Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: sweet potatoes

fallpizza

If the chill in the air has you wanting to make some heartier pizzas, look no further for inspiration than the fall farmers’ market. Apples, butternut squash, sage, kale, mushrooms, cauliflower, figs…these ingredients are perfect. The American Heart Association recommends eating eight or more fruit or vegetable servings each day. This fall’s harvest offers the opportunity to revisit the classics while searching for new flavors. What better way to enjoy these ingredients than on a pizza. You can prepare it so many different ways, so experiment and have fun with it. Who knows? Maybe you will create a new family favorite that you can look forward to year after year.

Master Pizza Dough Recipe:

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Make this dough at least one day ahead.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
  • ½ cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Semolina flour for dusting

Directions

Combine the flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the oil, honey and water and stir on low-speed until the flour is all absorbed. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. Transfer the dough to floured work surface and gently round into a ball. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight (or up to 3 days).

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Sage Pesto and Butternut Squash Pizza

For a vegetarian version, leave out the pancetta.

Ingredients

  • One prepared pizza dough, see above, or your favorite pizza dough
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sage pesto (recipe follows)
  • 3/4 cup caramelized butternut squash (recipe follows)
  • 2 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 4 thin slices of pancetta cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 leek (white part only), halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Sage pesto:

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Caramelized butternut squash:

  • 1/2 small butternut squash cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

For the sage pesto:

Combine the walnuts, sage, parsley, salt and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 10 to 15 times to break up the walnuts and herbs somewhat. With the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Process until smooth. Taste and add additional salt, if needed.

For the caramelized butternut squash:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the diced squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with the olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 30 minutes or until the squash is tender, mixing once after 15 minutes. Let cool.

To make the pizza:

Remove dough from the refrigerator and rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

In a small skillet heat the 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the pancetta and leek until  the pancetta begins to brown. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few times and form it into a round flat disc. Roll or stretch the dough out in a 15 inch pizza pan or a 13×9 rectangular baking pan .

Spread the sage pesto on the dough and then evenly distribute the caramelized squash, the Fontina cheese, the pancetta and the leek. Place the pan on the pizza stone and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and add fresh cracked pepper, Parmigiano Reggiano, and additional nutmeg. Slice and serve immediately.

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Fennel, Onion and Italian Sausage Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe pizza dough, recipe above
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces whole-milk fresh mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
  • Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Chopped fennel fronds, for garnish

Directions:

Remove dough from refrigerator and rest at room temperature for 2 hours. On a lightly floured work surface, gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Saute crumbled Italian sausage in a skillet until no longer brown. Set aside. In the same skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion, thyme, salt and fennel and cook over medium heat until onions are soft and golden and the fennel is tender, about 15 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few times and form it into a round flat disc. Roll or stretch the dough out in a 15 inch pizza pan or a 13×9 rectangular baking pan .

Brush the crust with a thin layer of olive oil. Spread with grated mozzarella and top with sausage, the onion and fennel mixture. Season with pepper.

Place the pan on the pizza stone and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until lightly brown.Remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with shaved Parmesan and a few fennel fronds. Let rest for 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Mushroom, Kale Pizza with Roasted Garlic Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 large head roasted garlic, see recipe below
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large Portobello mushroom, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups torn kale leaves (not tightly packed!)
  • 1 prepared pizza crust, at room temperature
  • 1 cup shredded fontina or mozzarella cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack in the oven.

Remove roasted garlic cloves from their skins and place in small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mash with fork until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushroom slices and cook until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add kale and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

Place pizza dough in a 14-15 inch pizza pan and push dough to the edges.

Spread roasted garlic sauce onto the crust, leaving a 1-inch edge on all sides. Top with half of cheese, mushrooms and kale, then remaining cheese.

Transfer pizza pan to the pizza stone. Bake 15-20 minutes or until crust is golden brown and kale is just beginning to crisp.

Roasted Garlic:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice off the top of the head of garlic to expose some of the cloves inside. Place the head on a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap in the foil. Roast until the cloves are lightly browned and tender, about 30 minutes.

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Roasted Fall Vegetable Pizza

Any combination of roasted vegetables, you like, can work in this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 small, thin eggplant, sliced thin
  • 1 zucchini, halved, sliced thin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 red onion, peeled, cut into eighths
  • 1 red, yellow or green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 prepared pizza dough, recipe from above
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • Garnish with fresh basil

Directions

Remove dough from the refrigerator. Let stand, covered, for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss together the first 8 ingredients with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and arrange in a single layer in 2 aluminum foil-lined 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pans.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and golden brown.

Turn the oven temperature up to 450 degrees F. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven.

Press dough out in a 15-inch pizza pan and coat crust with remaining olive oil.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup mozzarella over the crust and top with roasted vegetables. Sprinkle 1/2 cup mozzarella and crushed red pepper over the vegetable mixture. Place the pan on the pizza stone and bake 10 minutes.

Remove pizza from the oven and dollop the ricotta cheese over the top of the pizza. Return the pizza to the oven and bake 10 more minutes or until the crust is crisp and cheese is melted. Garnish with basil, if desired.

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apple

Apples are the number one fall fruit. Fall also brings with it a renewed interest in baking. The most difficult part about encountering the appetizing display of apples in the store is deciding which apple is best for which project. All are great for munching out of hand, but texture, flavor and size, all contribute to whether a certain apple is best for apple crisp or applesauce.

Munching

If you’re simply in need of a good snack, apples fit the bill. Here are some favorite varieties for eating out of hand or using raw in salads.

Honeycrisp apples are extra crisp and tangy. They are excellent eaten raw, but will also hold their shape when baked.

With red skin and light green patches, Fuji apples are juicy and fragrant.

Crisp and mildly sweet, Gala apples are a satisfying snack.

Pink Lady apples are pinky red in color with crisp, juicy flesh and a complex flavor.

Baking

Whether stuffed or baked for a side dish or a dessert or chopped up and hidden under a layer of dough or crumble topping, these apples hold their shape during cooking.

Rome apples are very large with green-speckled red skin. This variety makes an impressive dessert when baked whole.

Extra tart with thick, “apple green” skin, Granny Smiths are the perfect opposite to the sweeter baking apples, like Golden Delicious, for balanced pies and crisps.

Braeburn apples are very crisp, sweet and tangy, making them great for baking or eating raw.

Golden Delicious are excellent all-purpose apples that are particularly good in pies and crisps.

Jonagold apples have a honeyed sweetness and crisp yellow flesh. This variety holds its shape during baking or sautéing.

Sauces

These apples break down beautifully with heat, making them perfect for purées and sauces.

Cortland apples are sweet and juicy and their flesh breaks down easily with cooking making them perfect for applesauce. These crisp apples are also great raw as their flesh resists browning.

With shiny, deep red skin and bright white flesh, Empire apples are crisp and a little spicy. Cored and stewed, this variety cooks down into a beautiful rosy pink sauce.

Stout Macoun apples are tender, juicy and sweet, making them also perfect for applesauce.

Tart-sweet McIntosh apples are juicy with a great fragrance, but they don’t stand up to long cooking times.

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Easy Homemade Apple Cider

The best cider has a balance between sweet and tart. Use half sweet and half tart apples in making the recipe below.

  • Red Delicious: Large, firm red apple with a sweet flavor.
  • Yellow Delicious: Large, firm yellow apple with a sweet flavor.
  • Jonathon: Medium, crisp semi-tart apple, with red near the top, descending to green lower down the fruit.
  • Granny Smith: Medium/small, crisp, tart apple with green color.
  • Gala: Medium, crisp semi-tart apple with yellow skin blushed with orange to red tinge.

Ingredients

  • 10 apples, half sweet and half tart from the list above, quartered
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice

Directions

Place apples in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover by at least 2 inches. Stir in sugar, cinnamon and allspice. Bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered, for 1 hour. Cover pot, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 hours.

Strain apple mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Discard solids. Drain cider again through a cheesecloth lined sieve. Refrigerate until cold.

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Celery, Apple and Fennel Slaw

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced diagonally, plus 1/4 cup loosely packed celery leaves
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced crosswise, plus 1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds
  • 1 firm, crisp apple (such as Pink Lady, Gala or Granny Smith), julienned
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Whisk the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add celery and celery leaves, thinly sliced fennel and chopped fennel fronds and the apple; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Sweet Potato Apple Soup

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into 2″ chunks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 sprig sage
  • 1 crisp apple (Fuji, Pink Lady or Granny Smith)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Directions:

Put the sweet potatoes in a microwavable dish, loosely cover and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion; cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

In batches, puree the broth, cider, cooked onion and squash until smooth. Return all the ingredients to the stockpot, stir in the sage and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Right before serving, core and dice the apple. In a small skillet saute the apple, honey and lemon juice until warm. Serve the soup warm and garnish each serving with a spoonful of apple.

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Italian Farro with Apples

Farro, a wheat like grain, makes a delicious alternative to rice or a side-dish for pork, chicken and fish.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup hulled whole-grain farro
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups reduced salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 Fuji apple (8 oz.)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Sort farro, discarding bits of hulls and other debris. Pour farro into a bowl, cover completely with cool water, stir, and skim off and discard any additional hulls that float to the surface. Drain farro.

Heat oil in a 5-to 6-quart pan over high heat, add celery and onion and cook stirring often until tender, about 5 minutes.. Add farro to the pan and stir until the grains are coated, about 2 minutes.

Add broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover pan, and simmer (mixture foams, so check and stir occasionally to keep it from boiling over) until farro is tender to the bite and no longer tastes starchy, about 25 minutes. Stir in parsley, cover, remove from heat, and let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apple; cut into about 1/4-inch dice and mix with the lemon juice. Stir into the  farro mixture, season to taste with salt and pepper, and pour into a serving bowl.

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Classic Apple Pork Chops

Ingredients

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, about 1-inch thick (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, minced (2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith or Braeburn, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

Directions

Pat pork chops dry with paper towels. Remove thyme leaves from their stems and divide in half. Sprinkle both sides of the pork chops with 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and half the thyme leaves, pressing lightly so seasonings adhere.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until sizzling hot. Add the pork chops and cook 5 to 6 minutes per side, turning only once, to brown. Transfer to a platter and cover loosely to keep warm.

Add butter to the pan and heat until foamy. Add shallot and remaining thyme leaves and cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add apples, broth and remaining salt and pepper to the skillet scraping up any browned bits. Cook, stirring, until apple is tender and sauce reduces slightly, 3 to 4 minutes.

Return pork chops to the skillet, along with any juices that have collected at the bottom of the plate, to the skillet and cook just until the pork registers 145 degrees on a meat thermometer.. Transfer the pork chops to a platter and spoon the apple mixture over the chops.

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Ricotta Cheesecake With Apple Topping

Crust

  • 1 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs, (20 cookies)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon (packed) brown sugar

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
  • 1 package (8 ounces) light cream cheese, softened
  • 1 container (8 ounces) light sour cream, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

Topping

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and each cut into 8 slices
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup apple cider

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, mix cookie crumbs, butter and sugar. Press into the bottom of the springform pan. Bake 10 minutes. Place pan on wire rack.

In a food processor, process ricotta cheese, granulated sugar and vanilla bean until ricotta is smooth. Add cream cheese and sour cream; process just until smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs. Whisk in 1/4 of the cheese mixture. Fold in the remaining cheese mixture in two additions. Pour over the baked  crust.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until the edges rise, and the center is just set, but still jiggly. Place on wire rack to cool completely (cheesecake may crack). Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the topping:

In a large skillet, combine the sugar and water. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Remove the skillet from the heat and immediately add the apples and butter. Stir to coat the apples. Return the pan to the heat and cook, turning apples occasionally, until the apples are tender but still hold their shape, 5 to 10 minutes.

Once the apples are tender, add the cider and cook until slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the topping into a bowl, cover and let cool.

To serve the cheesecake, remove the pan sides and, with a large spatula, transfer the cake to a serving plate. Spoon the topping over the cake and serve.


lowcost

10 Piece Chicken Nuggets with Large French Fries

$6 per serving

Family of Four Total Cost: $24

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Cheeseburger with Large Curly Fries

$4 per serving

Family of Four Total Cost: $16

Eating healthy should not be a privilege or reserved for people who can “afford” it. Fresh fruits and vegetables actually don’t cost more than burgers, fries and sodas. In fact, they’re often less expensive, so shopping for good, fresh produce shouldn’t be an impossible achievement. The family friendly, healthy dinner recipes below are full of nutrition, but they don’t skimp on taste. Plus, at less than $1 per serving, the recipes are easy on the wallet and the waistline. They are also easy to prepare.

Luckily, many of these pantry staple foods cost less than $2 per package. A 1-pound bag of brown rice, for example, sells for about $1.75 and cooks up into about 10 side dish servings — that’s just 18 cents a serving. Prices may vary slightly based on the store, location and time of year. If you have the items below stocked in your pantry and refigerator, you will be able to make delicious meals and save money.

Brown Rice

Great for side dishes, rice salads, casseroles, soups and stews.

What’s a serving? 1/4 cup dry, uncooked rice. Price per serving: 18 cents. A 1-pound bag costs about $1.75 and contains 10 servings.

Whole-Wheat or Multigrain Pasta

Great for hot and cold pasta dishes.

What’s a serving? 2 ounces of dried pasta which means you get about 8 servings in a one pound box or bag of dried pasta. Price per serving? About 24 cents. You can get a 16-ounce box or bag of store-brand dried pasta for about $1.69.

100% Whole-Wheat Bread

Great for hot and cold sandwiches, bread stuffing, bread pudding and breakfast.

What’s a serving? 2 slices, the amount you’d use to make a sandwich. Price per serving: About 18 cents. You can get a 22-ounce loaf of store-brand 100 % whole-wheat bread for about $1.99. (My store often has buy one, get one free.) Each loaf has about 22 slices or 11 servings of 2 slices each.

Old-Fashioned Oats

Great for hot or cold cereal, granola, crumb toppings for desserts and muffins.

What’s a serving? 1/2 cup dry oats. Price per serving: 13 cents. A 42-ounce container of store brand oats costs around $3.99 and each container has about 30 servings of dry oats.

Quinoa

Great for salads, side dishes, breakfast or in any recipe for rice.

$0.60 per ¼ cup serving, about $4 per box. It may be hard to pronounce (that’s keen-wah), but it’s easy to prepare and packs a nutritious punch. Filled with protein and fiber, this superfood also contains nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own.

Canned Tuna and Salmon

Great for sandwiches, fish cakes, casseroles, several types of salads and appetizers.

What’s a serving? A 6-ounce can is about 2 servings. Price per serving: About 70 cents for chunk white albacore in water. You can buy a 6-ounce can of solid white albacore in water for about $1.99 or a 6-ounce can of chunk white albacore in water for about $1.39. The best deal is usually with chunk light in water for 85 cents per 6-ounce can. For salmon $0.75 per serving or about $1.50 per can.

Jarred Marinara Sauce

Great for pasta dishes, pizza, casseroles, appetizers, Italian sandwiches and stews.

What’s a serving? 1/2 cup. Price per serving: About 28 cents. You can buy a 24 or 28-ounce jar or can of marinara or pasta sauce for $1.67. Watch for store sales.

Dried Lentils and Beans

Great for casseroles, salads, soups and stews and more. Lentils are the most user-friendly of the beans because they cook quickly without pre-soaking. Generally you just need to cover 1 cup of lentils with 3 cups of water or broth and boil for 3 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

What’s a serving? 1/4 cup dried lentils. Price per serving: 10 cents. You can buy a 16-ounce bag for $1.29. Each 16-ounce bag makes about 13 servings of lentils. That small bag of lentils is deceiving because the lentils are dried, but once cooked, you will see the value.

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Below is a list of fresh, nutritious foods that cost less than $1 per serving.

Chicken Breasts

$0.75 per 4 oz serving, about $2.99 per pound.  Forgo fast food on a budget — a small fresh chicken breast is cheaper and filled with healthy, lean protein. Grill, bake, use in salads or slice for a whole-wheat wrap with veggies.

Eggs and Store-Brand Egg Substitute

Great for: Making quick omelets or breakfast. You can also blend half egg substitute and half eggs to make scrambled eggs, quiches, frittatas or egg casseroles.

What’s a serving? 1/4 cup. Price per serving: 25 to 37 cents. You can buy a 16-ounce carton of refrigerated egg substitute for $1.99 to $2.99 and supermarkets eggs, ($0.19 per egg) for about $2 per dozen. Eggs are a quick, delicious and inexpensive protein.

Nonfat Greek Yogurt

Great for: A quick snack, parfaits made with fruit and granola, salad dressings and smoothies.

What’s a serving? Most individual servings come in 6 ounce or 8 ounce containers. You can save money by buying a larger container of Greek yogurt and then making your 6 or 8 ounce portion from it. Price per serving: individual servings can cost about 89 cents each and sometimes less when found on sale.

Low-Fat Milk

$0.25 cents per cup, about $4 per gallon. One calcium-filled glass can help keep teeth strong. Add a splash to a fruit smoothie or enjoy in a bowl of oatmeal or cereal.

Cottage Cheese

$0.88 per 1/2 cup serving, about $3.50 per 16 oz container. This mild cheese is surprisingly high in protein and tastes great in both sweet and savory dishes.Try it topped with sliced pineapple and berries for a sweet protein-packed treat.

Apples

$0.50 to $0.75 per apple (depending on variety) Full of vitamin C and cancer-fighting antioxidants. Snack with peanut butter or add thin slices to a sandwich.

Bananas

$0.20 to $0.50 per banana, about $0.60 per pound or $2 per bunch. Filled with fiber and potassium. Add to your cereal or vanilla ice cream!

Cantaloupe

$0.50 per ½ cup serving, about $2.50 to $3 per melon. Filled with antioxidants, cantaloupe is inexpensive and contains many servings.

Watermelon

$0.30 per 1 cup serving, $ 4 to $5 per melon and filled with vitamin C — a cancer-fighting antioxidant that helps strengthen immunity and promote bone health.

Pears

$0.85 each, about $1.75 per pound (depending on variety). White fleshy pears may help prevent strokes. They’re also full of fiber. Try the Bartlett, Bosc and Anjou varieties.

Oranges

$0.50 each, about $1 per pound (in family sized packages). Oranges aren’t just about their vitamin C. This citrus fruit is also filled with fiber, folate and potassium.

Garlic

$0.30 per bulb. It’s also full of antioxidants to promote heart health and reduce the risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s. Add to a pan of veggies or tomato sauce to spice up the flavor or roast it in the oven for a sweeter flavor.

Onions

$0.18 each, about $0.59 per pound. Onions pack a surprising nutritious punch, including a hefty dose of antioxidants. Sautée and add to an omelet or add a sandwich for extra flavor.

Sweet Potatoes

$0.50 each, about $1 per pound  High levels of vitamin A and beta-carotene (which may help prevent cancer and protect us from the sun) and also helps keep skin silky smooth.

Winter Squash (acorn, butternut, etc.)

$0.50 per ½ cup serving, about $1.50 a pound. Squash is a versatile veggie filled with vitamins, fiber, and potassium. Delicious roasted.

Kale

$0.50 per cup (raw, chopped), about $2 per bunch. Kale contains vitamins A, C, and K, fiber, calcium, iron, and potassium.

Broccoli

$0.50 per ½ cup serving, $2 per bunch. Broccoli has high levels of folate and vitamin C, which may help reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.

Beets

$0.35 each, about $1 per pound. Beets are packed with folate, fiber and vitamins, making them one of the best health bargains around. Roast or add to a salad.

Spinach

$0.50 per cup (raw), about $2 per bunch. These greens are nutrient dense with vitamin A, K, and calcium. Try sautéing them with mushrooms or use to replace lettuce in your next salad.

Carrots

$0.50 each, about $2 per pound. Carrots provide a nutritious crunch along with vitamin A. They’re perfect for dipping into hummus and taste great roasted with other root veggies and a drizzle of olive oil.

Frozen Vegetables

Great for: Side dishes, casseroles and stews.

What’s a serving? 1 cup. Price per serving: around 25 cents. Frozen vegetables come in 12-ounce to 24-ounce bags that cost anywhere from $1.75 to $2.25 and contain 6-8 cups, depending on the vegetable and the size of the bag. A bag of petite peas or a 10-ounce box of frozen chopped spinach will cost about $1.19. You will do even better when they are on sale, so stock up.

Dinner #1

lowcost2

Kielbasa Apple Kabobs

Serves 4-6

Kielbasa are fully cooked smoked sausages traditionally made of pork, but also available made with beef, turkey or chicken. The cooking time is short for these as the sausage is already cooked. I like to serve this dish with sauerkraut, an inexpensive side dish, but you can also serve brown rice.

Ingredients

  • 10 wooden or metal skewers
  • 1 pound fully cooked kielbasa sausage
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 red apple, such as Braeburn or Gala, cored
  • 1 tart green apple, such as Granny Smith, cored
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes before grilling.

Cut kielbasa, onion and apples into 2-inch pieces. Combine in a bowl with lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper and salt. Toss to coat.

Preheat grill to medium high. Thread sausage, onion and apple pieces on skewers, alternating them. Grill 3 to 5 minutes each side, until apples and onions are slightly blackened on the edges, yet still crisp inside, and the sausage is very hot.

Dinner #2

lowcost3

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

You can use leftover chicken or turkey in place of the ground meat. Serve this meal with a cucumber salad.

Serves 6

Ingredients

Topping

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes (2 1/2 pounds total)
  • 1/4 cup nonfat milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

Filling

  • 8 ounces mushrooms, optional
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (15-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth or beef broth
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup frozen or canned green peas
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Scrub potatoes and pierce several times with a fork. Place in a baking pan and bake until soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool while you make the filling.

While the sweet potatoes are baking, wash and slice mushrooms, if using. Peel onion and garlic. Dice onion. Mince garlic.

While the sweet potatoes are cooling, in a large skillet over medium-high, cook beef or turkey, mushrooms and onion, crumbling the meat with a spatula or wooden spoon as it cooks, until the meat is no longer pink, about 30 minutes.

In a colander, drain off liquid and the mixture return to the skillet. Add thyme and garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Add broth and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook until mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in peas, salt and pepper. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.

Peel the cooled sweet potatoes and place in a medium bowl. Add milk, butter, salt and pepper. Mash until smooth. Spread over the filling. Bake until hot and bubbling at the edges, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving

Tips:

  • Substitute another green vegetable for the peas, if you prefer—spinach, green beans or lima beans are all good options.
  • This dish reheats well, so consider making it over the weekend and reheating it on a busy weeknight. Prepare through Step 4, cover with foil and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat, covered, at 350 degrees F until hot throughout.

Dinner #3

Food Styling by Catrine Kelty

Spinach Salad with Eggs

Serves 5-6

Ingredients

  • 6 cups fresh spinach
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries or raisins
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (any type)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Wash and dry spinach. Remove stems. Tear leaves into bite-sized pieces.

Place eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water by one inch. Bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat right away. Let sit 12 minutes. Remove eggs and place in a bowl of ice cold water until cool. This will make it easier to peel the shells. Peel and chop eggs.

In a large bowl add spinach, eggs and dried cranberries. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

In a jar, add oil, vinegar, honey and salt. Cover tightly with lid. Shake well.

Just before serving, drizzle dressing over salad. Toss to coat spinach leaves.

Tips:

  • Make double the dressing. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator, up to 1 week. Use on other salads or to flavor sandwiches.
  • To save time, cook eggs in advance. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Make extra eggs, if you like. Use them for breakfast or to make egg salad.

lowcost5

Squash and Orzo

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 large winter squash (such as butternut or acorn)
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup whole wheat orzo pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut squash in half. Remove seeds. Chop rosemary.

Drizzle the maple syrup over the cut sides of each squash half. Sprinkle each with rosemary and red pepper flakes.

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Place squash halves on the baking sheet. Roast until squash is tender and pierces easily with a fork, about 30–35 minutes. Remove from the oven. Keep squash loosely covered with foil.

Cook pasta al dente in boiling salted water. Drain in a fine mesh colander. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir to coat well.

Cut each squash half into thirds. Remove skin from the squash and cut squash into cubes. Place over the pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Tips:

  • Orzo and squash reheat well without losing flavor or quality. Cook the entire meal the night before. Refrigerate until ready to serve the next day.
  • For faster cooking, cook squash halves in the microwave. Heat for 7 minutes on high or until squash is tender and pierces easily with a fork.

Dinner #4

lowcost6

Chicken Burger and Fries

Serve with a salad.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 small bell pepper
  • 1/4 small red onion
  • 1 pound lean ground chicken or turkey
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1½ teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 whole wheat burger buns
  • Lettuce and tomato slices

Directions

Finely chop bell pepper and onion.

In a medium bowl, combine bell pepper, onion, ground meat, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.

Divide mixture into 4 pieces. Form pieces into patties about 4 inches across.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Add burgers. Cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Add water to the pan. Cover and cook until the burgers reach 165ºF, about 10 minutes more.

Serve on whole wheat buns with lettuce, tomato, onion and condiments of choice.

lowcost7

Sweet Potato Fries

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1½ teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a baking pan with a layer of aluminum foil. Coat with non-stick cooking spray before placing the sweet potatoes on the pan.

Scrub sweet potatoes. Pat dry with a paper or kitchen towel.

Leaving the skin on, cut sweet potatoes into thick French fry strips, about ½-inch wide.

In a large bowl, mix paprika, salt, ground black pepper and cayenne pepper. Add oil. Blend with a fork until there are no lumps.

Add sweet potato strips to the bowl. Toss until they are coated on all sides.

Place sweet potatoes in a single layer on the baking pan. For the crispest fries, be sure sweet potatoes do not lie on top of each other.

Bake for 15 minutes. Turn fries over and bake another 10-15 minutes, or until fries are crispy and tender.

Dinner #5

lowcost8

Crunchy Oven Fried Fish Fillets

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 2 egg whites or 1/3 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/4 teaspoon seafood seasoning
  • 1 pound tilapia, catfish or pollock fish fillets
  • 1/4 cup dried Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil or oregano, crushed

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Stir flour, seafood seasoning, salt and pepper together in a shallow dish and set aside. In a bowl, beat egg whites until white and frothy. In another bowl, combine bread crumbs with cornmeal and basil.

To bread the fillets, dip first into flour, shaking off any excess, then into egg whites, then into bread crumb mixture.

Spray a shallow baking dish with olive oil cooking spray. Lay fillets flat in the dish, tucking under any thinner ends or edges for more even cooking. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the fish is crispy and flakes easily with a folk.

lowcost9

Bow Tie Pasta with Zucchini Sauce

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole wheat bow tie pasta
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and ground black pepper

Directions

Cook pasta al dente in boiling salted water. Prepare zucchini sauce while pasta is cooking.

Peel and mince garlic and grate zucchini.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Cook until mixture softens and zucchini yields some liquid, about 5 minutes.

Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking liquid. Add 2 teaspoons cooking liquid to the zucchini mixture. Add drained pasta. Stir, coating pasta evenly with the sauce. Add more pasta water if needed.

Transfer pasta to large bowl for serving. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and toss to combine.


pizzacrust6

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

It All Starts with Crust  

Whole-wheat flour. Forgo the traditional white-flour crust and make your own whole-wheat dough for some extra protein and fiber.

Tortillas. Rice and beans aren’t the only ingredients that can top a tortilla. Make your own whole-wheat tortilla for a perfect thin-crust alternative.

Pita bread. Pita pockets are the perfect size for a personal pizza and the whole-wheat variety adds an extra nutrition.

English muffins. With all the nooks and crannies, an English muffin pizza crust can toast up perfectly in the oven and are great for making mini-pizzas for a light lunch.

Matzo. Think of this as the ultimate thin-crust pizza. Super simple and super crispy.

Cauliflower. For a lighter option, forgo the extra carbs and turn cauliflower into a healthful, delicious pizza crust.

Zucchini. Similar to cauliflower, zucchini is easy to make into a lean, green, pizza crust.

Portobello. These mushrooms are a perfect bed for any pizza sauce and toppings.

Quinoa. This grain isn’t only great on top of salads or in soups. Cook up your own quinoa crust for a nutty, protein-packed alternative to classic pizza dough.

Leftover rice. Another use for that leftover rice from dinner last night. Add just a little flax-seed meal and Italian seasoning, and you’ve got an easy, inventive crust.

And Then There’s Some Crazy Toppings!

  • Start with a whole-wheat crust, spread on a thin layer of goat cheese. Layer on some roasted beets and drizzle with oil. Bake until crispy and top with a handful of fresh arugula before serving. Drizzle with some high-quality balsamic vinegar.
  • Toast a large tortilla until slightly crisp. Remove from oven and top with pumpkin puree, chicken sausage and kale.
  • Start with a zucchini crust. Add pesto. Top with :broccoli or spinach or asparagus and sliced artichokes. Dollop with some pieces of fresh mozzarella and bake until crisp.
  • On a whole-wheat crust, spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese. Bake until the cheese starts to brown. Top with sliced figs, grapes, strawberries and blueberries or any combination. Add a drizzle of honey.
  • On a whole-wheat pita, spread a few tablespoons of fresh tomato sauce. Top with sautéed onions and peppers and sliced cooked  sausage. Top with some mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. Bake a few minutes to melt the cheese.

pizzacrust

Polenta Pizza Crust

Who says pizza has to be made from bread dough? Best of all, it’s gluten free!

Makes: one 11” x 14” rectangular crust

Ingredients

  • 3½ cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups Polenta
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the 3½ cups of water to a boil. Add the salt.

Slowly add the polenta to the boiling water and stir. Reduce the heat and continue stirring for about 5 minutes, until thickened.

Pour in 2 tablespoons of oil and stir to incorporate. Add the chopped parsley, oregano and freshly ground black pepper (to taste). Stir to combine.

Remove the pan from the heat and prepare an 11×14 inch baking sheet by lining with parchment paper. Using a spatula (a silicone spatula works the best), spread the polenta evenly onto the prepared baking sheet.

Cover the pan and refrigerate for about an hour to set the polenta. You can also chill it overnight.

Once chilled, heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until slightly crispy on top. Remove from the oven and apply  pizza toppings of choice. Return to the oven just until the toppings are heated. Cut into serving pieces.

pizzacrust1

Whole Wheat Sandwich Pizza Dough

This pizza dough has a thick crust – more like focaccia. Top with prosciutto, figs and pesto for an unusual sandwich.

Makes: one 9×13” thick crust pizza

Ingredients

For the starter:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast

For the dough:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups of bread flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • Extra water
  • Kosher salt

Directions

For the starter:

In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the 1 cup of warm water (about 115 degrees F). Let the mixture stand 5 minutes—it should start to foam and bubble a bit. Add flour and mix well. Cover and let it stand for about 1 hour.

Make the dough:

Add the remaining 1 cup water, oil and salt to the yeast mixture and mix together. You can use a standing mixer or food processor as well.

Add the bread and whole wheat flours and using the paddle attachment mix until smooth. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for 5-6 minutes. It shouldn’t be too sticky, but still slightly tacky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover it and let it rise for 1½ hours.

Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly oiled 9×13 pan. Press the dough out to fit the pan and let it rise for 30 more minutes. After the 30 minutes, press the surface of the dough with your fingertips to make small depressions on the top. Apply toppings of choice or use the bread for sandwiches.

Bake the bread in an oven heated to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes longer. If the top of the bread browns too quickly, cover it with some aluminum foil.

pizzacrust2

Sweet Potato Pizza Crust

Makes four 8” personal pizzas

Ingredients

  • 2 cups mashed sweet potato (about two medium sweet potatoes)
  • 5 cups whole wheat flour (or use gluten-free flour as an alternative)
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup milk or nondairy milk
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Prepare the sweet potatoes:

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Peel, dice, the sweet potatoes and then place them in the boiling water until soft.

Drain and mash the sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Allow to cool. Add the milk, olive oil and salt and mix well.

In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and combine.

Dust hands with flour and gently knead the dough until it is well mixed. You may want to turn the dough out onto a floured work surface for more space. You can add a little more flour to reduce the stickiness of the dough, but not too much, as it should still be slightly sticky.

Separate into 4 equal parts and form into rounds. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and press one of the dough balls in the center. Press out from the middle of the ball, forming a flat, round disc (about 8  inches diameter). Repeat with remaining balls of dough.

Bake for 10 minutes. Add  toppings of choice and return to the oven to bake for 10 more minutes.

pizzacrust3

Quinoa Pizza Crust

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa plus enough water to cover for soaking
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3-1/2 cup  water
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Directions

Place the quinoa in a bowl and pour in enough water to cover the quinoa. Let it sit for about 8 hours to soak .

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Use a large 12-inch cast iron skillet or baking pan and brush with oil. Place in the oven to preheat.

Drain the quinoa, rinse and drain thoroughly. Place the quinoa in a blender. Add the 1/3 cup water and the seasonings and blend. Add more water as needed, until the batter resembles a thick pancake-style batter.

Once the oven reaches the set temperature, pour the batter into the skillet and quickly spread it out evenly across the bottom.

Place in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the underside is well-browned and starting to crisp. Use a large spatula and carefully flip the crust over. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and top with desired toppings. (Such as, tomato-based pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, sautéed mushrooms, onions, pork sausage or greens.)

As with any pizza, be careful not to overload on toppings or the crust will get soggy.

Return the pan to the oven for 5-7 minutes or until the crust is well-browned on the bottom and crisp. Remove from the skillet and transfer to a cutting board or plate. Slice into serving pieces.

pizzacrust5

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Ingredients

  • 2 cups shredded (1 large) zucchini
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped basil or oregano
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup. grated fresh parmesan
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Dry zucchini well with clean paper towels. Shred the zucchini using a hand shredder, then take all the shredded pieces and squeeze out all the excess water in between two paper towels.

Combine the zucchini, flour, eggs, oil, herbs and the cheeses until well-blended.

Once the dough is fully formed, spread evenly to about 10 inches on a pizza pan covered with parchment paper, then bake in an oven pre-heated to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes or until crispy.

Carefully turn the crust over with a wide spatula so the other side cooks as well. This will prevent sogginess. Bake for another 10-15 minutes

Once cooked, remove from the oven and add whatever toppings you choose (see below for ideas).

Turn the oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Once topped, put the pan back in the oven for about 8 minutes until heated.

Some Topping Ideas Or Use Your Imagination:

  • 1 large ripe tomato, sliced
  • 2-3  sautéed garlic cloves
  • Sautéed mushrooms
  • Thinly sliced bell peppers
  • Thinly sliced potatoes sautéed with garlic
  • Sliced olives
  • Sliced onion
  • Pesto
  • Fresh Mozzarella or Italian Fontina cheese

Dear Readers: What is the most unusual pizza you have created or eaten?


farmers-market-local-produce-520

For centuries all food was farm to table. People grew most of their own food or bought it from nearby farmers. The food that they put on the table was fresh, local and literally farm to table. During the early part of the twentieth century more people moved into urban areas and, along with improved transportation and refrigeration, made it possible for foods to be transported from hundreds, even thousands, of miles away. Food was no longer picked on the farm and served within just a day or so. The longer the time between harvest and your dining room table, the more quality is lost. Nutrients and flavor dissipate quickly.

As we become more concerned with where food comes from and how it is prepared, the term “farm-to-table” has become more prominent. Farm-to-table is more of a movement than a particular cuisine. The focus is on eliminating as many steps as possible between where the food is grown and where it’s eaten. Getting food straight from the farmer cuts out the middleman – like packaging and processing plants and commercial vendors – and assures consumers that their food is fresh, nutritious and locally produced. When you buy locally produced foods, you are being more environmentally friendly, keeping business in the community and supporting the local economy.

Farm-to-table food offerings encompass any type of whole food imaginable, as long as it’s in season. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy, nuts and even baked goods; just not anything processed – like a bag of potato chips or packaged chicken nuggets. A common fallacy is that the farm to table label means that the ingredients are organic. Sometimes the farmer uses organic techniques but can’t afford to meet the procedures that the government requires for the certified label. Other times the farm may use non-organic fertilizers or pesticides.

Wondering where the nearest farmers markets are to you?

The USDA launched a searchable Farmers Market Directory that includes over 6,000 locations in the United States: http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/default.aspx

In Canada: http://www.farmersmarketscanada.ca/ and in England: http://www.localfoods.org.uk/local-food-directory

After the long winter months of scanty crops, root vegetables and tubers, the farmers markets are reawakening and brimming with bright-colored vegetables, enticing baked goods and delicious jams that make for a full sensory experience. Strolling by the colorful stands of produce, you’ll find fresh field strawberries, crisp green beans, plump artichokes and bright green asparagus. Following are some facts about the spring produce that is emerging and some recipes on how to make use of them.

Asparagus

asparagus

Perhaps because it’s only harvested during a brief six to seven-week period between April and June, asparagus is the one vegetable we most associate with the arrival of spring.

When picking asparagus at the farmers market or at your local store, look for bundles with firm spears whose tips are closed, plump and green. Avoid dry, brownish looking spears. Once you’ve made your pick, it’s very important to store your asparagus properly to keep them fresh, as it is a rather fragile vegetable. Wash asparagus repeatedly in water until clean, pat dry, and cut off the hard stem ends. Then wrap a moist paper towel around the stems and place them in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator. Or, even better, stand them upright in a couple of inches of cold water. If stored properly, asparagus will keep for 2 or 3 days.

Blanching

To blanch asparagus, drop whole or cut, into a large pot of simmering water and cook for 3 minutes. Then, drain and shock the asparagus by running it under cold water or putting it in an ice bath. When blanched, the texture of asparagus becomes a little softer, but it is still crisp and the color brightens.

Steaming

Steaming is the perfect cooking method for a health-conscious diet because it utilizes very little or no fat. In a large deep pot bring 1 inch of water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Fasten the asparagus stalks in a bundle with a string and place the bundle upright in the water. Cover and steam for 6 to 8 minutes or until tender. Alternatively, use a wide pan or Dutch oven, add a thin layer of water and place a single layer of asparagus at the bottom. Cover and steam.

Stir-frying

Stir-frying is a very quick cooking technique that uses relatively low amounts of fat and very high heat. The secret is to keep the food in constant motion in a wok or sauté pan. Once you’ve cut the asparagus spears in the desired shape (cutting them on a slant is typical for stir-fry dishes), blanch them, then heat a small amount of oil in the pan over high heat. Once the oil is hot enough, add the asparagus and stir constantly until tender but still crisp on the surface, about 2- 3 minutes.

Sautéing

Sautéing asparagus is fairly similar to stir-frying. While stir-frying is more often used in Asian-inspired recipes, sautéing is typical of Western cuisines. It’s the cooking method most often used to prepare asparagus as a side dish to meat or fish entrees or in sauces for pasta. With sautéing, as well as with stir-frying, it’s preferable to use blanched asparagus. In a skillet, heat oil or butter, add the asparagus and cook, tossing occasionally until tender but still firm and crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes.

healthy-for-life2

Roasted Asparagus

This is my favorite way to serve asparagus.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Half a lemon
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Snap off the bottoms of the stalks. On a large baking sheet, toss asparagus in the olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Roast until tender and lightly browned, about 15-20 min (depending on the thickness of the stalks). Squeeze the lemon juice over the asparagus and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Sweet Potatoes

sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are not yams and vice-versa. They are two totally unrelated botanical species, although the roots can be similar in shape. What’s the difference? The true sweet potato is related to the morning-glory vine and is native to South America; the yam is native to Africa and Asia. All of this is especially confusing because orange-fleshed sweet potatoes have been traditionally referred to as “yams” in parts of the US. In general, true yams have a drier texture, are starchier in taste and are much lower in beta-carotene (but higher in protein) than sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are number 38 out of 53 on the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The roots are susceptible to a number of different pests and diseases that are controlled with insecticides and fungicides, so check with your local sweet potato farmer, if you’re concerned about this.

Sweet potatoes are in season in most parts of the US from fall through spring and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most are large and football shaped, with a fat middle and tapering ends, although some heirloom varieties are quite small and slender. Their skin can be russet, tan, cream, light purple or red. Sweet potato flesh is just as colorful: it may be orange (like the common Jewel sweet potato), yellow, creamy white (like the Japanese sweet potato) or even purple-magenta (as seen in the Okinawan sweet potato). Sweet potato varieties can also be divided into “dry” varieties (better for frying or boiling, because they hold their shape better) and “moist” or “baking” types. Look for sweet potatoes that are firm, with no bruises, shrivel-y spots (especially common on their tapered ends) or brown bits. Avoid sweet potatoes that have begun to sprout.

Sweet potatoes can be stored for several weeks under the right conditions: cool, dry and away from light. Don’t store them in the refrigerator, as this accelerates their decline — they don’t like to be too cold or too moist. Sweet potatoes that get too warm tend to sprout and become shriveled and mushy.

Sweet potatoes can be baked, roasted, boiled, fried, grilled, mashed or pureed. They are commonly paired with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and other warming spices, along with brown sugar or maple syrup. They also are delicious paired with oranges (juice or zest) and apples. They can be mashed and added to any number of baked goods, like muffins, biscuits and cakes. Cook sweet potatoes in their skin to retain the most nutrients. You can peel them after cooking. An enzyme in sweet potatoes that converts starch to sugar is most active between 135 – 170 degrees (Fahrenheit), so cook sweet potatoes for a longer period of time at a lower temperature to get the sweetest sweet potatoes. Baking sweet potatoes in the oven at 350 degrees or lower will achieve this.

sweet-potato-soup-sl-l

Sweet Potato Soup with Apples 

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 small, tart apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 8 small sage leaves or Italian parsley
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 ½ cups peeled, cooked sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Kosher salt
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt
  • Italian parsley for garnish

Directions

In a medium Dutch oven, heat the extra virgin olive oil and butter on medium-high heat until the butter is just melted. Add the onion and cook until translucent (but not browned), about 5 minutes. Add the diced apple, carrot, celery and sage and cook and stir for another 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken or vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then turn the heat to low. Simmer until the carrots and celery are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cooked sweet potatoes, cayenne, nutmeg and salt to taste. Stir to combine.  Puree the soup in batches with an immersion blender or food processor. Stir in the lemon juice to taste and swirl a tablespoon of sour cream or yogurt on top of the soup. Garnish with parsley.

Kohlrabi

kohlrabi (1)

Kohlrabi is a member of a group of vegetables that include kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, turnips, radishes, horseradish, mustard, arugula and rapeseed. The kohlrabi “root” is actually the swollen stem of the plant that grows above ground, topped by leaves resembling kale or collards. Fast growing and easy to cultivate, kohlrabi is becoming more popular in the US, but its strongest foothold is in Germany, Eastern Europe and India.

Kohlrabi are susceptible to the same diseases and pests as other members of the cabbage family, so pesticides to control fungi and insects may be applied. If you are concerned, the best thing to do is ask your local kohlrabi farmer about his or her growing practices.

Kohlrabi are available in most US markets from late spring through late autumn. In many areas, the vegetable can only be found at farmers’ markets, CSAs and smaller grocery stores (like food co-ops). Kohlrabi prefers cooler weather, so summer-harvested kohlrabi may be woodier than those grown in the spring and fall. In warmer climates, kohlrabi may be available in the winter and may even have two growing seasons. The kohlrabi bulb should be firm with no spongy bits and no visible brown spots. If leaves are still attached, they should be firm, green and free of wilt or mold. Younger kohlrabi are more tender and you can differentiate between young and old primarily by size — younger kohlrabi are smaller, usually between 2-3 inches in diameter. Kohlrabi should be spherical in shape; stay away from kohlrabi that are tapered, as they also tend to be woodier.

Kohlrabi will keep in your refrigerator’s veggie drawer for several weeks. Note that the bulbs tend to become woodier the longer you store them. Remove the leaves before storing. The biggest barrier to frequent kohlrabi consumption is peeling the bulb. The little knobbly bits make using a vegetable peeler virtually impossible, so you’ll have to use a paring knife to get the skin off. The bulb can be quartered and roasted like potatoes, pureed, steamed, grilled or simply thinly sliced raw and tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Kohlrabi also makes a delicious slaw, grated or cut into thin matchsticks.

slaw

Apple and Kohlrabi Slaw 

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tart apples, cored and grated or julienned on a mandolin
  • 4 small kohlrabi, peeled and grated or julienned on a mandolin
  • 2 shallots, diced (or 1/2 an onion)
  • 4 tablespoons Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the above together and chill in the refrigerator until serving time.

Rhubarb

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A relative of buckwheat, rhubarb is native to Siberia, and it grows best outdoors in similar climes such as northern Michigan, Washington state, Ontario and Yorkshire in the north of England. Rhubarb can only be harvested several years after planting, as it needs time to develop an appropriate root system. While not as popular as it was in the first half of the 20th century, rhubarb is receiving renewed interest in the U.S. as a local, seasonal plant.

Rhubarb is typically harvested in early spring while the plant is at its maximum flavor. Choose medium-sized ruby colored stalks that are firm and crisp. Greener stalks are usually a sign of sourness, while a thick stalk will be stringy. Rhubarb keeps for about a week wrapped in the refrigerator. Rhubarb freezes very well, so stock up during the spring season. I cut the stalks into one inch pieces and freeze 2 cups per ziplock freezer bag. Frozen rhubarb is great for making a fruit pie.

Just like celery, rhubarb has strings. To remove, use a paring knife. The strings will likely break down during cooking, but cooked rhubarb has a smoother texture without them. An easy way to cook rhubarb is to slice the stalk into inch-long chunks, remove all leaves, add sugar and boil until tender, adding a little bit of lemon zest to the mix. As rhubarb is quite sour, it pairs well with foods and ingredients that balance out the acidity. This sauce is good served over ice cream or frozen yogurt.

crumble

Rhubarb Crumble

Combine 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup oats, 3/4 cup sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl.

Stir in 6 tablespoons melted butter and 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts; with your fingers squeeze into large crumbles and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Mix 2 pounds chopped rhubarb, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon orange zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a 8-by-8-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.

Scatter the crumbles on top and bake in a preheated 375 degrees F oven until golden and bubbly, about 45 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Strawberries

strawberries

Locally grown strawberries are available only from Spring to the middle of Summer. Look for glossy fruit without visibly bruising, softness or moldy spots. Strawberries range in size from tiny wild-like, or alpine, varieties, to the fairly enormous Tri-Star type. The berries start out white on the plant, so look for strawberries that are deeply red colored without traces of white at the stem. Strawberries are labor-intensive to cultivate and are susceptible to a variety of diseases and pests. The seedlings must be planted by hand and the berries are still harvested by hand, even in large industrial operations.

Strawberries rank a super high number 3 out of 53  on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide. The EWG recommends buying organic due to the high pesticide use in conventionally grown strawberries. Unfortunately, the pesticides used in conventional strawberry production are some of the very worst – including methyl bromide, which sterilizes the soil and acts as an insecticide. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methyl bromide is categorized as a “powerful ozone depleting substance.” It was “phased out” in 2005 in the US’s attempt to comply with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, but the US lobbied for — and won — “exemptions” that include strawberry production, both for seedlings and fruit. In addition to its effects on the ozone layer, methyl bromide is a highly toxic pesticide that can cause neurological, lung and kidney damage and an increased risk of prostate cancer. And it’s not just methyl bromide — a variety of other pesticides are also used in conventional strawberry production. The environmental and health-related impacts of conventional strawberry growing are high, so if you are concerned with these issues, look for locally grown strawberries and ask your local farmer about his or her production methods.

Fresh strawberries deteriorate fairly quickly after purchase. You can keep strawberries fresh by waiting to wash them until just before eating and by storing them in the refrigerator in a paper-towel lined basket or bowl without a cover.

Strawberries are a versatile fruit and perform well under a multitude of cooking methods — they can be roasted (try tossing with a tiny bit of sugar, roast just until caramelized and drizzle with good balsamic vinegar), stewed, baked into a pie, made into jam, churned into ice cream or frozen into an icy sorbet. But strawberries really shine when eaten raw, either completely unadorned or sliced and tossed with a little sugar, orange juice, red wine or balsamic vinegar.

jam

Quick Refrigerator Strawberry Jam

Unlike other jam recipes, refrigerator jams don’t require canning equipment or techniques. The sugar and acid in the jam preserves the fruit, although refrigerator jam keeps for far less time than classic strawberry preserves — only about 2 weeks in the refrigerator. This jam will also be a bit looser than regular strawberry jam, as there is no pectin (a thickening agent commonly used in canning) involved. Adjusting the amount of sugar will also affect the looseness of the jam (more sugar equals less liquid).

Makes about 1 1/2 pints

Ingredients

  • 1 quart ripe, organic strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 3/4 to 1 cup granulated sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

Place a small plate in the freezer.

Combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the strawberry mixture to a rolling boil, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and mashing the strawberries slightly. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

Put about a teaspoon of jam mixture on the cold plate from the freezer and swirl it around on the plate. If the jam runs, cook for 2-5 minutes longer and repeat the process. (The jam should firm up when it hits the cold plate and should no longer run.)

Transfer to clean glass jars and cool. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

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Flooded banks of the Brazos River, Texas, c.1910

The few Italians who came to Texas during the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were mainly explorers, adventurers or missionaries.

The Italian presence in the state goes back to the earliest years of Spanish exploration. Like Christopher Columbus, Italians were often in the employ of the Spanish during that early period of discovery. Some soldiers of fortune came from northern Italy, but the larger numbers were from Sicily and Naples, provinces that were under the Spanish crown at various times. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s explorations in 1541 included soldiers with the Italian surnames of Loro, Napolitano and Romano, among others. When Texas became a settled territory in the late 1700’s, individual Italian merchants began to arrive. Among them was Vincente Micheli who came to Nacogdoches from Brescia.

Prospero Bernardi bust

Prospero Bernardi, an Italian immigrant who took part in the Battle of San Jacinto, where he was wounded on April 21, 1836.

In 1836, when Texas won independence from Mexico, Italian-born Prospero Bernardi was one of the Texans who fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. The older cities of San Antonio, Nacogdoches and Victoria have Italian families who date back to this period. Not until the 1880’s, however, did Italian immigrants begin to arrive in Texas in large groups. Between 1880 and 1920, immigration to Texas increased from a trickle to a flood. In 1870 there were 186 Italian residents in Texas. By 1920 their numbers had swelled to 8,024.

The immigrants’ primary goal was to provide a higher standard of living for themselves and their families. The Italian immigrants were drawn by railroad and steamship advertisements, notices published in the Italian-language press, letters from Italian immigrants already in America and word-of-mouth information. Italian Texans learned to grow cotton and corn on Texas soil, to speak the English language and to adapt to their new environment. They purchased land, opened businesses and acquired a degree of geographic mobility.

Italian-owned Val Verde Winery, Del Rio, Texas

These were mostly farmers who settled in three areas: the Brazos Valley around Bryan, mainland Galveston County and Montague County in the Red River Valley. The Montague group was from northern Italy. Never large in number, they engaged in agriculture, including planting some vineyards, primarily to supply the family table, but a few small wineries operated until Prohibition. Over in southwest Texas, Frank Qualia, who came from northern Italy to Del Rio, established Texas’ oldest winery in 1883. The Val Verde Winery managed to survive Prohibition by selling table grapes from the Qualia family vineyards.

A fourth group has largely “come and gone.” These Italians were the thousands of miners and brick makers of Thurber. Between 1880 and 1920, this coal-mining town grew to a population of 10,000. Now, it is a virtual ghost town, a mere exit sign on Interstate 20, west of Fort Worth. Most of the Italians of Thurber moved to other areas when the mines and factories closed.

Another group of Italians worked building a railroad in 1881 that extended from Richmond and Rosenberg to Brownsville. So many Italians were employed that the rail line became known as the “Macaroni Line.”

Financial problems halted construction at Victoria in 1882 but many of the workers stayed in the area and settled in Victoria, Houston, San Antonio and Galveston.

The Brazos Valley Italians came from impoverished Sicily, specifically from three villages, Poggioreale, Corleone and Salaparuta. After a period of tenant farming cotton and corn, they began to acquire land, some of it being flood-prone bottom land that had been passed over by previous immigrants. Estimates in the late 1800’s on the numbers of Italians along the Brazos ranged from 2,400 to 3,000.

In 1899, heavy rainfall caused severe flooding in the Brazos bottom and some of the Italian families left the area for mainland Galveston County, where other Italians had begun to establish vegetable and fruit farms.There another weather disaster, the Galveston hurricane of 1900, created havoc for these Italian-Texans, damaging their farmland with the surging saltwater tide. (In the first week of December in 1913, major flooding occured in the state of Texas. According to the official records, the Brazos crested at 42 feet at Highbank. In September of 1936, another flood hit Highbank but this time the river crested at 40 feet). However, the families stood fast, continuing their farming or finding employment in nearby Houston. Today, the Galveston County towns of League City and Dickinson retain their Italian heritage.

Bales of Cotton Saved From Flooding

The pillars of Italian cultural identity in Texas have been principally food, faith and family. First is membership in the Roman Catholic Church. This can be seen in “Italian” parishes today, such as St. Anthony’s in Bryan, Shrine of the True Cross in Dickinson, St. Francesco Di Paola in San Antonio and others. Also, the tradition of the St. Joseph Altar on the feast day, March 19, remains a custom in several Texas cities. On this day in Sicily, dishes of pasta, cakes and breads were placed on a specially decorated table in the church to symbolize food to the poor.

Second, knowledge of the preparation of Italian cuisine and the customs that go along with the celebration of the meal – such as folk music and dance – are other important factors in maintaining Italian identity. One distinguishing dance is the tarantella, almost always part of the wedding feast. Social historians describe the Sicilian tarantella as “full of movement and abandon,” a dance that centuries ago fused with the Spanish fandango, performed in the Italian style without castanets and played with a certain melody. At times the sole accompaniment is the rhythmic clapping of hands.

Annual Festa Italiana

 Festa Italiana University of St Thomas 3800 Montrose Boulevard Houston, TX

Third, the foods and folk customs are almost always shared with the family. Italian consciousness does not depend on any one of these attributes, but a sum of all of them all. It is manifested in a pride in Italian achievements, especially, in architecture and sculpture. Courthouses designed by immigrated Italian architects grace many Texas county seats. Other public spaces are anchored with sculptures by Italian-Texans. Among such artists is Pompeo Coppini, who was born in Tuscany in 1870 and arrived in Austin in 1901. His sculptures include the Littlefield Fountain at the University of Texas in Austin, the statue of Gov. Sul Ross on the campus of Texas A&M University and the Alamo Cenotaph Memorial in San Antonio, the city he made his home and where he was buried in 1957.

Littlefield Fountain at the University of Texas in Austin by Pompeo Coppini.

Oscar and Frederick Ruffini, two Genoese brothers, designed many Texas public buildings. Frederick (b.1851) arrived in Austin in 1877. He was the architect of 19th century courthouses in Henderson, Longview, Georgetown and Corsicana.  Oscar (b.1858) settled in San Angelo and was the architect for several West Texas courthouses including those in Concho, Mills, Sutton, Sterling and Crockett counties. Other Italian artists in Texas include: John C. Filippone, print maker for George Roe’s version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; Rodolfo Guzzardi, painter of landscapes, including “Palo Duro Canyon-Texas”;  sculptor Louis Amateis and Enrico Cerrachio, creator of the Sam Houston monument in Houston’s Hermann Park.

Parks, airports, streets and communities bear the names of prominent Italian immigrants, among them Bruni Park in Laredo, named for Antonio Mateo Bruni and Varisco Airport in Bryan, named for Biagio Varisco. The Italians in Texas constitute the sixth largest ethnic group in the state, according to figures from the U.S. census of 1990. In that year, when the total population of Texas was 16.9 million, the number of Texans who said they were Italian or part-Italian was 441,256.

Sources: Texas Almanac and The Italian Experience in Texas, by Valentine J. Belfiglio, Eakin Press, Austin, 1983.

A Few Oral Histories:

Photo taken in Poggioreale, Sicily in the mid 1990’s.

“In the 1870’s and 1880’s, a wave of immigrants from Sicily boosted the population of the Highbank settlement to over 300. These early settlers travelled by wagons, stage coach, by horseback and Model T Ford from the Ports of New Orleans and Galveston to the banks of the Brazos River. Many of the Highbank settlers came from Poggioreale, Sicily and from surrounding villages and towns. Poggioreale was the former home of many of Highbank’s settlers, including the Falsone, Guida, & the Falco families. Other settlers came from small towns in an around Poggioreale like Alcomo and Palermo.”

According to Mary Lena (Salvato) Hall, “My grandfather, Carlo Salvato passed away on November 22, 1949 at the age of 82. He was born in Italy on November 2, 1867. He came to the United States with his brother Frank Salvato. The two families purchased the Rogers farm that set up the beginning of the Italian farming community in High Bank. He is buried in Marlin, TX. He had five sons, Tony Salvato, Frank Salvato, Ross Salvato, Nick Salvato and Carlo Salvato and all are buried in Marlin except Tony Salvato who is buried in Houston. Four daughters Lula Lewis, Pauline Vetrano, Fena Rao and Mary LaPagelia all deceased and buried in Houston. They originally came through Louisiana.” “Our old house consisted of three bedrooms: a combination dining room and living room and a small kitchen (ten feet wide and fifteen feet long). The kitchen was located next to the bedroom, which was no bigger than today’s modern walk in closet. Linen were stored in metal trunks. Sunday clothes worn to church were hung in a cloth cabinet called chiffonier.”

“The Italian influence can still be seen with Italian surnames appearing on most of the area mailboxes!. Prominent Italian families in the Highbank area once included the Salvato family, Alfano family, the Barbera and LaBarbera families, the Burresha family, the Cangelosi family, the Catalano family, the Corpora family, the Falco family, the Falsone family, the Margoitta family, the Martino family, the Parrino family, the Salvaggio family and others.”

The following description of early Highbank comes to us from Robert Falsone who was born in Highbank in 1911 and lived there with his family that included ten children. Robert Falsone has taken the time to share many of his early memories of Highbank that provide a facinating account of life in the early days in Highbank! 

“My name is Robert Falsone and I was born in Highbank on July 24, 1911. The following are my recollections of our early life in Highbank. When I was thirteen years old, daddy hired someone to paint door frames of the house. When the painter was out for lunch, I took the bucket of paint and the brush, went behind the car garage and printed R F 13 years old. Everytime I would go behind the garage , I would look up to see 13 still on the wall. It seemed like I never would get to be 14″.

“The old house was a single wall frame house with one window in each room. A netting was tacked on the walls from the ceiling to the floor. Mother, with the help of the neighbors, papered the walls. The paste for sticking the paper to the wall was made what looked like flour mixed with warm water and brushed on the back side of the colorful paper. While the paste was still wet it stuck firmly on the netting tacked on the walls. In the winter when the North wind blew strong, the wall paper would push out and the go back against the wall. It appeared the wall was breathing.

In the flood of 1913, water stood four feet deep in the house. It seems that when the house was built, the builders forgot to put an opening in the ceiling to get in the attic. As the water began to enter the house, daddy took an ax to cut a hole big enough for us to get up in the attic. I was only two years old when the flood took place, but mother explained to me years later why there was still a hole in the ceiling”.

“My father, Dominico Parrino, was the first farmer to buy a tractor and everybody told him he could not plow a good field with the plow and big tires on the tractor, but he did well. So the next year, many of the other farmers bought tractors and are still plowing the fields that way! Course now they have even better tractors. We all had gas pumps on the land for fueling the tractors. The gas was Mobile Gas and we had the Red horse with wings on the pumps.

I remember that each winter, Dad would kill a hog on a cold day (we had no refrigeration) and we made a lot of Italian sausage and hams, which my dad smoked in a barrel and then stored them in coolers in Marlin”.

“Many of the first Sicilians to arrive in Texas took jobs as farm laborers because this was what they were most familiar doing. Soon, enterprising immigrants began selling their produce in the markets and as they acquired capital, they opened small corner grocery stores. According to the Houston City Directory for 1907, 13% of all grocery stores in Houston were owned by individuals with Italian surnames. Damian Mandola’s grandfather, Vincent, and his great uncles, Frank and Giuseppe, were among those who opened such stores. Vincent’s was located in Houston’s near east side and stocked canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables and household supplies. But, as was common for many Italian grocery store owners, Vincent also sold Italian cheeses and deli meats, such as prosciutto, salami and pancetta.

For the Italian immigrants who came to America in the early 1900s, food and cooking were (and remain for their descendants) essential components of social life. The immigrants who came to Houston maintained their culinary traditions, just as they did in such places as New York or Boston. However, the effect Italian immigrants had on Houston’s culinary landscape was more diffuse than in northeastern cities. Houston has never had a Little Italy, but scattered in neighborhoods throughout the city, Houston’s Italian groceries fostered the growth of small food empires. Damian recalls one man who parlayed his corner grocery into a pasta factory; another went door-to-door selling olive oil and cheeses. His own father started a meat packing business, which ultimately failed after an untimely accident.”

“There was always a stove in the back of all the stores where the women would cook,” muses Frankie B., who recalls making Italian sausage in the back of his parents’ store. “Our grandmothers would cook these huge Sunday meals for 50 or 60 people; our friends couldn’t believe it.” It was only natural for some of the sons and daughters of grocery store owners to start serving the recipes of their parents in a cafe setting.

The Food of Italians In Texas

Texas Ultimate Italian Sub

Ingredients:

  • 1 large round loaf of Italin bread about 10″ in diameter
  • 1/2 lb. mortadella
  • 1/2 lb. capicola
  • 1/2 lb. genoa salami
  • 1/2 lb. prosciutto di parma
  • 1/3 lb. provolone cheese
  • 1 jar (16 oz) olive salad
  • 1 jar (7 oz) roasted red peppers, sliced
  • 1 jar (12 oz) marinated artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
  • 1 jar (12 oz) mild banana peppers, sliced
  • balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Carefully slice the loaf in half . Scoop out the insides (top and bottom) to make a large cavity for the filling. Begin layering and alternating the meats, cheese and condiments. It helps to lay everything out assembly line style and layer in order, making sure to get everything evenly distributed. Use all the meat and cheese. You’ll likely have extra condiments (these can be served on the side if you like). Once the loaf has been filled, put the top back on and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Put a heavy pan over the top to weigh it down and chill the sandwich for at least 4 hours to let the flavors come together. Unwrap, slice in wedges and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Italian Quiche

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups eggplant, peeled and chopped into 1/4″ cubes
  • 1 cup zucchini, chopped into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 artichoke hearts, chopped (water packed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup egg whites (from a carton of Egg Beaters)
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, torn into pieces
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella, shredded
  • cooking spray

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large skillet over medium heat, saute onion, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper and garlic in oil for about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and fold in artichoke hearts.

In a bowl, whisk egg, egg whites, milk, black pepper, thyme and oregano. Add egg mixture, basil and mozzarella to vegetable mixture. Gently stir until eggs and mozzarella are evenly distributed.

Coat an 8″ square pan with cooking spray. Pour in quiche mixture. Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes to set.

Prego's Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Prego’s Sweet Potato Gnocchi With Shrimp

From Chef John Watt

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs Sweet Potato
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 4 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 cups Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 8 Jumbo Gulf Shrimp
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Handful of sage leaves

Directions:

Roast whole sweet potatoes drizzled with olive oil. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 mins. Remove all the skin from the sweet potatoes. Place the peeled sweet potatoes in a food processor and mix to a rough texture. Add the flour, brown sugar, parmesan cheese and the eggs and continue to process until smooth. It should look and feel like a pizza dough; very elastic.

Lightly dust flour over a wood countertop/cutting board. Separate the dough into five equal balls and begin rolling each ball out into a long thin string about 2 inches in thickness. Once all the dough balls have been rolled out, use a dough scraper/cutter to cut all five strings at once into 2 inch by 2 inch gnocchi.

Lightly dust the cut gnocchi with flour and roll each gnocchi with a dinner fork to give them the traditional design.

Heat a saute pan to medium high heat. Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot add the chopped green onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add the jumbo shrimp and cook until pink. Add the chopped parsley and toss.

In a separate saute pan; heat 4 tablespoons of butter. As the butter begins to foam around the edges add the gnocchi and sage. Toss and top with the shrimp.

And Desserts In the Sicilian Tradition……

Ricotta-Filled Zeppole

DOUGH

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 6 eggs
  • Vegetable oil for frying

FILLING

  • 2 pounds of ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips
  • 12 Maraschino cherries

Directions:

Bring water, butter and salt to a boil. When boiling add flour and stir until thoroughly mixed, for about 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and put into electric mixing bowl and cool for 10 minutes. Mixing at a low speed add 1 egg at a time allowing each egg to be absorbed.

Put dough into a pastry bag. Cut 12 pieces of wax paper into 3-inch squares and lightly dust with flour. Pipe a doughnut shape onto each piece of paper.

Heat oil to 350ºF in a deep pan. Carefully slide batter off the wax paper into the oil. Fry for 7 to 8 minutes turning every couple of minutes. Doughnuts should double in size.

Allow to cool on absorbent paper. Slice horizontally.

Mix ricotta, sugar and vanilla extract in another mixing bowl on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add chocolate chips and mix for 10 seconds.

Put cream in pastry bag and fill center of each zeppole. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and place a cherry on top of each pastry.

Cannoli

Sweet Cheese Filling

  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons candied cherries, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Drain the ricotta in a colander placed over a large mixing bowl for about two hours at room temperature. Press the cheese with a spatula to release more whey. Discard the whey and transfer drained cheese from the colander to the mixing bowl.

With an electric mixer, whip the cream in a small mixing bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Set aside. Beat the sugar and vanilla into the ricotta until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Add the cherries and chocolate chips. Cover and chill.

Shells

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 large egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water

To make the shells, sift the flour, sugar,and salt together into a large mixing bowl. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

With a fork or your hands, mix in the milk. Continue mixing until you have a soft dough. Cut the dough in half.

Roll out each half on a floured work surface to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Using a 3-1/2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough.

Heat the oil to a depth of 4 inches in a deep saucepan or deep fryer until it registers 325°F on a candy thermometer. Wrap each dough circle around a metal cannoli tube, sealing overlapping dough with the beaten egg white.

Fry in the hot oil until golden brown (about 4 minutes). Remove carefully and place on paper towels to drain and cool.

To assemble:

Fit a pastry bag with the largest tube or snip 1/2-inch off the corner of a resealable plastic bag. Pressing one finger over the tube opening or pinching the corner of the bag shut, spoon filling into the bag. Fill each cannoli tube with the filling. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 hour or until ready to serve. Makes about 30 cannoli.

 

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/06/14/little-italy-new-orleans-style/Birmingham, Alabama’s “Little Italy” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
West Virginia’s Little Italy Communities (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Baltimore’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Western Pennsylvania’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Philadelphia’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Chicago’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Cleveland’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
New England’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Italian American Neighborhoods – Boston (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Ybor City – Florida’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Little Italy – Manhattan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/03/08/new-yorks-other-little-italies/
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/03/15/little-italy-new-jersey-style/
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/04/12/delawares-little-italy/
The “Little Italies” of Michigan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
The Hill” St. Louis’ Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/05/24/indianas-little-italy-communities/


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.

 



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