were from the region of Liguria in Italy, established themselves in such diverse communities as Monterey, Stockton and San Diego during the years of Spanish Rule. The arrival of the”Genovesi” in California, beginning in the 1850′s, coincided with the early development of the state. It wasn’t long before Italian fishermen had established themselves in fishing villages from Eureka to Benicia, Martinez, Pittsburg, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Diego and Monterey. By the 1880′s, California had become a leading fishery and its coastal waters were dominated by Italian fishermen and their graceful sailing “feluccas”.

Italian Feluucas

Chumming for tuna 

The Italian immigrants who settled near downtown San Diego in the 1920s were mostly fishermen from Genoa and Sicily. They worked on or owned fishing boats and opened seafood markets or processing plants. Also, many Italians moved to San Diego from San Francisco after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in search of tuna and other deep-sea sport and commercial fish.

Fishing Family 1917

The example of Joseph Busalacchi is typical of the Italian fisherman who left fishing and succeeded as a merchandiser of ocean products. Mr. Busalacchi was born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1899 and came to San Diego in 1921 to join his brother Mario, who was a fisherman there. In 1925, Joe opened a small market at Fifth and E Streets. Soon after this, the owner of the Union Fish Company, Anthony Trapani, asked Joe to work for him. Mr. Busalacchi worked for the Union Fish Company for nineteen years, most of the time as manager. In 1944 Mr. Trapani retired and left the business to Joe and to the bookkeeper of the company, George Bissel. In 1950 Mr. Busalacchi bought out Bissel’s share. When the Navy took over the company’s location at the foot of Market Street, Mr. Busalacchi opened a new storage and freezer plant at 1004 Morena Boulevard, where it is still located. Then, in 1965, Mr. Busalacchi opened the Sportsman’s Seafood Market at 1617 Quivira Road, where he sold fresh fish and provided smoking and canning services for sportsmen who brought in their catch. 

Anthony's Fish Grotto 1946

Original Anthony’s Fish Grotto 

Anthony's Fish Grotto 1996

New Anthony’s Fish Grotto (1966)

Women of the Italian fishing families also made their contribution. For example, Catherine Bregante was born in Riva Trigoso, Italy, on the seacoast not far from Genoa. In 1912 her family came to San Diego and settled at 2136 Columbia Street. In 1916 her father, Anthony, opened a small fish market on F Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. Catherine and her brother Anthony, Jr., operated the market. In 1926 the store moved to a larger location at the foot of Broadway, where both wholesale and retail business was conducted. A food counter was installed and seafood cocktails and chowder were served and the company prospered through the depression years. Michael Ghio, Catherine’s husband since 1916, worked in the Bregante business, however, in 1934 Michael Ghio died. Catherine supported her children by continuing to work in the seafood restaurant. In 1946 when her sons, Tod and Anthony, came home from service in the war, they opened the first Anthony’s Grotto, a restaurant on the wharf with a seating capacity of sixteen. From the first Grotto the business grew into a multi-outlet industry with about 600 employees and an annual payroll in excess of $4 million.

The tuna clipper Venetian

The tuna clipper, Venetian

Commercial fishing is a risky enterprise that requires hard work, a willingness to take a chance and the propensity to rely on one’s own ability to survive. All successful fishermen have had, and still have, these qualities. The Italian fishermen, however, had another trait that was vital to the success of the San Diego fishing industry. This trait was an entrepreneurial instinct that impelled them to develop the fresh fish marketing structure that first encouraged the fishing business to grow. Those early fishing boats, which were built and then enlarged to supply that market, were the foundation upon which the modern tuna fleet was built. Although fishing, which the Italians dominated, is now a minor part of San Diego’s industry, it must be recognized that the city’s seafood industry has its roots in that early Italian fishing/marketing structure.

Source: Center for Migration Studies and San Diego History Center.

When Italian immigrants settled along San Diego’s waterfront in the early 1900s, they formed the “Italian Colony,” a tightly knit community that provided refuge and a shared culture and heritage. Extended families, new businesses and church traditions formed the foundation for a lasting social code. It was no coincidence that the area would become known as “Little Italy”—it was exactly that for its inhabitants—a home away from their native land. But by the mid-1960s, changes brought by war and urban modernization began to unravel the community. By the early 40s, thousands of Italian families lived in San Diego and the fishing community was the center of the Pacific Coast tuna industry, but Italy’s involvement in World War II — and the restrictions the US government imposed on Italians in America — limited the fishermen’s livelihood. After the war, competition from Japanese fishing fleets and new industry regulations further impaired the fishing industry. In the late 50s, the landscape of the neighborhood was drastically changed with the construction of Interstate 5. The Interstate construction destroyed 35% of the neighborhood and, during the same time period, the California tuna industry began to decline which caused the neighborhood to suffer economically.

In the past 20 years, San Diego’s Little Italy has experienced a resurgence. The Little Italy Association was formed in 1996 and has implemented street improvements, renovations and new buildings to create a thriving waterfront community filled with retail and professional businesses, restaurants, specialty stores and artwork depicting the Italian American experience.

OLR was the center of San Diego’s “Little Italy” 1925

Thanks to Italian American residents, like Sicilian baker and Sicilian Heritage Foundation organizer, Mario Cefalu, San diego’s “Little italy” is thriving once again. The area is beautifully maintained and full of tributes to the Italian history of the block. Every Saturday the Mercato, Little Italy’s Farmers’ Market, offers food, flowers and merchandise with an Italian perspective. Carnevale, a Sicilian Festival, Taste of Little Italy, a restaurant tour with special menus and live music, Art Walks through studios and galleries and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony are some of the annual events. In October, Our Lady of the Rosary Church holds a procession that has been an annual event for more than 50 years and the Little Italy Festa is one of the largest Italian festivals in America.

India Street is lined with restaurants, sidewalk cafes and shops and, most of them are new, coming after the renewal projects. For some of the best pizza on the block, served in appropriately decorated Italian American checked-tablecloth-fashion, head to Filippi’s Pizza Grotto (1747 India St.). Vincent De Philippis and his wife Madeleine came to America in 1922 and in 1950 opened a deli on India Street. That deli expanded into a small pizza empire named, Filippi’s. If it’s pasta you’re after, try family run Assenti’s Pasta (2044 India St.), offering homemade pasta.

The original Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is still owned and operated by the family

Italian Seafood Cuisine from San Diego

Steamed Mussels with White Wine & Chiles

You should buy the mussels on the day that you are going to cook them. Scrub and debeard them in advance of cooking.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flat leafed parsley, plus a little for garnish
  • 4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 red chiles finely chopped
  • 1 large baguette

Directions:

Place the olive oil in a large wide pot over medium heat.

Add the garlic and saute for about 2 minutes.

Add the scallions and the chiles and saute for another minute.

Add the mussels and toss quickly to coat.

Add the white wine and and cover the pot.

Continue to cook over a medium-high heat for about 3 minutes or until the mussels begin to open. 

Add the tablespoon of chopped parsley and toss to combine.

Continue cooking until all the mussels have opened. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Place the mussels in warmed serving bowls or one large bowl (family style) and spoon over the wine mixture.

Sprinkle with the additional parsley and serve with the baguette. for dipping

Tuna with Tomato-Caper Sauce

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tuna steaks (such as albacore or yellowfin; each about 6 oz. and 1 in. thick)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion (8 oz.), peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 can (14 1/2 oz.) crushed tomatoes in purée
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions:

Pat tuna steaks dry with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly all over with salt and pepper. Pour oil into a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over high heat. When hot, add onion and stir frequently until limp, about 5 minutes.

Push onion to the side of the pan and add tuna steaks. Cook, turning once, just until browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Stir in crushed tomatoes, wine, vinegar, capers and oregano.

Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until tuna is no longer pink in the center (cut to test), about 15 minutes. Transfer tuna to plates and top equally with sauce.

Seafood Pasta

Chef Geno Bernardo

Ingredients:

For spaghetti:

  • 8 ounces cooked linguine
  • 4 per serving of shrimp
  • 2 ounces cooked Alaskan king crab meat, per serving
  • 1/2 per serving of Maine lobster tail, claw, elbow (with tail shell, cut into pieces)
  • 4 per serving of Little Neck clams or Manila clams
  • 2 ounces calamari, per serving
  • 8 per serving of mussels
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup celery, cut into thin strips
  • 3/4 cup fennel, cut into thin strips
  • 3/4 cup leeks, cut into thin strips
  • 3 ounces butter
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

For seafood marinara:

  • 1 cup lobster stock (made from lobster shells)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted saffron
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted and ground
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 quart tomato basil marinara

Directions:

For seafood marinara:

Mix ingredients together in a bowl.

For spaghetti:

In a small pot steam the mussels and clams in the wine.

In a large skillet sauté the shrimp and calamari. Add the seafood marinara. Add the basil, vegetables, butter and linguine.

Season to taste and serve family-style topped with the crabmeat and lobster.

Cracker-Crusted Pacific Cod with White Polenta

Steve Black Executive Chef at the Sheraton Hotel & Marina on Harbor Island – his comments on this dish.

“At a recent offsite gig, our client chose the humble Pacific codfish for their main course because it is one of the best-eating fish and it comes from a healthy, sustainable stock unlike the Atlantic codfish that continue to struggle. Atlantic cod have been overfished in the Gulf of Maine for decades. I paired the fish with white polenta, another favorite that comes out creamy and delicious the way we slow-simmer it, adding in a lot of cheese. I wanted to give the plate some color to make it visually appealing so I added the roasted roma tomatoes, asparagus and some edible flowers.You can find white polenta in specialty food stores and I like it as it’s less grainy than regular polenta. Just like all polentas, it does bloom up a bit so I would say 12 to 16 ounces is plenty for this dish and will leave you with some leftovers.‘

Serves 6

For the Creamy White Polenta:

  • 12 ounces White Polenta
  • 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Chopped Garlic & Shallots
  • 2-3 Pints Chicken Base/Stock
  • 1 Pint Heavy Cream
  • 1 Wheel Herbed Boursin Cheese
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 Cup Mascarpone Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped Chives
  • Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper

For the Cracker-Crusted Cod:

  • 6 Boneless Cod Fillets (6 to 7 ounces)
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Flour
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Seasoning Salt
  • 2 Sleeves Ritz Crackers, ground up fine
  • 1/2 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
  • 1/2 Cup Canola Oil
  • 30 Pieces Blanched Green Asparagus
  • 1 Cup Oven Roasted Roma Tomatoes (coated in olive oil and roasted for 30 minutes at 200 degrees)
  • 4 Ounces Sweet Butter
  • Lemon vinaigrette, directions below 

Directions:

Start by making the polenta. Take a stockpot and heat up the olive oil along with the chopped garlic and shallots. Simmer on low heat for five minutes.

Turn up the heat and add the polenta, starting with two pints of chicken base or stock (you can always add more) and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a low, gentle simmer and cover the pot. Let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Take a look to see how the water has been absorbed. Now you can add the heavy cream and all three cheeses. Cover and let simmer again for 15 to 20 minutes. You will also want to taste the liquid and add some salt and pepper and even some extra chicken stock if need be.

The polenta is almost done at this point. You are looking for the same consistently of loose mashed potatoes. You may have to simmer with the cover removed for the liquid to evaporate quicker. Once you have the right consistency and flavor, place the polenta on the side, covered. Just before service, you can stir fresh chives into the polenta.

I like to make the preserved lemon vinaigrette by using a basic dressing and simply blending in some preserved lemons. You could also use fresh orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit or whatever juice you want. Put half a bottle of champagne vinaigrette into a blender with a quarter-cup of preserved lemons (we make our own here in the hotel and I add sugar instead of straight salt for a better-flavored preserved lemon). Blend at high speed for two minutes and taste. Adjust the seasoning with sugar, salt and pepper or sweet orange juice or lemonade. Turn the blender on high again and drizzle in a half-cup of olive oil. You can make this in advance and store in the fridge.

Now it’s time to move on to the fish. Combine the crackers and the panko crumbs. Mix the egg, milk and seasoning salt together. Add the flour and whip until you have a thick batter. Pour enough of the egg batter over the fish to create an even coat of batter on the fillets. You only need a little as the Ritz/panko mix will adhere to the batter really well. If you want to make this healthier, use olive oil to coat the fish instead of the egg batter.

Bread each piece of cod with the Ritz/panko mix and set aside.

Take a saute pan and heat to medium, add the canola oil and then brown off the battered fish on both sides. I prefer to brown the fish quickly and then finish roasting it in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes until the internal temp hits 145.

Spread your dried tomatoes on a pan and heat up in the oven. While the fish is roasting melt the butter in a sauté pan and heat up your asparagus. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix the chives into your white polenta and spoon a nice portion onto each plate followed by the asparagus and tomatoes. Top with the cod, drizzle some vinaigrette on top, garnish and serve.

Basil & Artichoke Crusted Halibut

Steve Black Executive Chef at the Sheraton Hotel & Marina on Harbor Island.

“While there are a lot of ingredients used in this recipe, it’s really relatively simple to prepare. The preparation combines many fresh flavors with one of the best-tasting, flaky fish out there —halibut. The braised fennel and tomato sauce used on the halibut is also delicious on just about any other seafood, including shrimp and mahimahi to name a few.”

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 Ounces fresh cleaned basil leaves
  • 6 Ounces drained, marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 Teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 6 Ounces extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Cup grated parmesan
  • Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper
  • 6 pieces halibut fillets weighing 6 to 7 ounces each
  • 4 Ounces Japanese panko breadcrumbs

Sauce:

  • 3 oz. Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Cup diced fennel
  • 1/2 Cup diced onion
  • ½1/2Cup diced zucchini
  • 1/2 Cup diced red pepper
  • 1/2 Cup diced yellow squash
  • 1/2 Cup diced eggplant
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 Cup white wine
  • 2 Cups marinara sauce
  • 1/4 Cup chopped basil
  • 1/2 Tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 1/2 Cup heavy cream

Directions:

For this recipe, I like to start off by making the braised fennel and tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil on medium high in a saucepot. Add the fennel, onion, zucchini, red pepper,  squash, eggplant, garlic and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and saute for three minutes, then turn down the heat to a simmer and add the wine and marinara. Let the sauce simmer for 15 minutes. Add the heavy cream and simmer another 15 minutes until the sauce reduces and thickens. The vegetables will turn soft with the tomato cream sauce for a nice consistency. Pull from the heat, taste for seasoning and add the basil and hold on the side.

Now move on to making the crust for your halibut. In a mixer or hand immersion blender, puree the basil, artichoke hearts, lemon juice, lemon zest and garlic. Add a quarter cup of the parmesan and then drizzle in four ounces of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and set this mix in the refrigerator.

Season the halibut fillets with salt and pepper on both sides and in a medium size nonstick sauté pan, add two ounces of olive oil and let it come up to heat. Add in the fish, letting each side sizzle until brown.

Once both sides of the fish are seared, remove the pan from the heat and spread the basil/artichoke mix on the top of each fillet. Mix the panko crumbs with two ounces of grated parmesan and then top the basil/artichoke mix with the breadcrumbs and finish the fish by baking it in a 350-degree oven for 10 more minutes.

For plating, spoon the fennel-tomato sauce into the bottom of a bowl and top with the cooked halibut.

Yellowtail & Lobster Stew

Steve Black Executive Chef at the Sheraton Hotel & Marina on Harbor Island.

” I went on a five-day trip on the Royal Polaris a while back and the yellowtail fishing was incredible with anglers loading up on fish up to 40 pounds. With the yellowtail season on the horizon, I thought I’d share this incredibly simple recipe that can be used with lobster to create more of a Northeast-style stew or chowder. I had to add the fresh yellowtail I brought home from that trip and man, was it good! “

Ingredients:

Serves 8

  • 1.5 Pounds of spiny baja lobster, steamed, meat removed, cut into large chunks
  • 1 Pound fresh yellowtail, (a type of Amberjack) seasoned and cut into large chunks
  • 8 ozs. Sweet butter
  • 4 ozs. Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ozs. Cognac
  • 1 Tablespoon Paprika
  • 2 Cups heavy cream
  • 2 Cups evaporated milk
  • 2 Cups whole milk
  • 1/4 Cup chopped fresh chives
  • Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Directions:

In a large saucepan, heat up the oil and butter. Add the yellowtail and brown the meat for three minutes. Add the lobster and cognac and flame off the alcohol.

Add the paprika, heavy cream, evaporated milk and whole milk, chives and salt and pepper, and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, but keep an eye on it. You do not want to let this to come to a boil or it may curdle the milk. Let the stew simmer until all of the flavors are well combined.

The stew should take on a nice red color from the paprika and lobster meat. Taste the stew to check the seasoning and then serve with crisp, warm bread.


A change in diet can be tough for kids. Gradual changes can be effective, though, such as switching from regular to whole-grain pasta in stages. First add 1/4 cup of the healthier noodle and each time gradually add more, until eventually they’re eating the entire dish whole-grain style. The key is making the changes over time and not making a big deal about them.

When your children see you eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, they’ll follow your lead. Help your child develop healthy eating habits by setting an example. You’ll send a message that good health is important.

Find new ways to introduce healthy food. For example, try a small amount of broccoli mixed in with whole-grain macaroni and cheese. Sometimes cooking veggies in forms that kids are comfortable with can encourage them to try different vegetablesYou can add peas to pasta or even make a half cauliflower/half potato mash.

When your kids ask for candy and a soda, help them make better choices by stocking up on healthy snacks. 

Present new foods or healthy choices, but don’t force children to eat it. Ask what new foods they’re interested in trying and offer to make them. Get excited about their willingness to try them! Put a small portion of a new food on their plate and ask them to taste it. 

When everyone sits down together for meals, there’s less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much. Everyone develops good eating habits and the quality family time is an added bonus.

Food shouldn’t be a source of stress for your family. Get your kids to eat healthier by being creative and consistent. Small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference.

Involve your children in choosing and preparing meals. Take them to the grocery store to help shop. Children who are involved in cooking are more interested in eating what they’ve prepared.

Have them help put together a shopping list and give them fun, educational tasks. For example, you can tell them to count out six apples into a produce bag at the store.

They can rinse and chop vegetables, tear lettuce or stir the pot. My grandsons love putting the cheese on pizza dough.

Thinking about a weekly schedule may seem overwhelming, so start with two or three days at a time. Good dinners should be balanced with whole-grain bread, rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable and a lean protein or meat.

Make a game of reading food labels. Read books about food and explain where it comes from. The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat.

Not So Healthy Food Choices

Hot Dogs

Since they’re filled with sodium, they zap water from kids’ bodies—and up children’s chances of dehydrating. Plus, they are loaded with saturated fat, which is a factor in causing heart disease, even for little people. Another reason to cut back on hot dogs: One study found that children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month are significantly more likely to develop childhood leukemia.

Smart swap: Chicken apple sausages. They’re made with lean meat that’s lower in fat, calories and salt. The sausages also contain bits of real apple, which add a touch of sweetness that most kids love. There are now several healthy hot dog choices in the markets – just check the label for lower sodium and lower saturated fats. You will also want to avoid nitrates, such as the hot dogs made by Applegate. 

Pepperoni Pizza

One slice of pepperoni pizza packs nearly 300 calories and your little one may want seconds. This type of pizza includes lots of saturated fat and sodium, about 700 mg per piece. Kids need only 1,000 to 1,300 mg total per day.

Smart swap: Homemade veggie pizza on whole-grain crust. Besides being healthier, your child can pitch in with this cooking project, which wards off boredom. Just buy a premixed ball of whole-grain dough, low-sodium tomato or pizza sauce and vegetables your little one loves. You can also add skinless chicken breast, ham or lean hamburger for protein, which keeps kids fuller, longer and means less roaming around in the kitchen for a snack.

Ice Pops

Like soda, they come with empty calories that can cause weight gain. As refreshing as they might seem, they’re actually filled with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring and dyes.

Smart swap: Frozen fruit. Freeze cubes of watermelon. Watermelon has a high water content, so the result is a sweet treat that keeps kids hydrated. You can also freeze grapes (just don’t give them to children under four years old, as they can be a choking hazard), blueberries and orange slices are other tasty, nutritious options. Unsweetened fruit juice also makes great frozen pops.

Potato Chips

Not only can all of that sodium in chips cause dehydration, but it can also prompt kids to quench their thirst with sugary drinks. Plus, chips are high in fat.

Smart swap: Grilled corn. An ear of sweet corn on the cob is a good source of fiber. Fiber is important for kids year-round, but summer schedules mean kids get less of it and it’s necessary for optimum gastrointestinal health. How much fiber does your small fry need? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests: Children 1-3 years: 19 grams of fiber per day; Children 4-8 years: 25 grams of fiber per day; Boys 9-13 years: 31 grams of fiber per day; Girls 9-13 years: 26 grams of fiber per day. For a calcium boost on top of the fiber fix, roll an ear of grilled corn in a bit of shredded Cheddar or Parmesan cheese.

Sweet Drinks

What children drink can have a major effect on how many calories they consume and how much calcium they get to build strong bones. One research study found that every additional serving of a sugary drink a day increases a child’s risk for obesity by as much as 60%.

Smart swap: Water can’t be beat. Kids may be upping their liquid intake when they drink sugar-filled beverages, but they’re also consuming hundreds of extra empty calories. If your child finds H20 ho-hum, freeze berries into large ice cubes and float them in cups of water or add a splash of unsweetened fruit juice to their glass of ice water

Healthy Easy Kid Friendly Recipes

Snacks

Baked Mozzarella Bites

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3 mozzarella bites and 1 tablespoon sauce)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

  • 3 (1-ounce) sticks part-skim mozzarella string cheese

  • 3 tablespoons egg substitute

  • Cooking spray

  • 1/4 cup marinara sauce (homemade or store bought- check label for sodium and sugar content and choose lower levels.)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup panko to the pan, and cook for 2 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and place the panko in a shallow dish.

Cut mozzarella sticks into 1-inch pieces. Working with one piece at a time, dip cheese in egg substitute; dredge in panko. Place cheese on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 3-4 minutes or until the cheese is softened and thoroughly heated.

Pour the marinara sauce into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until thoroughly heated, stirring after 30 seconds. Serve with mozzarella pieces.

Chocolate-Granola Apple Wedges

Serves 4 (serving size: 4 apple wedges)

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

  • 1/3 cup low-fat granola without raisins

  • 1 large apple, cut into 16 wedges

Directions:

Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute, stirring every 15 seconds, or until chocolate melts.

Place granola in a shallow dish. Dip apple wedges, skin side up, in chocolate; allow excess chocolate to drip back into bowl.

Dredge wedges in granola. Place wedges, chocolate side up, on a large plate. Refrigerate 5 minutes or until set.

 

Main Entrees

Chicken and Waffle Sandwiches

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon low-fat buttermilk

  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 frozen whole-grain round waffles, toasted

  • 6 ounces thinly sliced, lower-sodium deli chicken breast or home cooked and sliced thin

  • 4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella or mild cheddar cheese

  • 8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices ripe tomato

  • 4 Boston lettuce leaves

Directions:

Combine mayonnaise and the next 5 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl.

Spread mayonnaise mixture evenly over 4 waffles. Divide chicken, cheese, tomato and lettuce evenly on the four coated waffles.

Top with remaining toasted waffles.

Individual Pizzas

Let your children assemble these pizzas.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough or homemade pizza dough

  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce

  • 4 individual mozzarella string cheeses

  • 8 black olive slices

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Divide pizza dough into four pieces. Stretch and roll out each piece into a 5-inch round.

Spoon 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce on each pizza round.

Peel string cheese into long, thin pieces and place on top of the the sauce,

Top each pizza with two black olive slices for the pizza eyes.

Or, let the children be creative and decorate the pizza as they wish.

Bake the pizzas for 12-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Cheesy Stuffed Shells

Ingredients:

Meat Sauce

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (grass-fed ground beef is a healthier choice) or ground turkey

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon Italian seaoning

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 2 cloves minced garlic

  • 1 10 oz pkg. frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

  • 1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, divided

  • 1 box large pasta shells

Directions:

Prepare Meat Sauce:

Brown beef in a large saucepan. Drain on paper towels to remove fat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pan and saute onion and garlic.

Add tomato paste and Italian seasoning; cook for one minute. Return beef to the pan and add crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper. Simmer 30-40 minutes until thickened.

Prepare Filling:

Saute 1/2 cup onions and 2 minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add spinach and cook two minutes. Put mixture into a mixing bowl and set aside to cool.

Combine cooled spinach mixture with mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese.

Boil the pasta shells in salted water until al dente, drain and set aside on clean kitchen towels.

Spoon filling into shells and place in a greased 9×13 inch baking pan.

Top with meat sauce and remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until heated through and the sauce is bubbling.

 

Desserts

Frozen Pudding Pops

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 4 serving-size pkg. sugar-free instant chocolate or chocolate fudge pudding mix

  • 2 cups fat-free milk

  • 1 – 4 serving-size pkg. sugar-free instant banana cream, butterscotch, pistachio, vanilla or white chocolate pudding mix

  • 2 cups fat-free milk

  • 16 Small plastic cups (3 oz. bathroom size)

  • 16 Wooden popsicle sticks

Directions:

Place sixteen 3-ounce disposable plastic drink cups in a 13×9 2-inch baking pan; set aside.

Put the chocolate pudding mix into a medium mixing bowl. Add 2 cups milk. Use a wire whisk or hand beater to beat the pudding for 2 minutes or until well mixed.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons pudding into each cup. Cover cups with a piece of foil. Freeze for 1 hour.

Place desired second flavor pudding mix in another medium bowl. Add 2 cups milk. Use a wire whisk or hand beater to beat the pudding for 2 minutes or until well mixed.

Remove pudding-filled cups from the freezer; uncover. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the second flavor of pudding over the frozen pudding in cups.

Recover each cup with the  foil. Make a small hole in the center of foil with the sharp knife. Push a wooden stick through the hole and into the top layer of pudding in the cup.

Put the baking pan in the freezer. Freeze for 4 to 6 hours or until pudding pops are firm. Remove from freezer. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Remove pudding pops from the cups to serve. Makes 16 pops.

Mini S’Mores

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 whole graham cracker squares

  • 16 tiny marshmallows

  • 1 ½ ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted*

  • 1 tablespoon white sprinkles

Directions:

Preheat the broiler. Using a serrated knife, cut each graham cracker into quarters (you will have 16 portions).

Place half of the crackers on a baking sheet and top each with a 2 tiny marshmallows. Broil 3 inches from the heat for just a few seconds until the marshmallows start to brown.

Remove and quickly top with remaining graham crackers. Dip one end into the melted chocolate, place on waxed paper and decorate the chocolate side with sprinkles.

Let stand until chocolate sets. Mini s’mores can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.

*To melt chocolate, place chopped chocolate in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over low heat until melted.

 


After the long wait for the first tomato to ripen, do you find yourself smack dab in the middle of a tomato deluge? You may have also grown too many tomatoes or found yourself carried away when purchasing at the farmers’ markets. Here are a few ways to enjoy all of your tomatoes to the maximum.

1. Eat tomatoes fresh or barely cooked.

Mid-summer is too hot for lengthy cooking and little preparation is needed for tomato consumption. Slice or chop some tomatoes and sprinkle on a little salt. Just slightly more work, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh or dried herbs and now you have a snack or side dish. Toss on some cheese — feta or bleu — and you can call it a salad. With further preparation, you could enjoy tabbouleh.

2. Preserve for later.

Canning tomatoes is the best place to start if you are interested in learning to can. Anyone with motivation can learn to can by carefully following the guidelines in the Ball Blue Book: Guide to Home Canning, Freezing and Hydration. Most tomatoes and especially heirloom varieties tend to be high in acid and, therefore, resistant to spoilage. A favored method of preserving tomatoes is canning a not-too-thick tomato sauce that can be simmered further in soups or spaghetti sauces in the fall and winter.

Weather too hot for lengthy cooking sessions is also unsuitable for the boiling water of canning, so you might consider freezing a quart or two of sauce. I have also had good luck with freezing tomatoes whole in Ziploc bags or plastic containers to cook later on in the year.

3. Share your bounty.

The best thing about having too many tomatoes or any vegetable is that you can feel generous and share. Neighbors and co-workers seem especially appreciative of receiving extra produce. If you have a lot to share with those in need, be aware that Food Gatherers accepts produce donations.

The days of too many tomatoes pass quickly. What are your favorite ways to enjoy your tomato bounty?

Fresh Marinara Sauce

Yields about 2.5 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 2 yellow onions, peeled and diced (about 2 cups diced)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons dried herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 12 cups peeled, seeded and chopped fresh ripe tomatoes (about 5 lbs)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook slowly on medium heat until they start to caramelize. They should be evenly brown and soft.

Add the garlic and dried herbs and cook for 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup of red wine and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and their juice and stir to combine.

Bring to a simmer and cook on low, stirring occasionally for at least 2 hours, or longer depending on the water content of the tomatoes. The sauce should be thick with much of the water evaporated to concentrate the flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Freeze in 2 cup portions for use during the winter.

Tomato and Basil Spread

Makes 1-1/4 cups spread (10 servings).

Ingredients:

  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 -8 ounce package reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 -2 tablespoons fat-free milk
  • Miniature toasts and/or crackers/cut up vegetables

Directions:

Place chopped tomatoes on a paper towel to remove some of their liquid.

In a medium bowl, stir together tomatoes, cream cheese, basil, garlic and pepper.

Stir in enough of the milk to make mixture of spreading consistency.

Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours. Serve with crackers and vegetables.

Crunchy Zucchini and Tomato

Broiling these lightly breaded vegetables gives them a crunchy yet tender texture, while keeping them healthy with only 54 calories per serving.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 4 slices
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large tomato, cut into 4 slices
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Directions:

Preheat broiler. Coat both sides of zucchini and tomato slices with olive oil. Sprinkle zucchini and tomato slices with Italian seasoning and pepper.

Place zucchini slices on the unheated rack of a broiler pan. Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat about 8 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning once halfway through broiling.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, cheese and garlic.

Place tomato slices on broiler pan next to zucchini slices. Sprinkle tops of vegetable slices with bread crumb mixture. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes more or until topping is golden.

Fresh Tomato-Feta Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound whole wheat pizza dough
  • 4 plum tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal, for sprinkling on pizza pan
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • 1 ounce pitted kalamata olives, halved (1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Let dough stand at room temperature, covered, for 30 minutes.

Arrange tomato slices on a jelly-roll pan lined with paper towels; top with more paper towels. Let stand 30 minutes.

Place a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet in the oven. Preheat oven to 500° F. (keep pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven as it preheats).

Combine tomatoes, 2 tablespoons oil and garlic carefully, so as not to break the tomatoes.

Press dough into a pizza pan sprinkled with cornmeal and pierce dough liberally with a fork.

Place pizza pan on stone and arrange tomato mixture on dough. Crumble cheese and sprinkle over the tomatoes.

Bake at 500° F. for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and cheese is lightly browned.

Remove from the oven; top with olives and basil. Brush outer crust with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil.

Cut into serving pieces.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Clams

4 servings (serving size: about 2 cups pasta with 4 clams

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups chopped tomato (about 4 large)
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces uncooked whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 16 littleneck clams

Directions:

Combine tomatoes, 1/3 cup chives, 1 tablespoon garlic, vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl; let stand 15 minutes. Drain mixture in a colander over a bowl, reserving liquid.

While the tomatoes stand, bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook the pasta for 10 minutes or until al dente and drain.

Heat butter, olive oil and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic in a large skillet over low heat; cook 3-4 minutes or until tender. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add reserved tomato liquid and bring to a boil and cook 6 minutes.

Add clams; cover and cook 4 minutes or until shells open. Remove clams from the pan to a pasta serving bowl as they open and discard any unopened shells.

Add drained pasta to the pan with the tomato mixture and cook for 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Pour into the serving bowl with the cooked clams and top with the remaining chives.

Red Lentil-Rice Cakes with Fresh Tomato Sauce

6 servings- 12 cakes (serving size: 2 cakes and 1/2 cup sauce)

If you’re starting with leftover cooked rice, use about 1 1/2 cups.

Ingredients:

Sauce:

  • 3 cups finely chopped plum tomato (about 6 tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cakes:

  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup dried small red lentils
  • 1/2 cup uncooked basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

Directions:

To prepare sauce, combine the first 5 ingredients; set aside at room temperature.

To prepare cakes:

Bring 4 cups water and lentils to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain. Place lentils in a large bowl.

Combine remaining 1 cup water and rice in the same pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 18 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Cool 10 minutes. Add rice to lentils.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, onion, fennel and garlic to the pan; saute 2 minutes or until tender. Cool 10 minutes. Add to the rice mixture.

Add mozzarella cheese and remaining ingredients, stirring until well combined. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Cook cakes in two batches. Spoon rice mixture by 1/3-cupfuls into pan, spreading to form 6 (3-inch) circles; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

Carefully turn cakes over; cook 5 minutes on other side. Remove cakes from the pan.

Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and remaining rice mixture. Serve with tomato sauce and a green salad.

Oven-Baked Chicken With Fresh Mozzarella & Tomatoes

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 (6 ounce) boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 8 slices fresh tomatoes or more if tomatoes are small
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Coat a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a shallow dish, stir to mix well.

Dip chicken, one piece at a time, in the beaten egg and dredge in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing to adhere.

Place chicken in the prepared dish.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Turn the oven to Broil.

Top with tomato slices, vinegar and mozzarella cheese.

Broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes to warm the tomatoes and melt the cheese.

Sprinkle with basil and parsley.


Spaghetti Squash is rounded and oblong in shape, measuring as much as 12 inches in length and 6 inches in diameter. When ripe, it is typically light yellow in color and weighs around 5 pounds. It is also sometimes called vegetable spaghetti, (the more common term for it in the UK), noodle squash, vegetable marrow, squaghetti and mandarin squash. The “spaghetti” name comes from the fact that when it is cooked, the flesh of the vegetable is long and stringy in appearance, like spaghetti. It rose to popularity in the US and Europe during the 1970’s.

In the early 1990′s a new variety of orange spaghetti squash came on the market. Orangetti is slightly sweeter and higher in beta-carotene than standard spaghetti squash.

The word “squash” is of Native American Indian origin. And the squash plant is generally known to be native to North and Central America since ancient times, along with maize and beans. So it is entirely reasonable for most people to think that spaghetti squash originated in North America. However, it was actually developed in Manchuria, China during the 1890’s. We are not sure when or how squash was first introduced to China. But we do know that by the 1850’s, the Chinese were growing and using some varieties of squash for fodder. Perhaps the “spaghetti” variety was developed in an effort to come up with a variety that was easier to grow.

So, how did this Chinese squash make its way to America? In the 1930’s, the Sakata Seed Company, a Japanese firm, was looking for new types of plants to promote and came upon the Chinese squash. They developed an improved strain and introduced it in seed form around the world. The Burpee Seed Company in the US picked up and marketed Sakata “vegetable spaghetti” seed (as it was then called) in 1936.

While it found some limited acceptance in rural family gardens, vegetable spaghetti was not exactly an instant American hit. In fact it was still pretty much unknown in urban America up until the World War II era. During the war, however, some popular household staple foods were in short supply. In that environment, vegetable spaghetti grew in popularity as a substitute for Italian spaghetti noodles, that could be grown at home in one’s “victory garden.” After the war, however, when food shortages were no longer an issue in the US, vegetable spaghetti once again faded into obscurity. It was scarcely heard from again until around the 1960’s, when it was reborn in California as “spaghetti squash.” Frieda Caplan’s specialty produce company in Los Angeles—the one that made such a success out of the newly dubbed “kiwi fruit”—is popularly credited with making spaghetti squash a marketing success in the US.

Spaghetti squash became popular among the hippie counterculture, where it was touted as a healthy “natural” alternative to “processed” food. It eventually went mainstream and by the 1980’s, spaghetti squash had become fairly well known and common throughout the US. Today the squash continues to have a steady following, particularly among vegetarians. But also among dieters—since it is such a low calorie, low carb food.

One of the reasons for the popularity of squash is its nutritional makeup. One cup of the vegetable has:

* Only 42 calories, making it attractive to those watching their calories (just watch how much butter or sauce you add).

* Only 10 grams of carbohydrates, making it attractive to those on low carb or low glycemic index diets.

* 0 grams fat or cholesterol, making it attractive to those watching their cholesterol.

* Only 28 mg of sodium, making it attractive to those watching their sodium intake.

* Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, potassium, and trace amounts of zinc, phosphorus, iron, calcium, magnesium and copper—things everybody needs.

Purchasing Squash

Spaghetti Squash is available year round in most large supermarkets. When selecting spaghetti squash at the market, look for hard, dense vegetables that feel heavy with no soft spots or bruises. Also look for uniformity of color with no green in it (either pale yellow or orange—depending on the variety). If it is green it isn’t yet ripe. It should be at least 9 inches (23 centimeters) in length with a 5 inch (12.7 centimeter) girth. 

I am sure you have heard that spaghetti squash is a great substitute for pasta, so you’ve lugged one home from the store. Now what do you do with it? Just about any way you can think of to apply heat can be used to cook spaghetti squash. The big question is: to cut or not to cut it before cooking? You can do it either way. Here are the pros and cons of each. (Cooking times will vary with the size of the squash/pieces of squash.)

Cutting Up Spaghetti Squash Before Cooking

Advantages: It cooks faster.

Disadvantages: Like any winter squash, hacking it up takes muscle and a sharp knife or cleaver. It’s also a bit more work to scrape out the seeds and pulp when they are raw.

Method: Cut it in half (lengthwise) or quarters. You don’t want to cut it up too small unless you want short strands. Scrape out the seeds and pulp as you would with any squash or pumpkin.

Bake rind side up about 30 to 40 minutes at 375 degrees F.

Microwave 6 to 8 minutes (let stand for a few minutes afterwards)

Boil 20 minutes or so. Separate strands by running a fork through the flesh from top to bottom.

Cooking Spaghetti Squash Whole

Advantages: It’s easier.

Disadvantages: It takes longer to cook and you need to take care to not burn yor hands when removing the hotbpulp and seeds.

Method: Pierce the squash several times with a sharp knife. (Do this especially if you’re microwaving it, so you don’t end up with the squash exploding.)

Bake about an hour in the oven at 375 degrees F.

Microwave 10 to 12 minutes, then let stand for 5 minutes afterward to finish steaming.

Boil for half an hour.

Slow Cooker/Crock Pot: Put it in with a cup of water and let it go on low all day (8 to 10 hours).

When done, cut open “at the equator” (not lengthwise), remove seeds and pulp (use tongs and an oven mitt — it is HOT) and separate strands with a fork.

Did You Know? Any squash seeds can be roasted just like pumpkin seeds. They are low-carb, nutritious and delicious.

Spaghetti Squash Storage Tip

Like pumpkin and other squashes, whole uncooked spaghetti squash is best stored between 50 to 60 degrees and will last up to six months this way. On the other hand, spaghetti squash will keep several weeks at room temperature.

How To Serve Spaghetti Squash

A meat sauce made of ground meat of choice, tomatoes, mushrooms and garlic can be mixed with spaghetti squash and topped with Italian cheeses.

Adding shellfish to spaghetti squash is a way to serve the vegetable to people who enjoy seafood dishes. Shrimp scampi is also good over spaghetti squash.

Many people enjoy mixing it with regular cooked spaghetti  to reduce the  amount pasta in a dish or even serving it with a marinara or alfredo sauce.

Cooked spaghetti squash can also be chilled and tossed with a light vinaigrette.

There are several simple ways of serving spaghetti squash without the addition of meat or shellfish and there are a variety of preparations for this squash.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Herbs

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium spaghetti squash
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (or Romano cheese)

Directions:

Cook squash. To bake, pierce a few holes in the squash with a large knife, skewer or ice pick to allow steam to escape. Place in a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F. for an hour or until the skin gives easily under pressure and the inside is tender. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes, then halve lengthwise or crosswise. Scoop out seeds and fibers and discard. Use a fork to scrape out the squash flesh. It will naturally separate into noodle-like spaghetti strands.

Saute the minced garlic in the olive oil in a skillet until it’s softened and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, basil, and oregano to the garlic and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Spoon the garlic-tomato mixture on top of squash strands. Top with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Serves 4 to 6.

Spaghetti Squash Salad with Pine Nuts and Tarragon

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 3 large (9 pounds) spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped
  • 2/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) ricotta salata cheese, crumbled

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and bake for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Arrange the spaghetti squash halves cut sides up on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Flip the squash cut sides down and pour the water and wine into the pans. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the squash is barely tender. Flip the squash cut sides up and let cool until warm.

In a small bowl, combine the white wine vinegar with the lemon zest and lemon juice, thyme and crushed red pepper. Whisk in the 2/3 cup of olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

Working over a large bowl, using a fork, scrape out the spaghetti squash, separating the strands. Pour the dressing over the squash and toss to coat. Add the tarragon, cheese and pine nuts and toss again.

Roasted Salmon with Spaghetti-Squash Salad

  • One 3 1/2-pound spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small red chile, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless center-cut salmon fillet, cut crosswise into very thin slices
  • 2 large kirby cucumbers, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into thin half moons
  • 2 tablespoons shredded mint

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 500°F. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the squash until al dente, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the 2 tablespoons of oil with the lime and orange juices, garlic, chile and orange and lime zests. Season with salt and pepper.

Carefully transfer the squash halves to a large bowl and let cool. Using a fork and starting at 1 end of each piece of squash, scrape and separate the strands. Pat dry with paper towels.

Spread the salmon slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the salmon for about 3 minutes, or until cooked through.

In a medium bowl toss the cucumbers, mint and dressing with the squash strands. Mound the salad on plates, top with the salmon and serve.

Spaghetti Squash With Garlic, Parsley and Breadcrumbs

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash, about 3 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 large garlic cloves, green shoots removed, minced
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pierce the squash in several places with a sharp knife. Cover a baking sheet with foil, and place the squash on top. Bake for one hour, until the squash is soft and easy to cut with a knife. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until you can handle it. Cut in half lengthwise, and allow to cool some more. Remove the seeds and discard. Scoop out the flesh from half of the squash and place in a bowl. Run a fork through the flesh to separate the spaghetti like strands. You should have about 4 cups of squash. (Use some squash from the other half if necessary). Set aside the other half for another dish.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the garlic and bread crumbs. When the bread crumbs are crisp —after about a minute — stir in the squash and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss together over medium heat until the squash is infused with the garlic and oil and heated through, 6 to 8 minutes. 

Remove to a warm serving dish, top with freshly grated Parmesan and serve.

Spaghetti Squash with Zucchini, Mushrooms and Onion

Ingredients:

  • 1 (3 to 4-pound) spaghetti squash
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 zucchini (1 lb), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 8 ounces sliced cremini or white mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Pierce squash (about an inch deep) all over with a small sharp knife to prevent bursting. Cook in an 800-watt microwave oven on high power (100 percent) for 6 to 7 minutes. Turn squash over and microwave until squash feels slightly soft when pressed, 8 to 10 minutes more. Cool squash for 5 minutes.

Carefully halve squash lengthwise (it will give off steam) and remove and discard seeds. Working over a bowl, scrape squash flesh with a fork, loosening and separating strands as you remove it from skin. Stir in butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. Put on a platter.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over moderately-high heat, saute onions and garlic, stirring frequently until golden, about 6 minutes. Then stir in zucchini, mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook, covered, until softened occasionally stirring, for about 7 minutes. Spoon mixture over squash.

Spaghetti Squash Bake

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small spaghetti squash
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pound Italian turkey sausage, casing removed
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with liquid
  • 1/2 teaspoon leaf oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Shredded basil for garnish

Directions::

Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Place spaghetti squash, cut side down, in a baking dish; add water to the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake spaghetti squash in a 375° F. oven for about 30 minutes or until the spaghetti squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. When cool enough to handle, scoop out squash, separating strands with a fork.

In a large skillet, cook the sausage, onion, red and green pepper and garlic until meat is browned and vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper and squash. Continue to cook and stir for about 2 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Transfer mixture to a 1 1/2-quart casserole; stir in 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese. Bake uncovered at 350° F. for 25 minutes. Sprinkle spaghetti squash with the remaining 1 cup of cheese and cook for 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Top with basil.

 


lowcarb-diet

Your body uses carbohydrates as its main fuel source. Sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars during digestion. They’re then absorbed into your bloodstream, where they’re also known as blood sugar (glucose). From there, the glucose enters your body’s cells with the help of insulin. Some of this glucose is used by your body for energy, fueling all of your activities, whether it’s going for a jog or simply breathing. Extra glucose is stored in your liver, muscles and other cells for later use or is converted to fat.

The theory behind the low-carb diet is that insulin prevents fat from breaking down in the body by allowing sugar to be used for energy. Proponents of the low-carb diet believe that decreasing carbs results in lower insulin levels, which causes the body to burn stored fat for energy and ultimately helps you shed excess weight and reduce risk factors for a variety of health conditions. A low-carb diet limits carbohydrates — such as grains, starchy vegetables and fruit — and emphasizes dietary protein and fat. Many types of low-carb diets exist, each with varying restrictions on the types and amounts of carbohydrates you can eat.

When most people think of Italian food, their minds immediately leap to dishes which are overwhelmingly carbohydrate –- pasta, pizza and bread. But lots of Italian dishes are great choices for people who must watch their carbs or who are just looking for a lighter dinner option. Finding them is easier if you start to “think like an Italian”.

Low-Carb Italian Eating – Dos and Don’t

Italians are known for shopping daily for the freshest and choicest produce, seafood and meats, often with a fairly simple preparation, so as not to hide the wonderful fresh flavors. So cook with lots of healthy fresh ingredients.

Use olive oil. This type of fat, as well as the antioxidants in olive oil, are part of the reasons for the healthfulness of the “Mediterranean Diet.”

Italians eat their main meal slowly over several small courses.

Minimize the following which are high in carbs: pasta, bread, risotto, polenta, bruschetta, crostini.

Be aware that fried items, such as a calamari appetizer, will usually be breaded.

Appetizers (Antipasti)

In Italian, “pasto” means “meal,” and “antipasti” or “antipasto” is “before the meal.”

Antipasti are usually made with meats, seafood and vegetables, such as salami, cheeses and marinated vegetables, such as artichokes and peppers.

Gamberoni (shrimp) is a common antipasto dish, either cold or hot, often sautéed with garlic and wine.

Grilled, roasted or marinated vegetables.

Steamed clams or mussels

Soups

In Italy, soups are often served instead of pasta. Many Italian soups are low in carbs, even the soups with beans or pasta in them often only have small amounts of these per portion. Since there are so many different soups, the exact carb count depends on the cook, but generally you’ll want to go with thinner soups. Seafood soups are a good choice and another good choice is Stracciatelle, an Italian egg drop soup. Also, look for soups with lots of vegetables.

Salads (Insulata)

Salads are almost always a good bet, if you avoid croutons or other bread. An Italian salad could contain many fresh vegetables –- and, of course, olive oil. The classic caprese salad has mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.

Meats and Seafood – Secondi

This course  is the main concern for someone eating low carb. Most of the meats and seafood on an Italian menu have little starch or sugar. Avoid breaded meats, such as chicken or veal parmesan or milanese.

True Italian tomato sauces have little or no sugar, although many pasta sauces in the United States are loaded with added sugar. Read the labels on the jars or make your own.

Desserts

In Italy, meals often end with fresh fruit..Needless to say, rich desserts are high in carbohydrates.

Pasta

There are many low-carb alternatives to pasta. Many vegetables are bland enough to use as a “blank canvas” for pasta sauces and most of them are far more nutritious than pasta ever thought of being. Take the classic, spaghetti squash. Cup for cup, it has fewer than 25% of the calories and carbs of regular spaghetti (even whole wheat). It’s delicious with pesto and other pasta sauces.

Veggies that serve as good “beds” for pasta sauces:

Zucchini or other summer squash, shredded, julienned or just cut into ribbons with a peeler.

Cauliflower mashed

Cabbage – shredded and sautéed with sliced onion.

Use your imagination – many vegetables have compatible flavors with sauces, for example, green beans with pesto sauce or eggplant strips with marinara.

Low Carb Antipasto

Asparagus Rolls with Prosciutto and Basil Ricotta Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup whole basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup lowfat ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound medium asparagus spears, about 16 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 slices thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Trim two inches from ends of asparagus. Have a medium size bowl of ice water ready for chilling basil and asparagus. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil with salt. Add basil leaves to water and blanch until leaves brighten, about 20 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and plunge into ice water. Remove and squeeze out excess water. Add asparagus to boiling water and cook 5 to 7 minutes, until ends are soft when pinched. Remove from water and chill in ice water to stop cooking.

Place blanched basil leaves into blender or food processor. Add ricotta cheese, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Lay out slices of prosciutto on a cutting board. Place dollop of ricotta mixture on one end of the prosciutto slice. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Arrange two asparagus spears at the edge of each prosciutto slice and begin rolling around the asparagus until the end of the prosciutto is reached. Arrange on platter and serve.

Italian Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped carrot or squash
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 3 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • 1 15 oz can tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups swiss chard or spinach or other dark leafy green – cut into thin strips
  • 10 oz frozen green beans (or fresh)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 cups low salt stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

1. In a large soup pot, put oil, onion, and celery. Cook on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes until vegetables are softened.

2. Add garlic and turn up the heat to medium. Cook for a minute or so and add the peppers and carrots. Cook another minute or two and add the spices. Stir and cook until fragrant — another minute or so.

3. Add tomatoes and stock, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add frozen beans and chard and simmer for another 5 minutes or until the beans are cooked.

4. Adjust seasonings.

Low Carb Second Courses

Italian Grilled Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 6 boneless chicken breasts halves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese

Directions:

To grill: Preheat grill. Skin chicken breasts and rub with black pepper to taste.

Blend basil, olive oil, butter, garlic and parmesan cheese using an electric blender or processor at low speed until smooth.

Baste chicken lightly with mixture.

Grill over medium coals basting during cooking time with more basil sauce.

During this time add the rosemary branches to coals for added smoke flavor.

Grill 10 minutes on each side or until chicken is done when the temperature reads 160°F. on a meat thermometer.

Garnish with fresh basil and serve with Zucchini Lasagna, recipe below.

Low-Carb Zucchini Lasagna

This low-carb lasagna uses zucchini “noodles” instead of pasta noodles. The trick to making this work is to take some of the water out of the zucchini first by salting the “noodles”. Then they firm up and are more noodle-like, instead of mushy. This recipe can be made with or without meat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds of zucchini
  • salt – enough to lightly salt the zucchini – between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 cups jarred pasta sauce (any variety with no added sugars) or homemade
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated 

Directions:

1. Slice the zucchini into strips, lengthwise. The strips should be about 1/8 inch thick.

2. Put the zucchini strips into a colander and sprinkle the salt on them. Toss to coat. Put the colander over a bowl to catch the juice. After 10-15 minutes, toss the strips again so that the brine will more-or-less evenly coat the strips. Drain for an hour.

3. While the zucchini is draining, cook the meat. Then, combine the ricotta, eggs, and basil or parsley.

4. Spread the zucchini strips on paper toweling or a cotton tea towel to take away most of the surface liquid.

To Assemble:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Put 1/2 cup of the pasta sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan, and combine the meat with the rest of the sauce.

2. Begin layering by covering the sauce with a layer of zucchini. Then cover the zucchini with about one third of the ricotta mixture, one third of the sauce and one third of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat, only arrange the zucchini strips in the other direction, e.g. if in the first layer the strips are lined up along the length of the pan, for the next layer line them up across the width of the pan. Alternate again for the third layer. After the third layer, finish with the Parmesan cheese.

3. Bake until the cheese is golden brown, about 30 minutes. (Note, if you refrigerate the lasagna before baking, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes covered, then remove the foil and cook an additional 30 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown.)

Makes 8 Servings.

 

Meatballs and Eggplant with Fresh Mozzarella

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 pound 96% Lean Ground Sirloin
  • 1/3 cup minced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup almond flour (ground almonds)
  • 1 (14-ounce) jar tomato sauce or homemade marinara sauce
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella
  • Fresh basil, chopped, for garnish

Directions:

Heat oven to 375°F. Peel eggplant and slice it into 12 circles. Sprinkle evenly with salt. Place eggplant in colander in the sink for 15 minutes.

While eggplant drains, mix ground sirloin in a large bowl with onion, garlic, dried oregano, dried basil, Parmesan, egg and almond flour. Mix thoroughly and shape into 12 meatballs.

Slice mozzarella into 12 thin pieces.

Rinse eggplant well with cold water. Squeeze dry by pressing down on eggplant in the colander and spread on kitchen towels to dry. Place eggplant into a 9×9-inch square baking pan and spread with 1/3 cup tomato sauce. Place meatballs on top of eggplant slices and pour remaining sauce over all. Top each meatball with slice of mozzarella. Bake in the oven 25 minutes.

Remove from oven, garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately. Serve with Italian Marinated Vegetable Salad, recipe below.

Italian Marinated Vegetable Salad

Serves: 12 servings

Ingredients

Vegetables:

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound broccoli rabe, trimmed
  • 1 cup small cauliflower florets
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms (cut in half if too large)
  • 1 cup half-moon-sliced zucchini
  • 1 cup half-moon-sliced yellow squash
  • 1/2 cup roasted red pepper strips
  • 1/2 cup marinated, quartered artichoke hearts
  • 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted

Italian Marinade:

 Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon thinly-sliced fresh basil leaves, plus whole leaves for garnish
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish

Equipment: 1 large stock pot with submersible pasta basket

Directions:

Make the Vegetables: Fill the stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Stir in the lemon juice and salt. Fill the pasta basket with the broccoli rabe, cauliflower, mushrooms, zucchini and squash. Submerge in the boiling water and cook, covered for 2 minutes. Remove the basket and refresh the vegetables under cold running water. Drain well.

Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and mix with the pepper strips, artichokes and olives.

In a blender, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Mix on medium until completely blended. While the motor is running, slowly pour in the oils in a steady stream to make a smooth dressing.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables. Add the basil and toss well. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Arrange on a decorative platter garnished with fresh basil and lemon wedges.

 

 


Hanover Street – the heart of Boston’s Little Italy.

Some of the many original Italian ports of origin.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston’s Italian neighborhood is called the North End. It has a strong Italian flair and numerous Italian restaurants. The North End is also Boston’s oldest neighborhood and it still possesses an old-world charm kept alive by its mostly Italian-American population. Since the completion of the Big Dig and the demolition of the old elevated Southeast Expressway, the neighborhood has found itself re-connected to the rest of the city. There is arguably no more vibrant area of Boston on a summer evening when the narrow city streets come alive with a blend of culture and cuisine.

The North End, often called Boston’s “Little Italy,” is a one-square-mile waterfront community, bordered by Commercial and Causeway Streets and Atlantic Avenue, located within walking distance of Boston’s financial district and Government Center. A highly desirable residential area for professionals who work nearby, the neighborhood also is a major attraction for tourists and Bostonians alike, who come seeking the best in Italian cuisine and to enjoy the decidedly Italian feel of the region. Hanover and Salem Streets, the two main streets of this bustling historic neighborhood, are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops, selling a variety of delectable edible goods. A trip to Boston would not be complete without including a meal at one of North End’s over one hundred fine Italian restaurants.

The many immigrants who originally settled in these neighborhoods, with their distinctive dialects, their history and their traditions of the regions in Italy from which they came, were carefully preserved and are celebrated during the summer months in the North End even today. Italian-Americans still comprise more than 41% of the resident population. It is one of the most vibrant and thriving neighborhoods of its kind. Old customs and traditions die hard (if ever at all). For despite the fact that 50 individual religious societies once existed in the North End and only 12 remain today, these societies with their religious feasts and processions remain an integral part of North End neighborhood life and culture, drawing large summertime crowds. Saint Anthony’s Feast is celebrated each year in the North End of Boston on the weekend of the last Sunday of August. Begun by Italian immigrants from Montefalcione, Italy, in 1919, it has become the largest Italian religious festival in New England. Italian foods, religious services, parades, festivities, games, live music and entertainment highlight this feast on the elaborately decorated Endicott and Thatcher streets in the heart of Boston’s historic North End. 

Tourism provides an economic boost to the area. However, many neighborhood grocery stores, fruit vendors, butcher shops, bakeries, shoe stores, clothiers and cobblers have simply disappeared to be replaced by restaurants. With a population barely one-quarter of its 44,000 peak in 1930, fewer services are required to sustain the community. Ten of its 12 schools have been subdivided and converted to condominium apartments. Church parishes have been auctioned off to the highest bidder. Times have changed in Boston’s North End.

From 1880 to 1920, an estimated 4 million Italian immigrants arrived in the United States, the majority from 1900 to 1914. Once in America, the immigrants faced great challenges. Often with no knowledge of the English language and with little education, many of the immigrants were compelled to accept the poorest paying and most undesirable jobs. Many sought housing in the older sections of the large northeastern cities in which they settled, which became known as “Little Italys”, often in overcrowded substandard tenements.

The destinations of many of the Italian immigrants were not only the large cities of the East Coast, but also more remote regions of the country, such as Florida and California. They were drawn there by opportunities in agriculture, mining, railroad construction and lumbering. Many of the immigrants had contracted to work in these areas of the country as a condition for payment of their passage. Many of the Italian laborers, who went to these areas, were later joined by wives and children, which resulted in the establishment of permanent Italian American settlements in diverse parts of the country.

The Old North End

The first Italians arrived in the North End of Boston in the 1860′s, forced by unbearable conditions in Italy to leave their native land. Their numbers grew in the 1880′s and 1890′s. Although many of the first Italian immigrants worked as vendors of fruits and vegetables, they later found work in commercial fishing, in shipping, in construction, and as shopkeepers. They sought help from family members and acquaintances from the same regions of Italy who had already established themselves in the area. Over time, this resulted in enclaves of residents living together on streets segregated by a region of Italy – Sicily, Milan, Naples, and Genoa – from which they had come; preserving its language and customs as well. Over the next decades, the Italian population of the North End increased and other immigrant groups moved elsewhere. By 1900, Italians had firmly established themselves in the North End and by 1930 the North End was almost one hundred percent Italian.

The North End had also changed in a number of other significant ways. Protestant churches were acquired by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston – reflecting the ascendancy of Irish Catholicism throughout the neighborhood. The Seamen’s Bethel Church became the Sacred Heart Church in 1871. The Bulfinch-designed New North Congregational Society became St. Stephen’s Church. In 1873 St. Leonard’s Church was founded at the corner of Hanover and Prince Streets, becoming the first Italian church in New England and the second oldest in America.

In 1920, the North End had 28 Italian physicians, six Italian dentists, eight Italian owned funeral homes and, on every main street, four or five barber shops . Most North End businesses were of the “Ma and Pa” variety – small grocery stores, butcher shops, bakeries, dressmakers, cobblers and shoe stores.

There were two notable exceptions to the “Ma and Pa” businesses:

Luigi Pastene came to Boston from Italy in 1848 and began selling produce from a pushcart. By the 1870′s, he was joined by his son, Pietro, in establishing Pastene as a company specializing in selling groceries and imported Italian products. By 1901, Pastene expanded its operations to facilities along Fulton Street in the heart of the North End. Today, the Pastene Corporation is a major national brand with distribution and packing facilities established in New York, Montreal, New Haven and Havana, as well as in Italy in Naples and Imperia.

Three Sicilian friends- LaMarca, Seminara and Cantella – started a small macaroni and spaghetti manufacturing business in 1912. They became so successful that within five years, they moved their Prince Pasta Company to 207 Commercial Street. Then, in 1939 the three partners were joined by Giuseppe Pellegrino, another Sicilian immigrant with a talent for marketing. He created the famous slogan “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day”. Eventually the company was sold to Borden, Inc. in 1987.      

 


These two business success stories aside, most Italian North Enders found life hard, both economically and socially. Like the experience of the Boston Irish before them, Italian-Americans began to accrue political power after the close of WW II and in 1948 Foster Furcolo was elected the first Italian-American Congressman and eight years later he became the first Italian-American Governor of Massachusetts.

Fred Langone, whose grandfather had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1922, was elected in 1961 to the Boston City Council, a position he held for the next 22 years. Frank X. Belotti served as Lieutenant Governor from 1963 to 1965 and John Volpe was elected the second Italian-American Governor of Massachusetts in 1960.

Cook Like They Do In The North End

Recipes with a little history:

Ravioli

Little cases of dough containing a savory filling — this is the definition given by Webster’s Dictionary. But Marguerite Dimino defines ravioli as “the one Italian food that everyone loves.” The following is a step-by-step recipe for, as many have called it, “the best ravioli in Boston’s North End.” It would seem unlikely that from the number of good cooks in the North End, one could emerge with a singular reputation as perhaps “the best.” But Marguerite DiMino, a vivacious mother of four grown children, has done just that.

Her ravioli is a culinary celebrity in Boston. She has prepared her ravioli for a television audience, as demonstration for an ethnic week at the Museum of Science and during an Italian festival at a leading department store. When the Consulate-General of Israel was served a North End specialty during Jerusalem month, it was Marguerite’s ravioli.

A Boston newspaper featured Marguerite’s ravioli and included her recipe in the article. Soon she was inundated with calls and letters from people homesick for “a ravioli like their grandmother’s.” She went on to write one of the most well known cookbooks from the region, The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane. Here is her recipe:

Dough:

  • 2½ pounds (about 10 cups) unbleached, unsifted flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 medium eggs
  • Boiling water as needed

 Directions:

Make a well in the flour on a pastry board. Add salt. Partially beat eggs before adding to flour. Add eggs gradually, mix with fingers until dough resembles the texture of cornmeal. Sprinkle on the boiling water starting with only 1/4 cup, and work it into dough. Add more boiling water, as needed, until dough is smooth and pliable, but not too soft. Knead dough for about five minutes. Pat with some water, cover, and let sit for about half an hour. Prepare filling and meat sauce while waiting for the dough. 

Filling:

  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese
  • 5 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1 small clove garlic, pressed
  • 8 finely chopped parsley sprigs

Blend all ingredients together.

Meat Sauce:

  • Oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • Dash: sweet basil, red pepper flakes, oregano, and bay leaf
  • (Remove bay leaf before serving)
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork (beef may be substituted)
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1 can (1 Ib. 12 oz.) Italian peeled tomatoes
  • 1 can water (using tomato can)

Directions:

Put enough oil in pan to coat bottom. Saute garlic, onion, and seasonings over medium heat until onion is lightly golden. Add all the meat. Cook until slightly browned. Blend tomato paste in well; stir a few minutes. Add tomatoes and stir. Pour in water. Reduce heat and allow sauce to simmer for up to one hour, stirring frequently.

To Assemble:

Divide dough into fourths and roll out only one-fourth at a time, keeping the rest covered. Roll dough as thin as possible. Place heaping teaspoons of filling 1½ inches from edge of dough. Continue to place filling in straight rows on the dough, being careful to leave 1½ inches between each spoonful. Fold over the edge of the dough to completely cover the first row of filling. With your fingers, gently press down on dough around the mounds of filling. Using a 2½-inch ravioli cutter, cut around the mounds. A pastry cutter or small glass may be used instead — but be sure to seal the edges with a fork. Continue in this manner until all the dough is used. (The dough that you don’t want to use may be frozen in a plastic bag and used at a later date to make more ravioli or even pasta. It may also be kept in the refrigerator up to 5 days.)

To Freeze:

This recipe may very well make much more than you will want to serve at one time. The ravioli can be frozen before it is cooked. Sprinkle flour or cornmeal on cookie sheets and place ravioli in a single layer on the sheets and freeze. This takes about 20 minutes. After the ravioli is frozen it may be placed in plastic bags. This way the pieces won’t stick to one another.

To Cook:

Bring 6 to 8 quarts of salted water to a boil. Gradually add the ravioli and cook until tender (15 to 20 minutes) . It is best not to overcrowd the pot, because you will need to continually press ravioli to bottom of pot so that they will cook evenly.

To Serve:

Carefully remove ravioli and let them drain well. Place them in a serving dish and cover with meat sauce and a layer of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Continue in this manner until you have used all the cooked ravioli. Serve with a tossed salad, garlic bread, and wine. Enjoy your meal and all the compliments you will receive!


The North End Italian Marinara Sauce

This recipe for Marinara Sauce is adapted from The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane, one of the North End’s most celebrated cooks.

This sauce is perfect for adding sliced black olives, clams, mushrooms or crab. Use your imagination. This is a spicy sauce due to the red pepper flakes. Good over cooked thin spaghetti or linguini.

 I like to serve this sauce over Chicken Parmigiana.

Ingredients     

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 2- 26.4 ounces Pomi chopped tomatoes salt and pepper, plus
  • 1 pinch salt and pepper, more of the above seasonings
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

In a large heavy skillet, on low heat, very slowly heat the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil and mint.

Cook for 5 minutes or until garlic is light golden brown.

Raise the heat to medium high and carefully add the tomatoes.

Let the sauce come to a soft boil.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add a pinch more of red pepper, basil and mint.

Add the chopped parsley.

Let sauce simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

Frankie’s Gravy and Meatballs

This recipe was one of four chosen from more than 1500 submissions to the Food Network’s Italian recipe contest. It earned Frankie Imbergamo an appearance on the “Emeril Live” TV show. Growing up on Hanover Street in Boston’s “Little Italy” where he attended both the Eliot and Michelangelo schools, Frankie still identifies closely with the neighborhood. It’s his point of reference. “It’s where it all began for me,” he says. “I have so many special memories of people – family and friends – and of times – both good and bad. A common thread, it seems, through all these memories has been love, comfort and a feeling of belonging – a feeling of home.”

Partly as a result of his newly-found mini-celebrity status, family members and friends urged Frankie to assemble some of his favorite home-style recipes into a cookbook. “Through the years, I’ve enjoyed creating my own meals, in my own style and always with the finest ingredients,” he explained.

So, with assistance from his wife, Maureen, the husband-and-wife team produced, The Good Life! Favorite Italian Recipes by Frank J. Imbergamo. The volume contains 40 recipes, including “Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers and Potatoes,” “Haddock Pizzaiola” and “Baked Lobster Pie.” It also includes a useful reference list pairing recipes with suggested wines. Here is the recipe that won him first place.

Meatballs:

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups plain bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Gravy (sauce):

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste (Flotta or Pastene)
  • 1 (6 oz.) can water (use empty tomato paste can)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley chopped
  • 2 (28 oz.) cans Pastene Kitchen Ready tomatoes
  • 3/4 can water (21 oz. use empty Kitchen Ready can)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:

In a bowl, mix all ingredients for meatballs with hands for about 5 minutes, until well mixed. Form about 16 meatballs and place on a platter. In a frying pan add olive oil and, when hot, add meatballs and cook on medium heat until browned. Repeat until all meatballs are browned. Place meatballs on a new platter. Do not discard the oil.

Saute chopped onion and chopped garlic in the oil for approximately 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring all the while. Add can of water (tomato paste can) and cook and stir for 1 minute. Take off heat and set aside.

In an 8-quart pan, add tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add 3/4 can of water (Kitchen Ready can), tomato paste mixture from fry pan and browned meatballs. Mix thoroughly, stirring carefully with wooden spoon as not to break meatballs. Add salt, ground pepper and parsley and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, then cover and cook on low heat for 2-1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes to prevent sticking and burning on bottom of pan, until done.

Serve over al dente pasta and sprinkle with some grated Pecorino Romano cheese, along with crusty Italian bread and a good bottle of red wine.

 

Crespelle Al Forno

 Recipe from one of Boston’s North End restaurants, Tresca:

Crepe:

  • 2 egg yolks, 4 whole eggs
  • 6 oz. all purpose flour
  • 6 oz. water
  • 6 oz. milk
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 bunch of chives

Directions:

Mix all ingredients, let sit 5 minutes. Mix again and strain. Heat a nonstick pan with oil over medium heat, add 1 oz. of mix turning pan to coat evenly. When sides pull away from the pan, flip over and cook 10 seconds. Remove to a plate.

Filling: Mushroom mix

  • 1 cup each of mixed mushrooms, shiitake, oyster and baby bellas, sliced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/4 cup marjoram, minced
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil

Directions:

Saute mushrooms with shallots, add marjoram, salt and pepper. Reserve some mushrooms for garnish.

Pulse remaining mushrooms in food processor until coarsely chopped.

Mix ricotta with mushrooms and truffle oil, then chill.

Scoop mushroom mix into crepe and roll.

Heat skillet used to cook mushrooms with some olive oil. Brown crepes on both sides and place pan in a preheated moderate oven. Heat crepes until hot in the center. Serve with sauteed mushrooms and a drizzle with truffle oil.

Baked Cod with Lemon & Olive Oil

From the North End Fish Market

Two girls gone fishing !  According to Liz Ventura and Keri Cassidy: They traded successful careers in software and human resources for the opportunity to own their own business. “Why food? Because they love to eat. Why fish? Easy, there wasn’t a fish market in the north end at the time. In the small predominantly Italian neighborhood where food is taken very seriously it was the only missing piece. When they found out that the tiny produce store that they loved to frequent was closing, a light bulb went on, and the North End Fish Market was open for business a year later.”

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 cod fillets (6 ounces each)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 2 tablespoons chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Arrange the fillets in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Drizzle with the lemon juice and oil, and sprinkle with the garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle with the paprika and lightly rub it in. Top with roasted red peppers. Bake until the flesh is completely opaque but still juicy, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with the pan juices spooned over the top. Garnish with basil.

Sfogliatella

Recipe courtesy John Picariello and Sara McGee, Modern Pastry Bakery

“The Modern Pastry Shop is an award winning, family owned Italian bakery that was created over 70 years ago, on Hanover Street in Boston’s North End. The world may have changed since the 1930′s, but their original recipes and time honored traditions for creating their confections have not. The recipes and the baking procedures are the same since their family brought them over from Italy, so many years ago.”

Recipe for Italian Custard Cream: http://www.academiabarilla.com/italian-recipes/how-to/confectioner-cream.aspx

Serves: 16 to 20 pieces

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 1 3/4 pounds bread flour
  • Vegetable oil

Filling:

  • 1 pound semolina flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon oil
  • 15 eggs
  • 1 1/4 pounds ricotta
  • 3/4 pound custard cream
  • 1/2 pound sugar

Directions

For the dough: Mix the bread flour and 1 cup water in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer with a hook attachment until firm. Take the dough out of the bowl, completely wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour.

Press the dough as thin as possible with a rolling pin. Apply oil to the surfaces and roll the dough into a salami-shaped roll about 3 inches thick. When done, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator overnight.

For the filling: Put 4 cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the semolina and mix until thoroughly firm and cooked. When the semolina is cool, put it in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer and add the cinnamon oil. Mix at speed 2 and add the eggs one at a time. Add the ricotta and custard cream and mix thoroughly. Add the sugar, little by little while mixing thoroughly. If mixture is still extremely firm, add a couple more eggs.

To assemble: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the “salami roll” into 1/4-inch discs. Each disc should be smoothed out between your palms. Using an ice cream scoop, fill the middle of the disc with filling and fold over into the shape of a clam shell. Put on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crispy, about 1 hour.

 


Mt Etna and the city of Catania, Sicily

Because Sicily is at a strategic point in the Mediterranean, on a route where east meets west, it’s not surprising that everyone wanted a piece of this fertile land. Yet to understand Sicily’s complex history, you have to understand the many peoples, who have come and gone from the island, and their legacies that are still embedded in the culture, the architecture and the language. Colonized by the Phoenicians and the Greeks and fought over in the Punic Wars, its architectural and artistic remains bear witness to its past grandeur found in the great Greek temples and Roman mosaics located in the Piazza Armerina. The Byzantine influence in Sicily begins with the capture of the island from the Ostrogoths in 535. The clash between the pope and the Byzantine emperor prompted the emperor to give the Patriarch of Constantinople jurisdiction over Sicily, removing it from papal rule. As a result a large number of Greeks moved there from the Balkans to flee from invasions by the Slavs. It was largely Byzantine in culture by the 9th. century, when a new threat emerged. In 827 the Arab peoples began arriving from North Africa, in what amounted to a slow conquest of the island. The last Byzantine stronghold fell to the Arabs in AD 965, beginning a century of Muslim rule. Arabs settled in large numbers and many Christians converted to Islam. Sicily in the 11th. century was a mixed community of Arab Muslims and Greek Christians, when a third element arrived in a new wave of conquest. The newcomers were Latin Christians. The pope in 1059, wishing to recover Sicily, granted feudal rights over the island to the Normans. One of them, Roger I, the first Norman count of Sicily, completed the conquest of the island in 1091 and set a pattern which characterized Sicily for more than a century. Roger I brought Christianity to the island, but he also encouraged the Greeks and Muslims to continue to live in Sicilian towns and he employed them in his army. The complexity of this culture is evident in the fact that the Normans issued their official documents in three languages – Latin, Greek and Arabic. The small palace chapel in Palermo, with its walls covered in bright pictorial mosaic, is one of the most exquisite buildings of the Middle Ages. Known as the Capella Palatina (Latin for ‘palace chapel’), it was begun in 1132 and completed around 1189. The mosaics are in the Greek tradition, created by craftsmen from Constantinople. Round the walls are sequences of scenes from the Old Testament and scenes from the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul.

 

The roof of the Capella Palatina, by contrast, is unlike anything in a Byzantine church. Constructed in vaulted wood and carved and painted in intricate patterns, it would seem at home in a pavilion of a Muslim palace or in a covered section of a mosque. The sturdy round arches supporting the walls are from yet another tradition – that of European Romanesque. Classical pillars, inherited from an earlier period of Sicily’s rich history, complete the influences seen in this building. Sicily endured numerous rulers and ruling countries during the centuries that followed and in 1282 the Sicilians revolted against the Anjou French in the dramatic episode, known as the Sicilian Vespers, and ceded sovereignty to Peter III, King of Aragon [Spain]. In 1442 Alphonso V of Aragon reunited the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1738 the Treaty of Utrecht lead to the New Kingdom of Two Sicilies and in 1860 Garibaldi lead forces from the Kingdom of Savoy and conquered the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, creating the Kingdom of Italy, the first unitary government of Sicily and the Italian peninsula since the Roman Empire. 1860 was not the end of Sicily’s troubles, however. In the late 19th. century northern Italy was rapidly industrializing, while the south remained agricultural. Sicily in particular lost population to the north and in the 1890′s massive emigration to America began. Industrial growth was slow in Sicily, with the main non-agricultural activity being sulfur mining. In 1901 there were violent clashes between striking workers and police and in 1920 there was a full-blown farmers’ rebellion against landowners, in which kidnapping was first used as a political tool. The Mafia emerged as a major force in these years, being used to break up workers’ organizations and to assassinate state officials. The right-wing Christian Democrat party was founded in Sicily. Socialist uprisings shut down Milan and Turin in 1920 and in 1922 Benito Mussolini’s Fascists seized the government in a coup. Political repression was the norm and in 1930 Mussolini sent a special prefect to try to stamp out the Mafia, who were helping Sicilian landowners fight the Fascists. Some of the Mafiosi (including the notorious Lucky Luciano) emigrated to America; those who stayed became the main anti-Fascist group in Italy. Sicily was the bane of Mussolini’s existence. Sicily suffered badly during the war. In July 1943 US forces landed in western Sicily and the British and Canadians landed in eastern Sicily. Many hard battles were fought and a number of cities were bombed. Postwar Sicily remained very troubled. Sicilian separatists waged an armed rebellion against Rome in 1944-46. Bandits, police and Mafiosi fought battles and also switched sides in complicated double-crosses, but all three generally united to suppress Communists, labor organizers and peasant cooperatives. The Truman Doctrine, an American commitment to helping democratic European governments rebuild and fight Communism, led to very flawed outcomes. Most historians think that by 1950 a covert alliance had formed between the Christian Democrats, the police and the Mafia, with American approval, in which, preventing land reform in Sicily, was the price of keeping the Communists out of power. Even in the late 20th. century and early 21st. century, the Mafia is a strong influence on the island, in spite of a campaign against it, by the leaders in power in the 1980′s and 1990′s. Modern Sicilians are a complex group who, dispossessed for centuries, now find themselves custodians of the cultural monuments of their oppressors and their history. The visitor to Sicily senses a resurgence of interest and pride in their past and the beauty and richness of their island and. with visitors all year round, it provides the locals with a source of sustainable economic income.

Mount Etna Eruption in 2001

A major interest of tourists is Mount Etna, an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily, close to Messina and Catania. It lies above the convergent plate margin between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe, currently standing 10,922 ft high, though this varies with summit eruptions and it is the highest mountain in Italy, south of the Alps.

The Food of Sicily

Sicily has gained more autonomy from mainland Italy since the end of World War II, but it has also faced many obstacles – Mafia interference, lingering ties with a defunct feudal system and devastating earthquakes – that have hampered progress and economic stability. To make ends meet many women now work outside of the home and depend on family to look after the children. Yet urban Sicilians struggle to hold onto traditional ways. Many prepare homemade meals and drive to the country to buy wine, olive oil and fresh vegetables from local growers. Those with country houses often have a garden and preserve their harvest for year-round consumption. Regardless of economic circumstances, all Sicilians consider food a priority; they demand quality and often, especially during holidays, turn a blind eye to cost. Most people prefer a very simple cuisine for everyday using the products from the surrounding seas and the strong Sicilian sun drenched fields. Fresh fish particularly tuna, swordfish, octopus, squid, sardines and anchovies serve as a mainstay of the diet. Tomatoes have full-bodied taste, unlike any others, and sauces made with them give distinctive flavor to many favorite pasta and meat dishes. Vine-ripened tomatoes are available most of the year, but they are also sun-dried for the months when they are not. Likewise, olives and grapes are extraordinarily flavorful and, in recent years, fine Sicilian olive oils and wines have received international prizes. Sicilian sweets are different from those you find in mainland Italy. Adorned with candied fruit, flavored with nuts and enriched with sheep’s milk ricotta (as compared with the milder cows’ milk version), they owe their origins, like lots of other Sicilian foods, to the island’s many layers of history, most notably the conquest by Saracen invaders from North Africa. By the end of the tenth century, the Saracens had introduced pistachios, oranges, lemons and dates, as well as, refined sugar and spices, such as cinnamon and cloves. They brought the art of preparing elaborate pastries, ices, candied fruit and almond and pistachio-based confections. Later, these traditions blended with others; chocolate arrived from Spain during the Renaissance and in the 19th century Swiss pastry chefs, who had migrated to Sicily, started blending it with ricotta in desserts. As a result, Sicilians have an astonishing repertoire of sweets, from gelato heaped into a brioche—the bun is a legacy of the French influence on Sicilian food—to thick puddings made with everything from coffee to watermelon juice to the ricotta-filled cannoli that are beloved around the world. 

Typical Sicilian Dishes

As you can tell from the recipes below, Sicilians love sardines, eggplant and anchovies.

Pasta alla Norma: Widely found all over Sicily, this dish consists of slowly-cooked eggplant chunks tossed into a basic tomato sauce with thyme, dried oregano, and grated Pecorino cheese, then tossed with pasta and garnished with grated ricotta salata. Impanata di Pesce Spada: (Swordfish pie) This pie is undoubtedly a legacy of the Spanish invaders. It is bursting with all the wonderful tastes of Sicily: swordfish, olives, raisins, pine nuts, caper, and cheese. Panelle di Ciciri: A fritter made with chickpea flour and parsley and then deep-fried in olive oil. In Palermo the fritters are sprinkled with a few drops of lemon juice and often used for bread or rolls. Maccu di Favi: This very old recipe is known all over southern Italy and is the oldest of all Mediterranean soups. It was served for centuries as the midday meal of peasants, who carried it with them when they went to work in the fields. The soup is made with dried fava beans, wild fennel and chili pepper. Toasted bread is placed in soup bowls and drizzled with olive oil and the soup is ladled on top. The name comes from maccare which means “to crush.” The Sicilian touch is to add wild fennel. Caponata: A slow-cooked ratatouille-like mix of eggplants, onions, tomato, olives, pine nuts and extra-virgin olive oil. Caponata is usually served cold or at room temperature.  Cuscusu: The apex of Arab-Sicilian cuisine; its successful preparation is considered the height of culinary art. The starting point for all couscous recipes is the same. Semolina grains are slowly poured into a large, round terra-cotta dish with sloping sides called a mafaradda and formed into small pellets by hand. The process of raking, rolling, aerating and forming the pellets is called incocciata by the Sicilians. When the couscous pellets are formed they are then steamed over boiling fish broth in a couscoussiere. The fish broth is made using a three-to-one ratio of white fish to oily fish. The fish used to make the broth is not eaten. Small fish or shrimp are cooked and eaten with couscous. Frittedda: (Sicilian sweet and sour vegetables) Artichokes which have been cooked in water and lemon juice are sauteed with onions and sprinkled with nutmeg and salt and pepper. Fava beans and peas are added to this mixture. The mixture is tossed with sugar and vinegar and served cool. Pollo all’Arancia alla Catanese: (Orange chicken Catania style) Chicken is not very popular in Sicily, presumably because the hens are kept for the eggs they produce. The cooks of Catania have taken advantage of the fragrant orange groves that cover their hillsides to come up with this unusual chicken dish. Chicken pieces are rubbed with garlic, rosemary, mint and nutmeg. The chicken is then sautéed with onion in olive oil until brown. Orange juice is added and the chicken is roasted in a covered skillet until tender. Tummala: (Rice Timbale) This is an elaborate casserole from eastern Sicily, which is said to derive its name from that of Mohammed Ibn Thummah, an emir of Catania during the Arab occupation. The casserole includes chicken, celery, onion, tomatoes, carrots, bread crumbs, veal meatballs, cheese, sausage, rice and eggs in layers as follows: a layer of rice, a layer of meatballs and chicken, a layer of cheese, a layer of rice, a layer of sausage and meatballs and a layer of rice and chicken topped by beaten eggs and cheese. Sfingi or Zeppole di San Giuseppe: a fried dough delicacy resembling a holeless doughnut prepared for the feast of San Guiseppe (St. Joseph) on March 19. Cuccia: a sweet wheat dish prepared after soaking the wheat grains overnight. It is connected with the festival of Santa Lucia on December 13. Sorbetto and Gelato: the Arabs mixed the summer unmelted snows of Mt. Etna with fruit-flavored syrups to produce a cooling confection which later developed into sherbet and, with the addition of milk and/or cream, the dessert became gelato. Granita: simple ices made by pouring flavors like lemon, coffee and almond milk over granulated ice.

Make Some Sicilian Inspired Recipes At Home

Stuffed and Grilled Eggplants 

This antipasto or side dish is pleasant and goes well with grilled food. It is a very convenient dish because it can be prepared in advance.
The stuffing of capers, anchovies and cheese gives a typical Sicilian taste to the stuffed grilled eggplants. Any leftovers are delicious the next day.

Serves 4 to 6 Ingredients

  • 2 medium size eggplants
  • ¾ cup of olive oil, divided
  • 12 slices of cheese (provolone or mozzarella)
  • 12 fillets of anchovies
  • 3 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon of pine nuts
  • Chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Directions: Wash eggplants, remove stalks and slice horizontally with the skin on, about ½ inch thick. Remove excessive skin from first and last slice of each eggplant. Place eggplants in a colander, salt lightly and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the sliced eggplant and drain for a few minutes. Gently pat dry with a clean dish towel or paper towels. Brush both sides with oil and grill the eggplant slices until tender, about 3 minutes on each side. If a grill is not available use the oven broiler, cooking it for 5 minutes on each side or until tender. Place grilled eggplants in a pan or large dish and place a slice of the cheese on each slice, add one fillet of anchovy broken in pieces, a few capers, a few pine nuts, some parsley and a sprinkle of pepper. Fold and roll up each slice, starting at the narrow side of the slice and secure with a wooden toothpick and set aside. When ready to serve, grill the eggplant rollatini for a few minutes until hot and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. If a grill is not available, place rollatini in an oiled pan 11” X 7”, drizzle with oil and bake in a hot oven at 400 degrees F. for about 10 minutes. Place cooked eggplant in a serving dish; drizzle with olive oil and serve.    IMG_3151

IMG_3152IMG_3153

Mussel Pie

My friend Andy recently took a trip to Sicily and ate a variation of this Mussel Pie, called Pepata di Cozze, which means Peppered Mussels in Italian, in a restaurant in Sicily. He took pictures of this great meal and I am including his pictures in this post. I searched for a recipe that would come close to the dish he experienced in Sicily and, came up with this recipe that is close, but not exactly the same. You will have to take a trip to Sicily to get the original.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz pizza dough
  • 1 1/2 – 2 pints mussels
  • 4 leeks, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon each chopped parsley
  • 1 sprig each marjoram and thyme
  • 1 oz butter
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 orange
  • Salt and pepper

Directions: Scrub and clean the mussels. Melt the butter in the bottom of a large pan which has a lid. Cook the leeks in the butter until just transparent. Add the wine and the juice of one orange to the pan. Steam open the mussels in this liquid and reserve the liquor in which they are cooked. Put the mussels and herbs in a deep pie dish or casserole, pour the liquid with the leeks over the mussels. Season with salt and pepper. Roll pizza dough just large enough to cover the top of the casserole dish. Cover the top of the dish and seal the dough to the casserole dish. Cut a hole in the top of the dough. Heat oven to 425°F for 20 – 25 minutes until the dough is lightly brown. When the pie is done, remove from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes.

Sarde a Beccafico (Stuffed Sardines)

This filling will work in fish fillets, if you do not have access to sardines.

 4 servings Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 pounds sardines
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 salt-packed anchovies
  • 1 sprig parsley minced
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons capers
  • 3 tablespoons raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup almonds or pistachios toasted and chopped
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons black olives pitted and minced
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 1 shallot chopped
  • 2/3 cup Pecorino cheese grated

Directions: Soak raisins in warm water for 20 minutes. Prepare the sardines: remove the scales and the head, but not the tail. Hold each sardine belly-side up and cut along its belly so the fish opens up like a book. Remove insides and bones. Leave tails intact. Rinse in cold water, dry and season by rubbing with bay leaf. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat, stir in fresh breadcrumbs and saute for a couple of minutes until golden. Set aside in a bowl to cool down slightly. Drain raisins and squeeze out all excess water. Rinse anchovies and capers in running water to remove salt. Add to the breadcrumb mixture along with chopped pine nuts and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Optional additions: chopped garlic, shallot or onion, pitted olives, toasted almonds and lemon zest and grated Pecorino cheese. Mix well and spread a teaspoon of this mixture on the inside of the sardines, pressing down lightly with your fingers. Roll up the sardines (keeping the filling inside) with the tail sticking up. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the stuffed sardines. Add the bay leaf, sprinkle each roll with a tablespoon of bread crumbs and drizzle on the remaining oil. Cook in a preheated 420°F oven for 15-20 minutes. Dress with lemon juice and serve.

    

Pasta alla Norma

This recipe originated in Catania , a city on the eastern side of Sicily that sits on the shadow of Mount Etna . Catania is a city subjected to the temperament of Mount Etna , the highest and only active volcano in Europe.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have destroyed this city several times. Yet the city has managed to rebuild. It is a vibrant and modern metropolis, with wide streets and majestic palaces; ancient monuments reminiscent of the Greek and Roman occupation and contemporary buildings where the enterprising people of Catania live and work to make it the most industrious and energetic city of Sicily.
This dish is called Pasta alla Norma in honor of Vincenzo Bellini, who composed the opera Norma in 1831.
The chef who created this dish wanted to honor Bellini, but he also wanted to immortalize Mount Etna. The spaghetti and the fried eggplants were the mountains, the tomato sauce portrayed the lava and the grated ricotta salata, the eternal snow of the Mt. Etna.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 can of 14 oz. Italian peeled tomatoes, undrained and cut in small pieces
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
  • 3 Italian eggplants cut into cubes, sprinkled with salt and placed in colander for 30 minutes
  • 1 lb. of your preferred pasta
  • 1/2 lb. grated aged Ricotta Salata cheese (if you cannot find it, use a mild aged feta cheese)
  • 12 whole basil leaves for garnish
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: The Sauce Over a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a 12 inch saute pan. Add diced onions and sauté until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add tomatoes, raise heat to high and cook for an additional 3 minutes stirring occasionally. Add chopped basil, salt and pepper to taste. Lower the flame and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the sauce is thick. The Eggplant Pat dry the eggplants with a clean dish towel or paper towels. Brown the cubes in the remaining olive oil. Place eggplants on paper towels to drain the oil and set aside. The Pasta Cook pasta according to package directions, reducing recommended cooking time by 2 minutes. Drain pasta well and put back in pot with the tomato sauce. Mix for 2 minutes on a low heat or until pasta and sauce are well combined.  Stir in reserved eggplant and toss to combine. Stir in remaining basil and season with salt. To serve, transfer pasta to a platter and garnish with ricotta salata.

   Cassata al Forno

Sicilian Cassata: Ricotta Cake

The ricotta cheese needs to be drained overnight before starting the recipe.

Serves: 10 servings Ingredients

  • 2 pounds whole milk ricotta
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup candied fruit with citron
  • 1 (10-inch) pre-baked sponge cake (homemade or store bought, pound cake may be used

Directions Place the ricotta into a fine mesh sieve and nestle this over a bowl, place in the refrigerator overnight to allow the excess moisture to drain out before proceeding with the cassata recipe. Place the ricotta into the bowl of a mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until the curds smooth out. Mix the drained and beaten ricotta with 1 cup powdered sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, chocolate chips and half the candied fruit. Set aside. Lightly spray a 10-inch springform pan with canola oil spray. Slice the sponge cake very thinly so that the springform may be lined with it in an even layer. Line the sides and bottom of the pan with the sponge cake. Pour the ricotta filling into the cake-lined pan. Place a final layer of cake over the ricotta filling; this now creates the bottom to the cassata. Refrigerate the cassata overnight to firm the filling. Invert the springform pan on a wide platter. Open the hinge and remove the springform sides and bottom. The cassata may now be finished by covering with a heavy coating of the remaining powdered sugar and the remaining candied fruits. Alternately, you can make a white glaze for the top of the cake or spread sweetened whipped cream over the cake and decorate it with fresh fruit. Some Italian cooks like to decorate the top with marzipan cutouts. Slice thinly and serve.



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