Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: squash

Can’t imagine eating one more boring turkey sandwich? Extra roast turkey and the leftover side dishes make quick and thrifty dinners

It’s important to remember that any food that you don’t intend to eat within a few days after Thanksgiving should be frozen. Food-borne illnesses don’t take a vacation over the holidays and food safety is just as important now as it is during any other time of the year. Take your time around the dinner table, but start packing up and refrigerating the leftovers within 2 hours of dinner. It may be tempting to keep any leftover sweet potatoes or green beans in the half-empty serving dish and just cover it with plastic wrap, but it’s best to put everything in a clean, smaller container. It will also save space in the refrigerator.

Storing tips:

  • Refrigerate leftover Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, gravy and other cooked side dishes. It’s okay to place warm food in the refrigerator.
  • Carve leftover turkey meat off the bones before refrigerating. Place the leftover turkey and stuffing in separate containers.
  • Divide leftover turkey and other cooked dishes into smaller portions and refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling.
  • Pack side dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes into airtight freezer containers or plastic freezer bags.
  • Slice the meat from the turkey and wrap it in freezer paper or foil, then seal in plastic freezer bags (make sure to press out all the air before sealing).
  • Liquids, like soup or gravy, will expand slightly as they freeze, so leave a little space at the top of the container. It’s fine to keep leftovers in the refrigerator for a few days before deciding to freeze them, but to preserve their freshness, the sooner they go in the freezer the better.
  • Cool in the refrigeraor for a few hours before moving it to the freezer and avoid stacking the containers until they’re frozen solid.
  • Don’t forget to label and date your leftovers. Everything will look the same once it’s wrapped.
STORAGE TIME
    Item
Pantry
Refrigerator
Freezer
Tips
•     Turkey  — whole, cooked
        3-4 days
      2-3 months
Cut whole bird into smaller pieces before refrigerating. Use carcus for soup.
•     Gravy — homemade
1-2 days
2-3 months
Bring leftover gravy to a full boil before using.
•     Cranberry sauce
10-14 days
1-2 months
Store leftovers in covered plastic or glass container.
•     Stuffing — cooked
3-4 days
1 month
Remove stuffing from turkey before refrigerating.
•     Mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes; green bean casserole
3-5 days
10-12 months
Mashed potatoes freeze well; whole baked potatoes don’t.
•     Pumpkin pie — baked
3-4 days
1-2 months
Keep refrigerated. Texture may change after freezing, but taste shouldn’t be affected.
•     Apple pie — baked
2 days
2-3 days after pantry storage
1-2 months
To freeze, wrap pie tightly with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place in heavy-duty freezer bag.
•     Wine, red or white — opened bottle
3-5 days
1-2 months
Freeze leftover wine for use in cooked dishes such as sauces and stews.
•     Bread
4 -5 days
2-3 months
Refrigerator storage is not recommended, as bread will quickly dry out and become stale — for longer-term storage, freeze bread instead.

Try these easy ideas to turn your leftovers into tasty new meals.

Turkey Tortellini Soup

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped roasted turkey
  • 1 – 14 1/2 ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • One 9-ounce package refrigerated cheese tortellini
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 6 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese 

Directions

With A Slow Cooker

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker combine broth, the water, chopped turkey, tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 4 hours. If using low-heat setting, turn to high-heat setting. Stir in tortellini. Cover and cook for 30 minutes more or until tortellini is tender. Stir in spinach. If desired, sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

Without A Slow Cooker

Combine broth and water in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Add tortellini and return to a boil. Cook about 5 minutes. Lower heat and stir in turkey, tomatoes, seasoning and spinach. Simmer about 10 minutes. Garnish each serving with cheese.

Leftover Stuffing Cakes

Mix in leftover mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes if you like, using 1 egg for every 2 cups leftovers.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups leftover Thanksgiving stuffing
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

In a large bowl, stir stuffing and egg together until blended. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Shape 1/2 cup stuffing mixture into a ball, then flatten into a 3-inch patty. Repeat with remaining mixture. Place patties in the skillet and cook about 3 minutes per side or until golden brown and heated through. Serve with Ranch dressing, if desired.

Turkey and Wild Rice Pilaf

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1-14 1/2 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup long grain rice
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 8 ounces cooked turkey, cubed
  • 2 medium red-skinned apples, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
  • Butterhead (Boston or Bibb) lettuce leaves 

Directions

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add celery and onion; cook about 10 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add uncooked wild rice; cook and stir for 3 minutes. Add broth. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in uncooked long grain rice. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes more or until wild rice and long grain rice are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, adding carrot for the last 3 minutes of cooking.

Stir in turkey breast and apple. Cook, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes more or until heated through. Stir in parsley. Line serving plates with lettuce leaves; spoon turkey mixture onto lettuce.

Butternut Squash Hash with Leeks and Turkey

If you have sweet potatoes leftover, you can use them in place of the squash.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium leeks, dark green parts removed, remaining light green and white parts cleaned and thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups). Reserve a few sliced pieces of leek for garnish.
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, divided
  • 3 cups leftover butternut or acorn squash, cubed
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning.
  • 8 ounces chopped cooked turkey (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Poached or Fried Eggs

Directions

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add leeks and cook about 3 minutes or until beginning to brown and stick to the pan, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/2 cup broth and continue to cook 3 minutes longer or until leeks are tender and softened.

Add squash, crushed red pepper and remaining broth, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in chopped turkey and Italian seasoning; cook 5 minutes longer or until squash and turkey are heated through. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Place poached eggs on top of hash and garnish with reserved leeks.

Sage and Cream Turkey Fettuccine

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces dried spinach or plain fettuccine
  • 1/3 cup light dairy sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh sage or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces leftover cooked turkey breast, cut into bite-size strips
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together sour cream and flour until smooth. Gradually stir in broth until smooth. Stir in snipped or dried sage and pepper; set aside.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, green onions and garlic to hot skillet. Cook and stir about 3 minutes. Stir in turkey and mix well.

Stir sour cream mixture into turkey mixture in skillet. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Serve turkey mixture over hot cooked pasta.

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AUTUMN ELEGY by Leonid Afremov

Does autumn find you missing summer’s sweet corn and juicy peaches? Nature has shifted gears. Hardy and slow-growing fall crops have come into their own. Some of these foods are grown from coast to coast; others are more regional.

Apples

There’s certainly an apple variety for every need, from snacks to stuffing. Some of the best-known and easiest to find are multitaskers, good for both eating and baking. These include Rome, McIntosh and Golden Delicious.

Pears

Anjou, Bartlett or Bosc, ranging from deep red to pale green to golden in color, are produce-department staples. Their firm texture is equally suited for eating fresh or cooked.

Grapes

Grapes fall into three main color types: red, green (also called white) and black (or blue-black). Each group includes seeded and seedless varieties, but the latter are most often found in supermarkets.

Citrus Fruits

Whether sectioned, sliced, juiced or zested, these fruits are a kitchen staple. Choose firm fruits that have smooth skins and are not moldy. Don’t worry about brown patches on the skin; this does not indicate poor quality.

Leafy Greens

Some leafy greens cope with cold weather better than most people do. Temperatures near freezing slow plant metabolism. Using fewer carbohydrates — that is, sugar — for maintenance, results in sweeter leaves in the cold weather.

  • Spinach
  • Chard
  • Collards

Leafy greens should be crisp and fresh-looking. Avoid those with brown speckles, large, tough stems and wilted edges. Collards absolutely must be cooked, but other greens can be eaten fresh in salads, quick sautéed as a side dish or simmered in soups. Cook chard stems separately from the leaves, as stems are more fibrous and take longer. Greens will keep refrigerated in a plastic bag, damp-dry, for three to five days. Wash them very well just before using.

Parsnips

Pale yellow and slightly bumpy, the parsnip resembles a large carrot. Compared to carrots, parsnips are less sweet and more nutty. They respond well to the same culinary treatments (except being eaten raw). As a side dish, parsnips take well to roasting and also hold their own in baked casseroles and slow-cooked stews.

Potatoes

Of the thousands of potato varieties known, only a few varieties have gone mainstream. Fall is the ideal time to try some lesser-known varieties in your market.

Sweet Potatoes

Look for sweet potatoes that feel solid and nick free. For cooking success, try to pick those that are uniform in shape, since fat bodies with tapered ends can lead to overcooked ends and semi-raw centers.

Winter Squash

With so many different shapes and sizes and colors, fall is definitely the time to cook with squash. The varieties described below barely scratch the surface:

  • Acorn can be small, round and ridged and they might have variegated orange and green skin; its deep orange flesh is sweeter than pumpkin.
  • Butternut is typically long-necked and pot-bellied with creamy beige skin. The orange flesh is mildly sweet and slightly nutty.
  • Spaghetti –  when baked and scraped out with a fork, the flesh forms golden strands that look like spaghetti and taste like zucchini.
  • Sweet dumpling has yellow flesh that looks and tastes something like sweet corn.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Consider some of these diverse examples:

  • Round-headed cabbage has flat leaves of pale green or reddish-purple; Savoy cabbage has frilled leaves.
  • Cauliflower has stalks that are topped with bunches of florets.
  • Turnips, a rounded, cream-colored root, are most flavorful in autumn.
  • Rutabagas, a round root with pale orange flesh, is thought to be a cross between a turnip and wild cabbage.

Cruciferous vegetables have assertive flavors and can take strong seasonings. Cabbage pairs well with vinegar. The sweeter rutabaga can be spiced with cloves. Try turnips with garlic and onions. These veggies have a reputation as being smelly when cooked. Actually, it’s overcooking that releases their unpleasant aroma. If steamed or braised until just fork-tender, not limp, they actually smell lightly sweet.

Here are some healthy fall family recipes that make use of some these seasonal foods:

Italian Cabbage and Bean Soup

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • Two 19 ounce cans cannellini beans ( or 5 cups home cooked) divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups green cabbage, (1/2 medium head)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced, plus 1 clove garlic, halved
  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Thick slices day-old Italian country bread
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella or Italian fontina cheese

Directions

Mash 1 1/2 cups beans with a fork and set aside. Thinly slice cabbage.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or soup pot. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cabbage and minced garlic; cook, stirring often, until the cabbage has wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add broth, mashed beans and whole beans; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and simmer until the cabbage is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Shortly before the soup is ready, toast bread lightly and rub with the cut side of the halved garlic. Place bread in a soup bowl. Ladle soup over the bread and sprinkle with cheese. Drizzle a little oil over each serving.

Frittata with Chard and Feta Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups swiss chard, washed and stems removed
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 6 large egg whites (or egg substitute)
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 6 small potatoes, cooked and halved

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an  8″ or 10″ ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chard and season with salt and pepper. Toss quickly until leaves are wilted. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

Whisk the eggs, egg whites, cheese, oregano, salt and pepper together in a bowl until thoroughly combined.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat to low and add the chard and halved potatoes (cut side down).

Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables in the skillet (do not stir) and cook over low heat until the eggs are set, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Place the skillet under the broiler for 30 to 45 seconds to finish cooking the top of the frittata. Serve with a tomato salad.

Baked Stuffed Acorn Squash

Servings: 6

  • 3 acorn squash, halved and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey breast
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Place squash halves cut side down in baking pans. Fill pans with about 1/2 inch water. Bake squash 40 minutes or until tender.

While squash bakes, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onions and celery and cook until tender. Stir in the ground turkey, garlic powder and dried herbs. Cook and stir until evenly brown.

Remove squash from the oven and carefully scrape the pulp from the rinds. Set rinds aside on a baking sheet. Place the pulp in a bowl and mash with a potato masher. Mix in the cooked turkey mixture, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

Fill the reserved rinds with the stuffing mixture and bake 25 minutes or until heated through.

Citrus Fish Fillets

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces white fish fillets, such as tilapia, flounder, halibut, etc.
  • 1 medium orange, peeled, sectioned and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced mango or pears or apples
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped green or red bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2-1 fresh hot chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

In a small bowl combine orange pieces, mango, the 3 tablespoons orange juice, the bell pepper, the parsley and the chile pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

In a medium shallow nonmetal bowl stir together the 1/2 cup orange juice, the oil and cayenne pepper. Place fish in the bowl; turn to coat well. Marinate fish in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Drain fish, discarding marinade.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place fish in a small baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Bake about 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Top fish with the fruit sauce and serve. This entre goes well with brown rice.

Lasagna with Spinach Ricotta 

Ingredients

  • 1 box no boil lasagna or homemade fresh noodles or 1 pound regular, boiled
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • Two 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 pounds Ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups lowfat milk gently warmed
  • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese grated and divided
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

In a large skillet saute the onion in olive oil over moderate heat for 4-5 minutes. Add spinach and season with salt and pepper; sauté for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool.

Ricotta mixture: Combine ricotta and 3/4 cups Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cooled spinach mixture.

Prepare béchamel sauce: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, continuously stirring, cook for 2-3 minutes

Add warm milk slowly, whisking well, so that there are no lumps. Season with salt and pepper. When the sauce comes up to barely a boil, reduce heat and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

Coat a 13” x 9” lasagna dish with cooking spray and spread 1/2 cup of béchamel sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.

Top with 4 lasagna noodles, 1 cup ricotta mixture and a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Continue the same procedure for 3 more layers.

Spread remaining béchamel and ricotta mixture on the top layer of noodles and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly on top. Let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting the lasagna.


With the US economy in the doldrums, many Americans are struggling to stretch every dollar as far as possible and that includes their food dollars. It is in times like these that imagination and creativity in the kitchen become especially important. With the right amount of thought and planning, it is possible to create delicious low-cost meals. And if the need to spend money more carefully leads to more nutritious, home-cooked meals in American households, that is a “good thing”.

Of course, many cooks, past and present, have had to economize at certain points in their lives. They’ve done it by comparison shopping, buying produce in season and adding more vegetables and less meat to the pot. Frugal cooks also bypass convenience items such as fruits and vegetables that are pre-washed and pre-cut and some buy extra produce, when the price is right for canning and freezing.

Hectic schedules and the readily available convenience foods have paved the way to less-healthful eating habits. In much of the United States, it is just as easy — or easier — to order out or pick something up for the evening meal, as it is to prepare the meal at home.

One way for Americans to spend less money on food is to choose unprocessed (or less-processed) foods, with a few fresh ingredients added, as the basis of a meal. Packaged and prepared meals cost you considerably more than cooking with raw ingredients at home. Focus on the products stocked along the perimeter of the store. This is where healthy foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, meat and fish are usually located. Preparing meals at home allows you to control the amount of salt and fats you use in your recipes.

Another suggestion is to buy produce that is in season to keep costs down. In American supermarkets, it is not uncommon to find certain items, such as broccoli, cucumbers and apples, on produce shelves year-round. But unless these items are in season in your area, they are being shipped from somewhere else or are being pulled from cold storage. When fresh produce is shipped long distances, it tends to lose some nutrients along the way and flavor often suffers. It also tends to be more expensive. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also taste fresh and provide high amounts of nutrients, if they were processed immediately after picking. In the winter, especially, frozen fruits and vegetables may be a nutritious and economical option.

Taking the time to plan your weekly menu not only helps to save time and money, but also provides a way to create meals with a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, plus all the essential vitamins and minerals needed by adults and children. When eating balanced meals your body feels satisfied, has fewer cravings and, this in turn, prevents late-night snacking. Make a shopping list before you go to the supermarket and stick to it.

Tougher cuts of beef and pork are a lot cheaper than steaks and chops ($2 to $6 per pound for many cuts compared with $10 or more per pound for steaks and don’t forget to watch for sales), but no one wants to eat a piece of leather for dinner. The best way to cook tough cuts of meat is low and slow, usually for 3 or more hours, often in liquid, to make them melt-in-your-mouth tender.

When you’re making dinner, think about what you’re going to eat for lunch tomorrow. If you’re making a salad for dinner, make a little extra and put it in a container, undressed, for lunch the next day. And what about your leftovers from dinner? Is there a little extra chicken or maybe part of a can of beans? Toss that in with your lunch salad. Packing lunch is a great way to make sure you’re not wasting any leftovers—and to help you eat healthy, save money and save time throughout the day.

Italian Beef Stew

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

Ingredients:

  • 7 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into cubes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 26-28 oz. containers Italian chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups lower-sodium beef broth
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (8-ounce) package mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3/4 cup (1/4-inch-thick) slices carrot
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Directions

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to the pan. Add onion and chopped carrot; sauté 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté for 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from pan to a bowl and set aside.

Add 3 teaspoons oil to pan. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle beef with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; dredge in flour. Add half the beef to pan and sauté about 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure.

Add water to pan and bring to a boil, scraping pan. Return meat and the onion mixture to pan. Add tomato and next 4 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and stir in sliced carrot, mushrooms and potato. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour or until meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, basil and parsley.

Slow Cooker Chicken Osso Buco

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 pounds chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • Snipped fresh parsley

Directions

Place flour, salt and pepper in a resealable plastic bag. Add chicken, a few pieces at time, shaking to coat.

In a large skillet brown chicken, half at a time, in hot oil over medium heat about 10 minutes or until golden, turning once. Remove to a plate.

In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker combine carrots, onion, celery and garlic. Sprinkle with tapioca. Place chicken on top of vegetables.

In a medium bowl stir together tomato sauce, broth, lemon peel, lemon juice and thyme; pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or on high-heat setting for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Serve chicken and sauce over hot cooked pasta or rice and garnish with snipped parsley.

Baked Spinach Casserole

Serve this vegetable pasta dish as an entree or as a side to perk up baked chicken or meatloaf.

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 4 lasagna sheets, traditional or no-boil
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 bunches fresh spinach (about 12 ounces total), washed, thoroughly drained and coarsely chopped;
  • or 1 package (9-10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, thoroughly squeezed and drained to remove all water
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a 9” x 13” baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Cook the lasagna sheets according to package instructions, drain, and layer in the bottom of the baking pan. (If using no-boil lasagna sheets, soak for 5 minutes in hot water to soften before layering.)

Heat the olive oil over low heat in a large frying pan or Dutch oven. Add the spinach and onion. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Add the ricotta, milk, salt, nutmeg and the spinach and onion mixture. Mix well.

Pour the mixture over the lasagna sheets. Spread evenly. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Bake for 40 minutes or until a golden crust forms on the top. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Yield: 4 servings

Tomato Lentil Chili

Some good bread, homemade corn bread or biscuits would be a nice addition to this meal. Make extra to take for lunch.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dry lentils (red or brown)
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking bulgur, whole wheat couscous or quick-cooking (pearled) barley
  • 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans reduced sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Yogurt, chopped red onion, hot sauce (optional)

Directions

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic; cook 7 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except the toppings. Simmer 30 minutes. Serve with optional toppings: yogurt, red onion and hot sauce.

Pasta with Tuna Tomato Sauce

Salad and some homemade garlic bread is all that is needed to complete this quick meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 can (26-28 ounces) peeled plum tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 large whole cloves garlic, peeled 
  • 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
  • 2 cans (6 ounces each) tuna in oil, drained, retaining oil separately
  • 8 ounces penne or spaghetti, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • Chopped parsley or other herbs for garnish

Directions

Empty the tomatoes and their juice into a large skillet. Add the whole garlic cloves. Cook over low heat for 25 minutes, stirring frequently, breaking the tomatoes into small pieces with the back of a wooden spoon or fork. Remove from heat. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the anchovies, if desired; use a fork to break them up and mix them into the tomato sauce.

Break up the tuna chunks in a small bowl using a fork, then add to the tomato sauce, stirring in gently.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. When the pasta is ready, drain thoroughly. Return it briefly to the pot, add a little of the tuna olive oil and mix well. Add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet. Using tongs to lift the long strands, fold it gently into the sauce. Stir in the breadcrumbs and garnish with parsley.

Yield: 4 servings

Better For You Brownies

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral tasting oil
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1 tablespoon cold leftover brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

Position rack in the lower third of the oven and heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Use an 8 by 8 silicon baking pan or line a similar sized metal or glass baking dish with foil or parchment paper so it hangs over the edges by about 1 inch. Spray the prepared pan completely with cooking spray.

Put the butter, oil and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat at 75 percent power for 2 minutes. Stir and microwave again until completely melted, about 2 minutes more. (Alternatively put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with 1 inch of water to a very slow simmer; set the bowl over, not touching, the water, and stir occasionally until melted and smooth.)

Stir the brown and white sugars, vanilla and salt into the chocolate mixture with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and coffee and beat vigorously by hand until fully incorporated and the batter is thick and glossy. Add the cocoa, flour and baking soda and stir just until it disappears.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake until the top is crispy and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few crumbs, about 30 minutes (40 minutes if not using a silicon pan).

Cool the brownies in the pan on the counter. Lift brownies out of the pan by the foil, if needed. Peel off the foil and cut into 16-2-inch squares.

Store extra brownies in a tightly sealed container at room temperature for up to 3 days.


Basil is undoubtedly the most loved and popular herb in Italy. Although we tend to associate the herb with Italy and other Mediterranean countries, it actually originated in India and was brought to the Mediterranean via the spice routes in ancient times. Tulsi, as the herb is known in Hindi, means “Sacred Basil,” and some of the many varieties of the plant were incorporated into Indian cooking centuries ago. From India, basil traveled not only to Europe and Africa, but spread to other parts of Asia as well, most notably to Thailand. Today, there are at least a dozen varieties grown for culinary use.

Sweet Basil (Ocimum bacilicum) and, its close relative, basilico genovese are the only varieties used in Italian cooking. Its flavor has been described as spicy and peppery, with a hint of clove and mint – but of course this doesn’t come close to capturing its unique essence. Perhaps it’s more helpful to talk about what it pairs with best: olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary and thyme – and, of course, tomatoes. Basil and tomatoes seem to have been made for each other – as in the famous, insalata caprese – tomato mozzarella salad, as well as, tomato sauces. But, this herb also enhances other vegetables – such as zucchini and eggplant, to name just a few, and is widely used in many pasta dishes.

If you’re growing basil in your garden or on a window sill,  cut the basil leaves, often, from the top of each stem. The leaves grow back quickly and stronger. Basil preserves well in oil and can also be frozen. It is rich in antioxidants and, some claim , it has anticancer and antiviral properties. In Italy, basil is believed to help along the after-lunch nap that millions of Italians still enjoy on hot summer afternoons.

Basil is one herb in particular that really shines when it’s fresh. Just think of a homemade marinara sauce using fresh basil — would it be the same using dried? But beyond those familiar dishes we most associate with basil (tomato sauce, pizza, meatballs, pesto), the herb can actually work wonderfully well in many more dishes, including cocktails and desserts.

Basil is my favorite herb and I grow quite a bit of it every year – at least 4 containers worth, Naturally, I cannot let it go to waste. As a result I have become very creative in using this herb in any number of ways. I also freeze it for use in winter time tomato sauces. Not quite as good as the fresh leaves, but way better than dried.

Emerald Gimlet

1 Serving

Ingredients:

  • 3 big basil leaves
  • Ice Cubes
  • 1/2 ounce Lemon Simple Syrup
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces good Vodka

Lemon Simple Syrup:

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

Mix the basil leaves with ice in a cocktail shaker. Add lemon simple syrup, lime juice and vodka. Shake and strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a lime slice or a basil leaf.

To make lemon simple syrup: 

Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring regularly until the sugar dissolves.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for one minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it rest until it cools to room temperature.

Add the lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon or disposable stirrer.

Transfer the lemon simple syrup to a sterilized glass bottle. Store the simple syrup in the refrigerator between uses.

 

Fresh Basil Vinaigrette

Fresh basil and a bit of garlic are whirled into a simple fresh basil vinaigrette for your next salad.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups basil leaves (about 1 large bunch)
  • 1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a blender or food processor, whirl the basil, oil, vinegar and garlic until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 1 cup.

Corn, Tomato & Basil Salad

Use only the freshest, sweetest corn for this recipe – corn that’s so tender and sweet you can eat it raw! This salad is wonderful as a side with any grilled meal or as part of any no-cook summer dinner.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 ears sweet corn
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs basil

Directions:

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix oil, vinegar and salt. Add onion to the dressing. Set dressing aside.

Husk corn and cut off kernels. Core, seed and chop tomatoes. Cut basil into thin strips (chiffonade).

Toss corn and tomatoes with the dressing. Let marinate for a few hours at room temperature.

Sprinkle with basil and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Chilled Summer Squash and Basil Soup

4 Serving

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds mixed summer squash
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups homemade or store-bought vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Lemon quarters for serving

Directions:

Roughly chop the squash, onion and garlic.

In a large saucepan heat oil; add squash and garlic. Cook vegetables gently to soften, partly covered, in the heated oil, stirring now and again.

Pour in 4 cups of the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.

Add 3/4 cups of the basil leaves, then blend together with an immulsion blender until smooth with tiny flecks of basil visible. Season to taste.

Allow to cool, then chill for four hours or overnight. The soup may be a little thick, but the basil ice and lemon juice addition will thin it.

Meanwhile, place the remaining basil leaves and the remaining stock in a shallow container. Push the basil into a single layer and freeze the mixture until set.

Break the ice into cubes and add pieces of the basil ice to each serving of soup. Garnish with lemon quarters.

 

Orange-Basil Grilled Mahi-Mahi

2 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound filleted Mahi-Mahi, skin on (or fish of choice)
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons shredded basil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Steamed green beans, for serving

Directions:

Make the sauce by combining and mixing the ingredients together. Set aside.

Oil and lightly salt the fish. Place fish on a greased grill pan, skin side up, then slide the pan under a hot broiler until the skin is blistered.

Turn the fish over with a wide spatula and spoon on some of the sauce.

Cook for a minute or two. Lift fish onto plates (or shallow bowls) and pour over the rest of the sauce.

Serve with green beans.

Tip: Take care not to overcook the fish; – it must stay moist to be at its best.

Basil Stuffed Zucchini

Zucchini stuffed with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil make a fresh summer side dish. For the nicest presentation, use long, relatively skinny zucchini.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium 2-inch-wide zucchini
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Directions:

Trim both ends off the zucchini and cut each in half lengthwise. Cut a thin slice off the underside of each zucchini, so each half sits flat. Scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/4-inch shell. Finely chop the pulp; set aside.

Place the zucchini halves in a microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and microwave on High until tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. (Alternatively, steam in a steamer basket over 1 inch of boiling water in a large skillet or pot.)

Whisk oil, vinegar, shallot and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add tomatoes, cheese, basil and the reserved zucchini pulp; toss to combine. Divide the filling among the zucchini. Serve.

 

Grilled Beef Braciole with Tomato-Basil Sauce

Serves: 4 servings

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

  • 8 plum tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley leaves

For the beef:

  • 1 (1 1/2-pound) flank steak, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

3 (8-inch) pieces butcher’s twine, soaked in cold water

Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

Directions:

Heat the grill to high and oil the grill grates.

For the sauce:

Cut the tomatoes in half, brush them with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill the tomatoes on all sides until slightly charred and soft. Remove the tomatoes from the grill, chop and place in a serving bowl.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, onion, vinegar, basil and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Set aside while the beef cooks.

For the beef:

Place the steak on a flat surface.

Combine the cheese, basil and garlic in a small bowl. Brush the steak on the side facing up with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cheese mixture evenly over the steak, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the sides.

Starting with the long end, tightly roll the meat up like a jelly roll and tightly tie with the butcher’s twine on the ends and in the center. Brush the entire outside of the steak with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place on the grill, seam-side up and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the grill and let rest 10 minutes before slicing into 1/2-inch thick slices. Serve several slices per person topped with some of the tomato sauce. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

 

Green Apple and Basil Granita

8 Servings

Guests will welcome this refreshing granita after a heavy meal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (1,000-mg) tablet vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves

Equipment: cheesecloth

Directions:

Crush the vitamin C tablet in a large bowl with the back of a spoon. (Vitamin C will keep the basil bright and green.)

Line a sieve with a dampened triple-layer of cheesecloth and set it over the bowl with the vitamin C.

Puree apples with the water in a food processor (do not use a blender) until almost smooth, then pour into the cheesecloth lined sieve. (Do not clean processor bowl.)

Squeeze as much clear juice as possible through the cloth and discard solids remaining in the cheesecloth.

Puree basil with sugar until it is deep green, then add apple juice mixture and puree until combined.

Freeze mixture in an 8-inch square baking dish, scraping and stirring with a fork every 30 minutes, until frozen, at least 3 hours. (It will be too hard to scrape once fully frozen.)

Make ahead: Granita can be made 2 days ahead (cover once frozen). Let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes and re-scrape before serving in glass dishes.


Nothing says summer like grilling kabobs. Whether you choose to make steak, chicken, pork, lamb or vegetable skewers, successful grilling of kabobs is not difficult.

Some Helpful Tips

Tools:

  1. Tongs that are long enough to keep hands safely away from the grill but short enough for easy handling. The tongs are also useful to hold a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil to coat the grill grates.
  2. A good grill brush with a long handle to clean the grill thoroughly.
  3. Skewers: there are many choices, including round or flat wooden sticks, double-pronged skewers, metal baskets and more. The most-common and least-expensive option is the round or flat wooden skewers.

Bamboo/Wooden Skewer

Double Pronged Metal Skewer

Cicular Wire Skewer

Skewer Tips:

  1. Metal skewers are sturdy and reusable but get hot; it’s safest to remove food before serving. To serve on skewers, choose disposable wood; they can burn, though, so they need to be presoaked.
  2. When using metal skewers, leave a little space between pieces of food so the metal will heat, speeding up the cooking time. With wood, make sure the food pieces are lightly touching, to protect the wood from the flame.
  3. Before grilling with wood skewers, either soak them in water for at least 10 minutes or cover the tips in foil. Another option: Fold a piece of heavy-duty foil in thirds, place it on the edge of the grill and rest the ends of the skewers on the foil so they don’t burn.
  4. If you are using wooden skewers, especially round ones, try using two sticks per kabob. This will add stability to the kabobs, which can be heavy, and make it easier to turn them while grilling.

Cooking Tips:

  1. Cut the food in pieces that are the same size and thickness so they will get done at the same time.
  2. Alternate protein pieces with fruits or vegetables, as this enhances the flavor combinations.
  3. If you are cooking foods that require different lengths of time to cook properly, try skewing all the protein on 1 skewer and the vegetables on the other. For example, if you’re cooking chicken that takes 10 minutes versus tomatoes, which take only 2 or 3 minutes, put them on different skewers. This will allow you to cook each set of ingredients properly without over or under cooking the other.
  4. Turn the kabobs frequently during cooking to allow all sides to cook evenly. As a general rule, most kabobs require approximately 10 minutes to cook, which is 2.5 minutes on each of the 4 sides.
  5. Use a fork to easily slide the food from the skewers when it is time to serve the kabobs and don’t forget to hold the hot skewer with a pot holder.
  6. For additional flavor, try marinating your ingredients in a sauce for approximately 30 minutes before grilling. Popular marinades include teriyaki, sweet and sour, honey mustard or lemon garlic. You can buy ready-made marinades from your local grocery store or you can make your own.
  7. Throw away any leftover marinades after you remove the food. If you wish to serve a dip on the side, use a batch of marinade that did not touch the raw ingredients. This can prevent illness.

Shrimp and Fennel Kebabs with Italian Salsa

Serves 4

Italian Salsa

  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons capers, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Kebabs:

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 28 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 large fennel bulb, cut into 12 wedges
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 12 wedges
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

To prepare salsa:

Combine the salsa ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Set aside at room temperature.

To prepare kebabs:

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Oil grill grates.

Combine 2 teaspoons oil and shrimp; toss to coat. Thread shrimp evenly onto 4 (12-inch) skewers. Thread 3 fennel wedges and 3 onion wedges alternately onto each of 4 (12-inch) skewers. Brush vegetables with remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Sprinkle shrimp and vegetables with salt and pepper.

Place vegetable skewers on the grill rates and grill vegetables 12 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally. Place shrimp on the grill and cook shrimp 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until done. (Shrimp turn a light pink when cooked)  Serve with salsa.

Summer Pork Kabobs

This recipe also works well with chicken.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless pork loin chops, 3/4 inch thick (1 lb)
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into 12 (1-inch) pieces
  • 8 medium mushrooms
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 12 pieces
  • 1/2 cup low sugar apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Directions:

Heat gas or charcoal grill and oil grill grates. Sprinkle pork chops with seasoned salt; cut each chop into 4 pieces. Alternately thread pork pieces, zucchini, mushrooms and bell pepper equally onto each of 4 (12- to 14-inch) metal skewers.

In small bowl, mix preserves and vinegar.

When the grill is heated, place kabobs on a gas grill over medium heat or on a charcoal grill over medium coals. Brush kabobs with preserve mixture; cover grill. Cook 5 to 7 minutes.

Turn kabobs; brush with preserve mixture. Cook covered 5 to 7 minutes longer or until pork is no longer pink in the center. Meat Thermometer should register 160°F.

Grilled Vegetable Kabobs

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 medium yellow squash
  • 1 red and 1 green bell pepper, seeded
  • 2 medium red onions
  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • 8 ounces fresh whole mushrooms
  • 2 medium ears sweet corn
  • Olive Oil cooking spray

Sauce

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Directions:

Cut zucchini, squash and bell peppers into 2-inch chunks. Cut red onions into wedges. Combine the cut vegetables with the tomatoes and mushrooms in a bowl.

Cut the corn into 1-inch pieces and cook in boiling water for 5 minutes. Add the cooked corn to the other vegetables.

Mix the vinegar, mustard, garlic and thyme in a measuring cup and pour over the vegetables. Mix well.

Heat gas or charcoal grill and oil the grates.

Thread vegetables on skewers. Place the skewers on the grill over medium heat.

Baste occasionally with extra sauce.

Grill 20 minutes, turning several times or until tender. Remove to a serving platter and pour any remaining sauce over grilled vegetables.

Pizza Chicken Kabobs

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb uncooked chicken breast tenders (not breaded)
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 package (8-oz size) fresh whole mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons Italian salad dressing
  • 1 teaspoon pizza seasoning or Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce (homemade or store bought)

Directions:

Heat gas or charcoal grill and oil the grates.

On each of two 12-inch metal skewers, thread chicken, bell pepper and mushrooms alternately, leaving 1/2-inch space between each piece. Brush kabobs with salad dressing and sprinkle with pizza seasoning.

Grill kabobs, covered, over medium heat 9 to 11 minutes, turning once, until chicken is no longer pink in the center (160 degrees F. on a meat thermometer.). Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with cheese.

Meanwhile, in 1-quart saucepan, heat pizza sauce over low heat. Serve kabobs with warm sauce for dipping.

Rosemary Swordfish Skewers with Sweet Pepper Salad

Use a colorful assortment of bell peppers in this salad.

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 4 small assorted sweet peppers, 2 sliced into 1/4” rounds, 2 cut into strips
  • 1/2 small onion, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced, soaked in ice water
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 4 ounces arugula (about 8 cups loosely packed)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound 1”-thick swordfish steaks, trimmed, cut into 1” cubes
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 4 bamboo skewers (soaked in water for 1 hour before using) or 4 metal skewers

Directions:

Build a medium fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Oil the grill grates.

Bring oil and garlic to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until garlic is toasted and light golden brown, about 6 minutes (remove from heat if garlic is cooking too quickly). Pour oil through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl and let cool. Discard garlic.

Combine peppers, onion, jalapeño, vinegar and 1/4 cup garlic oil in a large bowl. Add arugula; toss to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Place an equal number of swordfish cubes on each of  4 skewers. Brush fish with remaining garlic oil; sprinkle with rosemary and season with salt and pepper.

Grill swordfish until opaque in the center and lightly browned in spots, about 2 minutes on each of the 4 sides.

Divide salad among 4 plates. Place a skewer atop each. Garnish with lemon quarters.

 


Farmer’s Market near where I live – Pensacola, Florida

The concept of farm fresh food is gaining steam these days as Americans are looking at eating healthier. One way to accomplish this is by stocking fresh fruit and vegetables in your refrigerator. Farm fresh foods are superior to food that you purchase from the grocery store because they come directly to you from the farm. The fewer steps there are between your food’s source and your table, the less chance there is of contamination. Also, when you know where your food comes from and who grows it, you know a lot more about that food.

Now, with the local growing season in full swing, getting fresh produce is easier than ever. Farmers markets, produce stands and even roadside vendors are your best source for the freshest and most nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.”When you buy locally grown, you’re getting the produce at its peak form,” says Darlene Price, senior nutrition resource educator at Orange County Cornell Cooperative Extension. “It’s ready to eat right now. When you buy your fresh produce in a supermarket, you’re never really sure how long it’s been sitting.”

Seemingly endless varieties are yet another advantage local farmers have over their giant commercial counterparts, who are restricted to crops that can survive long storage and the arduous transportation process. Local farmers plant what’s delicious, healthful and in local demand. “The large commercial farmers have to plant foods that will survive a lot of abuse,” says Louis Schultz, coordinator of the Florida market. “We’ve gotten very removed from our food. The average supermarket potato travels 1,500 miles. Local farmers don’t have to worry about factoring all that in. They can plant anything.”

The diversity available at the local markets means that a larger range of nutrients and disease-fighting phytochemicals — which give fruits and vegetables their bright, deep color — is there for the taking. Nutritionists advise us to “eat the rainbow,” and the color spectrum at a local farmers market is simply unrivaled.

Photo: Silver King Sweet Corn Patch--mid-April 2013

Corn growing at my CSA – Jeta Farms

Besides shopping at a farmer’s market you can join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) as a way to ensure a steady supply of fresh, local produce. Community-supported agriculture is a food production and distribution system that directly connects farmers and consumers. Consumers buy “shares” in a farm’s harvest in advance.The term “CSA” is also used to refer to an individual farm’s CSA program.

Farmers earn important early-season capital and have a guaranteed market for their produce. Barring a disastrous harvest, consumers enjoy overall lower food costs, field-fresh produce and greater access to high-demand fruits and vegetables, such as long-stem strawberries and heirloom tomatoes. Most CSA’s provide weekly deliveries or pickups, farm visits and other special events for members. For example, my CSA provides a fresh Christmas tree in December for all its members.

The recipes in this post take advantage of locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Cherry Tomato, Fennel and Arugula Salad 

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz grated Parmesan cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 lb. baby arugula leaves
  • 1 large or 2 small bulbs fennel, stalks trimmed, outer layer removed, and cored
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half (or substitute 3 medium tomatoes cut into bite-size pieces, about 2 cups)

Directions:

In a food processor, blend the Parmesan cheese, buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, mayonnaise and lemon juice until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Put the arugula in a large bowl. Using a mandoline set at a very thin setting or a vegetable peeler, shave the fennel and add to the arugula. Toss with a little of the dressing; just enough to coat the salad. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the salad among 4 large salad plates and mound slightly. In another bowl toss the tomatoes with the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a little salt and pepper; scatter on the salads. Serve immediately, passing the remaining dressing at the table.

Baked Ziti and Summer Vegetables

Baked Ziti and Summer Vegetables

Add color to baked ziti with yellow squash, zucchini and tomato.

4 servings (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups)

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces uncooked whole grain ziti pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow squash
  • 1 cup chopped zucchini
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cups chopped tomato
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Coat an 8-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to the pan. Add squash, zucchini and onion; saute 5 minutes. Add tomato and garlic; saute 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in pasta, 1/2 cup mozzarella, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt and crushed red pepper.

Combine ricotta, remaining salt and egg in a small bowl. Stir into pasta mixture. Spoon pasta into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.

Bake for 15 minutes or until bubbly and browned.

Chicken Cutlets with Bell Pepper Ragout

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 lbs ripe plum tomatoes (6 to 8), cored, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 1 medium red or orange bell pepper, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, cut into medium dice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium clove garlic, mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, sliced into cutlets
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons small capers, rinsed and patted dry

Directions:

Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler heating element and heat the broiler on high.

Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil. Put the tomatoes cut side up on one side of the pan and the peppers and onions on the other side of the pan. Drizzle everything with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with the paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix the seasonings into the peppers and onions.

Broil until the tomatoes are collapsed, about 7 minutes. Turn the tomatoes over, mix the peppers and onions again and broil until the tomato skins have large black spots and the peppers and onions are tender, about 5 minutes more.

Use tongs to pull the skins off the tomatoes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a cutting board.

Put the peppers and onions in a large bowl and add the garlic paste. Chop the tomatoes and add to the bowl with the other vegetables. Mix well. Keep warm.

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Put the flour in a shallow pan. Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; dredge in the flour.

Working in 2 batches, cook the chicken, turning once, until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and top with the ragout.

Wipe out the pan. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and fry the capers over medium-high heat until they pop open and become crisp, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle them over the chicken and ragout.

Fresh Fruit Salad with Creamy Lime Topping

Fresh Fruit Salad with Creamy Lime Topping

Ingredients:

Serves: 6

  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons light frozen whipped topping
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 3 cups assorted fresh fruit (such as cut up mango, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple chunks, kiwifruit or strawberries)
  • Lime zest for garnish

Directions:

In a small bowl, stir together sour cream, whipped topping, the 1/2 teaspoon lime peel, powdered sugar and lime juice.

Divide fruit among six dessert dishes. Spoon 1 tablespoon sour cream mixture over fruit in each dish. If desired, garnish with additional lime zest.

 


Think beans are just for cold weather?

Think again. In a crispy cool bean salad, beans are lighter, yet still as filling.  This side-dish favorite can be prepared in countless ways. So pick your bean base from one of the choices below and then try one the recipes in this post:

Kidney: For a meatier main dish, mix these rich beans with barley, fresh green peppers and a can of tuna and then top with an olive oil and lemon dressing.

Black:  For a Tex-Mex style salad, simply mix beans with corn, tomatoes, green onions, fresh cilantro and top it all off with a sprinkling of lime juice and olive oil.

Green:  Crisp and garden fresh, green beans will give your salad lots of crunch. Toss them with cherry tomatoes, soft feta cheese and grilled corn. Add a lemon-mint vinaigrette to really bring out the flavors.

Pinto:  Make a spicy salad by mixing pinto beans with cherry tomatoes, pepperoncini peppers, onions, celery and fresh parsley. Toss in an herbed vinaigrette and add a splash of Tabasco for extra flavor.

Garbanzo:  A highly versatile bean, garbanzos are great mixed in couscous with roasted bell peppers, red onions, cucumbers and feta cheese. Toss in a honey-Dijon dressing to finish.

Beans are eaten around the world with all kinds of flavorings and accompaniments. Black beans, for example, seem well-suited to Mexican style salads, while the flavors of the Mediterranean—green beans, anchovies, basil, thyme and fruity olive oil—enhance creamy white beans. Indian flavors—cumin, ginger, yogurt and cilantro—are great for chickpea salads as are Middle Eastern flavors—garlic, parsley, olive oil and feta.

You can easily make these salads by opening a can or two of beans and mixing them with seasonings and your favorite salad dressings. However, 1 cup dried beans gives you 2-1/2 to 3 cups cooked beans and, with the exception of chickpeas which actually take well to canning, most beans suffer, becoming quite mushy when canned. When you use canned beans, you also miss a chance to add extra flavor to your salads. Including a few aromatic vegetables and seasonings in the pot when cooking dried beans is an opportunity to add depth and character to the final dish. If you do use canned beans, try a few brands to see which you like best. The organic ones taste better and usually have little or no salt. Just remember to always rinse canned beans well before using.

Most beans improve in flavor and texture when cooked a day in advance. If you plan to hold them for a day or so, refrigerate the beans in their cooking liquid once they’ve cooled. If kept at room temperature for too long, beans can sour and ferment.

To soak or not to soak?

Soaking dried beans in water overnight before cooking them has two benefits: most soaked beans cook faster—up to an hour less. Also, if the soaking water is poured off, the beans will be easier to digest because you’re leaching out and pouring off the oligosaccharides that cause gas.

If you are not good at planning ahead, there’s a quick-soaking method. Cover the beans with water and bring them to a boil. Boil for two minutes and then let them soak for an hour off the heat, drain, and then add fresh water and continue cooking.

Many people believe dried beans last forever. In fact, very old beans and those that have been stored in hot, humid conditions might never soften even after hours of cooking. Yet it’s almost impossible to tell the age of dried beans. If you have a good market that goes through beans quickly, you’d do well to buy them there. Heirloom beans are available by mail from small growers.

To salt or not?

A major debate exists in the culinary world on whether adding salt or acids to beans slows down the cooking time or toughens the beans.  Cook’s Illustrated did a study and concluded that salt has no effect on cooking time or bean texture. Furthermore, they suggest that for maximum flavor, it’s actually essential to salt your beans at the beginning rather than the end of of cooking. Also, when soaking beans, Cook’s Illustrated says that by using salt water, the bean will cook up with softer and more pliable skins.  

Tomato sauce, wine, lemon juice and vinegar, however, do prevent the starch on the inside of the bean from swelling and becoming tender. These ingredients can be added to bean salads, but not until the beans are fully cooked and soft. And speaking of acidic ingredients, don’t dress cooked beans until the day you are serving the salad. Though the beans need some time to absorb the flavor from the dressing, too much time in contact with the acidic ingredients—and this includes yogurt—will make the beans mushy.

After cooking the beans and letting them cool in their broth, strain them and mix them with summertime ingredients, such as basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and chiles from the farmers’ market. These salads are good for a light lunch along with some bread—crusty Italian with white bean salads, warmed tortillas with the black beans or and pita with chickpea salads.

Consider experimenting with a pot of cooked beans to create your own salad. Try some of the recipes below for a different side dish to add interest at your next BBQ. These recipes also make use of the many fresh vegetables that are available this time of year.

Basic Method For Cooking Dried Beans

Use this basic method to cook any type of dried bean, including cannellini, kidney beans, chickpeas, and more. 1 cup dried beans yields about 3 cups.

Ingredients:

2 bay leaves

2 cloves garlic, smashed

2 to 3 sprigs fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, or flat-leaf parsley)

1 to 1-1/2 cups dried beans, sorted through, rinsed and soaked

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Wrap the bay leaves, garlic,and herbs in cheesecloth and tie with twine. Put the beans in a large pot and cover with water by 2 inches (about 2 quarts). Add the herb bundle and the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the beans are tender but not splitting and falling apart, 1 to 2 hours depending on the type and freshness the of beans. Cannellini and kidney beans take about 1 hour and 15 minutes; chickpeas may take up to two hours. Best way to tell is to taste one of the beans. Check occasionally to be sure the beans aren’t boiling and that they are covered with liquid; add water if needed. Discard the herb bundle.

Black Bean Salad

Serves 4 – 6.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 small jalapeño, seeded, deveined and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 -3 big handfuls baby salad greens, well washed and dried
  • 3 cups cooked black beans
  • 1/4 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Directions:

Making the dressing: I use an immersion blender – but a blender or food processor will work just as well. Combine the lime juice, vinegar, honey, jalapeño, salt, garlic and mustard. Puree and add the olive oil and puree again until everything comes together. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Set aside until you are ready to serve the salad.

Just before you are ready to serve the salad, gently toss the salad greens with a small amount of the dressing. Arrange it on a platter. Now toss the beans and most of the almonds with the remaining dressing. Arrange the beans on top of the salad greens and finish by sprinkling with the remaining almonds and the crumbled feta cheese. 

Bean Salad with Walnuts and Pecorino Cheese

If you can find yellow wax beans use half green and half yellow.

6 servings

Dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons Sherry wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil

Salad:

  • 1 ½ lbs green beans, trimmed
  • 8 cups (packed) torn arugula leaves
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh savory leaves or fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half
  • 2 ounces semi-firm sheep’s-milk cheese (such as pecorino romano), shaved with vegetable peeler

For dressing:

Whisk shallot, vinegar and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in both oils. Season dressing with salt and pepper.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to room temperature and re-whisk before adding to the salad.

For salad:

Cook green beans in large pot of boiling salted water just until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer beans to colander and cool.

Combine beans and arugula in large bowl. Toss with dressing. Transfer salad to serving platter; sprinkle with walnuts, olives, herbs and pepper. Top with shaved cheese.

Chickpea Salad with Yogurt Dressing

Serves four to six

If you use canned chickpeas in place of dried, don’t cook them. Add the turmeric and salt to them (but not the onion or bay leaves) and continue with the recipe as directed. Toast the whole spices in a heavy-based skillet just until fragrant; crush them with a mortar and pestle or grind them coarsely in a coffee grinder dedicated to spices.

 Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, well rinsed (soaked and drained), or 3 cups canned (see note above), rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 small yellow onion, cut in half
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 small potatoes (about 8 oz. total)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
  • 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
  • 1 medium-size hot green chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint

Directions:

In a deep, heavy-based pot, cover the chickpeas with 6 to 8 cups cold water. Add the turmeric, bay leaves, yellow onion and 1 tsp. salt. Over high heat, bring to a boil; reduce to a gentle simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the surface. Cover and cook until the beans are tender, about 90 minutes; let cool in the broth.

In a heavy-based pot, cover the potatoes with salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until tender, about 20 min. Drain. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut them into small cubes.

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and sour cream. Add the ginger, cumin, fennel and chile. Mix well.

Drain the chickpeas, discarding the onion and bay leaves. In a serving bowl, combine the chickpeas, potatoes, cucumber and red onion. Mix in the yogurt dressing, cilantro and mint. Combine well. Let sit for 15 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve at room temperature.

Make Ahead Tips ; The beans can be cooked a day ahead (in fact, the flavor and texture will be even better). Cool the beans to room temperature, then refrigerate them in their cooking liquid; bring to room temperature  and drain before assembling the salad.

Warm Kidney Bean Salad

Try this bean salad as a side with barbecue pork or grilled chicken.

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 2 — (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup green pimento-stuffed olives, sliced in half

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes. Add oregano, vinegar and beans. Cook over low heat until beans are warm.

Remove from heat and stir in salt, parsley and olives. Serve warm or at room temperature.

White Bean and Baby Zucchini Salad

White-Bean Salad with Zucchini 

White beans add heartiness while chopped zucchini adds crunch to this vegetarian salad.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 pound zucchini (about 2 small), trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 4 ounces green beans, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal (3/4 cup)
  • 2 ounces fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, place cannellini beans, zucchini, green beans, Parmesan, basil, lemon zest and juice and oil; season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.

Note: Small zucchini are sweeter than larger ones, especially when used raw.

Green Bean Salad with Prosciutto

4 to 6 servings

The flavor of Prosciutto di Parma, the most famous of the Italian hams, makes a delicious addition to this summery salad.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut diagonally in half
  • 1 medium summer squash, cut in matchsticks (about 2 cups)
  • 6 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Coarsely ground black pepper

Directions:

Steam beans in steamer basket over boiling water until crisp-tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Empty into a colander and cool.

Drain well, pat dry with paper towels and transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine.

 


Memorial Day is the gateway to summer and it conjures up images of picnics, barbecues and parades. Originally the holiday was charged with deeper meaning and it was called Decoration Day – a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is about reconciliation and about coming together to honor those who gave their lives.

Memorial Day is the time to wear poppies, fly the flag and place flowers on the graves of military personnel. Many volunteers and volunteer organizations march in patriotic parades. Frequently there is a reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Patriotic speeches are made and declarations by The President and Heads of the Armed Services are also read. We all take time on this special day to remember the human sacrifice it has taken to establish and maintain our great country. Later in the day, time is set aside for picnics, BBQ parties and other outdoor activities.

Instead of spending money on store bought pasta salads, meat trays, fruit and dessert, save money by making these simple dishes yourself. Here is a suggested menu with beverage ideas to help you get you started.

What Drinks Go Well With BBQ?

Soda, beer and iced tea are a good start. Provide pitchers of punch or lemonade or mix up a few sensational summer cocktails. Put a twist on some old classics or try some fresh new blends to quench that thirst.

Try this Italian Cocktail Punch                                                                                                                                         

  • One 750-milliliter bottle Aperol or Compari (Italian Liqueurs)
  • One 750-milliliter bottle Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine)
  • 750 milliliters chilled seltzer
  • Ice
  • Fruit slices, for garnish

In a pitcher combine the Aperol,  the Prosecco and the seltzer. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish each drink with fruit.

Keeping it simple with wine:

The grill serves up such a wide range of foods that pairing them with beverages can be seen as either a challenge or the result of your imagination. Luckily, the spirit of outdoor dining—including the tendency to serve lighter beverages—simplifies the choice.

Sparkling wines beat the heat and play well with almost any grilled food. Stick with wines like Prosecco, Cava or a light California sparkling wine.

White wines are clearly suited to grilled fish and chicken and some pork recipes, even those that call for blackened preparations or spice rubs. The high acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc or a cool Sancerre (made from the same grape)—pairs perfectly with such meats. Choose a white Burgundy or Chardonnay for richer fish, like tuna, trout or salmon. Chardonnay is also the best pick for veggie burgers and sometimes regular hamburgers that have a mushroom sauce.

There’s no question that rosés are a perfect fit for casual outdoor dining. Served cool, these wines have a bit more acidity than white wines and can handle grilled flavors. Among the favorites in this category are Bandol from Provence, Tavel from the Rhône Valley and a number of rosés from California made from the Sangiovese grape.

When pork, smoked meats or shellfish are on the menu, a Pinot Noir from Oregon or the Russian River Valley or a Burgundy is best. 

If you’re serving hamburgers, steaks or barbecued ribs, only the big red wines will do. Bordeaux, California Cabernet and Barolo are perfect matches, but if the meat has a spicy rub, try Zinfandel or an Australian Shiraz or Argentine Malbec.

Appetizers

Pimento Ricotta Spread                                                                 

Serve with toasted baguette slices or flatbread and cut up vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 15 ounces fresh ricotta (1 1/2 cups)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup well-chopped drained pimentos (from one 8-ounce jar)
  • 3 ounces light cream cheese

Directions:

In a food processor, puree the ricotta and cream cheese. Add the pimentos and crushed red pepper and pulse until the pimentos are minced. Season with salt.

Iced Mint Green Tea Punch                                         

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 6 green tea bags
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 8 cups boiling water
  • 4 cups Limoncello
  • Lemon slices, for garnish

Directions:

Combine mint leaves, tea bags, honey and boiling water. Let steep for 5 minutes; remove tea bags. Pour into a pitcher and refrigerate until chilled.

Stir in Limoncello, ice cubes and lemon slices just before serving.

Main Dishes

Rosemary-Skewered Artichoke Chicken

6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-1/2 pounds Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 fresh rosemary stems (18 inches)
  • 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and halved
  • 2 medium yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 6 cherry tomatoes

Directions:

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the oil, dill, oregano, lemon peel, garlic, salt and pepper; add chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel bark from the bottom half of each rosemary stem and make a point at each end; soak in water until ready to use.

Drain and discard marinade. On soaked rosemary stems, alternately thread the chicken, artichokes, squash and tomatoes. Position the leaf parts of the rosemary stems so that they will be on the outside of the grill cover. Pointed ends toward the back of the grill.

Using long-handled tongs, moisten a paper towel with cooking oil and lightly coat the grill rack. Place skewers on the grill. 

Grill, with the cover slighly ajar, over medium heat for 10-15 minutes on each side or until chicken is no longer pink and vegetables are tender.

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated zest of a navel orange
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lb flank steak, trimmed
  • 2 red onions, peeled and cut into 1 inch slices
  • 2 large navel oranges, peeled & sliced thin
  • 8 sprigs mint — for garnish

Directions:

In a shallow glass or ceramic dish, combine garlic, orange zest, juice, vinegar, pepper, mustard and chopped mint. Add steak to marinade; turn once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, turning steak twice in the marinade.

Remove steak from marinade, scraping any bits of marinade clinging to meat back into the bowl. Transfer marinade to small saucepan and bring to a boil; reserve.

Lightly grease grill rack with vegetable cooking spray or oil.

Preheat charcoal grill until coals have turned a gray ashy color or preheat gas grill according to manufacturer’s suggested time on high heat.

Place steak on grill 4 inches from heat source and sear 1 1/2 minutes on each side. Brush with a little reserved marinade and continue cooking, covered (with lid down or tented with foil on a charcoal grill), for approximately 4 minutes, brushing frequently with marinade.

Place onion slices on the grill and baste with some of the marinade. Cook until lightly brown about 3 minutes on each side.

Transfer to a carving board, tent with foil, and let rest for 7 minutes before slicing.

Arrange orange slices and onion slices in overlapping pattern around the outside of the platter.

Slice steak diagonally across the grain into very thin slices. Arrange down the center of the platter and garnish with mint.

Side Dishes

Grilled Peach Salad with Pecans

Ingredients:

  • 4 large peaches
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons raspberry flavored vinegar
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce

Directions:

Preheat grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut peaches into six slices each; discard pits. Cook peach slices until grill marks appear (no need to completely cook peaches). Remove from grill and let cool at room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat. Add butter, pecans, sugar and cayenne pepper. Cook while stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and turns golden brown.

Remove pan from heat and cool to room temperature.

Slice both heads of romaine into six sections. Place lettuce and peaches on a plate and top with dressing and pecans. 

Green Beans and Tomatoes                                       

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds green string beans (or a mixture of yellow and green)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

Directions:

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the beans until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and spread them on a large baking sheet to cool. Pat dry.

In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the shallots and basil and season with salt and pepper. Place the beans and tomatoes in a large bowl, add the oil mixture and toss well.

Transfer to a platter for serving. Can be made early in the day and served room temperature.

 

Dessert

Strawberry Layer Cake

16 servings

Cake:

  • 1 1/4 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 teaspoon red food coloring
  • Cooking spray

Frosting:

  • 1/3 cup (3 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (orange-flavored liqueur)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 12 whole strawberries

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Coat 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray.

To prepare cake:

Place sliced strawberries in a food processor and process until smooth.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk. Set aside.

Place granulated sugar and the 1/2 cup butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer; beat at medium speed until well blended.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in egg whites.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Add pureed strawberries and food coloring and beat just until blended.

Divide batter between the twp pans.  Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake layers comes out clean.

Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from the pans and cool completely on wire racks.

To prepare frosting:

Place cream cheese, 1/3 cup butter and liqueur in a medium bowl; beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until blended. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat just until blended.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

Cut 1 whole strawberry into thin slices, cutting to, but not through, the stem end. Fan strawberry on top of cake.  Cut remaining 11 strawberries in half. Garnish the sides of the cake with the strawberry halves.

 


Grilling vegetables is not difficult. With so many possible vegetable choices and recipes, the biggest challenge is narrowing them down to just a few special recipes that take advantage of the outdoor grill flavor. Many different kinds of vegetables can be grilled with great results. Beets become sweet on the grill. Potatoes get crisp on the outside and stay sweet and moist on the inside. Carrots and onions caramelize.

Select vegetables that are firm and that can hold up to slicing and grilling. Slice them in large, thick (at least 1/4-inch) sections, since small pieces can easily fall through the grid and into the fire. Cut zucchini lengthwise or on a long diagonal, for example. If you plan to prepare a recipe that calls for smaller pieces, try grilling them on skewers or wrapping them in foil packets. Vegetables such as peppers can simply be grilled whole, then peeled and sliced.

Soak vegetables in cold water for about 30 minutes before you grill them to keep them from drying out. Pat dry.

Because vegetables lack fat, they need oil, liquid, or some sort of marinade to prevent them from burning and sticking and to keep them moist. Brush vegetables with oil (preferably vegetable oil because it has a high smoke point) or a flavored oil mixture, such as a salad dressing or your own mixture of oil and herbs or other seasonings. Marinate the vegetables for at least 30 minutes before grilling.

White wine, oil, garlic, onion and celery salt make a good marinade, as do beer, oil, garlic and cloves. Lemon juice also makes a good base for a grilling marinade. Try pineapple juice, soy sauce, lemon juice and garlic for firm vegetables. Orange juice, turmeric, ginger, garlic and lemon zest make a light marinade for summer squash or softer vegetables.

Consider the texture of the ingredient to determine marinating time. Mushrooms, summer squash, and tomatoes may need only 30 to 40 minutes to marinate. Tougher ingredients, such as, sliced carrots or potatoes can marinate for a couple of hours.

To further prevent food from sticking to the grill and to aid in cleanup, spray the grid with nonstick cooking spray before heating (never spray into the fire) or wipe the grill rack with oil before you start cooking.

Special equipment is minimal. A special grill top basket is useful to keep small veggie foods from falling into the fire. Metal or wood skewers are useful for making kebabs that are easily rotated on a grill. (Wood skewers should be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to threading the vegetables so they won’t burn on the grill.) Heavy-duty foil is the best type to use for lining grills or for wrapping food in packets for grilling.

Some Popular Vegetables For The Grill

Asparagus: Cut off ends. Soak in water for 30 minutes to an hour. Pat dry and brush with olive oil. Place on grill, turning every minute. Remove when tips start to turn brown. You can add some extra flavor to asparagus by mixing a little sesame oil in the olive oil before you brush them.

Bell Peppers: Cut through the middle of the pepper top to bottom. Remove stems, seeds and whitish ribs. Brush lightly with oil and grill for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Corn on the cob: Gently pull back the husks but don’t remove. Remove the silk and cut off the tip. Soak in cold water for about 30 minutes. Dry and brush with butter. Fold the husks back down and tie or twist the ends. Place on the grill for about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn oten to avoid burning.

Eggplant: Cut lengthwise for smaller eggplants or in disks for larger eggplants. Soak in water for 30 minutes. Pat dry, brush with oil and grill 2-3 minutes on each side.

Garlic: Take whole bulbs and cut off the root end. Brush with olive oil and place cut side down over a hot fire. Grill garlic bulbs for about 10 minutes or until the skin is brown. Use to flavor other grilled vegetables or meats.

Mushrooms: Rinse off dirt and pat dry. Brush with oil and grill. 4-5 minutes for small mushrooms, 6-8 minutes. Use a grill basket for small mushrooms.

Onions: Remove skin and cut horizontally into 1/2 inch thick slices. Brush with oil and grill 3-4 minutes on each side. Use a wide spatula to turn onion slices, so they do not fall apart.

Potatoes: There are many ways to grill potatoes. You can do them whole for a baked potato. Rub with oil. Wrap in aluminum foil and grill 35-40 minutes, turning occasionally. Or, cut into thick wedges, brush with olive oil and grill until browned.

Tomatoes: Cut in half, top to bottom. Brush with a light coating of oil and grill cut side down 2-3 minutes.

Zucchini and Yellow Squash: Slice into 1/2 inch pieces. Brush with oil and grill 2-3 minutes per side. They can also be cut down the middle into halves and grilled.

The following grilled vegetable recipes will make great sides for your next barbecue.

Grilled Ricotta Basil Tomatoes                                                                                            

Ingredients:

  • 6 round large tomatoes or 12 small round tomatoes
  • One pound of ricotta cheese
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • 12 small, whole basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

 Directions:

Preheat your grill to medium and grease the grill grates with oil.

Combine the ricotta cheese, whole egg, parsley, marjoram, chopped basil and garlic, mixing well.

Rinse the tomatoes and cut into halves. Scoop out the seedy pulp, leaving the outer flesh and skin of the tomatoes intact. If using small tomatoes, do not cut in half, just hollow out the center of each tomato.

Coat the tomatoes lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon some of the ricotta filling into each tomato half.

Place the stuffed tomatoes directly on the grill grate, making sure they are placed securely between the grates.You can also place the tomatoes in a grill top basket.

Grill for five to ten minutes over medium direct heat, until the filling has firmed up and you see some bubbling around the tomato edges.

Insert whole basil leaves into the filling of each tomato and serve immediately.

Grilled Sweet Potato Fries

3-4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:

Set up your grill in a 2-zone configuration, one side hot, the other side cool.

Peeling isn’t necessary, but you can do it if you prefer. Cut potatoes into halves lengthwise and then into thick fries. Place in a large bowl. Drizzle the oil over the top and toss to coat.

Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle over potatoes. Toss to coat.

Lay fries on the grill so they’ll get horizontal grill marks and close the lid. Cook about 3 minutes, or until potatoes have brown grill marks on one side. Turn the potato fires over. Cook and turn until all sides are marked. 

Potatoes are done when easily pierced with a fork. You may need to move the fries to the indirect-heat side, if they’re not done after good grill marks are formed.

Grilled Summer Fresh Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 1 each yellow, orange and red pepper
  • 18 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 18 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic Vinaigrette, divided (recipe below)

 Directions:

Heat grill to medium-high heat.

Cut each pepper lengthwise in half. Remove and discard seeds.

Make the filling: Combine the chopped tomatoes, chopped basil and 2 tablespoons of the Balsamic dressing,

Fill each half with some of the tomato filling and, then, top each pepper half with mozzarella cheese.

Grill 8 to 10 minutes or until peppers are crisp-tender.

Place peppers on a platter and drizzle with remaining dressing.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

 Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard and garlic. Add the oil in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 3/4 cup

Grilled Artichokes                                                

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 small artichokes, trimmed and halved
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • Salt to taste
  • Spicy Lemon Aioli, recipe below

Directions:

Preheat grill and oil the grill grates.

Cut lemon in half and squeeze out the juice into a bowl. Save for later. Cut lemon into quarters.

Boil artichokes in water with 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, lemon quarters and thyme. Cook until artichokes are just tender (about 20 minutes).

Remove from the water and set aside for about 5 minutes, allowing them to dry.

Brush with olive oil and place on the grill cut side down. Grill for about 3 minutes or until they start to brown. Turn and grill for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with the reserved lemon juice and salt.

Serve with the Spicy Lemon Aioli, if desired.

Spicy Lemon Aioli

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste

Whisk together all ingredients and season to taste.

Grilled Zucchini-and-Summer Squash with Citrus Splash

4 servings

 Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons grated orange rind
  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice (about 3 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 red onions
  • 4 zucchini, each halved lengthwise (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 4 yellow squash, each halved lengthwise (about 1 pound)
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

 Directions:

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Peel onions, leaving root intact; cut each onion into 4 wedges. Add onion, zucchini, and yellow squash to bag.

Seal and marinate in refrigerator 1 hour, turning bag occasionally.

Prepare grill and oil grill grates.

Drain vegetables in a colander over a bowl, reserving marinade. Place vegetables on a the grill and cook for 8 minutes or until tender; turn and baste occasionally with the reserved marinade.

Place the vegetables on a serving platter; sprinkle with the basil. Serve the vegetables with any remaining marinade.

Marinated Mushrooms

The mushrooms are a great side for grilled meats.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of small crimini mushrooms
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped fine
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Preheat your outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.

Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp towel and trim the tips from the stems.

Juice and zest the lemons and combine with the olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Whisk the dressing thoroughly.

Lightly brush the mushrooms with a little of the dressing. Set the rest of the dressing aside.

Grill the mushrooms over medium-high heat for two to three minutes. Turn mushrooms over and grill another 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the grilled crimini mushrooms to the reserved dressing. Mix well.

Allow the mushrooms to marinate for about one hour on the countertop. You can make this recipe the day before and refrigerating overnight.

Bring to room temperature before serving.

Parmesan Garlic Corn                                                    

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 ears of fresh corn on the cob
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane grater
  • 1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped Italian parsley

Directions:

Preheat grill and grease grill grates with oil.

Remove husks and silks from the corn. Combine grated garlic and butter in a small glass bowl.

Place bowl in the microwave for 10 – 15 seconds on high.

Grill corn until lightly charred and deep, bright yellow (about 15 – 20 minutes). Turning often to keep from burning.

Brush garlic butter over corn and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Italian parsley.

Crusty Grilled Onions                                                                                              

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 Vidalia onions or other sweet onions, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Directions:

Heat the grill to medium-high and grease the grill grates.

Pulse seasonings in the processor until thoroughly combined and place in a shallow bowl.

Brush onions on all sides with oil and coat in the seasoning mixture.

Place onions on the grill and cook until golden brown and a crust has formed, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn and continue grilling until thoroughly cooked and crusty.

 


Christmas Lights in Saint Mark’s Square

Christmas is by far the most important holiday of the year in Italy—the festivities last from December 24th. through January 6th. Family gatherings are the most important part of the holiday. This is the time of year when families reunite from whatever corners of the world they may have scattered and it is around the table or, a tavola, that Italian families come together. These holidays allow parents and children, siblings and in-laws, friends and sweethearts—and sometimes a grandfather (nonno) or grandmother (nonna), or an old beloved aunt (zia)—the opportunity to see one another after long separations, spending significant time together over splendid food and drink.

Italian children write letters to Santa Claus or Father Christmas asking for presents and in Italy the main day for gift giving is the Epiphany. These presents are brought by La Befana, a kindly old witch, who fill children’s stockings in the night with sweets, “i dolciumi” if they have been good or with coal, “il carbone” if they have been bad. Santa Lucia brings the gifts in Venice and Mantova, while in other regions, it is the Baby Jesus or Gesu’ Bambino who brings the presents. The children also write to their parents to let know how much they love them. This letter is placed under their father’s plate and he reads it at the end of dinner.

Christmas Time, Little Italy, New York City

Among the traditions, customs and other rituals typical of the Christmas season are:

  • The main focus of decorations is the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. The churches have a presepe outdoors and traditional bonfires are assembled in the main square of town.
  • Ceppo known, as The Tree of Light, is a wooden frame with a pyramid shape; it is several feet high and supports many shelves or tiers. The ceppo has on the bottom a manger scene and on the shelves above are placed small gifts of fruit, candy and presents. It is also decorated with gilt pine cones, colored paper, little candles and pennants. At the top is placed a star or a small doll.
  • Urn of Fate: they are wrapped presents for each family member. If you get a present with your name on it, you keep it; otherwise, you try again.
  • Zampognari and Pifferai: Bagpipers and flute players dressed with traditional costumes entertain the people at religious shrines.
  • In the Vatican City, the people go to the square at noon on Christmas day to receive the Pope’s blessing; he appears at his balcony.
  • Another tradition is the burning of the Yule log, which must stay lit until New Year’s Day.
  • The cribs are usually handed down from generation to generation.

Christmas Dinner In Italy

Again it will almost certainly start with a selection of antipasti – perhaps including salami and Parma ham, and a glass or two of sparkling Prosecco. Then there will be a hearty filled pasta dish, such as agnolotti, ravioli or tortellini. Most families will follow this with a roast – often poultry, served with vegetables; others might have a local meaty speciality, such as a stuffed pig’s trotter. Although Italians don’t usually indulge much in desserts, at Christmas, most people will make an exception and follow the meat course with some panettone – a light but buttery sponge cake or other sweets. In some regions people might also have some pandolce, a heavy fruit cake with pine nuts.

The most significant meal of the Christmas Day is the lunch or il pranzo. In Italy the following  dishes are often served:

  • Lo zampone – the skin of the lower pig leg, including the toe little bones, filled with minced meat and sausages                                                                 
  • Il cotechino – pig’s foot stuffed with spiced minced meat 
  • Sausages
  • Turkey stuffed with chestnuts
  • Lamb is also enjoyed with mashed potatoes and lentils
  • Tortellini in chicken stock
  • Crostini with liver pâté

Desserts such as:

  • Torrone – Nougat
  • Il panettone – the Milanese fruit cake filled with candied fruit
  • Gold bread – the traditional cake
  • Il pandoro – similar to il panettone, only without fruits or raisins
  • Il panforte – Gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds

The traditional drinks are:                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  • Vin brule – mulled wine
  • Bombardino – Italian version of eggnog
  • Punch of rum, mandarin and orange flavors

 Christmas Dinner Memories

When I was a child, Christmas was a very special time in our house. We all looked forward to this season: my parents, my grandparents, my maternal aunts and my siblings. It was a busy time shopping, wrapping presents, baking and decorating the house and the tree.

When Christmas arrived, we were up by 5 A.M. to open presents. After we had time with our new gifts, my father would take us to visit his relatives in Little Italy, while my mother started dinner preparations. My father had a large family so this took awhile. By the time we had wished my grandmother and all my father’s brothers and sisters, a Merry Christmas, it was time to head home. My mother never needed to make dessert for Christmas dinner, because after the rounds of visiting the relatives, we went home with a number of special homemade Christmas treats.

Struffoli

Zeppole

Anise Cookies

In fact, before the day was done we had more sweets than we could eat in a week. My mother’s father would come for dinner and he would always bring Italian pastries, ice cream and Hershey bars. What a day!

Dinner was held early in the afternoon and began with a typical antipasto of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables.

The next course was always Lasagna with little meatballs in the sauce. This was followed by a pork roast with roasted potatoes and a green salad. Lots to eat – and don’t forget those desserts!

Christmas Dinner At My House

Because several members of my family are vegetarians, I often serve vegetarian dishes alongside the non-vegetarian dishes.

Onion Soup

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 pounds sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1-26-ounce container Pomi tomatoes
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 slices of thick crusty bread
  • 6 slices of provolone cheese

 Directions:

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn. Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and slowly cook them for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently. The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.

Add the tomatoes to the pot and 4 cups of water. Stir in the onions. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.

When ready to serve, toast or grill the bread and immediately top with the provolone cheese to melt a bit. Alternatively, you could toast the bread quickly under the broiler, then add the cheese and brown and melt the a bit. Add bread with cheese to the bottom of a serving bowl. Ladle the soup mixture over the bread

 

Beef Tenderloin

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine garlic, mustard and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in oil and process until the ingrdients are very finely chopped. Rub mixture over beef and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

Transfer beef to baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake about 40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 135 F. for medium-rare. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

 

 

Gnocchi with Creamy Pesto

(dilute pesto sauce with a little half and half)

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

 

 

Spinach Casserole

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 16 ounces organic baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cups Sargento Italian six cheese blend

 Directions:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 x 11-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spinach (it may be necessary to do this in batches) and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach wilts. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl. Stir in the bread crumbs, parsley, dill, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add the spinach mixture and the Italian cheese, and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and bake until the top has browned and set, about 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Roasted Squash and Cauliflower

Dessert

Italian Cookies see post: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/12/14/my-childrens-favorite-christmas-cookies-part-2/



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