Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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The Province of Campobasso is a province in the Molise region of Italy and is situated in eastern Italy on the Adriatic coast. It is bordered in the north by Abruzzo, in the southeast by Apulia and in the south by Campania. The terrain is varied and extends from the mountainous Apennines, down through hills, lakes and inland rivers to the Adriatic coast.

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The province’s mountains offer beautiful views and the forests are a natural habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including wolves and rare birds of prey. The province is also known as the perfect location for mountain climbing and for exploring a network of caves that have been carved into the limestone. Among the province’s most renowned places is Campitello Matese, part of the Municipality of San Massimo and a leading ski resort with outstanding courses and modern lifts.

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Campobasso boasts two nature reserves, the LIPU Oasis in Casacalenda and the WWF Oasis of Guardiaregia-Campochiaro. Those who love the seaside will appreciate the 24 miles of Adriatic coastline with its host of resorts.

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Beans, potatoes, grapes and olives are primary crops of the region. Durum wheat is also important to the region, so pastas are both hearty and abundant. Polenta dishes are common throughout the region. Because animals have been generally raised for sale, recipes are often vegetarian or use very small amounts of meat. Most dishes are prepared simply and use few ingredients.

Campobasso kitchen

Campobasso kitchen

Appetizers include soups made with legumes grown in the area, such as lentils, pearl barley and beans, especially fava.

Caponata is the dish that best characterizes Campobasso’s cuisine. It is made with wheat (tarallo) dampened with water and vinegar and flavored with tomatoes, celery, peppers, anchovies, black olives and boiled eggs.

Crioli con le noci is another specialty, dried cod cooked with chopped nuts, as is tacozze e fagioli, homemade pasta sauce with beans and pork rind.

Campobasso is also home to delicious sausages and cured meats: capicola or seasoned pork, ciccioli pork rinds, ham, pork sausage, salami, torcinelli (roulade, essentially of the “rest of the pig”), and pork belly.

The area’s woodlands are ideal for producing a variety of mushrooms, among them porcini, field mushrooms, gallinaccio and, of course, the renowned truffle.

Cheeses include caciocavallo, burrino, mozzarella and pecorino. Among the province’s most famous wines are Biferno (white, red and rosé) and Moscato.

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Bread with Broccoli Rabe

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 14 oz (400g) stale durum wheat bread
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ¼ lbs (1000 g) rapini or broccoli rabe
  • Pinch salt
  • Black pepper or chili pepper

Directions

Slice the bread into ¼ inch (0.5 cm) thick slices.

Wash and clean the broccoli rabe.

Boil for 3 minutes in water to cover, add the bread and drain immediately.

Arrange the bread in layers along with the broccoli rabe. Dress with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (or red chili flakes).

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Bean Soup

12 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ham bone
  • 1 cup bite-sized ham pieces
  • 2 large onions, halved
  • 1 whole large garlic, skinned and cloves smashed with the side of knife
  • Fresh or dried basil or both (to taste)
  • 5 large bay leaves
  • 5 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 whole celery stalks and 4 stalks sliced
  • 3 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 lb dried navy or great northern beans, soaked overnight
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions

Simmer in large soup pot approximately 1 1/2 hours: the ham bone with enough water to cover, onions, garlic, basil, bay leaves, 2 whole celery stalks, salt & pepper to taste.

Drain beans and place in a large pot covered with water by three inches. Add the baking soda. Simmer for 45 minutes, then drain and change the water. Simmer for 45 minutes. Add more water if necessary. When the beans are almost cooked add 1 teaspoon of salt, drain and set aside.

Strain the ham broth and discard the bone and vegetables. Add the broth to the cooked beans, ham pieces and all the remaining ingredients. Simmer for approximately one hour.

Season with salt and pepper.

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Campobasso-style Tagliolini

Pork is preferred in the mountains, while the coastal areas are mainly characterized by seafood dishes.

4 servings

  • 10 ½ oz (300g) fresh egg pasta, Tagliolini
  • 3 oz (80g) ham, julienne or peeled medium shrimp
  • 1 hot chili pepper, minced
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 ¾ oz (50g) olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Directions

Cook the pasta al dente and reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Drain

In a skillet, heat the oil and fry the chili with the onion. Cook at moderate heat till soft, stirring often with a wooden spoon.

Add the ham or the shrimp and heat it quickly.

Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water, the minced parsley and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Add the cooked pasta and mix well. Serve.

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Old Style Ricotta Pie

2 pies

Ingredients

Pie Filling:

  • 12 eggs
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 pounds ricotta cheese

Sweet Crust:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening plus 1 tablespoon shortening, chilled
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Directions

For the filling:

Beat the 12 eggs, the 2 cups sugar and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. Stir in the ricotta cheese. Set aside.

For the crust:

Combine the flour, baking powder and the 1 cup sugar together. Cut in the chilled shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Mix in the 4 beaten eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Divide dough into 4 balls, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease two deep-dish 9 inch pie plates.

Roll out 2 of the balls to fit into the pie pans. Do not make the crust too thick, as it will expand during cooking. Do not flute the edges of the dough.

Roll out the other 2 balls of dough and cut each into 8 narrow strips for the top of the crust.

Pour the ricotta filling evenly into the two pie crusts. Top each pie with 8 narrow strips of dough. Brush the top of the pie with milk. Place foil on the edge of the crust.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes; remove foil. Rotate pies on the rack so they will bake evenly. Continue to bake until a knife inserted in the center of each pie comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes more.

Cool completely on wire racks. Refrigerate until serving.

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Overeating or overindulging – especially over a few days – can make you feel sluggish. Eating and preparing all your meals and snacks at home for the next few weeks will help you get back to healthy eating.

Making meals at home gives you the freedom to add in lots of lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains without added salt or fat that can be found in restaurant meals.

In addition to cooking meals at home, use cooking techniques and methods that are lower calorie or lower fat. Cooking in a lot of oil or butter or using higher fat, higher calorie ingredients may only perpetuate your overindulgence.

To make home cooking easier, go to the grocery store and stock up on your favorite healthy foods. Try to purchase: lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Healthy choices will be in your refrigerator or pantry when you need them.

Here are some healthy and lower calorie dinners to help you get started.

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Pork Cutlets in Mustard Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 thin boneless pork chops, 4-5 ounces each
  • 3 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
  • One 14 1/2 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 pound small potatoes about 1 inch in diameter
  • 1 pound Japanese eggplant or zucchini, cut into 2 x 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 pound baby carrots
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place broth, smashed garlic and potatoes in a large pot, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, 10 minutes.

Add eggplant or zucchini, carrots and the salt and pepper. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or until the vegetables are tender.

Coat a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine mustard, dill, minced garlic and olive oil.

Place pork chops in the prepared baking dish and spread tops with an equal amount of mustard and dill mixture. Sprinkle bread crumbs over each chop.

Bake for 15 minutes or until an internal temperature registers 145 degrees in the center of the pork. Place the baking dish under the broiler for 1 minute until the crumbs are brown.

Serve pork with the vegetables.

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Roasted Cod with Salsa

Choose any fruit in season or the kind of fruit you like.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 nectarines
  • 2 peaches
  • 2 plums
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 large green or yellow bell pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 1/4 pounds cod
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup brown rice or whole wheat couscous

Directions

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Coat a glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Pit nectarines, peaches and plums; dice and place in medium-size bowl. Add onion, bell pepper, lemon juice, parsley, oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Gently stir; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

In a small bowl combine the lemon zest, black pepper, thyme and oregano.

Cook the brown rice or couscous following package directions. Stir in half the lemon zest mixture and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and set aside.

Place cod in the prepared baking dish and season with the remaining half of the lemon zest mixture and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Place brown rice or couscous on a serving plate, top with the cod and fruit salsa.

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Pasta with Sausage and Peas

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces penne or small shell pasta, uncooked
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 links fully cooked Italian chicken sausage, sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 pound tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Add pasta and cook al dente. Drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook 3 minutes, turning a few times, until browned. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the garlic. Cook 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and salt and cook 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, peas and browned sausage. Heat through.

Place cooked pasta in a large bowl. Add sausage mixture and half the Parmesan. Toss to combine. Top with remaining Parmesan and serve.

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Root Vegetable Chili

Corn muffins would go quite well with this dinner.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground turkey, optional
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 rutabaga, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
  • Two 14 1/2  ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • One 15 ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • One 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Directions

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add ground turkey, if using, and cook until brown. Omit this step if you want a vegetarian meal.

Add butternut squash, parsnips, rutabaga and carrots. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add green pepper, tomatoes, chili powder, oregano and cumin. Simmer on medium heat, partially covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beans and heat through. Stir in the scallions. Serve lime wedges on the side.

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Pizza with Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms

Friday night can still be pizza night.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes
  • 6 ounces sliced Portobello mushrooms
  • 4 large scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
  • One pound pizza dough, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces mozzarella or provolone cheese, diced

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Coat a large rimmed baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Place tomatoes, mushrooms and scallions in the prepared baking pan and toss with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and toss the vegetables with the basil and oregano.

Stretch the pizza dough out on a rectangular baking sheet. Spoon the vegetable mixture over the top. Bake for 10 minutes and remove the pan from the oven.

Scatter the diced cheese over the pizza and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes more or until the pizza is crispy. Allow to cool slightly before slicing.


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Risotto is a hearty, warming rice dish, rich in flavor, of which any of a hundred different ingredients can be added to it. Risotto is not only versatile, but easy to make.

Rice was first introduced into Italy and Spain by the Arabs during the Middle Ages. The humidity of the Mediterranean was found to be perfect for growing shorter-grained rice. The popularity of rice grew throughout Italy and then the outside world discovered it.

It was in Milan where the rice met its future destiny. Milan had been under Spanish rule for almost two centuries where rice was a staple. The technique for making risotto probably evolved from trying to cook the rice as porridge—boiling it in milk, water or broth until soft. A fourteenth-century manuscript known as the “Libro per cuoco” by an anonymous Venetian contains the recipe, “rixo in bona manera” or rice cooked in sweet milk.

Antonio Nebbia in “Cuoco Maceratese” introduces a revolutionary method where he suggests letting the rice soak in cold water for two hours, then frying the rice in a little butter and adding cabbage broth.

A more complete preparation appears in the early 19th century, in the anonymous “Cuoco Moderno”, printed in Milan in 1809, where the recipe “Yellow Rice in a Pan” says to cook the rice in a sauté of butter, cervellata (an Italian pork sausage), marrow, onion and gradually adding hot broth in whicj saffron had been dissolved.

And finally” the” classic recipe as described by Felice Luraschi, a celebrated chef from Milan, in his “Nuovo cuoco milanese economico” manuscript of 1829, a recipe titled “Risotto alla Milanese”.

Today the dish is served extensively, almost unchanged, in the kitchens and restaurants of the world. Ingredients as varied as scallops, lobster, truffles, veal, mushrooms, squid ink, snails, asparagus, duck, sausage, pumpkin and almost anything else you can think of are paired with this classic dish.

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All rice is a member of the grass family. What makes Risotto special is it’s high amount of starch. This starch is what makes Risotto “creamy” without any cream. Risotto rice is a round medium- or short- grain white rice with the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch, so they are stickier than the long grain varieties. The principal varieties used in Italy are Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma and Vialone Nano. They all have slightly different properties. For example, Carnaroli is less likely than Vialone Nano to get overcooked, but the latter, being smaller, cooks faster and absorbs condiments better. Other varieties like Roma, Baldo, Ribe and Originario may be used but will not have the creaminess of the traditional dish. These varieties are considered better for soups and other non-risotto rice dishes and for making sweet rice desserts. Rice designations of Superfino, Semifino and Fino refer to the size and shape (specifically the length and the narrowness) of the grains, and not the quality.

Basic Technique for Making Risotto

Risotto recipes recommended not washing the rice prior to cooking as that will make it lose its starch which is an essential ingredient of the dish. The rice and vegetables are toasted lightly in butter. Herbs, spices and a little wine are added. The rice is cooked gradually over a low flame and broth is added to the rice and stirred until absorbed. More broth is added in several steps until the rice is tender.

Popular Italian Risottos

• Risotto alla Milanese – is cooked in beef stock and beef bone marrow with lard in Italy. Cheese and saffron are added. This dish is popularly served with osso buco (a dish consisting of braised veal shanks).

• Risotto al barolo – is made with borlotti beans and sausage meat and is cooked with red wine.

• Risotto al nero de seppia (black risotto) – is a specialty from Veneto and is made with cuttlefish.

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This is probably the best tasting risotto I have ever made, with much of the credit going to the Meyer lemons from my tree. You may recall that we planted the tree last April and it has rewarded us with about 20 large lemons in its first year.

Meyer Lemon Risotto with Basil and Grilled Shrimp

6 servings

Ingredients

Risotto

  • 6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup white vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup julienned basil leaves

Grilled Shrimp

  • 18 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A pinch of kosher salt or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons julienned basil leaves

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Directions

For the risotto:

Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, cover and keep hot. Melt the butter in a second large saucepan. Add the onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring until glossy, about 1 minute.

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Add the wine to the rice and simmer over moderate heat until almost absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add the hot stock, 1 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until most of the stock has been absorbed before adding more. The rice is done when it’s tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes total. The best way to see if the rice is cooked, is to taste it.  Risotto should be creamy and thick. It’s best al dente, which means it should be fully cooked, yet still retain some firmness when you chew it. If it is mushy, it has cooked too long.

Stir in the Parmesan cheese, the lemon zest and juice, the salt and pepper and the basil. Mix well but gently.

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For the grilled shrimp:

Mix the shrimp with the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate until cooking time.

Heat a stovetop grill until very hot. Place the shrimp on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes on each side.

Spoon the risotto into individual bowls, top each with grilled shrimp and serve, passing additional Parmesan at the table.

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The following are some of the favorite side dishes my family has come to enjoy on Thanksgiving. I don’t make all these dishes at one time but tend to rotate them each year to keep things interesting.

Italian Bread & Sausage Stuffing

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Yields enough to fill a 12- to 14- pound turkey and a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Directions

  • 14 cups Italian bread, like ciabatta, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 loaves)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 lb sweet Italian fennel sausage (casings removed)
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 large ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 tablespoons dried sage
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth, plus extra for the baking dish

Directions

Pile the bread cubes into a very large bowl and set aside. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and sausage. Cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula into 1-inch pieces, until light brown, about 5 minutes With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the bowl with the cubed bread.

In the fat left in the pan, sauté the onions, celery and garlic until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes Stir in the thyme, sage, salt and pepper, cook 1 minute and then add the mixture to the cubed bread. Add the broth to the bread mixture; stir until well combined.

Put some of the stuffing in the turkey just before roasting. Pack the stuffing loosely, leaving enough room to fit your whole extended hand into the bird’s cavity. Cook the stuffing in the turkey in a 325 degree F oven to 165ºF, checking with an instant-read thermometer.

Place the remaining stuffing in a casserole dish or large baking pan, pour a cup or two of extra stock over the stuffing to replace the juices the stuffing would have absorbed from the turkey. Bake it covered until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a crunchy top, uncover it for the last 15 minutes of baking.

Polenta-Stuffed Squash

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Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 acorn squash, each about one pound
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, minced, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 cup fine to medium ground polenta or cornmeal
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 6 ounces Italian fontina cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Using a sharp knife cut the squash in half; discard the seeds. Place squash cut side up in two 13-in. x 9-in. baking dishes coated with cooking spray. Rub the flesh and skin of each squash with 1 tablespoon oil. Scatter garlic inside.

Roast the squash in a baking pan until the flesh is tender but the sides are not yet collapsing, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Heat butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, the sage and thyme; cook, stirring often, until the onions are just starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add polenta or cornmeal, then whisk in broth. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, whisking frequently, until the polenta is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, scrape about 1 cup of flesh out of each squash, leaving a layer in the shell so it retains its shape. Mash the flesh into a coarse puree and add to the polenta along with the Fontina cheese; stir well. Spoon into the squash shells. Sprinkle the top of each with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake the stuffed squash until the cheese is melted and the polenta is steaming hot, about 20 minutes. Serve garnished with additional sage, if desired.

Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/2-inch thick shell. Invert tomatoes onto paper towels to drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Add spinach and garlic; cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes.

In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Add the spinach and cheese to the crumb mixture. Sprinkle tomato shells with salt and pepper and stuff with the spinach mixture. Place in a greased 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 375° F for 20-25 minutes.

Italian Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound small shell macaroni
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 cups shredded Italian Fontina cheese
  • Salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Dice the butter and place in a large bowl. Warm the half & half in the microwave, about 1 minute. Cover to keep warm. Shred the Fontina cheese and add to the bowl with the butter. Set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add salt and the shells and cook until they are 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain.

Add the warm half & half to the Fontina and butter. Stir until the cheese starts to melt. Season with salt to taste and the nutmeg.

Stir the shells into the bowl with the cheese. Toss to coat well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; sprinkle over the pasta.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Glazed Cipollini Onions

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Cipollini means little onion in Italian.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 cipollini onions, trimmed and peeled
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stem side down, and cook, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and continue browning on opposite side, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vinegar and honey; cook, until slightly syrupy, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, thyme, and garlic; bring to a boil. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until onions are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

Olive Oil and Spinach Mashed Potatoes

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Ingredients

  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 package frozen spinach, defrosted
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 rosemary sprig, leaves removed and chopped
  • 1 thyme sprig, leaves removed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions

In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches and add 1 tablespoon coarse salt and the garlic cloves. Bring to a boil; cook until the potatoes are very tender and easily pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup potato cooking water. Drain; transfer to a large bowl.

Heat together the milk, spinach, chopped rosemary leaves and chopped thyme leaves then remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse flavors.

Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes with the olive oil and some of the reserved cooking water as needed to moisten. Add the milk and spinach mixture.  Stir until well combined and season with salt and pepper.


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On these busy nights before the holidays, I like that I have a few homemade soups and homemade rolls or bread in my freezer. They are easy to defrost and heat and can be on the table in no time at all. This may be a quick dinner, but it is both nutritious and delicious.

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Italian Escarole Bean Soup

This is one of our family’s favorite soups. I can remember my grandparents making this often and it seemed to be my grandfather’s favorite lunch. If you would like to make this soup vegetarian, it is easy to do. Swap out the chicken broth for vegetable broth and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili) for the dried sausage.

Ingredients

  • ½ onion, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups dried white beans (cannellini), soaked overnight in water to cover and drained
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 cups no salt added chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 heads of escarole, washed and cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup chopped dried spicy sausage/salami
  • 1 cup short pasta
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Parmesan cheese for serving

Directions

Heat oil in a large Dutch Oven and add the onions, celery and garlic. Cook until tender. Add the Italian seasoning and soaked and drained beans. Heat for a minute or two and add the broth.

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Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cooked the beans for 30 minutes. Add the pasta, re-boil, lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes more.

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Add the dried sausage, salt and escarole. Let simmer until the escarole wilts. Ladle into soup bowls and top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Sourdough Ciabatta Bread

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I always have sourdough starter in my refrigerator that I keep in a crock, so it always available for baking. You will find that this bread will not puff up much in the oven. It will stay quite flat, like a slipper, hence its name (ciabatta means slipper in Italian). Ciabatta is one of Italy’s most delicious breads and it goes so well with soup. I like to make Ciabatta with a sourdough starter because it adds a nice tang to the bread.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sourdough starter removed from the refrigerator the night before baking and placed in a covered bowl
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 cups Italian 00 flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

Directions

In the bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment combine the water, olive oil, yeast, sourdough starter, 1 cup of the flour and the salt. Stir in the remaining flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is the consistency of drop-cookie batter. Transfer to the dough hook attachment and knead the dough until it is smooth and satiny. The dough should be on the slack side, but not oozy; it needs to be able to hold its shape.

sourdough2

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Place the bowl in a warm spot and let the dough rise, undisturbed, about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently and divide it into two pieces. Form the loaves into torpedo shapes, and place the loaves on a baking sheets dusted with flour and cornmeal. Cover with a damp towel.

sourdough3

Let the loaves rise until they look puffy. This should take approximately an hour. While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Brush or spray the loaves with water; a plant mister is good for this job. Bake for 10 minutes, spraying the loaves with water two more times.

Lower the oven to 375°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes.

sourdoughcover


fallcsacover

Where I live it is very hot during the summer months and vegetables to do not grow well during July and August – in fact, they burn up. So what the north gets in July and August, we get in April and May and, then again, in October and November. If you are a reader of this blog, you know I belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

Jeta Farms is part of the Slow Food USA movement that aims to rediscover and catalog forgotten flavors by documenting excellent food products that are in danger of disappearing. Since the international initiative began in 1996, more than 800 products from over 50 countries have been added to the list. The movement serves as a resource to those interested in reviving rare breeds and learning about endangered foods, with the goal of encouraging the continued production and consumption of these foods.

In the past, I have shared with you recipes I made with some of my share produce:

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2015/06/29/fresh-from-the-farm/

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2014/06/26/cooking-from-my-csa-share/

This is the first year my CSA farm has offered a share in the fall and here are some of the recipes I made.

Cheesy Patty Pan Squash 

fallcsa1

Serves 3

Ingredients

  • 3 medium patty pan squashes
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the squash in half, place in an oiled baking dish and brush the tops with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake for 25 minutes. Place 2 tablespoons cheese on top of each squash half and return the pan to the oven for five more minutes. Serve immediately

Stuffed Squash

fallcsa4

Serves 4 as a side dish; 2 for a main course

Ingredients

  • 2 Gialla Nostrale squash (short, fat zucchini)
  • 1/4 of a medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickled (spicy cherry or banana) peppers
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper

fallcsa2

fallcsa3

Directions

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh leaving about a 1/4 inch shell. Dice the squash pulp.

Sprinkle the squash shells lightly with salt and pepper and place them in an oiled baking dish.

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet and add the onion, celery, garlic, diced squash pulp and the chopped peppers. Cook until all the liquid evaporates.

Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the bread crumbs and allow the mixture to cool.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Stuff the zucchini shells with the bread crumb mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the stuffing is crispy and the squash shells are tender.

Both squash recipes above can be grilled on an outdoor grill instead of baked in the oven, if you prefer.

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges

fallcsa6

Serves  4

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, washed and patted dry
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed

fallcsa5

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Peel the potatoes. Cut each potato into 8 wedges and place on a nonstick baking sheet. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with the salt, pepper and the rosemary.

Roast for 15 minutes; toss and continue to roast until the potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Serve immediately.

Southern Field Peas

1c1a9e344e77b86268dabc18fc072b1e

Field peas or cowpeas, aren’t really peas at all. They are beans that grow very well in the South because they are heat and drought tolerant and grow in just about any soil. They’re categorized generally in four groups – crowder, cream, black-eyed and field peas and there are many varieties to be found in each of those categories.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of freshly shelled southern field peas
  • 2 ounces bacon
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth, plus extra if needed
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

Directions

Cook the bacon in a large saucepan. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel plate and reserve for later.

Add the onion and celery to the hot bacon fat and cook until tender. Add the peas and saute for a minute or two.

Add the thyme and 2 cups of chicken broth or just enough to cover the peas by about 1 inch. Add more if the peas are not covered.

Bring to a low boil and add the sugar and stir well.

Scoop off any foam that forms and discard it.

Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low, let simmer for about 25 minutes.

Add the pepper and salt, stir well and continue to cook for 10 more minutes.

Taste the peas for tenderness, they should be tender after this amount of time but not mushy. Drain.

Top with the crumbled bacon and serve.

Pasta with Grilled Sausage and Vegetables

sausagepasta3

I often cook a pound of Italian sausage on the grill and reserve half for another meal, such as pizza with grilled sausage and banana peppers from the garden.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb whole wheat penne pasta
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage, divided
  • Half an onion
  • 1 large zucchini squash
  • 1 large yellow squash
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing the sausage and vegetables
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly grated black pepper

sausagepasta1

sausagepasta2

Directions

Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grates. Brush the sausage onion and the squashed with olive oil. Turn off the burners on one side of the grill and place the sausage over the indirect heat. Grill 15 minutes, turn the sausage over and grill another 15 minutes. During the last 15 minutes place the squash and onion over the direct side of the grill and cook until the vegetables are tender.

Remove the sausage and vegetables to a plate to cool. Slice half of the sausage into thin slices and reserve half for another use. Dice the vegetables; set aside the sliced sausage and diced vegetables.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta in a colander. Set aside.

In the pasta pot heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the garlic, parsley and oregano. Cook until the garlic is lightly browned and add the diced vegetables and sliced sausage. Cook until hot.

Add the drained pasta and the pasta cooking water. Stir until evenly combined. Add the Parmesan and black pepper. Serve immediately.

sausagepasta4


newfishcover

The best way to get the freshest fish available is to simply ask. Ask your local market what’s fresh today? This will sometimes require being flexible about the kind of fish you cook. Fresh fish always tastes better. The freshest fish will smell of the sea (briny) but not fishy; the gills should be bright and moist; the meat firm and springy; and the scales should not be dull or flake off easily.

Fish come in three basic varieties:

  • White fish — cod, grouper, sole and haddock, etc. These fish have translucent skin that turns an opalescent white when cooked. This type of fish is good for sauteing and baking.
  • Meaty fish — salmon, trout, tuna and sardines, among others. Meaty fish are oilier and thicker than other varieties and contain good oils (omega 3 fatty acids). They are often grilled.
  • Shellfish — lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, mussels and oysters. Shellfish can be cooked almost any way and served hot or cold.

Resist the temptation to cook fish until it flakes. Fish is done when the color turns from translucent to opaque (white) or has reached 140°F on an instant read thermometer, otherwise, you run the risk of overcooking it.

If you buy fresh seafood, use it the same day or freeze it immediately. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, never on the kitchen counter. Rinse fish in cold water, drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Almond-Crusted Fish

newfish1

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped green pimento-stuffed olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped 
fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped 
drained capers
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Four 5-oz skinless white fish fillets (cod, grouper, catfish, sea bass, halibut, grouper, haddock, snapper, etc.)  about ¾ inch thick
  • 1 large egg white, 
lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup sliced unsalted almonds

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine the minced onion, olives, parsley, capers, vinegar and the 2 tablespoons olive oil; set aside.

Brush the top (skinless side) of the fish with egg white. Press almonds evenly over the top of the fish.

In a very large skillet on medium, heat the remaining 4 teaspoons of oil. Add the fish, crusted side down and cook until the almonds are toasted, 
2 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn the fish with a wide spatula and continue cooking until the fish is cooked through, 
3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the fish to a serving platter and spoon the olive mixture on top.

Parchment-Baked Fish

newfish4

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • One 6-oz fish fillet
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 thin slices red onion
  • 1/2 small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
  • 4 Kalamata, pitted and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper (chili) flakes, or to taste
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Tear off 1 piece of parchment to form a square large enough to enclose the fish. Place the parchment on a baking dish and place the fish in the center of the square. Drizzle with oil, then rub in the garlic and season with black pepper. Sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes over the top.

Arrange onion slices over the fish and top with the fennel and olives. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and lay rosemary sprigs on either side of the fish, tucking them firmly against the fish.

Grasp the top and bottom edges of the paper parallel to the work surface and bring them together up over the fish, pinching together at the top. Fold over by about 1 inch, then continue folding down, leaving about 1/2 inch of space above the fish to allow for steam. Fold each side toward center until about 1/4 inch from fish.

Place the baking dish in the oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the  thickness of the fish. Remove the baking dish from the oven and place the pouch on a serving dish or plate. Carefully unfold parchment to allow steam to escape and serve immediately.

Fish Florentine

newfish3

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • Two 5-oz fish fillets
  • 5 grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian-leaf parsley
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 large shallots, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz. baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the fish and the tomatoes in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle garlic and parsley over the top and squeeze the lemon juice over the fish. Cover with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the fish is opaque and registers 140°F on an instant read thermometer.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, sauté shallots in oil for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium and add the spinach, cooking until wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the feta cheese and heat until melted and evenly distributed.

To serve, place 3/4 cup of the spinach-feta mixture on each plate and place 1 fillet and half the tomatoes on top of each serving.

Poached Fish In Tomato Sauce

newfish2

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili)
  • One 14.5-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Four 5-oz. skinless cod, bass, flounder, etc. fish fillets

Directions

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook, stirring often (garlic should not brown), about 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you add them, wine, bay leaves, saffron and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, 5 minutes; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to medium-low; season fish with salt and pepper and place in the skillet with the poaching liquid. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until fish is opaque throughout, about 5–7 minutes and the fish registers 140°F on an instant read thermometer. (Thicker pieces will take longer to cook).

Gently transfer fish to individual shallow bowls and spoon poaching liquid over.

Fish Baked in Phyllo Pastry

newfish5

This recipe makes a great entree for company.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • Six 5 ounce fish fillets
  • 4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • 4 ounces crab meat
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 sheets phyllo pastry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Hot sauce to taste

Directions

In a mixing bowl gently combine the crab, cream cheese, onion, parsley, salt, pepper and a few shakes of hot sauce.

Divide the stuffing evenly on top of each fillet and pat it flat with a spatula.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown the fish fillets on the side without the stuffing.

Remove 2 sheets of phyllo pastry from the roll and cut them in half. Lightly brush each piece with melted butter and stack them together.

Place a fish fillet on top of the phyllo layer and fold the pastry over the fish so it is completely covered and the edges are sealed.

Repeat the process with the remaining 5 fish fillets and pastry. Place the fish packets on a platter and refrigerate until it is time to cook them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake 20-25 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden.



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