Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Basil

basil-varieties

Basil comes in many different varieties, each of which have a unique flavor and smell. Described below are 12 varieties, but there are even more – well over sixty.  I never realized that there were so many varieties of basil until I shopped at a nursery for my plants. If it weren’t for its distinctive smell, it would be difficult to recognize all the different kinds of basil.   Leaves range from a mint color to dark green to purple and grow in size from tiny to large – some are even ruffled!

Basil is traditional in Italian, Mediterranean and Thai cuisine. It is superb with veal, lamb, fish, poultry, white beans, pasta, rice, tomatoes, cheese and eggs. It blends well with garlic, thyme and lemon. Basil adds zip to mild vegetables like zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, parsnips, spinach and to the soups, stews and sauces that contain these vegetables. Basil is also one of the ingredients in the liqueur, Chartreuse.

Bring the wonderful fragrance of basil indoors by incorporating them in potpourri, sachets and dried winter bouquets. The sweet-scented Opal basil and Thai basil are particularly good for these projects. Other fragrant varieties include lemon, lime and cinnamon basil.

basil-christmas
1. Christmas Basil

With 2-inch, glossy green leaves and purple flowers, Christmas basil adds fruity flavor to salads and drinks, and the plants are gorgeous in the landscape. A beautiful border plant, it averages 16 to 20 inches tall and combines the attributes of both Sweet and Thai basil.

basil cinnamon2. Cinnamon Basil

This basil variety has a delightful fragrance and spicy flavor. A beautiful, 25 to 30 inch tall plant with dark-purple stems and flowers accented with small, glossy leaves. it’s a favorite basil to use for fresh arrangements, garnishes and in fruit salads.

basil-dark-opal

3. Dark Opal Basil

Dark Opal basil adds color to fresh summer floral displays and depth to dried arrangements and wreaths. Beautiful and spicy in a salad or as a garnish, it can also be made into pesto, which adds an unexpected color and flavor to your pasta or bruschetta. The plants are attractive in the herb garden, ranging from 14 to 20 inches in height with purple stems, flower and leaves.

basil-holy

4. Holy Basil

A revered plant in the Hindu religion, Holy basil is also referred to as Sacred basil or Tulsi. Its leaves can be used to make tea for boosting your immune system. It is a beautiful plant in the garden with mottled green and purple leaves and grows to about 12 to 14 inches tall.

basil-lemon

5. Lemon Basil

This basil variety can be added to salads and fish dishes. A sprig of Lemon basil in a glass of iced tea is particularly delightful on a hot summer day. The 20 to 24 inch plants are light green with white flowers and 2½ inch long leaves.

basil-lime

6. Lime Basil

With small green leaves on compact 12 to 16-inch plants with white flowers, this basil variety’s lime scent and flavor makes it great in fish and chicken dishes. A simple syrup infused with Lime basil is a delicious addition to tea and margaritas.

basil-spicy-bush

7. Spicy Bush Basil

Spicy Bush basil has tiny leaves on small, mounded plants, which are perfect for pots or lining the garden in bonsai-like fashion. It only takes a few of Spicy Bush basil’s intensely flavored leaves to add a punch to a sauce or soup. The plants are a soft green and about 8 to 10 inches in height and width, with 1/2 to 1 inch long leaves.

basil-purple-ruffles

8. Purple Ruffles Basil

A feathery variation of Dark Opal, Purple Ruffles adds another dimension to the landscape, floral arrangements or garnishes. It has the same flavor as Opal basil and can be used similarly. It is a 16 to 20 inch-tall plant with 2 to 3 inch long leaves.

basil-sweet

9. Sweet Basil

This basil cultivar is the best choice for Italian sauces and soups and for making pesto. Varieties include Genovese, Napoletano, Italian Large Leaf and Lettuce Leaf. Plants range from 14 to 30 inches tall and are prolific in hot, sunny locations. Harvest the top four leaves often to keep the plant growing and sweetly flavored.

basil-sweet-thai

10. Sweet Thai Basil

An Asian variety with a distinct, spicy, anise-clove flavor, quite unlike common sweet basil, sweet Thai is a must for Asian cuisine and makes a nice addition to the herb garden for fragrance and color. It has purple stems and blooms with green leaves reaching 12 to 16 inched tall.

Basil-Greek

11. Greek Columnar

Greek Columnar’s attractive appearance is in the plant’s dense columnar shape. It does not flower, so the plant can be maintained throughout the year. It can be grown indoors in the winter. This basil has a pungent flavor that is best for stews and hearty dishes.

Basil-Lettuce-Leaf

12. Lettuce Leaf Basil

Lettuce Leaf Basil has the look of green, wrinkly lettuce but packs a bigger punch. The spicy flavor is typical of basils and tastes great with fresh tomatoes, in salads (your guests will be surprised by the rich flavor of what looks like a regular salad leaf!) and in any type of Mediterranean dishes. Pinch back the flowers to make a fuller plant.

Resources: Pantry Garden Herbs and Hobby Farms.

basil dip

Basil Herb Dip

A cool and refreshing dip for fresh vegetables and even chips and pretzels.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon country-style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice into a blender, then add the basil leaves.
Pulse until the basil is incorporated throughout the mixture.
Chill for at least 20 minutes. This will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days.
Use one of these varieties:
Basil, Sweet
Basil, Genovese
Basil, Lemon
Basil, Italian Large Leaf

basil Tuscan-Bread-SaladTuscan Bread Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 slices of thick, whole grain or crusty bread cut in chunks
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cucumber, diced
  • 4-5 jarred artichoke hearts, diced
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese cut in chunks
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives
  • 1/3 cup torn basil leaves

Directions

Gently combine the bread, vegetables, basil, and cheese together.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with vinegar and oil. Chill.
Use one of these varieties:
Basil, Sweet
Basil, Italian Large leaf
Basil, Lemon
Basil, Purple Ruffle

basil Tagliatelle_carbonara

Basil Carbonara

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 10 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions

Sauté the onion and garlic in the butter.
After draining the cooked pasta, return the pasta to the cooking pot and place over medium heat.
Toss the pasta with the onion mixture, add chicken broth.
Beat the eggs and pour over the hot pasta stirring constantly to coat pasta and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add Parmesan, bacon and torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.
Use one of these varieties:
Lemon
Sweet
Italian Large Leaf

basil zucchini-soup3

 

 

Zucchini Basil Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1½ cups roughly chopped sweet onions 
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup seeded and chopped sweet bell pepper (any color) 
  • 2½ cups coarsely chopped zucchini
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 cups fresh spinach leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh sweet basil
  • Any number of toppings can add additional flavor: chopped fresh tomato, diced squash, croutons or Parmesan cheese.

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, garlic and salt until vegetables start to soften. Stir in pepper, zucchini and the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the pepper is soft, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the spinach and basil just until wilted. Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Add a topping and serve
Makes about 6 servings.

basil roast-beef-wrap

Roast Beef Wraps with Garlic Basil Aioli

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped, loosely packed fresh basil (any variety will work in this sandwich)
  • 4 8-inch whole-grain sandwich wraps
  • 3 ounces fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 6 ounces roast beef (Italian-style if available), thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces Provolone cheese, thinly sliced

Directions

To make the aioli, place mayonnaise, garlic and basil in a blender; purée until smooth.
Divide the mixture into four portions and spread each wrap evenly with aioli. Lay the spinach leaves evenly over the aioli.
Place beef, then Provolone in single layers over the spinach. Roll up tightly.
Chill until ready to serve.

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Pasta salads are ideal for summer days when it’s too hot to eat fresh-from-the-oven dishes. Lighten up traditional pasta salad by substituting the fattiest ingredients often found in the dish with leaner options. Omitting the mayonnaise or substituting a low-fat version, using  low-fat cheese and adding fresh vegetables, such as spinach, are among the ways that a traditionally calorie-heavy side dish can be transformed into a healthy main course that’s perfect for summer entertaining.

Whatever type of pasta you have in your cupboard, from spaghetti to rigatoni, you can create a great salad in the time it takes the pasta to cook and cool. The first thing to do before you start cooking any noodles is to look through your kitchen and decide which ingredients will be added to the salad.

Here are a few ideas:

1-Vegetables:

You can put just about any vegetable in a pasta salad. Onions, celery, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, raw spinach, etc. are good examples. If you prefer to have your vegetables cooked rather than raw you can add them to the pot with your pasta. I would wait until the pasta is partially cooked about 3 minutes before adding them to keep the vegetables from overcooking. Tomatoes, roasted red peppers and cucumber should be raw and added after the pasta is cooked and cooled slightly.

2-Meat and Seafood:

Deli-style meat or leftover cooked meat makes a great addition to a pasta salad. Beef, chicken, ham and turkey are good examples. It doesn’t matter if it’s cubed or thinly sliced, it will blend into the salad nicely.

Seafood is another popular ingredient, freshly cooked or canned. The easiest is to add a can of salmon or tuna to your salad. Freshly cooked seafood is becoming quite popular. Some examples are scallops, shrimp, prawns, crab, squid, mussels, oysters, clams, and any finfish. Smoked salmon is full of flavour and my favorite seafood to add to a salad.

Although meat and/or seafood can enhance your pasta salad, they are not required, so if you would prefer to omit them, you can still make a perfectly fine salad without them.

3-Cheese:

Many pasta salads have parmesan cheese added to them but any cheese will add flavor. You can use cheese in any form such as grated, sliced or cubed.

4-Olives:

Any kind of olive enhances a salad.

5-Spices:

Add spices sparingly, use any of your favorites. Some popular ones are: oregano, basil, thyme or chives.

6-Dressing:

For dressing you can go with creamy or an oil and vinegar mix. Any bottled dressing will work or you can make your own. Homemade dressings taste better. For creamy dressing use about a cup of  low-fat mayonnaise or yogurt with 1/4 cup of either vinegar, wine, lemon or lime juice. Add a little spice, salt and pepper to taste and you have a creamy dressing. For an oil/vinegar dressing just substitute the mayonnaise or yogurt with about 1/4 cup salad oil.

Now that you have decided on your ingredients it’s time to boil your pasta. Follow the directions on the package and cook until al dente. In other words, cook pasta until tender but firm (usually about 8-10 minutes).

Drain pasta in a colander and pour into a large serving bowl.  Add dressing sparingly until salad is completely coated. Pasta will absorb the dressing better while it is warm. Add all the other ingredients you have decided upon and mix well. Cool salad for about 2 hours before serving.

Lemon-Basil Chicken-Pasta Salad  

 4 servings

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 2 cups uncooked rotini or rotelle (spiral) pasta (6 ounces)
  • 10 asparagus stalks (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 clove garlic 
  • 5 ounces cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2  cup shredded Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

Directions:
Fill a 4-quart Dutch oven about half full of water. Add salt and cover with lid; heat over high heat until water is boiling rapidly. Add the pasta. Heat to boiling again. Boil uncovered 9 to 11 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender but not mushy. While water is heating and pasta is cooking, continue with recipe.
Break off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus stalks where they snap easily; wash asparagus. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces to measure 2 cups. Add asparagus to the pasta during the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking.
Peel and finely chop the garlic. Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch cubes to measure about 2 cups. Tear the basil leaves lengthwise into narrow strips.
Place strainer or colander in the sink. Pour pasta and asparagus in the strainer to drain.
In a large bowl, toss pasta, asparagus and chicken. Stir in garlic, basil, cheese, oil and lemon peel. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until chilled.

Caesar Pasta Salad

Cooked cold shrimp makes a great addition to this salad.

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Salt
  • 12 ounces curly pasta, such as fusilli 
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 9 flat anchovies, chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 10 cups chopped green leaf lettuce
  • Chopped fresh basil

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until just tender, about 10 minutes, or as package label directs.
2. While pasta is cooking, combine garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, mayonnaise, olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a blender and blend until smooth.
3. Drain pasta. Toss with half of the dressing and tomatoes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Toss with Parmesan.
4. Toss lettuce with remaining dressing and divide among 4 shallow bowls. Spoon pasta salad over lettuce, sprinkle with basil and serve.

Orecchiette with Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil

Taking its cue from Italy’s insalata caprese, this easy dish combines fresh mozzarella cheese with basil and tomatoes. Choose the ripest, most flavorful tomatoes for this delicious pasta salad.
4 servings (serving size: 1 1/2 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups uncooked orecchiette (about 8 ounces uncooked
  • 3 cups chopped plum tomato
  • 1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) diced fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions: drain.
Combine pasta, tomato, and remaining ingredients.
Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Chicken-Thyme-Penne Salad

Servings: 6 servings (1 cup each)

Ingredients:

  • 11/2 cups uncooked penne pasta (10 oz)
  • 2 cups cubed deli rotisserie or leftover chicken (from a 2- to 2 1/2-lb chicken)
  • 1 cup seedless red grapes, cut in half
  • 1 medium stalk celery, sliced 
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 11/2  tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 teaspoons dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 2/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise 
  • 1/2 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon coarse-grained mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Directions:
Cook pasta as directed on package and drain.
In large bowl, mix pasta, chicken, grapes, celery and onion.

In small bowl, mix oil and 1/2 tablespoon of the fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon of the dried thyme). Pour oil mixture over chicken mixture; toss to coat. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, milk, honey, mustard, salt and remaining thyme.

Cover chicken mixture and mayonnaise mixture separately; refrigerate at least 4 hours but no longer than 24 hours. Up to 2 hours before serving, toss chicken mixture and mayonnaise mixture. Cover; refrigerate until serving. Just before serving, stir in 1/4 cup of the walnuts. Sprinkle salad with remaining walnuts.  

Macaroni Salad with Summer Tomatoes

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 3/4 cup salad, about 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs, and 3/4 teaspoon basil)

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces uncooked medium elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic, divided
  • 4 cups chopped seeded tomato (about 6 tomatoes)
  • 1 (1-ounce) slice sandwich bread
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

Directions:

Cook elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain.
Combine white balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon basil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, sugar, and crushed red pepper in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, stirring with a whisk. Add cooked pasta and tomato; toss well to coat.
Place bread in a food processor; pulse 5 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs and remaining 1/2 teaspoon garlic to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until browned and crisp, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt and basil.  Sprinkle over pasta mixture.

Pesto Pasta Salad

An easy homemade pesto elevates a casual pasta salad. Grilled tuna or scallops would be a good addition.
8 Servings

Ingredients:

Pesto:

  • 3 cups packed fresh basil
  • 1 cup packed fresh parsley
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Salad:

  • 1 pound gemelli or other short pasta
  • 1 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

Directions:

Make pesto: In a food processor puree basil, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and pine nuts until smooth. With motor running, add olive oil and process until a thick paste forms. Add Parmesan and pulse twice. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.

Make salad: Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain.
In a large bowl, combine pesto and Greek yogurt and stir until well blended. Add pasta and toss to coat with dressing. Top with tomatoes. Serve salad at room temperature or cover and refrigerate to serve chilled.

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WEATHER FORECAST: Severe thunderstorms this afternoon and evening with heavy rain, damaging wind and even a few tornadoes. High near 55F. Winds ENE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch.

When the weather outside is wet and nasty, stay in and make this dinner. One thing these recipes have in common is their ability to give you that warm, cozy feeling inside, no matter how badly it’s pouring outside.

Yellow Squash Soup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
4 to 6 Servings

This recipe is designed primarily for yellow crooked-neck squash, a summer squash, but in the winter you can substitute acorn or butternut.

  • 1 lb. yellow crooked-neck squash ( approx. 6 small ones)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped sweet onion
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon Wondra flour or unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups milk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • minced chives

Directions

Cut the end of the squash off, cut the squash into 1/4 inch slices and set aside.

In a large saucepan or a Dutch oven heat oil and saute onions and garlic over medium heat. After about 5 minutes, add squash, herbs, and salt. Stir, cover, and continue to cook about 10 more minutes. Gradually sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over low heat about 5 minutes.

Pour in the white wine, stir briefly, cover, and let simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow the soup to cool until it’s cool enough to puree.

Puree the soup with the milk in a food processor, or blender or with an immersion blender, and return it to a kettle. Adjust the seasonings. Add black pepper to taste and reheat.
Sprinkle with minced chives.

Basil Parmesan Biscuits

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2/3 cup fat-free milk
  • 1 large egg
  • Cooking spray

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in basil and cheese.

Combine milk and egg in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add milk mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moist.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface; pat to 1-inch-thick circle or square. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter into 12 biscuits, or simply cut into 12 equal squares.

Place biscuits on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool.

Chicken alla Diavola                                                                            

  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Two 3 pound chickens
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a small jar or bowl, combine the white wine vinegar, the dried oregano and the olive oil and let sit while you prepare the chicken.

Using kitchen shears, remove the wing tips and the backbones from the chickens. Set the chickens on a large rimmed baking sheet, skin side up, and press down firmly on the breastbones to flatten them butterfly style. Score each breast, drumstick, thigh and wing halfway to the bone in two places per part. Drizzle all but 2 tablespoons of the vinegar-oil mixture over both sides of the chickens and rub the mixture into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a small bowl, combine the dried sage with the kosher salt, the pepper, dried rosemary and ground black pepper. Rub the seasoning all over the chickens. Let the seasoned chickens stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Roast the chickens in the upper third of the oven, skin side up, basting both chickens with the remaining vinegar-oil mixture halfway through, until the chicken is just cooked, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Pour the pan juices into a small saucepan. Broil the chickens about 4 inches from the heat, rotating the pan, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Carve the chickens. Reheat the pan juices and serve with the chicken.

Baked Farro Risotto

If you only have regular farro, you will need to soak it overnight, as you would dried beans.

Serves 6

  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 medium onion
  • fine grain sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked semi-pearled farro or barley
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 F with a shelf in the top third of the oven.

Rub olive oil around an 8×8-inch baking dish and sprinkle with lemon zest.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat combine the olive oil, onion, and a couple pinches of salt. Cook until the onions soften up and begin to become translucent.

Add the farro, stir until well-coated, and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the tomato sauce and the broth. Bring just to a simmer, remove from heat, and stir in about 3/4 of cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to the prepared baking dish, cover with foil, poke a few slits in the foil, and bake for about 45 minutes or until the grains are cooked through. You can uncover the baking dish the last few minutes to brown the top of the farro. Alternatively, you can brown the top carefully under a broiler for a few minutes.

Serve sprinkled with the remaining cheese, the fresh oregano, and a drizzle of good olive oil.

Braised Fennel

  • 3 medium fennel bulbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Slice the fennel into 1/2″ thick pieces (try to keep each piece with some of the root base so it stays together.)

On medium-high, heat a large saute pan, then add olive oil. After oil is hot, add fennel and caramelize on all sides (3-4 min side.)

Add stock, wine, thyme and bay to fennel and reduce heat to low – med-low.

Cover and gently simmer for 25 minutes, or until fennel bulbs are tender, you may need to add more stock as you simmer.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Pesche al Cioccolato

(Oven-baked Peaches Stuffed with Amaretti Cookies and Chocolate)

4 servings

  • 2 large firm, ripe peaches
  • 8 Italian amaretti cookies
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt the dark chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave.  Set aside to cool.

Wash and dry the peaches.  Halve and pit the peaches. Using a small spoon or a melon baller, scoop the pulp out of the peach halves being careful not to break through the outside skin so as to form little containers to hold the filling. Mash the peach pulp in a medium bowl.

Using a food processor, pulse the amaretti cookies until crumbly. Alternatively, place the cookies in a plastic resealable bag and use a mallet to crush the cookies. Add the cookie crumbs to the peach pulp. Add the egg yolk, cocoa powder and sugar. Stir to combine. Add in the melted chocolate and rum. Stir to combine.

Spoon the peach pulp mixture into the peach halves and place in a small baking dish. Pour the wine into the baking dish around the peach halves.

Bake in the oven until the peaches are cooked through but still firm – about 30 minutes.

Plate peaches and sprinkle with extra crushed amaretti cookies and cocoa powder.


Basil Pesto Sauce

basil

The warm months are approaching for many readers and where I live, it is warm now. The warm weather will allow me to plant basil, which is a staple of the Italian cuisine. Basil is very easy to grow in plant pots on your patio.  I usually buy 6 plants and divide them between two pots. These two pots give me plenty of basil to use in flavoring sauces or making pesto. Basil pesto is a favorite in my house and when the children and grandchildren visit, it is one of the requests  for dinner.  Not only is Pesto excellent for dressing pasta, a tablespoon or two is wonderful as a topping for grilled fish or chicken or roasted asparagus.

Many Pesto recipes call for Pignoli or pine nuts, but they can be expensive and difficult to find.  Walnuts or almonds are a fine substitute.  Also, you will find recipes that add the grated cheese during the processing of the sauce, but I like to add the cheese when I mix the sauce with the pasta.  Additionally, this sauce is easy to double and freeze half for another meal.  Pesto frozen without the cheese tastes much better.

The sauce is not cooked and only requires the use of a processor or blender. You can make it ahead and keep it covered on your counter until dinner time.  The sauce may also be covered and kept in the refrigerator for a few days.

To make the sauce, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups of basil leaves packed tightly in a measuring cup
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup of very good extra virgin olive oil

Place the garlic, nuts, salt and pepper in the processor and pulse a few times. Add the basil leaves and with the processor running, add the olive oil slowly.  Process until the mixture becomes a paste. Pour the sauce into your pasta serving bowl and set aside.

Cook 1 lb. pasta, such as linguine or angel hair and, just before you drain the pasta, remove 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and set it aside. Add the drained pasta to the serving bowl with the pesto, mix slightly and then add the pasta water and 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.  Mix well.  All you need to round out this meal is a fresh tomato salad.

bolognese

Bolognese Sauce

When you are in the mood for a meat sauce, Bolognese, is the way to go. It is a creamy, flavorful sauce and very representative of Italian cuisine.  This recipe has been in my family for many years and it is one of the first sauces I made for my husband after we were married.  It is still one of his favorites.

This is where you can make a healthy choice and choose ground turkey breast (preferably turkey raised without antibiotics) over beef. This sauce is delicious over short thick pasta, such as Rigatoni.

To make this sauce:

In a large pot heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Add 1/2 cup of chopped onion, 1 diced carrot, 1 diced celery stalk and 1 small minced garlic clove.

Cook the vegetables for a few minutes until softened.  Don’t let the vegetables brown.  

Add 1 lb. lean ground beef or ground turkey breast and cook until the meat is no longer pink.  

Add 1 cup red wine and let the sauce cook for a few minutes.

Add the following ingredients to the pot:

  • 1-28 oz. container Pomi chopped Italian tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Bring the sauce to just the boiling point, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for 2 hours.  Just before you are ready to serve add 1/2 cup fat free half and half or whole milk. Heat until warmed.

One point to remember about dressing pasta with sauce is “just a little”.  Italians don’t like their pasta swimming in sauce. You can always add more. 



Simmer and Boil

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