Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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If you have been picking up Spring vegetables and are wondering what to do with your new bounty, here are a few ideas on how to turn them into dinner.

Spring Vegetable Risotto

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Serve this main dish with a garden salad and bread sticks to make a complete dinner.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 3 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

Cook peas in boiling water about 3-4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; set aside.

Pour broth into a medium-size saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat; reduce heat to low and keep broth warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, salt and pepper and cook 6 minutes, stirring frequently, or until softened. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Add remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil to saucepan. Stir in rice and cook 1 minute. Add wine to saucepan and stir until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in warm broth, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir frequently until liquid is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup (about 22 minutes total).

When you have about 10 minutes cook time remaining, stir in carrots. Add peas to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese, butter and lemon juice.

Chicken Soup with Vegetables

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For dinner serve this soup with a Toasted Tomato Sandwich (recipe below).

Ingredients

Stock Base

  • 4 whole bone-in chicken breasts
  • 5 medium carrots, quartered
  • 2 large parsnips, quartered
  • 2 small turnips, quartered
  • 2 medium celery roots, quartered
  • 1 large green bell pepper, halved, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 20 parsley sprigs
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 7 cloves garlic
  • 20 black or white peppercorns
  • 4 whole allspice

Soup

  • 1 large zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch Julienne strips
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, cut into 1/8-inch Julienne strips
  • 1 large celery stalk, cut into ⅛-inch julienne strips
  • 1 pound thin noodles, cooked and drained

Directions

Place chicken, carrots, parsnips, turnips, parsley roots, green pepper, onion and 1 tablespoon of salt in a 12-quart stockpot. Cover with 6 quarts cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim and discard foam that forms at the top when it comes to a boil. Add remaining salt, the parsley, cauliflower, garlic, peppercorns and allspice and return to a boil. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 1 hour.

Remove the chicken breasts and allow them to cool slightly. Remove meat from bones. Shred meat and refrigerate. Return bones to the pot. Continue simmering, covered, over low heat, for at least 2 hours more.

Strain entire contents of pot through a colander lined with cheesecloth. Chill broth overnight.

To serve soup: Remove surface fat and pour broth into a large pot. Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook until warm, 10 to 15 minutes. Add zucchini, carrot, celery and reserved shredded chicken. Simmer 5 minutes to cook vegetables and heat chicken.

Be careful to keep soup over low heat; bringing soup to a boil can make it cloudy. Season to taste with salt. Place 1/4 cup noodles in each soup bowl and ladle hot soup over pasta.

Toasted Tomato Sandwiches

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Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup low-fat cream cheese with onion and chives
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • 8 slices whole-grain country bread
  • 4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 ounces)
  • 2 large or 3 medium tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced 1/2 inch thick

Directions

Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.

Mash garlic on a cutting board with the side of a chef’s knife or a spoon until a paste forms. Transfer to a small bowl and combine with cream cheese and lemon juice.

Sprinkle tomatoes with pepper and salt.

Place bread on a large baking sheet and broil until lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the bread over and divide cheese among 4 of the pieces. Continue broiling until the cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble sandwiches with tomato and the garlic-herb mixture. Top with the melted cheese bread.

Scallops with Asparagus Salad

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Serve this main dish salad with Cheddar Drop Biscuits (recipe below).

6 servings

Ingredients

Dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salad

  • 1 pound new potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds sea scallops (about 24 scallops)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 10 cups salad greens (about one 5-ounces)

Directions

In small bowl, whisk together cider vinegar, mustard and shallot. Gradually drizzle in 3 tablespoons olive oil, whisking continuously until dressing is emulsified; set aside until ready to use.

Bring a medium-size pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add potato slices to boiling water and cook 4 minutes; drain. Cut 1-inch off of bottoms of asparagus; discard. Cut stalks into 2-inch pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add potato slices to skillet and cover; cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add asparagus pieces to skillet and stir to combine. Sprinkle potato mixture with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and cook an additional 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove asparagus and potatoes to a plate.

Season scallops with remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Return skillet to medium-high heat and add half of the butter, swirling to coat bottom. Add half of the scallops to the skillet and cook 1-1/2 to 2 minutes on the first side, then turn and cook 1 minute on the second side, adjusting heat as necessary so the butter doesn’t burn. Repeat process with remaining butter and scallops.

Toss salad greens with 2 tablespoons prepared dressing and divide among plates. Toss asparagus mixture with remaining dressing and divide among salad plates, then divide scallops among plates and serve immediately.

Cheddar Drop Biscuits

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 8 ounces sharp white cheddar, shredded
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk, well shaken
  • 3 tablespoons chopped chives

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F with racks in upper and lower third positions. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and cayenne pepper. Work butter into flour mixture with a pastry cutter or your fingers until butter is incorporated and pea-size lumps remain. Stir in cheddar, then buttermilk and chives, just until dough comes together.

Using two spoons, drop 1/4 cup quantities of dough onto prepared baking sheets, spaced 2 inches apart. Bake in oven until golden brown, 12-14 minutes, rotating baking sheets once.

Spinach, Onion and Cheese Quiche

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Serve this Quiche with a tomato salad and Zucchini Muffins (recipe below) for dinner.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 wedge)

Ingredients

Crust

  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 5.6 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Gouda cheese or cheese of choice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of grated nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs

Directions

To prepare crust, place butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Combine milk, salt, and egg yolk in a small bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add milk mixture to butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour; beat just until combined. Press mixture into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap; cover. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Unwrap and place chilled dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 10-inch circle. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Freeze 15 minutes. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.

To prepare filling, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add spinach; sauté 2 minutes. Combine 1 cup milk and remaining ingredients in a bowl; stir well with a whisk. Stir in spinach mixture.

Pour filling into crust. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes.

Zucchini Muffins

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Servings: 12 Ingredients

  • 1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup almond milk or low-fat dairy milk
  • 1½ cups shredded zucchini

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt together.

In another bowl, combine sugar, applesauce, vanilla, lemon zest, zucchini and milk. Stir until well combined.

Add wet mixture into dry mixture, stirring until just barely combined.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and bake 18-25 minutes.

Spring Lasagna

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Serve a green bean salad (recipe below) to round out the menu. Add browned sliced Italian sausage to the layers for a meat option.

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for the pan
  • Eight 2 1/4-inch wide lasagna noodles
  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup green peas, freshly shelled or frozen
  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, halved lengthwise
  • 1 pound ricotta, preferably whole milk
  • 1 packed cup shredded mozzarella
  • 2 teaspoons minced or crushed garlic
  • About 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 cup basil pesto
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan

Directions

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with a little olive oil. Lay out two kitchen towels.

Add salt and noodles to the boiling water, swishing gently so they don’t stick. Boil 2 minutes, then add the asparagus and fresh peas. (For frozen peas, just place them in a colander in the sink.) Boil 1 minute. Add sugar snap peas and boil 1 minute more. Drain into a colander (directly over the frozen peas, if using).

Using tongs, immediately lift out 4 noodles and place them in the pan in a single layer. Place the other noodles on a towel in a single layer. Transfer the vegetable to the other kitchen towel and pat dry. Reserve a few asparagus tips to garnish the top of the lasagna.

Combine the ricotta and mozzarella in a bowl. Place 2 tablespoons olive oil and the garlic in a small microwave-safe bowl, cover and cook for 30 seconds; stir it into the ricotta. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

To assemble the lasagna, spread half the pesto over the noodles in the pan. Using half the ricotta mixture, place spoonfuls over the pesto, trying to get it evenly distributed. There will be gaps. Scatter half the vegetables on top. Sprinkle with a little more than half the Parmesan. Top with remaining noodles and repeat the layers, ending with a light scattering of Parmesan. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until heated through and lightly golden.

Garnish the top of the lasagna with the reserved cooked asparagus tips before serving.

Green Bean Pepper Salad

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Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. green beans, washed, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded or 1 jarred roasted pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley

Directions

Put 1 cup of water in a saucepan with the green bean pieces. Boil water and reduce heat to medium. Cover the pot and steam the green beans for 12-15 minutes until tender-crisp (smaller, younger beans may cook more quickly).

Meanwhile, dice the roasted bell pepper flesh into small pieces. Drain the beans in a colander and run cold water over them to cool them down to room temperature. Shake them dry.

Whisk together oil, vinegar, mustard, pepper, salt and parsley in a small bowl. Place the steamed green beans and diced roasted bell pepper in a salad bowl and pour dressing over them. Toss all ingredients gently until the beans and peppers are fully coated with the dressing.

Let the salad marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Serve at room temperature.

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3 lentils

Although they may be cheap, lentils are very nutritious, filling and very flavorful. From a nutritional standpoint, they are rich in fiber and in iron and are, consequently, ideal for people suffering from anemia.

Lentils have been a source of sustenance for our ancestors since prehistoric times and lentil artifacts have been found on archeological digs dating back 8,000 years. As a plentiful source of protein, lentils were found on the tables of peasants and kings alike and the poor, who could not afford fish during the season of Lent, substituted lentils.

Thought to have originated in the Near East and/or the Mediterranean area, lentils are small disks resembling a flat baby pea. When halved, dried lentils resemble their split pea cousins. They grow two to a pod and are dried after harvesting.

In Italy two major types of lentils are grown: the hiemal strain matures in late summer and produces larger seeds that are more delicate in flavor, whereas the minus strain matures in the spring and has smaller seeds.

Lentil Plants

Lentil Plants

In addition to playing an important role in soups and other first course dishes, lentils are a traditional Italian accompaniment for sausages. Lentils are served on New Year’s Day in Italy because their shape brings to mind tiny coins and people eat them in the hope that they won’t want for cash during the rest of the year.

There are hundreds of varieties of lentils, with as many as fifty or more cultivated for food. They come in a variety of colors with red, brown and green being the most popular. Lentils have an earthy, nutty flavor and some varieties have a slight peppery taste.

Select lentils that are dry, firm, clean and not shriveled. The color of lentils you choose will depend on your usage, but in general, the color should be fairly uniform. Canned lentils are also available, but it is just as easy to cook your own.

If your recipe calls for a lentil that will retain its shape when done, common brown lentils are the usual choice. Brown lentils still have their seed coat and have not been split. Most red, yellow and orange lentils tend to disintegrate with long cooking because the hulls have been removed. Slightly sweet in flavor, these are best reserved for pureed soups or stew thickeners. Other choices include French lentils which are olive-green and slate-colored. These will cook up the firmest. Persian green lentils will turn brown as they cook and become tender while still retaining their shape. Considered the most flavorful (and most expensive) are the French Puy lentils, which also retain their shape.

Lentil Flour, 20 oz

You may be able to find lentil flour in some specialty markets. It is used in India to make a fermented dough for bread.

Dried lentils have an indefinite shelf-life, yet another reason why our ancestors kept them as a staple food. With age, the color may fade a bit, but the flavor will not deteriorate. Store lentils in a sealed package or airtight container in a cool, dry place.

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Cooked lentils may be refrigerated up to one week in a sealed container. Cooked lentils may also be frozen up to six months. However, they may fall apart when reheated, if not handled gently.

These measures will help you determine how many lentils you need for your recipe.

• 1 cup dry lentils = 2-1/2 cups cooked
• 1 pound dried lentils = 2-1/4 cups dry
• 1 pound dried lentils = 4 servings
• 1 pound dried lentils = 5 cups cooked

Lentils are a natural in soups and stews and also make a great cold salad. The high protein content in lentils makes them an excellent meat substitute.
Lentils need no pre-soaking and cook much more quickly than other dried legumes. To cook lentils, simply pick over to remove debris or shriveled lentils, rinse and drain. Cover with water or broth and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer until tender. Depending on the variety and age, cooking time may take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. Add salt once the lentils are completely cooked. Acidic ingredients such as wine or tomatoes can lengthen cooking time. You may wish to add these ingredients after the lentils have become tender. Older lentils will take longer to cook because they have lost more moisture. Do not mix newly purchased lentils with old ones. They will cook unevenly.

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Lentil and Herb Salad

Lentils are popular across Italy, where they are grown in Umbria in the north and Puglia and Sicily in the south. Technically not a “bean,” lentils are legumes. Unlike beans, lentils require no soaking, so this salad is quick and easy to prepare. Serve as a side salad or add a cup of diced mozzarella and it makes a light main dish.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

Place lentils in a large saucepan. Cover with water to 2 inches above lentils; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until tender. Drain well.

Place lentils in a large bowl. Stir in onion and next 4 ingredients (through pepper). Add vinegar and oil; toss well. Serve at room temperature.

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Italian Lentil Soup with Rice and Spinach

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (200 g) short-grained rice
  • 1 cup (200 g) lentils
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed and cut into strips
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • One whole onion
  • 1 rib celery, cut in half
  • 1 cup plain tomato sauce
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the lentils and cook them for 30-45 minutes in 2 quarts of water with the onion and celery.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the lentils with a slotted spoon and strain the broth, discarding the celery. Reserve the broth and onion separately.

Slice the onion and sauté it with the oil and the garlic for 3 minutes; add the tomato sauce and cook 2 minutes more. Add the lentils, the spinach and the lentil broth. When the soup comes to a boil add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is done, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

lentils sausage

Lentils with Italian Sausage

10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry lentils
  • Cold water
  • 2 pounds fresh italian sausage, sweet or hot
  • 3 cups homemade or low sodium canned chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste, diluted in a little water

Directions

Wash lentils well by soaking them briefly in water and changing the water at least once. Put them in a 2-1/2-quart saucepan, add cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook until not quite done, about 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, pierce the sausages in several places and then put them in a small saucepan. Add the chicken broth and place over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about 40 minutes. From time to time, skim off and discard foam and fat that rise to the top. When sausages are done, remove the pot from the heat and let them sit in the broth while you finish the lentils.

Warm the oil in a medium skillet and saute the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and sage in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are done.

Drain the sausages, saving their liquid. To the lentil pot, add the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and add the tomato paste. Mix gently using a wooden spoon. Add 3/4 cup of the broth in which you cooked the sausages. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed.

To serve, arrange the sausages on a platter next to the warm lentils.

lentil pasta

Pasta with Lentil Bolognese

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1- 28 to 32 oz can whole peeled plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped (juice reserved)
  • 1 1/4 cups dried green lentils
  • Coarse sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound shaped pasta, such as cavatappi or rigatoni
  • Pecorino cheese, grated or shaved
  • Fresh basil, chopped

Directions

In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook slowly until the vegetables soften and turn golden, about 20 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high and add the tomato paste. Cook until the mixture dries out a bit, about 3 minutes. Pour in the reserved juice from the tomatoes and cook, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the liquid has reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Season with the oregano,crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and simmer until the lentils are tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the lentils. (If the sauce begins to dry out, add additional water as needed.) Reduce heat to low and keep warm.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain. Serve with the lentil sauce, sprinkle with the pecorino and garnish with basil.

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Seafood Stew with Lentils

Ingredients

For the Fish Stock:

  • 1 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprig
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 celery stick, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 2 and 1/4 lbs (1 kg) white fish or white fish bones and heads, gills removed
  • Salt

For the Stew:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 and 1/2 oz (100 grams) cooked lentils
  • 9 oz (250 grams) fish and seafood cut into serving pieces, such as sea bass fillets, prepared squid, peeled prawns, peeled langoustines (small lobsters or use lobster claws) and scrubbed clams
  • 28 oz can crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprig, chopped
  • 1 fresh basil sprig, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Prepare the Fish Stock:

Pour 3 pints (2 liters) water into a large saucepan, add the herbs, onion, carrot, celery and peppercorns and season with salt.

Gradually bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat, let cool.

Add the fish bones and return to the heat, bring just to the boil;  lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let the fish bones cool in the stock for a stronger flavor. Strain the stock.

Prepare the Stew:

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet and add 1 tablespoon each of the celery, carrot and onion and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir in the lentils and cook for a few minutes more.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a shallow saucepan and add the remaining celery, carrot and onion and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Add the sea bass and the squid. Increase the heat to high and cook for 1 minute, then add the prawns, langoustines, clams and lentil mixture.

Pour in the strained fish stock, tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the fish is tender.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the parsley and basil. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

beef lentils

Braised Chuck Steak with Savory Lentil Stew

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds beef chuck blade steaks, cut 3/4 to 1 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-1/4 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Directions

Heat a large deep skillet with a cover over medium heat until hot. Add the beef to the skillet and brown evenly. Season the beef with salt and pepper to taste.

Add water, onion and bay leaves to the skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 1-1/4 hours.

Add lentils, carrots and Italian seasoning to the skillet; return to a boil. Continue simmering, covered, 30 to 45 minutes or until lentils and beef are fork-tender.

Discard bay leaves before serving.

 

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There are some nights you just want a bowl of soup and a sandwich – no fuss. To keep it healthy, I like to prepare these ingredients when I have time and keep them in the freezer for when we want this simple type of dinner.

I bake the bread loaves, cut them in half and store each half in a separate freezer bag. Certainly you can buy bread if you don’t have time to bake, but this recipe makes exceptional tasting sandwich bread.

You can use whatever ingredients you have on hand for a sandwich, but I usually like to have extra cooked chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or meatloaf in the freezer. I slice them in sandwich portions and store them in freezer bags.

Soups are always a good solution after a busy day. I like to keep homemade soups in the freezer because they are healthier than canned soup. Soups that are not too heavy go better with sandwiches. I also freeze these in one or two cup portions.

Now with these in the freezer, you won’t have to ask – what’s for dinner?

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Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

This is a very moist, tender, slightly chewy bread and stays moist for a few days.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup honey, divided
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter or butter alternative, divided
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal 
  • 4 tablespoons of powdered vital wheat gluten
  • 3 1/2 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour

Directions

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, mix warm water, yeast and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups bread flour and stir to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes or until big and bubbly.

Mix in the 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey and salt. Stir in the whole wheat flour.

Knead on level 2 for about 10 minutes. Then, take the dough out and knead by hand on a floured surface until not real sticky – just pulling away from the counter for about 1 minute. to form a large dough ball.

Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.

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Punch down and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf and place in two greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise until the dough has topped the pans by one inch. You may also make 3 smaller loaves (8×4 inch pans) and reduce the baking time to about 25 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30-35 minutes. To be sure check the temperature with a thermometer. Most breads are done when the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F.

Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 2 tablespoons melted butter when done to prevent the crust from getting hard. Cool completely

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Italian Seasoned Meatloaf for Sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce 
  • 1/2 of a large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs.
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except bread crumbs. Mix well. Gradually add breadcrumbs and lightly mix mixture after each addition. Stop when the beef and breadcrumb mixture begins to feel firm and holds its shape.

Form into a loaf and place in a baking pan.

Bake the meatloaf until an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F, about 60-75 minutes.

Let the meatloaf rest for 10 to 15 minutes to allow some carryover cooking and to let the juices redistribute.

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Meatloaf Sandwich

Ingredients for each sandwich:

  • 1 slice Italian seasoned meatloaf
  • 1 roasted red pepper from a jar
  • 1 large slice deli provolone cheese
  • 2 slices homemade whole wheat bread

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Butternut Squash-White Bean Soup

The soup ingredients may seem like an unlikely combination, but I have to tell you that the flavor is incredible. Be sure to use a good brand of chicken stock or even better use homemade.

Serves 4-6

For serving:

Cooked bacon, crumbled, and chopped parsley for garnish, if desired.

For soaking the beans:

1 cup dried white beans, such as cannellini, haricot blanc (navy) or Great Northern beans. Soak in 4 cups of water overnight. Drain.

For cooking the beans:

In a large soup pot combine

  • Drained beans
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 whole, peeled garlic cloves

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the beans are tender but not soft. Check after 40-45 minutes. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Reserve.

For the soup:

In the same pot heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add

  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 3 or 4 freah sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf

Cook over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes and cook for 5 minutes.

Directions

Drain the beans and the garlic and set aside. Add all of the cooking liquid to the squash and onion mixture.

Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Cook at a simmer until the squash becomes very tender. Add the drained white beans and garlic and heat thoroughly. Remove the bay leaf.

Purée one-third of the soup and add back into the pot. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and crumbled bacon, if desired.

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676142901_1388825053Whether it’s a partner or a family member with different eating styles and preferences, conflict can arise on various fronts when some people in the house are vegetarians and others are not. The good news: with a little patience and compromise, not to mention good humor, it is possible for everyone to enjoy meals together. Setting ground rules in advance can ward off many disagreements in the kitchen. In particular, deciding who is responsible for what can help prevent resentment and ensure things run more smoothly when it comes time for food preparation.

  • Will a group meal be prepared that everyone will share?
  • How does the vegetarian feel about preparing and cooking meat even if he or she doesn’t eat it?
  • Will the non-vegetarian prepare vegetarian meals?
  • Is it simplest for each person to be responsible for their own cooking?

There is no one correct answer and it may take some time to work out the best system. As far as meals are concerned, vegetarian and non-vegetarian options can be blended without making the division obvious. Here are a few suggestions for minimizing the differences and increasing the joy of eating together:

  • The non-vegetarian partner should agree to expand his/her food horizons and try new vegetables, grains and protein sources.
  • Find as many dishes as possible that also work for your partner.
  • The vegetarian partner should tolerate having the non-vegetarian cook meat, chicken or fish in the family kitchen. Have pots and dishes just for that, if it’s an issue.
  • At the same time, the vegetarian shouldn’t be expected to cook meat, unless he/she doesn’t mind.
  • Freeze individual portions of each partner’s favorite dishes to eat when time is short or you can’t agree.
  • Never make negative remarks about what the other wants to eat. Don’t try to convert the other to your point of view or even think that this would be a good thing. It never is.

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Types of Vegetarians

  • A vegetarian eats no meat, poultry or fish.
  • An ovo-lacto vegetarian eats eggs and milk.
  • A lacto-vegetarian eats dairy products, but not eggs.
  • A vegan eats no animal products at all, often including honey. There are strict ethical vegans who don’t wear or use any animal product.
  • Raw food devotees are vegan.
  • A pesco-vegetarian (eats fish) isn’t vegetarian, because fish is considered an animal product.
  • Flexitarian is a made up term for one who flips back and forth from vegetarian to non-vegetarian.

When entertaining think about the likely food preferences of those you’re feeding. Ask about likes and dislikes, as you would with any other guest. Stick with familiar foods, when feeding both vegetarians and non-vegetarians at the same meal.

Here are some suggestions:

Serve egg or cheese based dishes, such as a Spinach Quiche. Good accompanied with baked potato and a salad. Chickpeas and kidney beans are familiar enough to be used in small amounts. Add them to dishes that are well-known – such as three-bean salad, pasta salad, minestrone soup or vegetarian chili. Use familiar comfort foods, such as potatoes, breads or pasta. Familiar ethnic foods work well: Mexican, Indian or Italian. Whenever possible, tell your guests in advance what you’re planning to make and ask them for suggestions, if you feel comfortable with that idea.

Breakfast may be one of the easier meals to accommodate vegetarians and non-vegetarians, so inviting friends for brunch may be an ideal way to entertain. There are many breakfast options that do not contain meat, such as oatmeal, yogurt, granola, fruit, coffee cake, pancakes or waffles that can be enjoyed by both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. For a larger breakfast, eggs or omelets can be eaten by everyone, except vegans. For the non-vegetarians, bacon or sausage can easily be added to the meal as a side.

For vegetarians, sandwiches made with vegetables and cheese can provide an alternative to deli meats, while non-vegetarians can add sliced turkey, beef or chicken to their sandwiches. Soups can be made with vegetable broth instead of chicken or beef broth. Cooked chicken, fish or beef can be added to the non-vegetarian soup just before serving. Salads are also lunch options that are easy to make vegetarian by replacing meat or fish with beans or hard-boiled eggs. Dinner pasta or rice recipes made with vegetables are easily prepared dishes where meat or fish can be added for family members that are not vegetarians.

The situation in my family is easy. The vegetarians are not vegan. They just do not eat animal protein and they don’t get upset if it is on the table. My typical approach is that I make the same foods the non-vegetarians are eating minus the animal protein part for the vegetarians. It is a two-in-one system. Two versions of the same dish, one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian. Here are some of the recipes that work in our family.

split pea soup

Split Pea Soup

Corn chowder is another great option. Serve crumbled bacon on the side as a garnish.

4-6 servings

Ingredient

  • 2 cups dry split peas, rinsed
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 large onion (2 cups), diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 pound cooked ham steak, diced and heated

Directions
Sauté the onion, celery and carrot in olive oil in a Dutch oven for about 10 minutes, until the onions translucent. Add the potato, garlic and rosemary and sauté for another 5 minutes.
Add the split peas, vegetable stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook, partially covered, for another 40 minutes or so until the peas are very soft and falling apart.
Serve the warmed ham in a separate bowl for non-vegetarians to add to their soup bowls.

cabbageroll

Stuffed Cabbage

4 servings

Ingredients

Cabbage & Filling

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup short-grain brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 1 large Savoy cabbage (2-3 pounds)
  • 1 pound baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts, chopped
  • 6-8 ounces (2 links) sweet turkey or pork Italian sausage, casing removed
  • Olive oil for drizzling over the cabbage rolls
  • Chopped parsley

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes 
  • 1/2 cup red wine

Directions

To prepare the rice:

Combine water, rice and 1 teaspoon oil in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain the barest simmer, cover and cook until the water is absorbed and the rice is just tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

To prepare the cabbage:

Half fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
Line a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel and place near the stove.
Using a small, sharp knife, remove the core from the bottom of the cabbage. Add the whole cabbage to the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. As the leaves soften, use tongs to gently remove 8 large outer leaves. Transfer the leaves to the toel lined baking sheet and pat with more towels to thoroughly dry. Set aside.
Drain the remaining cabbage in a colander for a few minutes. Finely chop enough to make 1 1/2 cups. (Save any remaining cabbage for another use. I place the remaining cabbage in the freezer to save for a soup recipe.)

To prepare the filling:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic, sage, rosemary and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until the mushrooms have released their juices and the pan is fairly dry, 8 to 10 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated, about 3 minutes more. Add the mushroom mixture to the cooked rice along with currants and pine nuts.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the same skillet over medium-high. Add the chopped cabbage, the remaining salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until the cabbage is wilted and just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside in a separate bowl.
Add the sausage to the empty skillet and brown. Set aside in a separate bowl.

To prepare the sauce:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until starting to soften, 2 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and wine; bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Coat two 8-inch baking dishes with olive oil cooking spray. Place a ½ cup of tomato sauce in each baking dish.

To stuff the cabbage:

Divide the rice mixture in half. To one half add the sautéed cabbage and to the other half add the browned sausage.

For the vegetarian rolls:

Place a reserved cabbage leaf on a cutting board; cut out the thick stem in the center, keeping the leaf intact. Repeat with three more cabbage leaves.
Evenly divide the cabbage/ rice mixture among the four leaves. Fold both sides of the cabbage over the filling and roll up. Repeat with the remaining 3 leaves and filling. Place the stuffed cabbage rolls, seam side down in one baking dish.

For the non-vegetarian rolls:

Place a reserved cabbage leaf on a cutting board; cut out the thick stem in the center, keeping the leaf intact. Repeat with three more cabbage leaves.
Evenly divide the sausage/ rice mixture among the four leaves. Fold both sides of the cabbage over the filling and roll up. Repeat with the remaining 3 leaves and filling. Place the stuffed cabbage rolls, seam side down in the other baking dish.

Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the rolls in both pans. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of the cabbage rolls in each pan. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the tops of the vegetarian rolls, so you will know they are the vegetarian rolls when serving. Bake, uncovered, basting twice with the sauce, until hot, about 45 minutes.

pasta-primavera-ay-1875565-l

Pasta Primavera with Chicken

4 servings

Ingredients

For the chicken:

  • 1 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds
  • 1 medium onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 small lemon, sliced
  • 1 carrot, cut into quarters
  • 2 ribs celery, cut into quarters
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • Small bunch of each – parsley, thyme and rosemary – tied together with kitchen twine

For the Primavera:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 small or 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
  • 1 small zucchini, trimmed and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
  • 1 large leek, trimmed, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on an angle, washed and dried
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose of instant flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Water
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 10 oz box frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 pound egg tagliatelle or fettuccine
  • A handful of parsley, thyme leaves and rosemary, very finely chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

To poach the chicken:

Place chicken, onion, lemon, carrot, celery, bay and herb bundle in a medium saucepan, cover chicken with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Strain and reserve a 1/2 cup of the poaching liquid. Save remaining broth for another use. Cool chicken and remove the skin and bones. Slice the chicken into serving pieces, place in a serving bowl, cover and keep warm

For the pasta sauce:

Heat oil with the butter over medium heat in the same pan. Add carrots, zucchini, leeks and garlic, season with salt and white pepper and sauté until tender, 6-7 minutes. Sprinkle veggies with flour and stir a minute more. Deglaze the pan with the wine, then stir in 2 cups of the vegetable broth. Cook until the sauce thickens. Stir in the peas and reduce the heat to low.

Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Add salt and cook the pasta to the al dente stage and drain. Add the Primavera sauce to the pasta along with the remaining 1/2 cup vegetable broth.

Gremolata-zest the lemon and combine it with the finely chopped herbs.
Serve the pasta in shallow bowls topped with some of the gremolata and some grated cheese.

Heat the remaining 1/2 cup of chicken poaching broth and pour it over the sliced chicken. Serve the chicken to non-vegetarians to add to their pasta bowl.

beef skewers

vegetable skewers

shrimp skewers

Grilled Beef Sirloin & Shrimp & Farmer’s Market Skewers

I like to serve this dish with a brown and wild rice mix and a tomato salad. You can use any combination of vegetables that you like and that your vegetarian friends or family like.

Ingredients

Mustard-Thyme Glaze

  • 4 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 4 tablespoons apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Skewers

  • 1 lb top sirloin steak, grass-fed if possible, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 lb extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 medium yellow squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 thin eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch squares
  • 1 large onion, cut into 1-inch thick wedges
  • 12 medium mushrooms

Directions

Combine glaze ingredients in a large glass measure. Microwave on HIGH 45-60 seconds, stirring once until bubbly.

Place the vegetables on one platter, the shrimp on another platter and the beef on another platter.

Lightly brush some of the glaze on all sides of the vegetables. Wash or change to another pastry brush and lightly brush the steak and shrimp with the remaining glaze.

Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.

Thread vegetables, beef and shrimp, separately, onto 12-inch metal skewers.

Place beef skewers on the grill over medium heat. Grill steak, 12-15 minutes for medium rare to medium, turning occasionally.

Grill vegetables skewers for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are until tender. Grill the shrimp just until they turn pink, turn and grill until the second side is pink.

Serve the grilled vegetables on one platter and the shrimp and beef on another platter.

veggie-cartoon

 

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prod_Whole_Chx

Why is buying a whole chicken better than buying one that is cut into serving pieces?

First, a whole chicken is cheaper per pound and is handled less along the way. It lends itself to a variety of cooking techniques and can be cut up at home exactly the way you want it: in half, quarters, eighths or tenths. Eating all of an animal not just the popular cuts, such as the breast, is the most sustainable way to eat. You get the added bonus of the back, neck, frame and gizzards, which can all be used to make broth for soup.

Second, you get several meals from one chicken. You can roast, braise or cook a chicken in the slow cooker. Once cooked, slice some of the chicken for the main meal and then use the leftovers in any number of dishes, such as risotto, chicken pie, a stir-fry, sandwiches or a salad, etc.

Simple Roast Chicken

  • One 4-5 pound whole chicken
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Using a roasting rack set in the baking pan will help the chicken cook more evenly, since air can circulate freely. With a roasting rack, the chicken won’t be resting in its own drippings, so you get a crisper skin. For easier cleanup, you can line the pan with aluminum foil.

Remove the packet of giblets from the cavity of the chicken ( save for use in a stock, if you like — but don’t include the liver, which will make the stock bitter). Pull any loose fat from around the opening. Rinse the chicken inside and out, then dry the chicken very well with paper towels, inside and out.

Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird (simply tie the legs together and tuck the wings underneath the body or tie kitchen string around them).

Sprinkle a generous amount of salt (around a ½ tablespoon) over the outer skin of the bird so that it has a uniform coating that will result in a crisp, flavorful skin. Season to taste with pepper.

Put the chicken, breast side up, on a V-shaped or flat rack and set the rack in a roasting pan just larger than the rack. Roast for 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 375°F and continue roasting for about 45 -60 minutes more. The chicken is done when the leg wiggles freely in its joint and when the juices run clear from the thigh area. (I roast mine until the it registers 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer. The chicken will continue cooking a bit after you remove it from the oven).

Baste the chicken with the juices that have collected in the bottom of the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Variations:

Convection Oven

Cook at 425 degrees F in a convection oven for about 50 minutes.

Lemon and Herb Roast Chicken

Additional Ingredients

  • 1 lemon
  • Several sprigs of thyme and rosemary or a mixture of herbs you like
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

Season liberally with salt and pepper and squeeze the juice of the lemon over the chicken. Put the herbs and garlic inside the cavity, together with the squeezed-out lemon halves—this will add a fragrant lemony flavor to the finished dish. Follow directions above for Simple Roast Chicken.

Roast Chicken and Vegetables

  • 6 whole small yellow onions
  • 4 carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 fennel bulb, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 6 potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Arrange the vegetables in the bottom of the roasting pan and sprinkle them with salt, pepper and the Italian seasoning; add chicken broth to the bottom of the pan. Place chicken on top of the vegetables and cover pan tightly with foil. Follow directions for Simple Roast Chicken and remove the foil when the oven is reduced to 375 degrees F. Turn the vegetables over occasionally while they are roasting to insure even browning.

Whole Chicken in a Crock Pot

crock pot chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne (red) pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large chicken (3-4 lbs)

Directions

Combine the dried spices in a small bowl.

Chop the onion and place it in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Remove any giblets from the chicken and then rub the spice mixture all over. You can even put some of the spices inside the cavity and under the skin covering the breasts.

Put prepared chicken on top of the onions in the slow cooker, cover it, and turn it on to high. There is no need to add any liquid.

Cook for 4 – 5 hours on high (for a 3 or 4 pound chicken) or until the chicken is falling off the bone.

Stovetop Chicken

stovetop-chicken

Leftovers are great for chicken casseroles.

Ingredients

  • 1 (4-to 5-lb.) whole chicken
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

Directions

Remove neck and giblets from chicken and reserve for another use. Sprinkle chicken with salt, garlic powder and pepper.

Melt butter with oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add the whole chicken and cook, breast side down, 5 minutes or until golden brown. Turn chicken, breast side up, and reduce heat to medium-low.

Add 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup wine (you can use all chicken broth, if you wish) to the Dutch oven.

Cover and cook 1 hour or until a meat thermometer inserted in a thigh registers 165 degrees F.

Cutting Up a Whole Chicken

 

1. Remove the legs

Place the chicken breast side up on a solid cutting board. Pull one leg away from the body and cut through the skin between the body and both sides of the thigh.

Bend the whole leg firmly away from the body until the ball of the thighbone pops from the hip socket. Cut between the ball and the socket to separate the leg. Repeat with the other leg.

2. Divide The Legs

Place the chicken leg skin side down on the cutting board.

Cut down firmly through the joint between the drumstick and the thigh.

 

3. Remove The Wings

With the chicken on it’s back, remove a wing by cutting on the inside of the wing just over joint. Pull wing away from the body and cut down through the skin and the joint. Repeat with the other wing.

 

4. Cut Carcass in Half

Cut through the cavity of the bird from the tail end and slice through the thin area around the shoulder joint. Cut parallel to the backbone and slice the bones of the rib cage. Repeat on the opposite side of the backbone.

 

5. Remove The Breast

Pull apart the breast and the back. Cut down through the shoulder bones to detach the breast from the back. Cut the back into two pieces by cutting across the backbone where the ribs end.

6. Cut Breast In Half

You may leave the breast whole if your recipe requires. To cut in half, use a strong, steady pressure and cut downward along the length of the breastbone to separate the breast into two pieces. If the breasts are large you may want to cut each half into two pieces.

Save the parts, such as the backbone and wings, to make broth. I keep a bag in the freezer and add to it until I have enough to make soup.

chicken_in_vinegar_300

Chicken in Vinegar Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1-4 lb chicken, cut into 8 or 10 pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup cider vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 cup Riesling or other dry but fruity white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Rinse chicken pieces, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken, skin side down, and brown, turning once, about 10 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. Repeat the process with the remaining oil, butter and chicken.

Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly soft, about 5 minutes.

Deglaze the skillet with vinegar and wine, scraping brown bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon. Reduce vinegar mixture by about one-third, 3-5 minutes, then stir in tomato paste.

Return chicken to skillet, pour in the stock and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn chicken and continue cooking until juices from chicken run clear, about 15 minutes. (If the sauce becomes too thick, thin with a small amount of chicken stock or water.)

Remove chicken from skillet with tongs to a deep serving bowl. Pour sauce from the skillet over the chicken and garnish with parsley.

100_0521

Roasted Chicken with Bell Peppers and Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 large sweet onion, cut into eighths
  • 6 medium potatoes, quartered
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the chicken, onions, peppers and potatoes in a large baking pan. Make sure not to crowd the pieces together in the pan. Scatter the garlic slices over the mixture and drizzle some olive oil on top of the ingredients. Sprinkle with the parsley, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper.

Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and put in a preheated oven at 275 degrees F (135 C) for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the oven temperature up to 375 degrees F (190 C) and cook the casserole for 15-20 minutes more, until the chicken and potatoes brown and a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees F.

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gnocchi headerIt seems that nearly every nation has some form of dumpling and it’s easy to see why. They are tasty, versatile and make excellent use of leftover ingredients. In Italy, dumplings are collectively known as gnocchi and are made in several different styles. In the family run trattorias of Rome, you can sample some of the best gnocchi every Thursday night in a citywide tradition. Just like most Italian cooking, these delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available. The most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine potatoes (boiled, peeled or mashed) with flour to form soft bite-size lumps of dough. Each gnocco is then ridged along one side like a seashell. Gnocchi also come in different sizes, with gnocchetti being the smallest version.

Other types of gnocchi are made with semolina flour, milk and cheese – also known as Gnocchi alla Romana. Some versions are made with regular flour and other kinds can be made with leftover bread. Florence’s strozzapreti are gnocchi made from a combination of spinach and ricotta. Another spinach/ricotta gnocchi is from Lombardy called malfatti, meaning “malformed”, since these gnocchi are made from leftover ravioli filling and do not have a uniform shape. What makes gnocchi so popular is its versatility – simple ingredients like potatoes and semolina flour, vegetables, mushrooms and cheeses can be combined to make endless variations.

See two of my previous posts on the different types of gnocchi and how to make them:

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/23/need-some-new-potato-recipes/

Woodcut from Maccaronee, by Merlin Cocai, 1521. Revelers eating gnocchi. From Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1986)

Woodcut from Maccaronee, by Merlin Cocai, 1521. Revelers eating gnocchi. From Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1986)

In early writings, gnocco (singular for gnocchi) is sometimes replaced by maccherone, a generic term for pasta. The Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita tells us that gnocchi is one of the earliest pastas and is originally a Germanic word describing the distinctive shape of gnocchi. Gnocchi was originally from the Middle East, but when the Romans explored the area, they took back with them the recipe for gnocchi. Thus, it was brought with them when they settled European land, in particular, Italy. Here, gnocchi most strongly rooted itself. Various regions began to invent their own form of the dish and introduce them to other neighboring countries. When Italians immigrated into South America by way of Argentina and North America, the recipe for gnocchi went with them.

Recipes for gnocchi have been documented back to the 1300′s. In some parts of Italy, gnocchi was made of fine durum wheat. Elsewhere, it was chestnut, rye, rice or barley flour. When poverty struck, gnocchi might mean leftovers bound with breadcrumbs. We do know that potatoes came in very late as an ingredient and were slow to gain a following. An early recipe for potato gnocchi, circa 1834, calls for just one part potato to three parts flour. It takes another century for modern gnocchi to emerge—where the potato is the main ingredient, with only enough flour to bind it into a workable dough.

Commercial gnocchi is readily available, but it’s worth the effort to make your own. Essentially, you mix cooked, riced potatoes with egg, then knead in some flour. There’s no special equipment required; the familiar grooved pattern is made with a table fork. Gnocchi’s delicate flavor pairs well with robust sauces, from tomato to pesto to gorgonzola. Because they cook more quickly than traditional pasta, gnocchi are a great meal idea for weeknights. Just keep an eye on them, because as soon as they float to the top, they’re ready to sauce and serve!

CrispyGnocchi_04_mini

While gnocchi are simple enough to make from scratch, there are several varieties that can be found pre-made in supermarkets or in Italian specialty stores. Pre-packaged gnocchi, depending upon ingredients, can be found fresh (refrigerated) or frozen. Pre-packaged gnocchi should not be avoided since there are several very good brands. When buying gnocchi in the store, look for the “fresh” looking kind in the refrigerated section (usually next to the fresh pasta), preferably in a well-sealed or vacuum container. The package should be heavy for its size, as dense gnocchi will be less likely to fall apart when cooking. There are also several brands of frozen gnocchi that cook up well, so long as they remain frozen before dropping them in the boiling water, otherwise they will turn into soggy mashed potatoes if allowed to thaw.

Gnocchi in the dried pasta section is usually of the semolina variety, but you may also find vacuum-sealed potato gnocchi as well. Dried semolina gnocchi are convenient and can be tasty, but its taste and texture resembles more of a pasta than fresh semolina gnocchi. With dried potato gnocchi, there just does not seem to be enough moisture left in the dumplings, making them lighter than other varieties. Because of this lack of moisture, the gnocchi tend to fall apart somewhat and often loose their shape. The rule of thumb for buying gnocchi is: get the closest thing to making it yourself – fresh/refrigerated or frozen.

Making Homemade Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs potatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup or more for the work surface
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

A General Rule of Thumb: 1 medium-sized potato per serving or person. For every potato, you want to use approximately 1/2 cup of flour.

Directions

First, clean and peel potatoes. Remove any brown spots. Cut potatoes into 1” cubes; be sure to cut them into cubes consistent in size so that they cook evenly. Place cut potatoes in a medium-sized pot; fill with water just to cover. Add salt and cover with a lid. Stirring occasionally, boil potatoes for about 20 minutes or until fork tender. Over-boiling will cause potatoes to become mushy and too wet.

Drain the potatoes well. Allow them to cool in a colander. Rice potatoes using a potato ricer into a kitchen towel to remove excess water.

Combine potatoes, 2 ½ cups flour, egg and salt in the work bowl of a processor. Pulse just until the dough comes together.

Once the dough come together, turn out onto a floured board (using as much of the ½ cup flour as needed) and knead into a wide rectangle shape.

Gnocchi step 1

Cut the dough into about 8 pieces, 4 inches long.

Gnocchi-step 2

For shorter, heavy gnocchi, roll dough into thick ropes and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Gnocchi-step 4

Use a fork to make ridges on the side of each gnocchi.

Gnocchi-step 5

For thinner gnocchi, roll long ropes. Cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces and place on a floured tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Gnocchi-step 3

Note: While you are shaping gnocchi, finished gnocchi should be kept on a heavily floured tray as to prevent sticking together. Also, keep them in a cool place until ready to cook for no longer than 45 minutes or else place them in the freezer.

Cooking Gnocchi:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add salt and then gnocchi. Gnocchi are finished once they float to the top, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss in a saucepan with your favorite sauce.

For best taste and texture, allow gnocchi to “sit” in their sauce once cooked for about 5 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

gnocchi and peas

Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen potato gnocchi or homemade
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 head Boston or other loose-leaf lettuce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 4 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook gnocchi until they float to the top; drain and keep warm.

Place butter in a large, heavy pan; heat over medium heat until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

Wash lettuce and trim away the stalk end. Shake water off lettuce (it’s OK if some water remains) and add to the pan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook about 3 minutes or until the peas are warm.

Remove pea mixture from the pan and keep warm. Add cream to the pan and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return pea mixture to the pan, add gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

gnocchi and sausage

Gnocchi with Italian Sausage 

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon loose saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
  • 26-28 oz container of Italian diced tomatoes
  • 1 (1-pound) package potato gnocchi  or homemade
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add the garlic and sausage. Saute, stirring frequently, until the sausage is cooked through. Add the saffron threads, basil and diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and continue simmering for about 15-20 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi to the boiling water and cook gnocchi until they float to the top. Once finished, drain and toss with the sauce in the saucepan for about 2 minutes to coat. Serve topped with Pecorino Romano cheese.

Serves 4

olivegardenchickengnocci

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 (14-ounce) can low sodium chicken broth
  • Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup diced cooked chicken breast
  • 1 (16-ounce) package gnocchi or homemade

Directions

Melt the butter into the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth followed by the milk. Simmer until thickened.

Stir in a 1/2 teaspoon salt, the thyme, nutmeg, carrots, spinach, chicken and gnocchi. Simmer until the soup is heated through.

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Generally, authentic Italian stews have similar ingredients to vegetable soup, but they tend to have larger chunks of meat and vegetables and sometimes have a thicker sauce. Some Italian stews are simply meat simmered in broth or wine. In Italy stew is usually a main dish and is often served in a bowl or on a plate alongside bread, polenta or rice. Some stews are served over polenta.

Stews are generally easy to prepare, store well in the refrigerator and taste better reheated. A perfect make ahead dish. In countries other than Italy, particularly in the United States, some dishes labeled as Italian stew are simply pasta dishes with Italian seaoning that have been converted into stews by reducing the broth or thickening the sauce in the mixture. Usually, this type of stew contains small, hollow noodles like macaroni or shell pasta.

Many Italian stew recipes that are the most popular in Italy did not actually come from there. Since the cuisine of Italy has been influenced by other nearby cultures, some common Italian stews may have originated in border areas, like Hungary and Croatia. The Italian stew called jota, which contains beans and bacon and is often cooked with garlic, potatoes and meat, originally came from Croatia.

In general, Italian stews are cooked using similar, low-heat methods, but they can contain a variety of meats and vegetables. They can be made on the stove, in the oven or in a slow cooker. Vegetables cooked in this type of stew can vary, but usually include carrots, celery and fennel. Potatoes, onion and garlic are also common. The typical Italian stew contains beef, but it can also contain other meats like chicken, pork or veal. Rabbit is a highly popular stew meat in Northern Italy. Sausage is also a common meat, especially in the south.

pork stew

Italian Pork Stew

My adaption of Marcella Hazan’s recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups low sodium beef or chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound Cipollini onions, peeled
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds boneless Boston butt pork roast, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, divided
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
  • 1 1/2 cups (1-inch) slices carrot
  • 1 cup potatoes diced

Directions

Bring broth and mushrooms to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 20 minutes or until tender. Drain mushrooms in a colander over a bowl, reserving broth.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Spoon onion mixture into a large bowl.

Place flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Dredge pork in flour, shaking off excess. Heat remaining oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add half of pork mixture; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Add pork to onion mixture. Repeat procedure with remaining pork mixture, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Add wine to the pan, scraping the pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in reserved broth, pork-onion mixture and sage; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes or until pork is almost tender.

Stir in carrot and potato. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Stir in mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and simmer 10 minutes.

128-oxtail-stew400

Roman Oxtail Stew

In Italy and elsewhere in Europe, the custom of raising beef for meat, as opposed to raising oxen for plowing and transportation, is relatively recent. That’s why, in English, we still refer to the tail of a steer as “oxtails” and not to “beef tails”. There are few true oxen left anywhere in the Western world and modern farming techniques have replaced their work. Most butcher shops and supermarkets in America actually sell the tail cut as “beef oxtails.” Oxtail stew tastes best, if made a day ahead and then reheated. This is a popular stewing cut in Italy and is often served over pasta.

Ingredients

  • 1 beef oxtail (2 1/2-3 pounds)
  • 6 celery stalks, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 medium-sized white onion
  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 2 heaping tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Italian dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 6 to 8 cups boiling water
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions

Rinse the oxtail under warm running water and eliminate any fat or gristle with a paring knife. Chop it into sections along the vertebrae. Pat them dry with paper towels.

Mince 1 celery stalk and reserve the rest. Mince the garlic with the carrot and onion. Mince the pancetta; you should have 3/4 cup. Combine the minced vegetables and pancetta with 1 heaping tablespoon of the parsley.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add the minced vegetable-and-pancetta mixture and sauté, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula until the onion becomes translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the oxtail pieces, a generous pinch of salt and several turns of the peppermill. Brown thoroughly, stirring, for about 15 minutes.

Pour in the wine and boil to evaporate it, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and tomatoes, crushing and stirring. Add just enough of the water to completely submerge the oxtail meat.

Wrap the cloves in cheesecloth and tie it closed with kitchen string, leaving about one foot of the string attached. Lower the purse into the stew and secure the string to a pot handle. Drop in the bay leaf and stir.

Lower the heat to minimum and simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours.

Slice the remaining 5 celery stalks into 2 inch sticks. Add them to the stew and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes.

Remove and discard the cloves and the bay leaf. Stir in the remaining 1 heaping tablespoon of parsley. Serve in soup bowls.

sausage-beans-and-greens-24066-ss

Sausage, Escarole & White Bean Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 12 oz. hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small head escarole, chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces, washed and lightly dried
  • 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Heat the oil in a heavy 5- to 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the sausage, raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula until lightly browned and broken into small (1-inch) pieces, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the escarole to the pot in batches; using tongs, toss with the sausage mixture to wilt the escarole and make room for more. When all the escarole is in, add the beans and chicken broth, cover the pot, and cook until the beans are heated through and the escarole is tender, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with the vinegar and salt.

Transfer to bowls and sprinkle each portion with some of the Parmigiano. Serve with toasted Italian country bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

vegetable stew

Italian Vegetable Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant (about 12 oz), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 (26-ounce) container POMI chopped tomatoes
  • 2 zucchini (8 ounces each), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 red or yellow bell peppers or a combination, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup shredded fresh basil

Directions

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add eggplant, onion and potatoes and sprinkle the vegetables lightly with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant and potatoes begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Push vegetables to one side of the pot; add 1 tablespoon oil and tomato paste. Cook paste, stirring frequently, until brown, about 2 minutes.

Add the broth and the chopped tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and gently simmer until the eggplant is soft and the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Add zucchini, bell peppers and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pot from the heat and cover the pot. Let stand for 20 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste; serve. Add crushed red pepper to taste, if desired.

Tuscan chicken

Tuscan Chicken Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 4 ounces baby spinach leaves

Directions

Heat oil in large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook and stir until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken from skillet. Add onion, garlic and fennel seed; cook and stir on medium heat about 5 minutes or until tender.

Stir in beans, tomatoes, red wine, basil, rosemary, salt, oregano and pepper. Bring to boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 3 minutes. Return chicken to the skillet  and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in spinach. Cover and cook 5 minutes longer or until spinach is wilted.

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Italian cuisine prides itself on simple delicious combinations of the finest, freshest ingredients available. For example, fresh ricotta, mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto. Each Italian region and town is proud to have its trademark dishes and ingredients. It is important to be aware that the ingredients used by Italians are location specific. Everyone in Italy knows to get their balsamic vinegar from Modena, their mozzarella di bufala from Campania, their truffles from Piedmont or Umbria, their cannoli from Sicily, their artichokes from Rome, their pizza from Naples, their bolognese meat sauce from Bologna, their saffron risotto from Milan and their pecorino cheese from Pienza.

Italy has adopted strict country-of-origin labelling laws.

Italian food products are special. The Italian national government recognizes this, so, they’ve taken some steps to ensure that all traditional products are held to a strict standard for quality, excellence and originality. This means that only real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is labeled and sold as such and that no “imposter” cheeses can be labeled Parmigiano. This form of branding actually helps promote the product worldwide and ensures that each wheel of Parmigiano is as good and authentic as the rest.

The heart and soul of Italian cuisine are found in the quality of its ingredients and that quality has long been assured by tightly controlled and regulated production standards. These standards fall within the jurisdiction of European Union law under the auspices of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In Italy, these terms translate to Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP and Indicazione Geografica Protetta or IGP. Another system, known as the Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC is Italy’s system for ensuring quality wines.

D.O.P – Denominazione di Origine Protetta

Literally translated “Protected Designation of Origin”, this label applies to various cheeses, meats, breads and pastas from the regions throughout Italy. Examples of such products are Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, regional Extra-Virgin Olive Oils and the famous Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

In the case of IGP, at least one stage of production or processing of the product takes place within the designated area. In addition, the product has a certain reputation. IGP designates a native product of the region/country whose qualities/reputation/features can be attributed to its geographic origin and whose production and/or processing take place within that area.

D.O.C. and D.O.C.G

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita)  means that the wine is from a “Controlled Designation of Origin” and officially guaranteed by the Italian government. These two labels are the highest quality certifications given to Italian wines. Each designation means that the wine is grown in select quantities that the government mandates and is produced under traditional or government-specified standards. D.O.C.G. is the ultimate Italian wine standard, being given currently to little over 30 wines from Italy. Each D.O.C.G. wine is produced in very small quantities and is given an official numbered government seal for each bottle.

Extra Virgin

While this title is reserved for olive oils, it is not exclusive to Italy (though, some Italian olive oils can also be given the D.O.P. designation, which is exclusive to Italy). Extra Virgin is a grade of olive oil that comes from the first pressing of olives and contains no more than 0.8% acidity – a key for determining quality and usability of olive oil.

Protecting these products is not easy. See the following news story:

ROME, Dec. 6, 2013 (UPI) — The counterfeit food business is doing well in Italy, with peddlers selling items from watered-down olive oil to imitation cheese, a report indicated.

The annual report, issued Thursday by the Citizen’s Defense Movement and environment non-profit Legambiente, documented 500,000 government inspections that led to the seizure of 28,000 tons of counterfeit or adulterated products worth more than a half-billion dollars in 2012, the ANSA news agency reported. The highest rate of seizures, about 47 percent, occurred within Italy’s wine sector.

Authorities also seized 4.6 tons of tomatoes — another mainstay of Italian cuisine — that were fraudulently sold as organic or falsely labeled as a “Protected Designation of Origin” product, an EU designation for products whose claim to quality depends on the territory in which they were produced.

ANSA reported that Chinese tomato sauce was repackaged with a “Made in Italy” label.

“Consumers are still the unwitting victims of food fraud,” Citizens’ Defense Movement President Antonio Longo said. “We need severe penalties to be a real deterrent.”

“Guaranteeing food safety is not just healthy, but also crucial to safeguarding our gastronomic heritage,” Legambiente President Vittorio Cogliati Dezza said.

The agriculture association, Coldiretti, said unfair competition from foreign produce branded to look as if it were from Italy contributed to the failure of 136,351 farms and agricultural companies since the global economic crisis began in 2007.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc.

Consumers need to look for the DOP or IGP seals on authentic Italian products. In use since 2006, the new regulations introduced in May, 2010 utilize a color scheme. A red and gold seal denotes a DOP product while a blue and gold seal is found on IGP products.

You can buy authentic Italian food products in the United States. Much more so than in the not too distant past, when you had to seek out an Italian specialty shop in an Italian neighborhood in order to buy a bottle of olive oil. Italian grocery stores and delis are still thriving and one can easily find authentic Italian ingredients in most high-end supermarkets these days. You just have to know what to look for.

First stop, the cheese section. How can you even consider Italian food without Parmesan cheese, right? What Americans refer to as “Parmesan cheese” is produced only in a specific area of Italy; the area around Parma. The word “Parmesan” is actually the French word for that area. It is also the generic term under which cheap imitation cheeses may legally be sold in the United States. This often means reaching for the grated stuff in the green cans.

The only true, authentic, Italian “Parmesan cheese” is Parmigiano-Reggiano and it comes in a wedge. It is a DOP designated product produced only in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and certain restricted areas of Bologna and Lombardia. It is made from raw, whole cow’s milk, not the “pasteurized part-skim” product found in cheap imitations. The only additive permitted in Parmigiano-Reggiano is salt. There are no chemical preservatives employed to protect flavor or prevent caking. It must be aged for a minimum of 12 months. The really good cheese is aged from 24 to 36 months. Look for the seals and, more importantly, since some stores hand cut wedges from whole wheels look for some part of the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano” on the rind. They have to be there in order for the cheese to be the real thing.

Besides Parmigiano-Reggiano, several other authentic Italian cheeses are available in supermarkets including Asiago, Gorgonzola, Pecorino Romano, Provolone, Fontina, Taleggio and Grana Padano. These are all DOP cheeses and should be identified as such. Many are domestically produced, so examine the labels carefully and remember that Pecorino cheese comes from sheep’s milk not cow’s milk.

The next best thing to Mozzarella di Bufala Campana.

All mozzarella cheese is not created equal. And it’s not all created Italian. If you want real, authentic Italian mozzarella, look for Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. Good luck. It’s not impossible to find, but since there are not a lot of herds of water buffalo grazing in American pastures, most of what passes for mozzarella in this country comes from cows. Technically, this makes it a fiore di latte, but it falls under the general category of mozzarella. There are some good fresh cow’s milk mozzarellas in supermarkets, but they are not authentic Italian. A good substitute for Americans is fresh cow’s milk mozzarella that comes packaged in moist balls.

Ricotta is literally the “recooked” by-product of mozzarella production, so what you’ll find on store shelves is closely related to mozzarella. There are DOP ricottas – i.e. Ricotta di Bufala Campana – but you will not find it in your supermarket.

Another staple of Italian cuisine is the tomato. If you want an authentic Italian taste from an authentic Italian product, look for canned tomatoes that are specifically labeled as “San Marzano” tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are a delicate, thin skinned variety of plum tomato grown in an area near the Italian village of San Marzano sul Sarno, which is located southeast of Naples in the fertile valley of Mt. Vesuvius. The DOP certification area actually involves 39,540 acres in three of the provinces of the Campania region, including a rough triangle formed by Salerno, Naples and a small part of Avellino. It is said that San Marzano tomatoes owe their unique flavor to the rich volcanic soil in which they are grown. They have a deep red color and an unmatchable sweet taste. They are sought after and preferred by cooks and chefs around the world as the absolute best tomato for use in a tomato sauce.

The brand I prefer- only tomatoes are in this product – no salt, no sugar.

There are dozens of brands of San Marzano tomatoes. The tomatoes packed by Cento are the ones mostly found in America. I’ve used several other brands as well, depending on availability. Authentic San Marzano tomatoes will bear the DOP seal on the label. Most will also carry authentication from the Consorzio di Tutela del Pomodoro San Marzano – Agro Nocerino Sarnese , a consortium dedicated to the protection of San Marzano tomatoes.

While in the tomato aisle take a look at the tomato paste. Some sound really Italian. Check the label ingredient list and many say: Tomato puree (tomato paste, water), high fructose corn syrup, salt, dried onions, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed), spices, hydrolyzed corn gluten, soy & wheat gluten proteins, grated Romano cheese made from cow’s milk (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), garlic, citric acid, yeast, soy flour.”

Instead choose tomato paste in a tube rather than a can. Easier to use and easier to store. Most common is Amore Italian Tomato Paste brand. Amore is not DOP or IGP and is labeled as a “product of Italy.” What this means is that some component of the overall product comes from Italy. It may be the cap on the tube but the company’s literature says the tube contains “fresh Italian ingredients,” and the ingredients listed are tomato paste and salt. So is it better than the can.

Next, is the pasta. Can you find authentic Italian pasta on American grocery store shelves? If you go to the Italian specialty stores, you can. Supermarkets, maybe. De Cecco and Barilla are both noted Italian pasta makers. Both are headquartered in Italy; De Cecco in San Martino, Barilla in Parma. Each has a corporate presence in the United States. The difference is that while Barilla bills itself as “Italy’s #1 Brand of Pasta,” its products are produced all over the world from local ingredients grown all over the world. In the US that means central Iowa or western New York. De Cecco, on the other hand, generates more than one-third of its total revenue through export. Pasta is not a DOP or IGP product. De Cecco is probably the closest to authentic Italian pasta available to the average supermarket shopper.

DOC protected olive oil

There are dozens of protected Italian olive oils. You won’t find many (if any) in your neighborhood supermarket, but they are available in specialty shops and online. Italy is the largest exporter of olive oil to the United States. So if you want real Italian olive oil, check the label for country of origin and the government seals.

Balsamic vinegar is a DOP product. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is DOP and consortium regulated and sealed. It is produced in either Modena or Reggio Emilia. Only balsamic vinegar from these regions may legally be described as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. The real vinegar comes in very small bottles and is portioned out by the drop because it is very expensive. The balsamic vinegar found on most supermarket shelves is condimento grade and is a blend of various commercially produced vinegars. There are no official production standards or labeling requirements to designate condimento balsamic vinegars, although many of them are produced in the same area as the tradizionale varieties. Unless you see the seal, you do not have the real balsamic vinegar.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale

There are about 22 DOP meats and another 10 that are IGP. Here are a few of the protected Italian meat varieties you’ll want to look for at the supermarket: bresaola, sopressa and sopressata, capicola, cotechino and mortadella. You won’t have to look for real authentic Italian pepperoni; there is no such thing. Pepperoni is an entirely Italian-American creation.

prosciutto di San Daniele

In addition to the mentioned meats, the two you’ll probably encounter most frequently are pancetta and prosciutto. Pancetta is an Italian dry cured meat similar to bacon, except that it is not smoked. There are a few DOP pancetta products in America, but you are unlikely to find them outside of Italian specialty shops. Boar’s Head makes a decent pancetta. It’s not authentic, but it is good.

Prosciutto comes two ways, cotto and crudo, (cooked and uncooked). Prosciutto crudo is the most commonly used and there are two basic prosciutti of this type familiar to most Americans; prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele. Each reflects the specific area where it is produced. The pigs in Parma dine on the leftover whey from the processing of Parmigiano-Reggiano, so the meat produced there tends to have a little nuttier flavor than that which comes from San Daniele, where the meat is a little darker in color and sweeter in taste. Just look for the seal to guarantee authenticity when you purchase these products.

In general, your best source for authentic Italian meats is a salumeria but they are found in the big cities where there are large Italian populations. If you live in small town America, just try to find the freshest and best quality available.

Cooking with the D.O.P. Brands

Fettuccine with Prosciutto & Asparagus

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh egg fettuccine
  • 1/2 lb asparagus
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 4 oz prosciutto, cut into thin strips from an ⅛ inch thick slice
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions

Trim and peel the lower green portions of the asparagus. Cook whole in salted boiling water in a large skillet until tender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Cut the asparagus, when cool enough to handle, into ¼ inch lengths.

Pour 4 quarts of water into a large saucepan and place over a high heat.

Melt the butter in the empty skillet over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it softens and turns a golden color. Stir in the prosciutto and saute’ until it has lost its raw color. Add the asparagus, raise the heat to medium-high and cook until it is lightly colored. Pour the reserved water in and cook until it has evaporated. Stir in the cream and cook, stirring frequently, until it has reduced by half. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

When the water for the pasta is boiling and the sauce is off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and drop in the pasta all at once, stirring well. When the pasta is cooked “al dente”, drain it and toss it with the sauce in the skillet, adding the grated cheese.

Mozzarella, Celery and Fennel Salad

Ingredients for 6 people:

  • 10 ounces celery, use center stalks
  • 10 ounces mozzarella di bufala
  • 3 fennel bulbs
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Thoroughly wash the celery and fennel, cut them in thin strips (julienne), place in a salad bowl and add the mozzarella which has been cut into strips about the size of the vegetables.

Prepare the lemon dressing by slowly adding the lemon juice to the olive oil in a small bowl, add salt to taste, add to the salad and toss lightly.

20130808-262265-sabatinos-spaghetti-with-meat-sauce.jpg

Italian-American Meat Sauce

Sugo di Carne

Makes about 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 35-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1½ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
  • 4 cups hot water

Directions

Pass the tomatoes and their liquid through a food mill fitted with the fine blade. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and oregano then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the wine is almost completely evaporated.

Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the tomato paste until it dissolves. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color, 2 to 3 hours. Add the hot water, about 1/2 cup at a time, as necessary to maintain the level of liquid for the length of time the sauce cooks.

Skim off any fat floating on top and adjust the seasoning as necessary. The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

 

Strawberries in Balsamic Syrup with Zabaglione

Ingredients

Meringue:

  • 5 egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zabaglione:

  • 5 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup dry sparkling white wine or champagne (Prosecco)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Fruit:

  • 1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Continue beating, adding confectioners’ sugar gradually, until stiff and shiny. Beat in vinegar and vanilla. Spread meringue about 1/2 inch thick on parchment. Bake 2 hours, then turn the oven off and allow to cool 1 hour until crisp. Break into pieces. Keep in a dry place.

While the meringue is baking, combine strawberries, sugar and balsamic vinegar and toss to coat. Set aside at room temperature.

Set up double boiler or a pot of simmering water. Have a bowl of ice water ready to cool the custard bowl. Away from the flame, add egg yolks to the double boiler top or bowl and whisk withthe  sugar to combine. Place back on the stove and whisk continuously over the simmering water, adding the sparkling wine gradually. Cook until the zabaglione is thick and the whisk leaves a trace on the bottom of the bowl. Place the double boiler top or custard bowl in ice water to cool, whisking twice for even cooling.

Beat the cream to the soft peak stage. Fold into the cooled custard. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Assemble the desserts by dividing the berries and syrup among 4 glasses or bowls. Add a layer of meringue pieces, then a dollop of zabaglione. Garnish with more meringue.

Serves 4.

Related Articles


Parmigiano Reggiano, Tortellini, Bolognese Sauce and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena are all famous foods of this region. A vast, wealthy region located in northern Italy, Emilia-Romagna is rich in meats and pastas. The craft of curing meat is held in high esteem here — Italy’s best known meat product, Prosciutto di Parma, is created in Emilia, as is the “king of cheeses,” Parmigiano Reggiano.

The richness and complexity of first and second courses served in this region balance each other out, with one being richer and having more complex flavors than the other. Emilia-Romagna meals layer flavors, with pastas that range from tagliatelle (golden egg pasta) to tortelli (stuffed pasta), to tortelloni (larger) and spinach pasta. Antipasto is optional before the first course of a traditional meal and may feature anything from greens with prosciutto and balsamic vinegar or pears with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar.

Pasta is often the first course, including lasagna and cannelloni. Risotto dishes or soups – such as tomato & cauliflower or fresh spinach are popular. Sauces based on prosciutto,  or fresh mushrooms may dress tagliatelle, however, tomato sauces are the favorite pasta topper in this region. The famous meat sauce typical of the Bologna area, known in Italy as Ragu, is usually referred to as, Bolognese Sauce. On restaurant menus, one can usually  this sauce served over spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine.

Seafood, poultry and meats comprise the second course. Chicken is the most popular meat: from pan–crispy chicken with rosemary, to chicken cacciatore over polenta or potatoes and capon at Christmas. Residents throughout the region eat rabbit and serve more pork than beef, such as pork tenderloin with marsala sauce. Along the Adriatic coast, in Romagna, seafood appears frequently in dishes, such as, clams with balsamic vinegar.

From grilled asparagus and Parma ham salad to basil and onion mashed potatoes to roasted beets and onions, vegetables play a major role in Emilia-Romagna side dishes. Residents boil, sauté, braise, bake or grill radicchio and other tart greens. They also serve a variety of other vegetables, including sweet fennel, wild mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onions, chard, sweet squashes, cabbage, eggplant, green beans and asparagus.

Sweet pastas may be a dessert or a side dish. Rich, decadent tortes, almond and apple cream tarts, sweet ravioli with winter fruit and strawberries in red wine, often find their way to the table. More contemporary offerings include semifreddos, with a texture somewhere between soft serve ice cream and frozen mousse and a sorbet made with Muscat wine. Fresh chestnuts also appear in many desserts, especially at Christmastime.

Some differences do exist in the cuisine between Emilia and Romagna. Located between Florence and Venice and south of Milan, Emilia’s cuisine demonstrates more northern Italian influences and capitalizes on the region’s supply of butter, cream and meat that is usually poached or braised. The Romagna area includes the Adriatic coast, part of Ferrara province and rugged mountain ranges. Food preferences follow those found in central Italy, more closely, with olive oil used as a base for many dishes with plenty of herbs and a preference for spit roasting and griddle baking.

First Course

Homemade Pappardelle with Bolognese Sauce

10 Servings

Ingredients

Bolognese Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 1 1/4 cups finely chopped celery
  • 3/4 cups finely chopped carrot
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 1/2 pounds spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 3/4 cups tomato paste (about 7 1/2 ounces)
  • Homemade Pappardelle (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for passing

Directions

Melt butter with oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the next 4 ingredients. Sauté until vegetables are soft but not brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Add beef, sausage, pork and pancetta. Increase heat to high. Cook until meat is brown, breaking into small pieces with back of spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in milk, wine and tomato paste. Reduce heat to low. Simmer until sauce is thick and juices are reduced, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in very large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, but still firm to bite, stirring often, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to the same pot. Add enough warm Bolognese sauce to coat pasta and 1 cup cheese. Toss over medium heat until heated through, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls, if dry. Adjust seasoning.

Homemade Pappardelle

Makes about 2 1/2 Pounds

Ingredients

  • 5 cups all purpose flour, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 6 large eggs, divided
  • 6 large egg yolks, divided
  • 6 tablespoons (or more) water, divided

Directions

Make pasta in two batches. Place 2 1/2 cups flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Whisk 3 eggs, 3 yolks and 3 tablespoons water in a bowl. With machine running, pour egg mixture through the feed tube. Blend until a sticky dough forms, adding additional water by teaspoonfuls, if dry.

Scrape dough out onto floured work surface. Knead dough until smooth and no longer sticky, sprinkling lightly with flour, as needed, if sticky, about 8 minutes. Shape into ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 45 minutes. Repeat with remaining flour, salt, eggs, yolks and water.

Divide each dough ball into 4 pieces. Cover dough with plastic wrap.

Set pasta machine to widest setting. Flatten 1 dough piece into a 3-inch-wide rectangle. Run through the pasta machine 5 times, dusting lightly with flour, if sticking. Continue to run dough piece through machine, adjusting to the next-narrower setting after every 5 passes, until dough is about 26 inches long. Cut crosswise into 3 equal pieces. Run each piece through the machine, adjusting to the next-narrower setting, until strip is a scant 1/16 inch thick and 14 to 16 inches long. Return machine to the original setting for each piece. Arrange strips in a single layer on sheets of parchment.

Repeat with remaining dough. Let strips stand until slightly dry to touch, 20 to 30 minutes. Fold strips in half so short ends meet, then fold in half again. Cut strips into 2/3-inch-wide pappardelle.

Celery Salad

Celery salad from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. (Maureen Zebian/The Epoch Times)

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3-1/2 to 4 cups thinly sliced celery
  • 2 tablespoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved
  • Lemon peel strips for garnish

Directions

Cut the ends off several stalks of celery and soak them in lightly salted cold water for 30 minutes. Drain and dry them thoroughly. Slice as thin as possible.

Immediately before serving, toss the celery with the olive oil, first, and then add the lemon juice. Mix thoroughly. Add sea salt and ground pepper and toss again. Add more lemon juice or olive oil to taste.

Serve on individual plates and use a vegetable peeler to drop curls of the cheese atop each salad. Garnish plates with lemon peel strips.

Second Course

Pork Loin with Balsamic Vinegar

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pound boneless pork loin
  • Butcher’s twine
  • A medium onion
  • Sprig of rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • A sprig of fresh marjoram
  • A small bunch of parsley
  • A small bunch of chives
  • A sprig of thyme
  • 1/2 cup beef broth or unsalted bouillon
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Tie the pork loin with butcher’s twine, so it will keep its shape as it cooks.

Peel the onion and chop it with the rosemary, marjoram, parsley, chives and thyme.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in an ovenproof pot and brown the meat on all sides. Turn the burner off.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the onion mixture, sauté for a minute or two and then let the mixture cool. Distribute it over the pork loin and add the broth..

Place the pork in the oven and roast the meat for an hour, spooning the pan drippings over it occasionally. Remove it to a cutting board and cover with foil.

Stir the cream and the vinegar into the roasting pan drippings and reduce the sauce briefly. Slice the meat, putting the slices on a warmed serving platter.

Spoon the sauce over the meat and serve.

Spinach Parmigiano

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, washed thoroughly, water still clinging to the leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions

Melt the butter in a deep 14-inch sauté pan over a medium-high heat. Add the spinach by the handful to the hot pan and cook until it is wilted and there is no liquid left in the pan, about 5 minutes, stirring often. It may seem like all the spinach won’t fit at first, but as it wilts, it will shrink to fit.

Season the spinach with the salt, pepper and nutmeg, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook 15 more minutes, stirring once in a while. Add the Parmigiano and stir until it is melted through. Cook 5 minutes more and serve hot.

Dessert

Chocolate Almond Torte

Ingredients

  • 3 oz. butter
  • 5 oz. sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 lb dark chocolate
  • 3 ½ oz. almonds, skinned and toasted
  • 3 tablespoons espresso coffee powder
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9 x 2-inch springform pan with cooking spray, dust with cocoa, tapping out the excess and fit a sheet of parchment paper in the base of the pan. Butter the paper. Set the pan aside.

Melt the dark chocolate with the butter in a double boiler pan.

Whisk the egg yolks with sugar until creamy.

Finely chop the toasted almonds and add them to the egg mixture; add the coffee, rum, melted butter and chocolate. Mix well.

Whip the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center is slightly damp.

Remove the pan from the oven and set on a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Carefully run a butter knife along the inside edges of the pan and release the spring. Remove the pan sides.

Place the cake on a serving dish. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a small sieve and dust the top of the cake.

Cut into thin wedges to serve.


Challah

The Jewish presence in Italy dates to the pre‑Christian Roman period (more than two thousand years ago) and continues to this day. There are approximately 28,400 Jews in Italy today. They are concentrated in Rome (13,000) and Milan (8,000), with smaller communities situated in Turin (900), Florence (1,000), Venice (600) and Livorno (600). Other Jewish communities numbering a few hundred members can be found in several other cities. The community’s umbrella organization, the Unione delle Comunita Ebraiche Italiane (Union of Italian Jewish Communities), provides religious, cultural and educational services to Italy’s Jewish population and also represents the community on the national-political level.

The Great Synagogue of Rome.

When the edict of expulsion was issued in 1492, many Jews from Spain and Sicily (which, along with Naples and points south, were under Spanish control at the time) fled north, traveling up the Italian peninsula. The refugees brought their favored foods and flavorings to their new communities, among them marzipan, eggplant, artichokes, a taste for sweet-and-sour and the raisin and pine nut garnish used with meats and vegetables, as well as fish. Caponata, now used throughout Italy, was another Sicilian-Jewish dish. A sweet-savory cold salad of fried eggplant, onions, garlic, olives and capers (and tomatoes—a later addition from the Americas). It is still labeled alla giudea, Jewish-style, on some menus.

Italian Jews have always been exceptionally fond of vegetables and developed countless ways to use them. Spinach is a particular favorite: even the stems might be slowly braised for a side dish or the leaves combined with almonds in a dessert. Pumpkin and other golden squashes—introduced from the New World by Spanish and Portuguese Jews—are often included on the Yom Kippur break-the-fast menu, either pureed with onion and a touch of crystallized citron (etrog) or flavored with Parmesan and raisins as a filling for pasta.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Much of Italian-Jewish cooking is “cucina povera”, cuisine of the poor and vegetables were often used to stretch—or even replace—meat and fish. Sometimes, as in polpettine di pollocoi sedani (chicken meatballs with celery) a Roman Rosh Hashanah specialty, the vegetables are cooked alongside the meat. In other recipes, olives, potatoes, cooked spinach or other vegetables are mixed into ground meat, creating meatballs and loaves that not only make the meat go further, but are more tender and flavorful.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. The themes of this solemn holiday are self-reflection and repentance. There are ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in which Jewish people are charged with taking a reflective look at the past year, repenting for misdeeds, asking for forgiveness and working on ways to become better people.

The home ceremony takes place at sundown and the main event of this special day is a festive seder meal. There are three categories of symbolic foods for Rosh Hashanah and each has its own meaning. The first is sweet tasting foods, such as apples and honey, which represent the desire for a sweet year to come. The second which includes pomegranates and fish, represent one’s wish to be fruitful and multiply. The third category which includes foods such as carrots, beets, leeks and cabbage, represent the destruction and eradication of one’s sins and one’s enemies.

Giuliana Ascoli Vitali-Norsa, author of La Cucina nella Tradizione Ebraica, says that, “among other things, the standard Italian Rosh Hashanah meal will include ricciolini, triglie alla mosaica, polpettone di tacchino, fried yellow squash or other vegetables prepared without vinegar and either a honey cake, sfratti or apples and bananas cooked with rum. Ricciolini are pasta served in broth, a sort of noodle soup, while triglie alla mosaica are reef mullet cooked in a tomato sauce, sometimes with a jolt of hot pepper; you also find them referred to as triglie alla livornese and by extension other kinds of fish cooked in this sauce can be called “alla livornese” too. Polpettone di tacchino is turkey loaf and it can be simple or extraordinary.”

I have put together a menu for an Italian Rosh Hashanah dinner for you to try with the help of some famous Jewish chefs.

Antipasto:

carciofi alla giudia - Picture of Rotonda Restaurant, RomeThis photo from Rotonda Restaurant in Rome is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Carciofi alla Giudia (Artichokes Jewish Style)

A very old recipe, these artichokes became famous in the Jewish community in Rome.

Adapted from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • 12 small artichokes
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Olive oil for deep frying
  • 1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 10 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Matzoh meal or flour for dredging

Directions:

Trim the tops off the artichokes, working around the globe to retain the shape. Halve the lemons, juice them and cover with cold water. Soak the artichokes in this lemon water until ready to use, then drain and dry.

Hold the artichokes by the stems and bang them a little against the countertop to open the leaves.

Combine 1/2 cup of the olive oil, the parsley, basil, salt, pepper and garlic and sprinkle the mixture between the leaves. Roll each artichoke in matzo meal or flour.

Heat a large pot, wok, or Dutch oven with a cover, filled with about 3 inches of oil, to sizzling. Deep-fry 2–3 artichokes at a time for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally with a tongs; they will puff up as they cook. Serve hot, sprinkled with additional sea salt.

Yield: 6 servings

First Course:

Three Bean Minestrone

Joy of Kosher by Jamie Geller

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup cooked (or canned, drained & rinsed) white kidney, cannellini or Great Northern beans
  • 1 cup cooked (or canned, drained & rinsed) pinto beans
  • 8 cups Water or Vegetable Broth
  • Rind from a small piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
  • 1 cup Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 2 medium red tomatoes, diced
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated, optional

Directions:

In a large stock pot over low heat, combine the olive oil and onions. Sweat the onions until wilted and soft, about 10 minutes. Add carrots and cook 3 minutes. Add celery, beans, water and Parmigiano rind and cook for about 20 minutes.  

Add diced potatoes and zucchini and cook for another 20 minutes.  Add tomatoes and their juices, cover, and cook at a low simmer for at least 30 more minutes. Add spinach, season with kosher salt and black pepper, and cook 2-3 minutes longer.  Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, if using.

Main Course:

Ezekiel’s Olive Chicken

Alessandra Rovati was born and raised in Venice, Italy and she writes and teaches about Kosher and Jewish Italian food.

Several Jewish Italian recipes for poultry have Biblical names. Here is one of the most popular examples, which appears in different variations in most cooking books on the topic, from Vitali Norsa, to Servi-Machlin to Joyce Goldstein. It’s not a surprise, because chicken cooked with this technique stays moist and juicy. It’s a variation on the basic “pollo in umido”, which Americans call “chicken cacciatore”.

Ingredients (4 servings)

  • One chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced (depending on your tolerance)
  • 1/3 cup green or/and black olives, pitted
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons mix of freshly chopped herbs (sage, rosemary and basil or mint or parsley)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 or 3 peeled tomatoes (I use the canned type)
  • 1/3 cup dry wine, red or white

Directions:

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Heat the olive oil, add the chicken and saute until golden. Add the salt, pepper, olives, garlic, herbs and the chopped (and drained) tomatoes.

Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, then lower the flame and cook covered until tender (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally. Now uncover, add the wine and allow it to evaporate it on high heat.

This dish can be made ahead and reheated just before serving.

Spinach With Pine Nuts and Raisins

From Joyce Goldstein’s Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen

So, how did kosher find its way to the land of pasta and polenta? ‘Through persecutions and emigrations,’ Goldstein says. ‘The Jews carried their culinary traditions with them and shared them with the world.’ They brought ingredients like tomatoes and squash and peppers to Italy, as well as styles of cooking — preparing room temperature dishes, for example, was their way around cooking on the Sabbath. In Italy these traditions were embraced and absorbed completely; something Goldstein is proud of. ‘Perhaps his is the positive side of the ‘Wandering Jew,’ ” she considers. ‘Food is a strong cultural continuum, and it’s nice to be able to rediscover some of these dishes as Jewish.’”

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds spinach
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small yellow onions or 6 green onions, minced
  • 4 tablespoons raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
  • 4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rinse the spinach well and remove the stems. Place in a large sauté pan with only the rinsing water clinging to the leaves. Cook over medium heat, turning as needed until wilted, just a few minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Add the olive oil to the now-empty pan and place over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the spinach, raisins and pine nuts and sauté briefly to warm through. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

Dessert:

Sfratti (Honey And Nut Pastries)

The Italian police, as the legend goes, used sticks to forcibly evict the Jews from their homes. Sfratti, the Italian word for stick, was a pastry the Jews of that region created to resemble those sticks. These honey and nut pastries (a cross between rugelach and biscotti) are baked as sticks and then sliced into cookies. The honey-laden pastry is traditionally served for dessert on Rosh Hashanah.

Dough Ingredients:

  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup sweet white wine
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted margarine

Filling Ingredients:

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 1 pound walnuts, finely chopped

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour and make a well in the center. Place the sugar and salt in the well. Add the wine and oil gradually while mixing with a fork until you form a smooth dough. Empty the dough onto a floured cutting board and knead for 5 minutes. Return the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in the refrigerator.

To make the filling, bring the honey to a rapid boil in large saute pan over high heat and cook for 2 minutes without stirring. Add the spices, orange zest and nuts and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to stir until the mixture is cool enough to handle. Divide into 6 equal portions. On a floured cutting board, roll each portion into a thin log, about a foot long, and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 equal portions. Using a rolling pin, roll one piece of dough to form a 4 x 14 strip. Place one honey/nut log at the edge of the dough and fold the sides over the ends of the log. Then wrap the dough around the filling, covering it completely. Place on a sheet pan, seam-side down.

Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 20 minutes. Allow the sfratti to rest only for 5 minutes before removing from the sheet pan, then immediately wrap in foil. Once completely cool, cut on bias into 1-inch slices, just before serving.

Sfratti keep for several weeks without refrigeration when wrapped in foil. In fact, they taste better after they have been allowed to age for a few days.

I wish you all l’shana tova (a good year) filled with many years of life and happiness.



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