Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Italian Treasures – The Glassmakers of Piegaro

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In 1292 the rulers of Venice decreed that all glass blowing was to move to the island of Murano, as this was a way to protect the city from burning from the glass workshops. The artists became virtual prisoners to their craft as the Venetians attempted to keep a monopoly on glass making and the blowers, under pain of death, were kept permanently on the island.

However, aided by local monks, two craftsmen did manage to escape and traveled south to Piegaro, near the shores of Lake Trasimeno.  The sturdy walled town was an ideal place to establish their own furnaces and glass making business. The wood from the local forests and sand from the bed of the River Nestore gave the men all the natural resources they needed. They soon gained a reputation for producing quality glass and in 1312 their services were called upon to make the glass tiles used in the glass mosaics of the facade for Orvieto’s new duomo. The glass workers were famous and creating mosaics and stained glass windows for many cathedrals.  Over time the glass industry in Piegaro grew and, by the 15th century, there were a number of small glass studios within the walls of the town. As the town’s fame and popularity increased they saw the creation of a large industrial sized factory, that today is the Museo del Vetro, Glass Museum. Here mechanised presses and automated annealing ovens were built to produce bottles, goblets and flasks on an industrial scale.

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There was also a profitable industry in producing the classic wicker based bottles, famously used for Chianti wines. Many women were employed within the town to weave the bases giving the bottles their distinctive raffia style.

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This glass works continued until the beginning of WWII when it was occupied by German soldiers.  This was a sad time in the history of Piegaro, for when Germans left, the beautiful Comune Palazzo building was mined and destroyed. Glass work continued through the efforts of the Marchesa, who lived in the Palazzo Pallavicini Piegaro, by making the remaining glass factories into worker owned cooperatives.

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Despite modernisation in the 20th century, by the 1960s the factory was proving to be inadequate for the levels of production necessary and a new premises built in the valley. Finally in 1968 the 750 year history of glass making with in the town center came to an end as the furnaces were shut down and left to cool.

The Annual Sagra della Castagna, The Chestnut Festival.  Chestnuts are roasting in every piazza, food booths offer Torta al Testo, chestnut pastries and the first wine, Mosto, barely fermented.  Full course feasts, pizza, music every night with dancing and theater performances fill the ten days of celebration.  Traditional crafts booths of straw weaving, jewelry making and glass blowing offer shopping opportunities.

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In August, travel back time to medieval days for the il Giorni del Vetro: Days of Glass Festival.  Don a medieval costume, join in the Royal Corteo and follow the drummers in a procession through the narrow cobblestone streets. This day honors Piegaro’s heritage and fame as a glass making capital of Italy, that is just as important as Murano.  Three days of festival with music, food, glass artisans working their craft and booths of glass art and jewelry.

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The Cuisine of Piegaro (Umbria) Italy

Having no access to the oceans has limited Umbria cooking to land based food, but the variety of dishes is no less plentiful for it.  Many of dishes rely on vegetables.  Locally grown lentils, cardoons, porcini mushrooms and chestnuts are important staple foods. The region’s olive trees are responsible for making some of the best olive oil in Italy.

Fresh produce and fruity, local olive oil, wild greens, mushrooms and truffles create luscious dishes without the need for additional ingredients.  White truffles are a delicacy eaten fresh in this cuisine.  Norcia provides most of Italy’s black truffles.  Recipes use truffles to elevate the plainest egg, pasta or meat dishes to a gourmet meal.  They are also made into a paste with garlic and anchovies.

Shepherding is important to the local economy, so sheep’s milk cheese is an important staple food.  Unlike most of Italy where Pecorino cheeses are aged in salt, Umbrian cheeses may be rubbed with tomato paste or buried in ashes in terracotta urns to age.  Some cheeses are aged in cool natural caves.  Each of these aging methods gives a unique texture and flavor.  Generally cheese is eaten plain or with preserved vegetables or meats, fresh fruits or simply out of hand with a glass of wine.

The local lentils are of especially high quality.  Fava beans are used to make a hearty soup seasoned with pork rinds and rosemary.  Onion soup is flavored with tomatoes, salt preserved pork, fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Freshwater fish are available and they are often made into a mixed stew called tegamaccio.   Anguille alle brace marinates freshwater eels in white wine seasoned with pepper and bay leaves before grilling.

Poultry, wild game and roasts are cooked over pans filled with herbs.  The drippings are collected and made into a sauce after the meat is finished cooking.  Chianina beef,  lamb, wood-pigeon and free range chickens are commonly eaten.  Boar and hare are especially enjoyed and Lepre alla cacciatora braises hare in red wine and is flavored with garlic, sage and bay leaves.

Norcia is well-known for the quality and variety of their cured pork products.  Over time, Norcia has come to be the general Italian term for butcher, due to the quality of the meats from this area.  In addition to the salame, they produce mazzafegati, a pungent sausage made from liver and flavored with pignolis, raisins and orange rind. Porchetta and Prosciutto di Norcia.from Umbria are very highly prized.

Dried pasta and many handmade kinds of egg pasta are eaten in Umbrian cuisine.  Tagliatelle with meat sauces are popular.  Hand rolled ciriole and stringozzi look somewhat like the more familiar spaghetti.  These are often enjoyed with a fresh sauce of black olives, tomatoes and garlic.  Spaghetti alla norcina is served with black truffle sauce.

Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio.  Tore, springy pecorino or pork rind flavored breads, are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough. Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves.  A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit.

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Fettuccine With Black Truffle Sauce

Ingredients

12 oz fresh fettuccine or tagliatelle
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 anchovy fillet, mashed
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 medium Umbrian black truffles, (or any black truffle you can get), cleaned of soil, grated
6 quarts water

Directions

While pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over very low heat.
Sauté the crushed garlic for 2 minutes. Do not let it brown. Remove the garlic.
Add the anchovy, cooking gently, crushing it to a paste with a wooden spoon.
Add the truffles and heat through.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Immediately mix in the truffle sauce. If you prefer the sauce moister, or it seems too dry, add one tablespoon of the reserved liquid at a time till desired moistness is reached.

Serve on pre-heated plates.

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Pork Roast Braised with Milk

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (5-pound) boneless pork shoulder roast (without skin), tied
3 juniper berries (see note, below), crushed
2 large rosemary sprigs
2 large sage sprigs
4 dried bay leaves
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups whole milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack in the middle.

Heat oil in a wide 5 to 6 quart ovenproof heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers, then lightly brown roast on all sides with juniper berries and herbs, 8 to 10 minutes total. Add garlic and sprinkle roast with sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then cook until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Pour wine over roast and briskly simmer until reduced by half. Pour milk over roast and bring to a bare simmer.

Cover pot and braise in oven, turning roast occasionally, until tender (milk will form curds), 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer roast to a carving board and loosely cover. Strain juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl (discard solids), reserving pot, and skim off fat. Return juices to pot and boil until flavorful and reduced to about 2 cups. Season with sea salt and pepper. Slice roast and serve moistened with juices.

Notes:

Juniper berries can be found in the spice aisle at supermarkets.
Pork can be braised 1 day ahead and chilled in liquid, uncovered, until cool, then covered. Bring to room temperature, then reheat and proceed with recipe.

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Asparagus, Peas and Basil

Ingredients

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 pound shelled fresh peas (2 1/2 cups; 1 3/4 pound in pods) or 1 (10-ounce) package thawed frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Handful of torn basil leaves (about 3/4 cup)

Directions

Cook shallots in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes.

Stir in asparagus, peas, sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then seal skillet with foil. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender but still slightly al dente, about 8 minutes.

Stir in basil and sea salt to taste.

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Apricots with Amaretto Syrup

Ingredients

10 firm-ripe large apricots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
6 amaretti (Italian almond macaroons), crumbled (1/3 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts for sprinkling

Directions

Peel apricots with a vegetable peeler, then halve and pit. Finely chop 2 halves and set aside.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook sugar, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Stir in Amaretto (be careful; syrup will spatter) and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes.

Working in 2 batches, poach apricot halves in syrup at a low simmer, turning, until almost tender, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apricots, hollow sides up, to a platter.

Add crumbled amaretti to syrup and cook over low heat, crushing cookies with back of a wooden spoon, until melted into a coarse purée.

Stir in reserved chopped apricot and gently simmer, stirring, until syrup is deep brown and slightly thickened. Cool syrup slightly.

Spoon syrup over apricots and sprinkle with pine nuts (if using). Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Making Semifreddo

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Semifreddo desserts are easy to make but look and taste like you took a class at Le Cordon Bleu! Semifreddo is an Italian word meaning “half cold” or “half frozen.” It refers to a class of frozen desserts that are similar to ice cream, but made with heavy cream instead of churning air into the mixture while it freezes. Semifreddos are very similar to mousses and are often served in the form of ice cream cakes or tarts.

There are many different recipes for semifreddo, that use different bases to mix with the cream. In Italy, semifreddo is commonly made with gelato. Cooked custards and custard-based sauces are another common choice to mix with the cream. One of the biggest benefits of making semifreddo is that you don’t need an ice cream maker or other specialty equipment to make it. Many semifreddo recipes involve no cooking at all. The most difficult part of making semifreddo is waiting for it to freeze, which typically takes from several hours to overnight in your freezer.

Semifreddos are a great base for just about any flavor or combination of flavors. Once you learn the basics of the recipe, you can customize your semifreddo with your favorite blends of fruits, chocolate, coffee, spices and more! Best of all, the texture and flavors are delicious. For semifreddos with a crust, use a springform pan so it’s easier to remove and present. But you could just as easily form the crust in the bottom of a loaf pan and mold your semifreddo on top of that. Using individual ramekins works well, too.

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Raspberry & Chocolate Semifreddo

Ingredients

  • 1 (9 ounce) box chocolate wafer cookies
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1⁄4 cup (1 ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen, unsweetened raspberries (if using frozen berries, thaw before use)

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Break cookies into pieces and place in a food processor; process to finely ground crumbs. Combine crumbs with 1/4 cup of the sugar and the butter. Press crumb mixture evenly over bottom and halfway up sides of a 9 inch round and 3 inch deep springform pan. Bake 10 minutes or until crust is set; cool on wire rack 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in large bowl of electric mixer, using the whip attachment, whip cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add cream; beat at medium speed until soft peaks form; transfer to another bowl and chill.

In clean bowl of electric mixer, combine egg whites and 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Place bowl over a pot of simmering water (not touching bottom of bowl); whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 130 degrees F.  Place bowl on the stand mixer; using the whip attachment, beat on high-speed until meringue forms and mixture is room temperature, 3 to 4 minutes.

Place raspberries and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor. Process until pureed. Place mixture in a strainer placed over a large bowl. Press firmly on the raspberry mixture to extract all the juice. Discard seeds. Gently stir in half the meringue. Gently stir in half of the whipped cream mixture. Repeat stirring in remaining meringue and whipped cream until well combined.

Pour mixture over cooled crust, smoothing top. Cover tightly with foil. Freeze at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, run a thin spatula between semifreddo and edge of rim to loosen. Remove rim from spring-form pan. Cut semifreddo into wedges; serve immediately. If there is any remaining semifreddo, reattach the rim of the springform pan, cover and return to the freezer for up to 1 week.

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Pistachio, Strawberry and Vanilla Semifreddo

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided, plus 1/2 cup
  • 1 cup whole milk, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries (about 4 ounces), hulled, halved
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 cups chilled heavy(whipping) cream

Directions

Line a metal loaf pan (approximately 9x5x3″) with 2 layers of plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides.

Grind pistachios and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor until very finely chopped. Transfer pistachio mixture to a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup milk; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl; strain, discarding solids. Stir in almond extract; set pistachio mixture aside.

Place remaining 1/2 cup milk in a separate small saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes. Set a strainer over another medium bowl; strain, discarding solids, and chill vanilla mixture.

Purée strawberries and 2 Tbsp. sugar in a food processor until smooth. Set a fine-mesh strainer over another medium bowl; strain, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible. Discard solids. Stir in vanilla extract and set strawberry mixture aside.

Whisk eggs, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium metal bowl. Set bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Beat egg mixture at high-speed until it triples in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 170°, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from over water and continue beating until thick and cool, about 3 minutes. Add one-third of egg mixture to each of the pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla mixtures; fold each just to blend.

Beat cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add one-third of cream to each of the pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla mixtures; fold each just to blend. Cover vanilla and strawberry mixtures separately; chill. Pour pistachio mixture into pan; smooth top. Cover; freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. Gently pour strawberry mixture over pistachio layer; smooth top. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. Gently fold vanilla mixture to blend; pour over and smooth top. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Fold plastic wrap over; seal tightly and keep frozen.

Uncover semifreddo. Using plastic wrap as an aid, lift from mold. Invert onto a chilled platter; peel off plastic. Slice crosswise.

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Triple Layer Berry Semifreddo

Ingredients

  • 1⁄4 cup (1 ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1⁄3 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1⁄2 cups halved and hulled fresh strawberries (6 ounces)
  • 1 1⁄2 cups fresh blueberries (6 ounces)

Directions

Coat a 9 x 5 x 3-inch metal loaf pan lightly with cooking spray. Line pan with plastic wrap extending generously over edges of pan.

In large bowl of electric mixer, using the whip attachment, whip cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add cream; beat at medium speed until soft peaks form, scraping down bowl once. Transfer to another bowl and chill.

In clean bowl of electric mixer, combine egg whites and 1/2 cup sugar.  Place bowl over a pot of simmering water (not touching bottom of bowl); whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 130 degrees F.  Place bowl on the stand mixer; using the whip attachment, beat on high-speed until meringue forms and mixture is room temperature, 3 to 4 minutes.

Combine milk and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl; set aside. Place strawberries and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a food processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to a second medium-sized bowl. Place blueberries and 1/4 cup of the sugar in clean food processor; puree until smooth. Place strainer over another medium-sized bowl; sieve blueberry mixture through strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible. Discard blueberry skins.

Gently stir 1/3 of the meringue into each of the three bowls. Gently stir 1/3 of the chilled whipped cream into each of the three bowls. Pour blueberry mixture into bottom of prepared loaf pan. Refrigerate the bowls of vanilla and strawberry mixture. Freeze loaf pan until firm, 45 minutes. Gently pour vanilla mixture over blueberry mixture; freeze 45 minutes. Gently pour strawberry mixture over the vanilla layer, smoothing top with a spatula. Pan will be full, so do not cover with foil until top is firm, about 45 minutes. Continue freezing at least 3 ½ hours or overnight.

To unmold: wrap sides of pan with a hot, wet cloth or dip briefly in a sink of warm water to loosen. Using plastic wrap as an aid, remove semifreddo from pan; place on a serving platter; discard plastic wrap.  Cut into slices; serve immediately. To store, cover and return any extra semifreddo immediately to the freezer for up to 1 week.

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Apricot Semifreddo with Blackberry Sauce

A healthier version.

Serves 12

APRICOT SEMIFREDDO

  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1 ½ cups sliced fresh apricots
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 pint fresh blackberries

BLACKBERRY SAUCE

  • 1/2 pint fresh blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

To make the Apricot Semifreddo:

Line 4-cup loaf pan with plastic wrap. Whisk egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until thick and light yellow, about 1 minute.

Bring milk to a boil in saucepan. Slowly pour hot milk over egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return to saucepan; cook over medium-low heat (do not boil), stirring often, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Strain, and cool.

Meanwhile, place dried apricots in heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water, and let stand 15 minutes, or until softened. Drain, and cool. Put in food processor with fresh apricots, and purée until smooth. Transfer to large bowl. Add custard, sour cream and almond extract.

Put egg whites in large bowl; beat until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into apricot mixture.

Pour half of mixture into prepared pan. Place 3 rows of blackberries on their sides down the center of loaf pan; top with remaining mixture. Cover; freeze at least 4 hours.
To make the Blackberry Sauce:

Press blackberries through fine-meshed sieve into bowl. Stir in sugar and lemon juice. Set aside.

Remove Apricot Semifreddo from freezer; let stand 10 minutes. Unmold onto plate, and cut into 10 slices. Drizzle with Blackberry Sauce and serve.

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Espresso Semifreddo with Dried Cherries

Serves 8

Ingredients

Semifreddo

  • 1/3 cup freshly made strong espresso or coffee, hot
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature, yolks and whites separated
  • 6 crisp amaretti cookies

Fruit

  • 1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry liqueur)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Zest of 1/4 lemon, in strips
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (1/2 pound) dried cherries

Directions

While the espresso is still hot, add all but 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir until dissolved. Cool.

Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl and with a wooden spoon or a spatula, push ricotta through. Add half of the espresso mixture, amaretto, lemon zest, and salt, and whisk until well combined.

Combine egg yolks and remaining espresso in a stainless-steel bowl and whisk until eggs are foamy. Set the bowl over, not in, a pan of simmering water, being careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Continue whisking until the mixture is foamy, light-colored, and tripled in bulk. This could take up to 10 minutes. If cooking too quickly, turn heat off and work over the hot water. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, with an electric mixer, whip egg whites until foamy. Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whip to stiff peaks.

Stir 1/4 cup of cooled yolk mixture into the ricotta mixture to lighten. Fold in the remaining yolk mixture and 1/3 of the whites. Gently fold in remaining egg whites. Spoon mixture into prepared loaf pan and gently smooth top. Crumble the amaretti cookies and spread over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze at least 24 hours.

For the fruit: Combine Kirsch and sugar in a medium stainless-steel saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Remove from heat and let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight at room temperature.

To serve:

Remove semifreddo from the freezer 20 minutes before serving. Uncover top; invert semifreddo onto a serving platter and remove plastic wrap. Cut into 1-inch slices, spoon on cherries, and serve.

Italian Cooking with Healthy Fats

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Research shows that not all fats are created equal in terms of their health effects. For heart health, you should get the majority of your fat from monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat (especially the omega-3 kind), consume less saturated fat and strictly limit trans fat because it tends to raise blood cholesterol levels. In fact, manufactured trans fat is the worst fat for your heart and, yet, it is still out there in some packaged foods.

Monounsaturated Fat – Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil is one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fat, which has long been known to help improve cholesterol levels and prevent cardiovascular disease. But that’s not all. Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help fight inflammation, high blood pressure and cancer.

Look for extra virgin olive oil, which, unlike other olive oils, has not undergone refinement that strips the oil of some flavor, phytonutrients and other beneficial compounds. Compare “best by” dates on oils and choose the furthest date, which suggests it’s fresher and more likely to contain higher levels of antioxidants. Olive oil can be used in low to moderate heat cooking; it’s generally stable up to 410 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also perfect for dipping, salad dressing and sauces.

Monounsaturated Fat – Avocado

Similar to olive oil, more than 70 percent of the fats in avocado oil are monounsaturated, plus it naturally contains beneficial antioxidants, including lutein, that is important for eye health. You’ll get the best flavor, aroma and nutrition in unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin avocado oil, which is mechanically rather than chemically extracted. Extra virgin avocado oil can take the heat a little better than olive oil, tolerating temperatures up to 475 degrees Fahrenheit, although this may vary a bit with the variety of avocado used. Avocado oil’s buttery, nutty flavor is also perfect when drizzled on steamed vegetables or grilled asparagus. Fresh avocado slices are good on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise.

Monounsaturated Fat – Tree Nuts

Most tree nuts—including macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds and pistachios—contain more heart-healthy monounsaturated fat than any other type of fat. Plus, studies suggest eating nuts regularly may help reduce the risk of major diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as boost longevity.

Try a variety of whole, raw, dry-roasted nuts, natural tree-nut butters and nut oils. Some nut oils and nut butters, such as almond, are easier to find and are less expensive than others, such as macadamia and pecan. Delicate nut oils are less heat-stable than other oils. Unrefined nut oils are best used in salad dressings and dips, drizzled over roasted vegetables or tossed with whole grain pasta and herbs.

Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fat – Oily Fish

Fish oils are rich in omega-3 fats known as EPA and DHA, which have anti-inflammatory and heart-health benefits. Research is not clear, however, on whether supplements can provide all of the benefits of eating fish regularly. Buy oily seafood that is rich in omega-3s but low in mercury, such as salmon, Arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, Pacific oysters and halibut, herring, mussels and anchovies. In general, aim for at least two 4-ounce servings of oily fish per week (which equates to about 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA daily).

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Italian Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 small head of radicchio—halved, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tender celery rib, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup pitted green olives, preferably Sicilian
  • 8 peperoncini
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved (1 cup)

Directions

In a large salad bowl, mash the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt. Whisk in the vinegar and oregano, then whisk in the olive oil. Season with pepper. Add all of the remaining ingredients and toss well. Serve.

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Italian Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 4 ripe, fresh California or Florida (large) avocados, seeded and peeled*
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

Coarsely mash (DO NOT PUREE) avocados.
Stir in vinegar.
Fold in remaining ingredients.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve with crispy bread sticks or crostini.

*Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces. If using smaller size avocados, adjust the quantity accordingly.

Guacamole is best made as close to serving time as possible. For short-term storage, seal in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the guacamole.

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Fettuccine with Sardines

Serve with a salad of bitter greens tossed with Italian vinaigrette and a glass of Pinot Grigio.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces fettuccine (whole wheat works well in this recipe)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Two 4 ounce cans boneless, skinless sardines, flaked
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant and sizzling but not brown, about 20 seconds. Transfer the garlic and oil to a large serving bowl.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the pan over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until crispy and golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in Parmesan cheese and transfer to a plate.

Whisk lemon juice, tomato paste, pepper and salt into the garlic oil in the serving bowl. Add the pasta to the bowl along with sardines and parsley. Gently stir to combine.

Sprinkled the breadcrumbs on top and serve.

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Nut-Crusted Fish with Summer Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds fresh salmon or any omega 3 fatty fish, about 1/2 inch thick
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts, pecans or nuts of choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 small red and/or orange bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch-wide strips
  • 1 large zucchini, bias-sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 large yellow summer squash, bias-sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Cut fish into 4 pieces; set aside.

Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil. Coat foil with cooking spray; set aside.

In a shallow dish, stir together cornmeal, nuts and salt.

In another dish, stir together flour and cayenne.

In a small bowl, stir together flour and cayenne.

In a small bowl, whisk egg and water.

Dip each piece of fish into the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Dip fish into egg mixture, then into the nut mixture to coat. Place in the prepared pan.

In a large bowl, combine peppers, zucchini and squash. Add oil and seasoned salt; toss to coat. Arrange vegetables next to the fish, overlapping as needed to fit.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork and vegetables are crisp-tender. Serve with lemon wedges. Makes 4 servings.

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Italian Pesto alla Trapanese

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almonds, blanched
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ pounds (about 4-5) red plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Grind almonds, garlic and herbs in the food processor. Add the oil, gradually. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the tomatoes, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over whole wheat pasta, grilled meat or fish.

Healthy Options For Kids

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Want your children to be healthy – start with healthier food.

Providing healthy food in school and at home and educating children, parents and school staff about the importance of good nutrition and exercise definitely leads to improved the health.

At home, try to serve healthy meals and have healthy snacks available, such as apples, yogurt, whole grain cereals and cut-up fresh veggies in the refrigerator.

If your child’s school does not offer physical activity and nutrition education programs, contact the principal or the school board to find out if changes can be made to these programs. Check the lunch program for healthy options for your child and if, you are not satisfied with what they offer, give your child a lunch to take to school. At the same time, try to get the school to offer healthy options for those who want them.

The good news is that as long as you provide a wide variety of nourishing foods, your child’s diet will balance out over time. Here are some healthy foods that are as good for you and your children as they taste.

Blueberries

A perfect finger food for tiny eaters, blueberries usually go on to become life-long favorites. They are packed with vitamin C for immune health and fiber that can help keep kids regular. Berries of all kinds may help combat allergies, as well

Fresh blueberries are always a favorite with children. Add them to smoothies, pancakes, muffins, desserts and even salads.

Black Beans

The darker the bean, the more nutritious it is, elevating black beans to the top of the superfood list. Their protein and fiber content help balance blood sugar and provide growing bodies with long-lasting energy. One cup of black beans also supplies about 20% of your child’s iron needs for the day.

Black beans can be added to chili, pureed into a dip with garlic, tomatoes and herbs or mixed with scrambled eggs.

Eggs

Eggs provide high-quality nutrition at an affordable price and are a great source of choline, an often overlooked but essential nutrient for brain and nervous system development. They’re also high in protein and are a good dietary source of vitamin D.

Since eggs can be added to virtually any baked good, chances are your kids are already enjoying them. Look for muffin and pancake recipes using several eggs, and experiment with omelets and frittatas. Popular combinations include: zucchini and basil, onions and potatoes, and tomato, mozzarella and ham.

Spinach

Spinach is another highly nutritious food and is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K for optimal immunity and bone health. It’s also high in iron, several B vitamins and boasts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties making it a winner for heart and eye health.

If your child likes the flavor of pesto, replace half of the basil in the recipe with fresh spinach. Use as a sandwich spread, pizza topping or pasta sauce. Frozen chopped spinach is perfect for adding to meatballs or meatloaf.

Keep on trying different foods Don’t assume that your kids will never like something, if they’ve tried it once and dismissed it. Tastes change over time.

After School Snacks

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Apple Snack Wedges

Ingredients

  • 2 medium apples
    1 cup Rice Chex (or other healthy crispy cereal), crushed
    1-1/2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

Directions

Core apples; cut each into six wedges. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a small shallow bowl, combine the cereal and brown sugar. Spread cut sides of the apples with peanut butter; roll in cereal mixture. Serve immediately.

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Strawberry Mango Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup low fat milk
    1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
    1-1/2 cups halved fresh strawberries
    1 medium mango, peeled and chopped
    4 to 6 ice cubes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

In a blender, combine all ingredients; cover and process for 30-45 seconds or until smooth. Stir if necessary. Pour into chilled glasses; serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings.

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Peanut Butter Granola Mini Bars

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
    1/3 cup honey
    1 egg
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    3-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
    1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

In a large bowl, beat the peanut butter, honey, egg, oil and vanilla until blended. Combine the oats, brown sugar and salt; add to the peanut butter mixture and mix well.

Stir in the dried fruit and chips. (Batter will be sticky.)

Press into a 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes or until set and edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into 24 bars.

Lunch Box Ideas

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Chicken Wrap

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup hummus
    1 whole wheat tortilla (8 inches), at room temperature
    1/2 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
    1/3 cup shredded cooked chicken breast
    1/2 carrot, cut into thin strips
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

Directions

Spread hummus over the tortilla; top with spinach. Place chicken, carrot and red pepper strips in a row near the center of the tortilla; roll up tightly. If desired, cut crosswise into slices. Wrap securely or pack in an airtight container; and refrigerate until serving. Yield: 1 serving.

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Lunch on a Stick

Ingredients

  • Cheddar or Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
    Grape tomatoes
    Whole wheat bread slices, cut into 1-inch pieces
    Leaf lettuce
    Sliced deli ham and/or turkey, cut into 1-inch strips
    Seedless red or green grapes
  • Wooden skewers (5 to 6 inches

Directions

Cut cheese into 1/4-inch slices. Thread a skewer with 1 piece of cheese, bread, ham or turkey, tomato, lettuce and grape. Repeat the order again on the skewer. Make 3 more skewers.

Let children be creative and place their favorite healthy ingredients on a skewer. Yield: 4 servings.

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Bean Dip & Chips

1 serving

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup fat-free canned refried beans
    1 tablespoon salsa
    1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
    1 minced scallion
  • 1 ounceh ealthy tortilla chips, (about 10)

Directions

Combine refried beans, salsa, cilantro and scallion (if using) in a bowl. Serve with tortilla chips.

Healthy Dinner Options

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Parmesan Chicken Nuggets

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
    1 cup Italian seasoned panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Marinara sauce

Directions

Place butter in a shallow bowl.

Combine the panko crumbs, cheese, garlic powder and salt in another shallow bowl.

Dip chicken in butter, then roll in crumbs.

Place in a single layer on two 15-inch x 10-inch x 1-inch baking pans.

Bake at 375°F for 15-18 minutes or until no longer pink, turning once. Serve with marinara sauce, if desired.

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Pizza Meatloaf Cups

These are great to reheat for a quick dinner on soccer night.

Ingredients

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    1/2 cup pizza sauce
    1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
    1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
    1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef
    1-1/2 cups (6 ounces each) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Additional pizza sauce

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the egg, pizza sauce, bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well.

Divide among 12 greased muffin cups; press onto the bottom and up the sides. Fill the center with cheese.

Bake at 375° F for 15-18 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink.

Serve with additional pizza sauce, if desired. Or cool, place in freezer bags and freeze for up to 3 months.

To use frozen pizza cups: Thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Heat on a microwave-safe plate on high for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 1 dozen.

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Vegetable Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 2 medium carrots
    1 medium green bell pepper
    1 medium onion
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2 cups marinara sauce
    2 cups part skim milk ricotta cheese,
    2 cups (16 oz) shredded part skim milk mozzarella cheese, divided
    3 oz grated parmesan cheese
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz lasagna noodles, no boil

Directions

Chop carrots, green pepper and onion.
In a skillet, saute the vegetables in oil. Stir in the 2 cups of marinara sauce to heat it through.

In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, salt and egg.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread 1 cup sauce mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish coated with olive oil cooking spray.

Layer 1/2 each, uncooked lasagna noodles, cheese mixture, sauce,. Repeat layering, and top with remaining cheese.

Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese.

Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees F  for 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

Italian Treasures – Matera

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Matera is a city and a province in the region of Basilicata, in southern Italy. Historically, the region is one of Italy’s poorest and also one of its least populated. The town lies in a small canyon, that has been eroded over the  years by a small stream. Matera was built above a deep ravine called Gravina of Matera and the ravine divides the territory into two areas. Matera was built in a way that made it difficult to provide a water supply to its inhabitants. Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels to compensate.

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In later years, during some restoration work in the main square of the town, workers came across what was believed to be the main footings of a castle tower. However, on further excavation, these footings turned out to be large Roman cisterns. Whole house structures were also discovered and one can see how the people of that era lived. Found under the main square of the modern city was a large underground reservoir, complete with columns and a vaulted ceiling.

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Les Sassi et le parc des églises rupestres de Matera

The city was allegedly founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC and, In AD 664, Matera was conquered by the Lombards. In the 7th and 8th centuries the nearby grottos were colonized by both Benedictine and Basilian monastic institutions. The 9th and 10th centuries were characterized by the struggle between the Byzantines and the German emperors. In the 15th century the city became an Aragonese possession and was given in fief to the barons of the Tramontano family. In 1514, however, the population rebelled against the oppression and killed Count Tramontano. In the 17th century Matera became part of the Terra d’Otranto di Puglia. Later, it was the capital of Basilicata and, in 1927, it became capital of the province of Matera. In 1943, the Materani rose against the German occupation, the first Italian city to fight against the Wehrmacht.

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Matera3Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the “Sassi di Matera” (meaning “stones of Matera”). The Sassi originated from a prehistoric settlement and are believed to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. The Sassi houses were dug into the calcareous rock, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia. Many of these “houses” are really only caverns and the streets in some parts of the Sassi are located on the rooftops of houses.

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Known as “la Città Sotterranea” (the Subterranean City), Matera is well-known for its historical center called “Sassi” and has been considered a World Heritage site by UNESCO since 1993, along with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches. Matera preserves a large and diverse collection of buildings related to the Christian faith, including a large number of rupestrian churches carved from the soft volcanic rock of the region. These churches were listed in the 1998 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund. There are many other churches and monasteries dating back throughout the history of the Christian church. Some are simple caves with a single altar and maybe a fresco, often located on the opposite side of the ravine. Some are complex cave networks with large underground chambers, thought to have been used for meditation by the monks.

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In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to other areas of the developing modern city. Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since these houses were mostly uninhabitable. Current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented and has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi homes with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO and Hollywood. Because of the ancient and primitive scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by filmmakers as the setting for ancient Jerusalem in their films. Today, there are many thriving businesses, pubs and hotels.

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The Cuisine of Matera

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The cuisine of Matera has much in common with the surrounding regions of Apulia, Campania, Calabria and Abruzzo and often make use of ingredients that are difficult to find elsewhere . For example, a special flour called farina di grano arso (literally, burnt wheat flour) is popular in the region. This flour was traditionally obtained by milling durum wheat grains gathered from the fields after the stubble had been burnt. A back-breaking job collecting burnt berries. However, in a situation of need, they were better than nothing. The grano arso was then milled and mixed with regular durum flour to make pasta, bread and focaccia. Today, this flour is obtained through toasting the seeds, a safer process, since burning produces unhealthy compounds. The resulting gray flour smells slightly smoky and is appreciated for its unusual color and pleasant nutty flavor.

Other pastas dishes include orecchiette (ear-shaped handmade pasta) prepared with fresh tomato or with turnip tops, broccoli, cauliflower or with breadcrumb and sultana grapes.

In this Province, peperoncino (hot pepper) is widely used and goes by at least three different names: diavolicchio, francisella and cerasella. Local favorites include legume soups made from cicerchie (a hybrid between a fava bean and chick pea); fresh wild chicory served on pureed fava beans or Peperoni di Senise – red peppers that are dried, then fried and salted and used as seasoning for several dishes. A wheat and chickpea soup is made with stale bread, eggs, olives, tomatoes and other vegetables.

Another typical dish is cotto di fichi (cooked figs), a type of cream made with boiled and dried figs. The local Cardoncello mushroom is cooked in different ways or eaten raw with ricotta cheese, lemons and olive oil. Special Easter dishes include cardoons with caciocavallo cheese and eggs, pirc buzz (pasta with a mulled wine dressing) and fusilli with fried breadcrumbs and baked figs. Majatica Olives from Ferrandina (in the province of Matera) are eaten without curing, but fried and salted instead.

Fish dishes are very common, for example, scapece (fried anchovies marinated with vinegar) and dried salted cod (baccalà) is prepared with peppers. Eel is cooked with hot peppers, tomatoes, mint and laurel.

Vegetables are widely used and offer a range of dishes spiced with a hint of pepperoncino. Typical vegetable dishes include, vegetable calzone, ciammotta (fried potatoes, peppers and eggplants with tomato sauce), cialledda with broad beans, potatoes and artichokes and lampaggioni (wild onion) salad.

Fresh meat is scarce and lamb or sheep are traditional when meat is served. On occasion, a mutton stew that gets cooked in a traditional tall earthenware pot covered with a layer of bread dough can be found. The dish is left to simmer for several hours in a wood burning oven. Pork sausages can also be found, such asSalsicce Lucane that are seasoned with fennel seeds and a touch of peperoncino. Another typical dish is the gammarid, special rolls filled with sheep and kid giblets.

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Cheeses of the region are: ricotta, sheep’s milk cheese and burrata (fresh mozzarella and cream cheese). Meals are served with Pane di Matera, an oven baked bread made with durum wheat flour. It has a very hard crust and is a light yellow color.

Typical desserts are: figs with honey; pasch nisch, a September dessert prepared with semolina and wine; cuccìa, a boiled wheat dessert mixed with chocolate, pomegranate, walnuts and mulled wine. Wines of the region include: Val Bradano, Sangiovese, Moscato, Malvasia and Elixir di noci.

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Spinach Pies

Dough

  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water

Filling

  • 3 lbs fresh spinach
  • 5 tablespoons paprika
  • 3 tablespoons minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Prepare the dough:

Put the flour in a bowl and make a hollow or depression in the center.

Pour in the olive oil. Then, using a spoon, mix the flour and olive oil until it forms what looks like little beads. Add the water to the mixture. Knead by hand until the dough has a soft texture.

Divide the dough in 10 equal parts. Form the equal parts into balls and set aside.

Prepare the spinach filling:

Combine the paprika, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Wash the spinach and shake out the excess water. Place the spinach into a large bowel. Add the onion, garlic and seasonings and mix well.

Pour the olive oil over the spinach. Toss gently to coat the spinach evenly.

Make the pies:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured board, roll out each ball of dough into circles about 8 inches in diameter.

Place 1 cup of the prepared spinach leaves on each dough circle.

Fold dough in half, completely enclosing the filling and crimp edges to hold together.

Bake about 35-40 minutes until pies are golden brown.

Serve immediately or cool and serve at room temperature.

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Piatto d’erbe Alla Lucana

Ingredients

  • 3 large onions
  • 2 eggplant
  • 2 large yellow bell peppers
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Handful of basil
  • Handful of parsley
  • Crostini (bread slices), toasted or grilled
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Dice the eggplants and put them on a plate, sprinkle with salt and leave them for an hour, so that they lose their bitterness. Wash and dry the eggplant.
Peel the onions and cut into thin rings.
Cut the peppers into strips. Peel and chop the tomatoes, discarding the seeds. Chop the parsley and basil together with the garlic.
Pour a half a cup of olive oil into a saucepan and add the onions; when they are wilted add the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, add salt to taste, stir and cook for about 10 minutes.
Add the basil, parsley and garlic, stir again and continue cooking over medium heat, uncovered, for about an hour. Serve the vegetables with the crostini.

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Cutturiddu – Lamb Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • Salt and black pepper  to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 8 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 1 whole sprig rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Dry the lamb with paper towels. Rub the pieces with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until it is fragrant. Brown the lamb well on all sides and place in a ovenproof casserole with a cover.

Add the potatoes to the skillet. Salt and pepper them and saute until lightly brown. Add the potatoes to the casserole along with the tomatoes and remaining ingredients except the grated cheese. Cover and bake for about 2 hours.

Uncover and sprinkle on the cheese. Serve immediately.

Figs with honey cheese and nuts

Orange Ricotta Stuffed Figs

Ingredients

  • 12 medium ripe fresh figs
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pistachio nuts

Directions

Remove stem ends from the figs. Cut each into a tulip shape by slicing in quarters from the stem almost to the blossom end. Press on the stem end to open petals.

In a blender or food processor, process the ricotta, orange zest and juice, and honey. Stuff each fig with 2 tablespoons ricotta and sprinkle the chopped nuts on top.

Making Pickles

 

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Cucumbers are in season and they are plentiful at the Farmers’ Market. Want to make something other than cucumber salad? Try pickles. Making pickles isn’t complicated. You can preserve homemade pickles using three basic methods: lactic fermentation (cured with a salt brine), canning (soaked in pickling lime) or refrigeration (immersed in a vinegar solution).

Brined Pickles

Many enthusiasts swear fermentation yields a better pickle than the pickles made with vinegar. They are also called “crock pickles” or “brine pickles”.

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Procedure:

Place the recipe ingredients inside the crock. Make the pickle brine and pour into the crock. Cover with a weight to keep food submerged and drape with a towel to keep out the dust. Ferment at room temperature for 2 or more weeks. Check container daily and skim any scum from the top. Fermentation bubbles may be visible. Taste pickles regularly.

When the pickles reach a flavor you like, you have three options for storing them:

1. Refrigerate to slow fermentation. Pickles should last 4 to 6 months this way. Note that pickled vegetables last longer than pickled fruits, which generally keep well for only 2 to 3 months.

2. Store in a dark, cool spot, such as the basement, where your homemade pickles will continue to ferment but should stay safe for several months.

3. Can fermented pickles for extended storage. The heat of canning compromises their crisp texture and kills the beneficial bacteria, but the flavor will remain. Canned fermented food could last a couple of years.

Kosher Dill Pickles

This recipe, adapted from, The Joy of Pickling, uses grape, oak or sour cherry leaves, which contain tannins believed to help keep fermented homemade pickles crisp. Store-bought, canned grape leaves will also work. Yield: 1 gallon.

Equipment

Clean, gallon-sized glass jar or ceramic crock

Gallon-sized plastic bag or fitted crock weights

Ingredients

  • 1 handful clean grape, oak or sour cherry leaves
  • Approximately 6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch unwaxed pickling cucumbers (preferably freshly picked), scrubbed and rinsed
  • Peeled cloves from 2 to 3 heads of garlic
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons unrefined sea salt or pickling salt
  • 1/4 cup dill seed or 2 handfuls dill fronds

Directions

Place the leaves in the bottom of a clean crock. Slice blossom ends off the cucumbers and pack cucumbers into the crock, smallest ones first, adding garlic cloves throughout. Do not fill the crock more than two-thirds full.

In a separate container, stir together water, vinegar, salt and dill until salt dissolves. Pour this brine over the cucumbers until the liquid is an inch above the cucumbers when you’re pressing them down. If your crock has weights, set them on top of the cucumbers to submerge them. If you don’t have special weights, fill a gallon-sized plastic bag with water and set it on top to keep cucumbers submerged. Cover the crock with towel to keep out dust.

Ferment pickles for 1 to 4 weeks at room temperature, checking crock daily. Scum may develop on top; this is normal. Carefully lift off the weight and rinse it to remove scum. Skim scum from the top of the container before replacing the weight and towel. Do this daily.

You may notice bubbles after the first few days, indicating lactic fermentation is underway. After a week, begin tasting the pickles daily. Keep fermenting until you enjoy the flavor.

To store, place crock in a cool, dry, dark spot (the basement, for example), or remove pickles to smaller, lidded containers in the refrigerator. (If using metal lids, place a piece of plastic wrap between the container and the lid.) You may rinse fermented pickles and cover them with fresh pickle brine and seasonings or strain and reuse the original brine. The pickle flavor will improve after about a month in cooler conditions.

Note: If pickles become slimy or moldy during fermentation, discard them and try again.

Canned Vinegar Pickles

(If you are new to canning methods, the Ball Canning Company has excellent directions. visit their website at  http://www.freshpreserving.com/getting-started)

Most modern pickling recipes rely on an acetic acid (vinegar) solution and heat treatment to preserve the vegetables. Vinegar pickles can be sweet, spicy or extremely sour. Popular examples include bread-and-butter pickles, sour gherkins and dill beans. You must use vinegar with at least 5 percent acidity to produce pickles that are safe for long-term storage.

Distilled white vinegar is the best choice because it’s inexpensive and won’t darken the cucumbers and  its flavor is mild in comparison to cider, malt or wine vinegars. Avoid using rice vinegar and homemade vinegars, because their acidity is usually too weak. Always use canning recipes that have been tested for safety.

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Procedure:

Heat vinegar, water and seasonings to make a brine. Pack whole or chopped ingredients into sterilized canning jars. Cover with hot brine, leaving appropriate head space. Apply lids and rings. Process jars in a boiling water bath.

Vinegar-Preserved Old-Fashioned Lime Pickles

This combination of ingredients and techniques makes a super-crisp, complex flavored sweet-and-sour pickle. Pre-soaking cucumbers in pickling lime keeps them very crisp.

Yield: 4 quarts.

Equipment

4 quart-sized canning jars with lids and rings

Water bath canner with rack

Candy thermometer

Ingredients

Approximately 6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch unwaxed pickling cucumbers (preferably freshly picked), scrubbed and rinsed

Soaking Solution

  • 1 cup food-grade pickling lime (calcium hydroxide)
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt
  • 1 gallon cold water

Syrup Mixture

  • 2 quarts cider or white wine vinegar (minimum 5 percent acidity; cider vinegar will darken pickles)
  • 6 cups granulated sugar or 5-1⁄4 cups honey (honey will darken the brine)
  • 2-1⁄2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt or pickling salt
  • 2 teaspoons mixed pickling spice, store-bought or homemade
  • 3 pounds white or yellow onions, diced

Homemade Pickling Spice

Enclose the spices in cheesecloth and close the top with kitchen string.

  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1-inch piece of turmeric root, peeled, or 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small, whole, dried chile pepper or 1/2 teaspoon crushed, dried chile pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves

To prepare cucumbers for soaking:

Cut them into quarter-inch slices and discard the ends. In a 2-gallon or larger non reactive (glass, plastic or ceramic) container mix pickling lime with salt and water. Add cucumbers and soak for 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Scoop slices from lime solution, rinse in a colander and soak for 1 hour in fresh, cold water. Repeat rinsing and soaking in cold water at least two more times to completely remove the pickling lime. Drain well.

In a large pot, whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt and pickling spice or your homemade spice packet. Add onions. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes to make a syrup.

Sterilize 4 quart-sized canning jars and lids in boiling water. Pack cucumbers and onions into the jars and pour hot syrup over them, leaving a half-inch head space. Use a knife or chopstick to eliminate air bubbles. Wipe jar rims clean. Apply lids and rings.

The pickles can be canned via low-temperature pasteurization to avoid the higher heat that softens them.

To pasteurize:

Fill the canner halfway with water and heat to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Set filled jars in the canner and continually monitor water temperature for 30 minutes. Make adjustments to maintain 180 degrees for the duration. The thermometer reading should never exceed 185 degrees. (Learn more about how to make pickles using the low-temperature pasteurization method at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.)

Alternatively, process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. The flavor of vinegar pickles will improve after about a month in storage.

Refrigerator Pickles

Sometimes called “quick pickles,” refrigerator pickles are technically vinegar pickles minus the canning. You can adjust a refrigerator pickle recipe — to use less salt or sugar or none at all — without food-safety fears. Refrigerator pickles stay crisp because the cucumbers are not subjected to heat. Making pickles using this method is fast and they are typically ready to eat within a day but should be consumed within a few months.

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Procedures:

Prepare vinegar solution and pour over sliced vegetables. Cover and refrigerate.

Easy Refrigerator Pickles

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves
  • 6 pickling cucumbers
  • 3/4 ounce fresh dill

Directions

Combine water, vinegar, sugar, kosher salt, peppercorns, dill seed, mustard seeds and garlic in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; stir.

Quarter pickling cucumbers lengthwise or in thick round circles and place in a 1 quart glass jar; add fresh dill. Top with hot vinegar mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Pickles will be ready to eat the next day and will stay good for roughly a month.

pickles1

Any combination of vegetables can be used in place of the cucumbers in the easy refrigerator pickle recipe. Here are a few examples:

  • 6 Kirby cucumbers, quartered lengthwise
  • 6 young spring carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 handful large scallion pieces or green beans
  • A few pieces of cauliflower
  • 4 small hot red chiles or 2 jalapenos

pickles

Interested in learning how to prepare Nordic Food? Here is your chance.

From September 13-20, 2014, New York City will be hosting the second annual NORTH Food Festival. You can attend one of the elegant dinners or attend the first ever Nordic Hot Dog Championship where Chefs battle it out for the prestigious title of Nordic Hot Dog Champion. If you will be in the area, you may want to sign up for some cooking classes. Here are just two of the featured classes. The remainder are listed on the website.

Cooking Lessons on Preparing  Nordic Seafood

http://www.eventbrite.com/e/cooking-class-taste-and-cook-with-the-future-of-food-seafood-from-norway-tickets-12487589717

Cooking Lessons on Nordic Pastry Making

http://www.eventbrite.com/e/cooking-class-nordic-pastry-class-with-chef-maria-ostberg-presented-by-fika-tickets-12487679987

Here is a Video from the 2013 Festival to pique your interest.

http://vimeo.com/77597221

For more information on the North Food Festival:

http://honestcooking.com/north-food-festival-new-york-city/

 

Tomato Season

tomatoseason

A single plant can produce over a dozen tomatoes, which means you can give a basket to the neighbors and still include almost every meal with this nutrient-rich fruit. Serve them in pasta, pizza, vinaigrettes and even desserts. Paired with the right spices, tomatoes can be sweet, tangy or tart.

Sometimes the best way to enjoy fresh produce is to free it from heavy sauces or other flavor-masking extras. Serve a Mediterranean-inspired stuffed tomato with feta, olives and a little basil. It’s a great complement to any grilled entrée or add a little chopped chicken to the mix and serve on its own. Use sturdy, ripe tomatoes for optimal flavor and presentation.

When the temperature climbs, dinner cravings often tend toward light and simple. Make a pasta dish that’s packed with the freshest of ingredients, including fresh mozzarella, garlic, basil and, of course, tomatoes. A little olive oil adds flavor that rounds out the simple sauce.

Fresh tomato salsas, chutneys and dressings add color and flavor to almost any meat. Try it with grilled sea bass for a refreshing summer dish. A warm vinaigrette dressing pairs well with fluffy couscous, so make extra to use on other main dishes.

Update pizza night by replacing the standard jarred tomato sauce with a homemade basil pesto sauce. Top a store-bought pizza dough with the pesto, then layer on chopped tomatoes, garlic, provolone and a few sprinkles of basil and bake for a quick homemade pizza.

Looking for some new ideas on how to use tomatoes? Have you thought of these?

tomatoseason1

Roasted Tomato Soup with Shrimp

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 medium ripe tomatoes, quartered and seeded (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
  • 1 medium red onion, cut in wedges
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup torn crusty country bread
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water (optional)
  • 12 ounces peeled and deveined cooked shrimp, chilled
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, sweet pepper quarters, onion wedges and garlic between two 15x10x1 inch baking pans. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Roast 30 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and vegetables are lightly browned on edges.

Place roasted vegetables and any pan juices in a large food processor. Add bread. Cover and process until smooth. Transfer to a large serving bowl.

Stir in vinegar, basil, salt and pepper. If desired, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water to make a thinner consistency. Cover; chill at last 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

Spoon soup in bowls. Top with shrimp. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and, if desired, sprinkle with parsley.

tomatoseason2

Chicken-Stuffed Tomatoes

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds cooked chicken breast
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar or regular balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 large tomatoes (8 to 10 ounces each)
  • 2 thin slices firm-texture whole wheat bread, toasted and cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Chop enough meat to measure 2 cups; save the remaining chicken for another use.

In a medium bowl, combine the 2 cups chicken, the spinach, green onions, basil, vinegar, oil and garlic. Toss to evenly coat.

Cut a 1/4 inch-thick slice from the stem end of each tomato. Using a spoon, carefully scoop out the tomato pulp, leaving a 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick shell.

Place shells, open sides up, on a serving plate. Discard tomato seeds. Chop enough of the tomato pulp to measure 1/2 cup; reserve remaining pulp for another use.

Stir the 1/2 cup tomato pulp into the chicken mixture.

Divide chicken mixture among tomato shells. Top with bread cubes and cheese.

tomatoseason3

Pork Chops in Herbed Tomato Sauce

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 pork rib chops, cut 1 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup minced yellow onions
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large clove mashed garlic
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped Italian parsley

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Dry the pork chops on paper towels. Heat the oil in a heavy, 10-12 inch oven-proof skillet with a cover.

Brown the chops, 2 or 3 at a time, on each side for 3 to 4 minutes. As they are browned, transfer them to a side dish.

Add the onions, cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes. Mix in the flour and stir over low heat for 2 minutes more. Stir in the tomatoes and the next four ingredients.

Cover and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Stir in the wine and beef stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Return the pork chops to the pan and push them into the sauce.

Cover the pan and bring to simmer on top of the stove, then set the pan in the lower third of the preheated oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chops are done.

Arrange the chops on a serving platter and pour the sauce over the chops. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

tomatoseason4

Tomato-Artichoke Focaccia

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 – 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (120 degrees F to 130 degrees F)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 1/4 pounds plum (Roma) tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 10-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary
  • 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced and separated into rings
  • 4 cloves garlic, cut into thin slivers

Directions

In a large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups of the flour, the yeast and salt. Add the warm water and the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping side of bowl constantly. Beat on high-speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in cornmeal and 2 cups of the remaining flour.

You can also use the dough hook on the electric mixer for this addition and the addition of the remaining flour below, instead.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3 to 5 minutes total). Shape dough into a ball. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to oil the surface.

Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place until double in size (45 to 60 minutes). Punch down dough; let rest for 10 minutes.

Grease a 15x10x1 inch baking pan. Place dough in the prepared baking pan. Gently pull and stretch dough to the edges of the baking pan, being careful not to overwork dough.

Lightly coat dough with cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let dough rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (about 30 minutes).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Arrange tomato and artichoke slices on a double thickness of paper towels. Let stand for 15 minutes. Change paper towels as necessary so all of the excess liquid is absorbed from tomatoes and artichokes.

Using your fingers, press deep indentations in the dough 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart. Brush dough with the 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with rosemary. Arrange tomatoes, artichokes, onion rings and garlic slivers evenly on top of dough.

Bake about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into rectangles. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 12 servings.

tomatoseason5

Pan Roasted Fish Fillets With Tomato Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 (6-oz.) fish fillets (3/4- 1 inch thick) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1 tablespoon shredded basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced

Directions

Pat fish dry with paper towels. Season fish with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook fish in hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 3 minutes on each side. Transfer fish to a plate and keep warm.

Add onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté 2 minutes or until the onion is tender. Stir in capers, basil, oregano and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook 1 minute.

Reduce heat to low, add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Return fish to the pan with the tomato sauce and heat gently. Serve fish topped with the sauce.


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