Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: cheese

 

Presenting fine cheeses to your family and guests over the holidays is a special treat. It is elegant, sophisticated and festive, yet can be the most effortless of all your holiday food preparations.

Try to include a variety of textures and flavors on a cheese board. Most cheeses belong to one of four basic categories: aged, soft, firm or blue. For a good variety, choose at least one from each group. Here are some examples:

1. Blue: The most intense.

Gorgonzola, Cashel Blue, Fourme d’Ambert, Roquefort, Stilton.

Blue Cheese Combination: Oat cracker + Roquefort + honey

2. Semi-firm: Subtle but rich.

Manchego, Cave-Aged Cheddar, Fontina, Garrotxa, Saint-Nectaire.

Combinations: Baguette + Manchego + quince paste

Dried nectarine + Cave-Aged Cheddar

3. Super-aged: Sharp and nutty.

Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, Comté, Aged Gouda, Aged Gruyère.

Combinations: Sea salt cracker + pear + Aged Gouda

Parmigiano-Reggiano + dried sausage

4. Pungent: Strong smelling.

Taleggio, Èpoisses, Langres, Livarot, Pont l’Évêque.

Combinations: Raisin-walnut bread + Livarot

Flat bread + Taleggio + chutney

5. Mild: Soft and creamy.

Fresh Chèvre, Brie, Camembert, French Chaource, Robiola.

Combinations: Wafer cracker + piquillo pepper + fresh chèvre

Wheat cracker + sun-dried tomato + Chaource

Tips

  • You can also select cheeses by the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep). This will ensure a range of different flavors on the plate.
  • Serve at least one familiar cheese.
  • For a party in which cheese is the main event, plan on buying 3 pounds for 8 people, 6 pounds for 16 or 9 pounds for 24. If cheese is one of many items being served, plan on buying 3 to 4 ounces per person.
  • Offer a selection of breads, including sliced baguette, bread sticks and crackers in all different shapes and sizes. It’s a good idea to vary taste and texture among the breads as well as the cheeses.
  • Jarred condiments and vegetables are quick and fuss-free. Try sweet preserves or honey, tart chutneys and spicy mustards. You can also add artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and caponata. If you have a bit more time, prepare caramelized onions, which complement most cheese plates.
  • Various other sweet and salty items can work as well. Try cured meats such as prosciutto and salami or candied nuts and pistachios. Assorted seasonal and dried fruits can include figs, cherries, apples and pears.
  • Separate strong-smelling cheeses. If you want to serve a pungent cheese, place it on a separate plate, so it doesn’t overpower more delicate ones. 
  • Set out a separate knife for each cheese, especially the soft varieties. Soft cheese spreads well with a butter knife, firm cheese might require a paring knife and aged cheese often requires a cheese plane.
  • Remove the cheese from the refrigerator an hour before serving―cold mutes the flavor.
  • If you’re serving cheese before dinner, choose lighter cheeses, such as an herb-coated goat cheese or fresh mozzarella.
  • If you’re serving cheese after dinner, then you can go one of two ways — serve just one rich and creamy cheese, such as the easy-to-find triple-crème cheese called St. Andre — or go for full-flavored cheeses like Manchego, Cheddar, Aged Gouda and/or Blue cheeses.
  • Arranging the cheese platter: Never crowd cheeses on the platter or they will be difficult to slice for your guests.

Wine and cheese are a classic combination.

  • Blue cheeses, such as Stilton or Gorgonzola, go well with dessert wines like Sauternes and Ports.
  • To accompany fresh cheeses like a goat or feta, choose a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir.
  • Soft-ripened cheeses, like Teleme or Brillat-Savarin, go well with Chardonnay.
  • For aged cheeses, like Cheddar, aged Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano, serve Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Burgundy.

Cheese Appetizers

Focaccia with Pears and Blue Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 large Bosc pear, cored and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast and honey and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the flour and 1/4 cup of the oil; let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining flour and the salt and knead until smooth. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and let stand for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion, cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Oil a 9-by-13 inch rimmed baking dish.

Transfer the dough to the dish and press it down to fit. Dimple the dough all over with your fingers and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let the dough rise until puffed, about 20 minutes.

Scatter the cooked onions over the dough. Arrange the pear slices over the onions and sprinkle with the blue cheese. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the focaccia and bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Cut into small squares for serving as an appetizer.

Smoked Salmon Toasts

Servings: 16

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus 16 small fronds for garnish
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium fennel bulb (about 8 ounces), cored
  • Toast, recipe below
  • 4 ounces sliced cold-smoked salmon, cut into 16 even pieces

Toast

  • 4 slices (about 4-1/2×3-1/2 inches) firm, country bread
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Mix the mascarpone, dill, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 teaspoons lemon juice in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the fennel into long, thin strips by pressing firmly against it; season the strips with salt.

To assemble:  spread the toasts with some of the mascarpone and then cut each toast into four even squares.

Top each square with a couple of pieces of the fennel, a curl of the salmon, a dill frond and a few grinds of black pepper. Drizzle with remaining lemon juice.

Make Ahead Tips: You can make the mascarpone spread and cut the fennel several hours in advance. Keep both refrigerated; bring to room temperature before assembling.

Toast

Adjust an oven rack to 6 inches from the broiler and turn the broiler on to high. Set the bread on a baking sheet, brush one side with the melted butter. Toast the bread until it’s golden brown and crisp on top, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until golden, about 1 minute. While the bread is still hot, slice off the edges. Let cool slightly. Spread with the toppings before cutting into squares or triangles.

Make Ahead: Toasts can be made up to a day ahead; store them in an airtight container.

Spinach-Cheese Swirls

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet frozen Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

Directions

Thaw pastry sheet at room temperature 40 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix egg and water. Set aside. Mix Monterey Jack cheese, Parmesan cheese, onion and garlic powder.

Unfold pastry on lightly floured surface. Brush with egg mixture. Top with cheese mixture and then spinach.

Starting at short side, roll up like a jelly roll. Cut into 20 (1/2 inch) slices. Place on baking sheet. Brush with egg mixture.

Bake 15 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 20 appetizers.

Mozzarella Sandwiches with Two Sauces

Makes 12 (antipasto) servings

Ingredients

For anchovy sauce:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 flat anchovy fillets, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

For the marinara sauce:

Makes about 3 cups

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
  • Pinch sugar
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

For mozzarella in carozza:

  • 1 (1-pound) Italian bread loaf, such as pane di casa (5 inches wide)
  • 1 (1-pound) ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into 6 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoon milk, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • Olive oil

Directions

Make anchovy sauce:

Melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat. Discard any foam from top, then remove from heat. Stir in anchovies, capers and lemon juice. Keep warm and covered. Stir in parsley just before serving.

Make marinara sauce:

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and sugar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Keep warm. Stir in the basil and parsley just before serving.

Make mozzarella in carrozza:

Cut bread loaf in half. Starting from the middle halves of the loaf, cut bread into 12 (1/4-inch-thick) slices. Sandwich each slice of mozzarella between 2 slices bread, then cut off crusts, forming 4-inch squares (mozzarella slices should be smaller than bread slices).

Put 1 cup milk in a shallow dish and spread flour on a plate. Dip both sides of each sandwich in milk, pressing edges lightly to seal sandwich. Coat with flour, making sure edges are coated well. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill 2 hours.

Whisk eggs in a large shallow bowl, then whisk in 3/4 teaspoons of salt and remaining 3 tablespoons milk.

Heat 1/4 inch of olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Dip sandwiches, 1 at a time, in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, and fry 2- 3 at a time, turning once with a slotted spatula, until golden, about 6 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm in the oven set at the lowest temperature.

Cut in half diagonally and serve with anchovy sauce and marinara sauce.

Provolone Pesto Terrine

This recipe comes from my sister, who made it for us many years ago. I don’t know the origin of the recipe but It was a big hit and everyone in the family has the recipe. It is perfect for this season with its Christmas color combination.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup prepared Basil Pesto: see post for a homemade version: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/21/two-sauces-for-everyday-meals/
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 cup toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained, blotted dry and coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb thin sliced provolone cheese
  • Thin Italian bread slices
  • Cheesecloth, cut large enough to line a loaf pan

Directions

In a food processor combine cream cheese, garlic and white pepper. When smooth and creamy, place in small bowl and fold in pistachios.

Wet cheesecloth and ring dry. Completely line a loaf pan (8×4 inches), letting excess hang over edges.

Cut provolone slices in half. Slightly overlapping slices, line bottom and sides of the pan, extending halfway up. Divide remaining provolone cheese into 3 equal stacks and set aside.

Spread 1/2 of the pesto mixture over the provolone in bottom of the loaf pan. Cover pesto with 1 of the stacks of provolone, overlapping as you go.

Sprinkle cheese with 1/2 of the sun dried tomatoes. On top of that, evenly spread all of the cream cheese mixture, then sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 of the tomatoes.

Cover that with another stack of provolone cheese.

Cover with the remaining pesto, and then cover that with remaining stack of cheese. Fold the cloth over the top of cheese, compact slightly, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, invert onto a serving dish, remove cheesecloth, and garnish with basil and pistachios. Serve with slices of crusty bread.

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Gorgonzola is one of the most famous Italian cheeses in the world. It is known for its blue veins and unique flavor, which is both sharp and sweet. Gorgonzola is a member of the blue cheese family of cheeses. The body of gorgonzola cheese is an ivory color. It has pronounced blue-green veins and a gray-gold or a reddish-brown, wrinkled crust. Gorgonzola comes in a circular shape.

This cheese gets its name from the small town of Gorgonzola, located near Milan and the cheese has been produced for centuries. Although, we do not know the exact date it was first produced, we know it was probably around the late Middle Ages. The cheese itself was first produced in the ninth century, although its full blue green-gray color was not fully developed until the 11th century. Gorgonzola was originally aged in caves, where the blue veins in the cheese developed from spores. At one time, Gorgonzola was called “Stracchino” cheese and was used to cure stomach conditions during the Middle Ages. It was also believed to prolong life.

Gorgonzola cheese has special PDO status, which means that it has a Protected Designation of Origin. The quality and authenticity of Gorgonzola is protected by international and Italian law with certain regulations concerning the manufacture and packaging of the cheese. In fact, a consortium was created by the Italian government in order to protect and oversee the production of Gorgonzola. Gorgonzola must be produced with milks from certain provinces in Italy, and it also must be produced in the Piedmont or Lombardy regions in Italy.

Piedmont scene

Gorgonzola, Italy

A centuries-old legend has it that a young boy working as an apprentice in a dairy was given the important job to oversee the production of the cheese. Even though this job required serious attention, the youngster worked attentively until one evening, distracted by a surprise visit from his girlfriend, he forgot to finish making the cheese. When he returned to work the next morning, the boy immediately realized his mistake and found the milk curds covered with mold. Aware of the trouble that he would be in if his master discovered his mistake, the apprentice decided to mix the ruined curds with fresh milk in an attempt to dissolve the mold. The blue-green veins did not go away, however the boy quickly realized that he had invented a creamy cheese that tasted good: without intending to, he created Gorgonzola.

In the past, Gorgonzola could take one year to produce because of the long aging process. Today, the cheese is exposed to more oxygen, which shortens the process to three to six months. The cheese can be of a young or an old variety. Gorgonzola that has not been aged long is called Dolce and is creamier and milder than the aged version. It is good for sauces and spreads. Piccante and  Naturale Gorgonzola are the aged varieties. They are sharper and more crumbly which make them good additions to the tops of prepared dishes or for eating by themselves. In fact, Gorgonzola is most frequently served as a dessert cheese at the end of a meal.

Gorgonzola cheese is an uncooked cheese made from whole cow’s and/or goat’s milk. The milk is added to Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus bacteria along with spores of the mold Penicillium glaucum or Penicillium roqueforti. After the whey is removed from the mixture, it is aged at low temperatures. As it ages, metal rods are inserted to create air channels which allow the cheese greater exposure to oxygen. The increased oxygen causes the mold spores to germinate much more quickly and create the blue-green veins. Gorgonzola is usually aged for three to four months, after which it is wrapped in foil.

Gorgonzola can be used in several ways. It is often served alongside fruit such as pears, grapes and figs and paired with wine at the end of a meal. When used in dishes, it can be served cold (on a salad, for instance) or hot. Gorgonzola sauces can be created for topping vegetables and short pastas such as ziti, and it is sometimes heated and served atop baked oysters. Gorgonzola can also be melted into a risotto or served with Polenta. Gorgonzola is highly perishable so it must be refrigerated. It should be well wrapped in either aluminum foil or plastic wrap. It can be kept this way for a maximum of about 45 days. Gorgonzola cheese is a living food, so it will continue to mature as it is stored. It will develop a stronger flavor and become softer. If, however, the body of the cheese develops a pink or a brown tone, it is too ripe and should be discarded.

Many dishes prepared with Gorgonzola cheese are very fattening because they usually include heavy cream. The smart way to use this cheese is with moderation and low fat ingredients.  Since it is a strong flavored cheese a little goes a long way.  The recipes for the first and second courses below are less than 350 calories per serving and the appetizer and dessert courses are less than 200 calories per serving.

Some Typical Ways Italians Serve Gorgonzola Cheese – Made Healthy

Antipasto Course

Arugula and Pear Salad with Pomegranate

4 Servings                                                                                                                                                              

Ingredients:

  •  1/2 cup balsamic vinegar syrup
  • 4 oz. arugula, washed well and dried
  • 3 Seckel pears, peeled and sliced
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked
  • black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons toasted walnut pieces
  • 4 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 pomegranate, seeded

Directions:

Make balsamic syrup by placing vinegar in a small saucepan and cooking over low heat until thickened (or until it starts bubbling). Cool. Place the arugula and pears together in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Divide salad onto four cold plates and garnish with walnuts, cheese (1 tablespoon per plate) and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle a spoonful of balsamic syrup over each salad.

First Course 

Pasta with Swiss Chard and Gorgonzola

You can use 12 cups of spinach instead of Swiss Chard. Do not add the spinach to the boiling water with the pasta until the last 2 minutes of pasta cooking time.

4 Servings      

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups Swiss chard leaves, cut into 1 inch strips, stems reserves for another use
  • 6 ounces dried angel hair pasta
  • 2 teaspoons salt free garlic & herb seasoning
  • 4 ounces low fat/skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sun dried tomatoes
  • 1½ tablespoons finely chopped sage
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup fat free milk warmed slightly

Directions:

1. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil over high heat in a large pot. Add in the Swiss chard and pasta, lower heat to medium high and cook until pasta is tender, about 3-4 minutes; drain.

2. In a large bowl add all of the remaining ingredients except for the milk, add in the cooked pasta and Swiss chard, stir until cheese is melted and all ingredients are well combined.

3. Slowly stir in milk.

Second Course

Gorgonzola & Prune Stuffed Chicken

Serve over quick-cooking barley with broccoli or artichoke hearts on the side.

4 servings

Ingredients:

Gorgonzola & Prune Stuffed Chicken Recipe

  • 1/2 cup chopped prunes, divided
  • 1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/4 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (1-1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Directions:

Combine 1/4 cup prunes, Gorgonzola, bread crumbs and 1/2 teaspoon thyme in a small bowl. Cut a horizontal slit along the thin edge of each chicken breast, nearly through to the opposite side. Stuff each breast with about 2 1/2 tablespoons filling. Use a couple of toothpicks to seal the opening. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, shallot and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme to the pan; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and the remaining 1/4 cup prunes. Reduce heat to medium; cook, scraping up any browned bits, until most of the wine evaporates, about 2 minutes. Whisk broth and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the pan and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to low, return the chicken and any juices to the pan and turn to coat with sauce. Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove toothpicks, slice the chicken and top with the sauce.

 Dessert Course

Vanilla Scented Poached Pears with Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Pine Nuts                                                                   

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 large ripe but firm Bosc pears
  • 2 cups sweet wine such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice berries or 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Directions:

Peel pears, if desired and cut lengthwise in half. (If you like, leave the stems attached to two of the halves for an attractive  appearance.) Use a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds. Bring wine, water and allspice to a boil over high heat in a large saucepan or Dutch oven just large enough to arrange pear halves in one layer. Add pear halves. Reduce heat so as to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer pears uncovered, turning over each 5 minutes with a large spoon until pears are almost tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer pears to a shallow bowl; cover tightly with foil to keep warm. Turn heat to high; boil juices in a saucepan until reduced to 1/3 cup, 16 to 18 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Transfer pears to serving dishes. Drizzle syrup over pears; top with cheese and pine nuts.

Tip: It’s not necessary to peel the pears. Many of the vitamins are just beneath the skin, and leaving the skin on helps keep the pear from becoming mushy.

Gorgonzola ripening

Gorgonzola Ripening


Homemade Ricotta

Cheese is one of the most consumed milk products. The iron and calcium content of the food is ideal for bone development. Cheese is essentially the preservation of milk. Its development is traced back to the nomadic herdsmen of the Middle East who stored their supply of milk on vessels that are made from the stomach of goats and sheep. Because of the lactic acid contained in the linings of the containers, wild bacteria mixes with milk, causing it to ferment and coagulate. The commonly used milk in making cheeses is milk from cows, goats, sheep, or buffalo.

Cheese Making in Ancient Rome

Romans were passionate cheese makers and eaters. Many Roman homes had a special kitchen set aside for cheese making called a caseale, where cheeses also were stored and aged. A favorite Roman cheese was smoked over applewood chips, echoing a popular modern favorite, smoked provolone. Pecorino Romano, a sharp sheep’s milk cheese, may have originated in Roman times.

Ancient egyptian production of cheese

Making Cheese in Ancient Egypt

Making your own cheese at home ensures that you have control over the ingredients that go into your cheese. For instance, you won’t have to revert to using extras like additives and preservatives used in commercial cheese. Not to mention the ‘unmentioned’ and unlisted hormones, pesticides and antibiotics that can make their way into our food. Making cheese at home also ensures that you can exercise some degree of quality control over your finished product. Of course, despite following a recipe, in reality, it may take a few tries to get your homemade cheese perfect. 

One of the easiest cheeses made with rennet to attempt at home is mozzarella and a great rennetless cheese alternative for beginners would be ricotta.
Ricki Carroll, long considered the “grandmother of American cheesemaking” at home, has many options in her book, Home Cheese Making, which details 75 cheeses and their recipes. Many of our country’s best cheese makers owe their start to this book.
Before you start, some key points to remember:

  • Always use the best quality whole milk you can find. Do not use use ultra pasteurized milk.
  • If you can, use homogenized milk. You’ll have a smoother curd using homogenized.
  • All utensils and cookware should be as clean as can be!
  • Make sure all of this cookware is either stainless steel, glass, or enamel.

Why Make Your Own Cheese?

1. It’s a rare skill.  Making your own cheese is the culinary equivalent of building log cabins.  There just aren’t that many people who know how to do it anymore. Homemade cheese will always be a hit at a party.

2. Homemade cheese contains no artificial ingredients.  Almost every commercial yellow or red cheese contains a food coloring called annatto.  Although annatto is “natural” (it’s derived from a South American tree) it has been linked to allergic reactions.

3. It’s easy!  There are a few basic steps to cheese making, and they are the same no matter what kind of cheese you want to create.  Once you have mastered those steps, you can make anything, even brie.

4. Homemade cheese connects you to your farmer, the cows, and the land. As you begin to make cheese, you will naturally seek out the best milk for your product.  You will ask questions, talking to farmers and other cheese makers.  

5. It’s inexpensive.  Unlike other hobbies, you don’t need a lot of fancy supplies to make cheese.  A large pot, a kitchen thermometer, a couple pieces of cheesecloth and a few cultures will get you started onto the path of cheese making.

6. Children love it.  Kids love to eat cheese.  If you have children, cheese making is a great kitchen activity.  They can participate and learn along the way.

7. It’s delicious!  No matter what kind of cheese you make, your homemade cheese will be edible.  Some of the most fabulous, rare cheeses were discovered by accident.  

Benefits to Using Pasteurized Milk

It’s widely available.

Pasteurized milk can be found at any grocery store.   

Don’t use Ultra High Temperature pasteurized milk (a.k.a UHT, ultra-pasteurized). Your curd will not set.

It’s inexpensive.

In most states, organic milk is $5 or less per gallon.

It’s a blank slate, bacterially speaking.

Milk that has been pasteurized contains no bacteria, beneficial or pathogenic.

This means that whatever culture you add has no competition and can propagate freely. This can lead to a more consistently flavored cheese.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

For about 1-1/2 pounds of cheese:

Pour 3 quarts, plus 3 cups whole milk into a stainless steel pot with 1 cup heavy cream (not ultra pasteurized). If possible make them both organic.

Line a large sieve with cheesecloth or a thin towel and set it over a medium bowl.

Bring the milk and cream to a very gentle simmer, stir in 2 teaspoons salt and 1/3 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed).

Simmer 1 or 2 minutes or until you have cloud-like clumps floating in almost clear liquid. Don’t let them cook until they are hard.

Scoop them up and into the sieve. Gently press out excess moisture so the cheese isn’t watery. Put into a storage container and chill.

Mascarpone Cheese

Ingredients:

1 pint heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon tartaric acid (cream of tartar)
1/4 teaspoon powdered sugar

Directions

Fill the bottom of a double boiler with enough water to touch the top pan, but the top should fit neatly and not “float.” Bring to a simmer.
Pour the cream into the top of a double boiler and place over simmering water.

Add the sugar and whisk constantly.
When the cream is warm add the tartaric acid. Whisk over the heat until the cream reaches a temperature of 180 degrees.


Remove from heat and allow to cool, whisking occasionally.

Pour the mixture into a bowl through a thick cheesecloth, or line a fine metal strainer with a coffee filter. Once it is cooled completely, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate in the sieve overnight or up to 24 hours and transfer to a sealable storage container.

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

If you have an hour of time and an adventurous spirit, you can easily make your own mozzarella cheese. Mozzarella cheese is one of the easiest cheeses to make and since it can be used in a variety of dishes, sandwiches, pizzas, pasta, etc., it will disappear quickly.
One of the best aspects of making mozzarella cheese is its simplicity of ingredients and equipment.  All you will need is a pot large enough to hold a gallon of milk, a slotted spoon, some clean rubber gloves, and a kitchen thermometer.  A candy thermometer is preferable to other types, as you’ll want a large enough readout in the 100 to 110 degree range.   You’ll want to hold the temperature of your mixture (once the citric acid and rennet have been added) so the curds can set, so a thermometer that’s easy to read in this range is optimal.

Fresh, Home Made Mozzarella Cheese

The only two ingredients you’ll need for your cheese that you may not be able to find in your local supermarket are rennet and citric acid, both of which you can purchase cheaply online.  If you’re lucky enough to have an extensive local grocery store or cheesemaking shop in your town, you might be able to find them locally.
Besides rennet and citric acid, the only other ingredient that you’ll need is whole milk. You’ll need to read the label carefully and make sure that the milk is not labeled “ultra pasteurized”.  Ultra pasteurized milk has been heated to a high temperature that kills the bacteria and cultures needed to make cheese.  

  • Over medium low heat, bring one gallon of whole milk up to 55 degrees and add 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid (dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water), stir in thoroughly but gently.
  • When the mixture gets to 88 degrees add 1/4 tsp of liquid rennet (dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water), stir in gently for about 30 seconds.
  • Over medium heat, bring up to 105 degrees and keep it there for five minutes or until curds begin to form and separate from the side of the pot.  The whey should be almost clear, if milky white, allow to heat longer.
With a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds.  Put on some rubber (or surgical) gloves and gently squeeze out as much whey as you can with your hands forming balls of cheese.

  • Place the cheese balls in the microwave (this is the faster method) for 30 seconds and then knead it, just like you would bread, squeezing out whey as you go.  Microwave again for 15 – 20 seconds and pour more whey off.  As you are gently squeezing the whey out,  work it into a ball.  Repeat this step several times, until the cheese has a slightly glossy sheen to it and can be pulled like taffy.  Add salt (about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons Kosher salt depending on taste) after the second kneading.

Once you’ve tasted the cheese you can make in your own kitchen, you may be hooked.  Once you’ve made your own cheese, you’re part of an ancient tradition of turning milk into cheese, and you’re part of a select group of people who’ve made homemade cheese.



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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Just like the rest of our food, when the days warm up, appetizers should get light ! If you’re planning a springtime/summer party, keep finger food healthy with lots of  fresh fruits and veggies.  Graduation, pre-prom parties, communions, anniversaries or whatever the occasion,  appetizer parties are a great way to entertain.

One factor to consider in selecting the foods is to serve an appealing contrast of hot and cold appetizers. As you plan, you will need to weigh such practical matters, as how much space is available in your refrigerator or freezer and how many appetizers you can heat at one time.

Foods served together should offer different textures. Crisp, crunchy vegetables and crackers match up well with creamy dips, spreads and cheeses. Think about flavor and variety as well. An hors d’oeuvre assortment in which the same seasonings and herbs are used to flavor every dish would be monotonous. Pair spicy, dense, or richly flavored foods with something uncomplicated, like maybe some ice-cold radishes.

For a variety at a large party, plan on serving at least one appetizer from each of these categories: meat or poultry, fish or seafood, cheese, and vegetables or fruits. You’ll want a good balance for a small gathering too, but on a less ambitious scale.

Eye appeal is always important for party appetizers. No matter how attractive foods are individually, you must also consider their collective impact. Make sure the colors of food served side by side contrast appealingly.

Tips

Use this handy Portion Calculator to figure out how many appetizers you need per guest.
http://www.theperfectbiteco.com/about/planning-guide

  • Prepare dips and marinated dishes one or two days ahead.
  • Pre-slice and chop ingredients and store them in plastic bags or containers in your refrigerator – assemble them the day of the event.
  • Decorate the party area and set out non-perishables including serving utensils and dishes the night before.
  • Try to have a balance between appetizers that you can prepare ahead of time and those that need to be baked just before serving.

Appetizers That Taste Good And Are Good For You.

Salmon Pastries with Dill Pesto                                                                                                                                         

Basil Pesto can also work if you are not a fan of dill.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup lightly packed chopped fresh dill weed
  • 1/3 cup Light Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Walnuts
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, if desired
  • 3/4 pound salmon fillet, patted dry
  • 1 box (15 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated pie crusts, room temperature
  • Dill weed sprigs

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400°F. In food processor bowl with metal blade or in blender, place chopped dill weed, oil, walnuts, lime juice, garlic, mustard, 1/2 cup of the cheese, the salt and pepper. Cover; process, stopping once to scrape side of bowl, until smooth.
  2. If salmon has skin or bones, remove them; rinse filet and pat dry with paper towel. Cut salmon into 24 (1-inch) cubes.
  3. On cutting board, roll 1 pie crust into 12-inch round. Cut into 4 rows by 3 rows to make 12 (4×3-inch) rectangles. Repeat with remaining crust. (Rectangles cut at edge of crust will have rounded side.)
  4. Spoon 1 level teaspoon dill pesto onto center of each rectangle; top with 1 salmon cube. Bring 4 corners of each rectangle over filling to center and pinch at top; pinch corners, leaving small openings on sides to vent steam. (For rectangles with rounded side, bring 3 points together at top, pinching to seal.) 
  5. On ungreased large cookie sheet, place pastries 1 inch apart.
  6. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Place remaining pesto in small resealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut small tip off 1 bottom corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle pesto over serving plate. Place pastries on serving plate. Sprinkle pastries with remaining cheese and garnish with dill weed sprigs. Serve warm.

Creamy Seafood and Red Pepper Spread

2-1/4 cups or 18 servings

Ingredients:
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced, divided
  • 8 oz. 1/3 Less Fat than Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 6 oz. lump crab meat
  • 8  oz.cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup Sargento 2% reduced fat Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
Directions:
Remove 2 tablespoons green onions and set aside.
Mix remaining onions with all remaining ingredients
Refrigerate at least for 1 hour
Sprinkle with reserved onions. Serve with crackers and squash chips. 

Fresh Squash Chips

Offer a healthy side dish option at your next cookout by serving thin slices of summer squash instead of chips. Serve these fresh veggie “chips” with your favorite dip.
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

  • 2 yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch-thick round

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients and 4 cups cold water in a large bowl. Cover and chill 30 minutes; drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms  

For parties, make the stuffing and have the mushrooms cleaned and stems removed ahead of time but don’t cook them until close to serving trime. Once cooked, stuffed mushrooms do not hold up well for long periods. Bake some, serve and repeat.

Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 24 Cremini mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Progresso Italian bread crumbs
  • 24-1 inch (or cut to the size of the mushroom cap) slices of Fontina or Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1/4 cup (packed) fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • Additional olive oil, to brush on mushrooms

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Brush 15x10x2 inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

 Remove mushroom stems and set caps aside. Heat olive oil in a heavy, medium skillet over medium-high heat. Chop stems and add to heated olive oil in skillet.

Add fennel, tomatoes, basil and garlic. Sauté until stems and fennel are tender and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes; transfer to medium bowl. Cool off a little, for approximately 2-3 minutes. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in egg and breadcrumbs..

Arrange mushroom caps cavity side up in prepared baking dish. Brush mushroom cavities lightly with additional oil. Mound filling in mushroom cavities, pressing to adhere. Place the 1 inch square slices of cheese on top of each stuffed mushroom prior to baking. Bake until mushrooms are tender and filling is heated through, about 10-12 minutes.

Marinated Olives                                                                                                                                                                  

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups Sicilian cracked green olives
  • 1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions:
Stir the oil, lemon and orange zest, and red pepper flakes in a heavy small skillet over medium heat just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Add the olives and toss to coat. 
Add the basil; toss to coat. Serve.  (Can be made ahead but add the basil just before serving.)

Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Spread                                                                                         

Makes 3 cups.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. sweet bell peppers, preferably a combination of red and orange
  • 1 small eggplant, about 1 lb.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cover 2 baking sheets with foil. Coat foil with cooking spray. Set pans aside.

Halve peppers lengthwise and seed them. Arrange peppers cut side down on one prepared baking sheet. Place eggplant on second baking sheet and prick with fork all over. Roast peppers and eggplant for 30 to 40 minutes, until skin of peppers is blistered and blackened. Eggplant should be soft but not collapsed.

Using tongs, transfer peppers to large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to steam for 20 minutes. Wrap eggplant with foil that covered the baking sheet, and set aside for 30 minutes.

Using your fingers, peel peppers. Cut flesh into 2-inch chunks, place in food processor and pulse 5 or 6 times to chop peppers coarsely. Scoop chopped peppers into mixing bowl. Pull skin from warm eggplant, using your fingers. Place eggplant flesh in food processor. Add garlic, oil and salt, and whirl to smooth puree. Add pureed eggplant mixture to peppers and stir to combine. Mix in vinegar.

Let spread sit for 1 hour to allow flavors to mellow.  Serve at room temperature with toasted pita triangles. This spread will keep, covered in refrigerator, for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Italian Style Sausage Skewers

For variety, you could substitute cubes of melon in place of the grape tomatoes.

12 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces Italian style chicken sausage, such as Al Fresco
  • 8 large basil leaves, or more depending on size
  • 24-1 inch cubes Provolone cheese
  • 24 grape tomatoes
  • 24 (6-inch) wooden skewers

Directions:

Cook the sausage according to the directions on the package and cut it into 1-inch rounds. Cut the basil leaves lengthwise into thirds.
Put a cheese cube about 1/3 of the way down onto a skewer. Then add 1 strip of basil, folding so it fits nicely on the skewer. Follow with 1 grape tomato and a round of sausage. Position everything on the end of the skewer so the skewer can stand up on its sausage end.

I always include a bowl of fresh fruit, no matter what type of party I am hosting. Folks dig in every time.

Fresh Fruit Bowl

Use whatever fresh fruit is in season.
Ingredients

  • 8 to 10 cups fresh melon cubes
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
  • 1 bunch seedless red grapes, halved
  • Fresh mint leave

Directions

Combine fruit, cover and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving garnish with fresh mint leaves..

  • Yield: 3-4 quarts.


Formaggio                                                

Is Cheese Healthy?
Because of its relatively high fat content, cheese has gotten the bad reputation as an unhealthy food. But it actually can be quite healthy, especially , if eaten in moderation. The trick is to know which kinds of cheeses are best and how to use them.  Try freshly grated Parmesan or Romano on your finished dishes, and you can add a tremendous amount of flavor without a lot of fat or calories. A little sprinkle makes just about everything taste better!

One ounce of cheese has 27 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, 26 percent of phosphorus and 2 percent of magnesium. Calcium and phosphorus combine to form the mineral part of bones. Magnesium is an essential part of protein that supports calcium and phosphorus. Throughout your life, old or damaged bone is dissolved and then replaced with new bone. If you don’t consume enough of these minerals to support that continuous rebuilding process, then you’ll begin to lose bone density and develop osteoporosis.

Cheese is loaded with calcium. You need calcium to maintain strong and healthy bones. What you might not know, however, is that cheese also contains Vitamin D, which is essential for maintaining bones and cartilage and it allows the calcium to be absorbed by your body.  Calcium and Vitamin D, once again, bolster the strength of your teeth and help prevent cavities and the wearing down of tooth enamel.  It can be seen as a good dietary way to prevent osteoporosis since it builds up bone density and maintains the strength of your body.

The government’s current dietary guidelines for dairy intake is 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy per day. For cheese, a serving equivalent takes the form of 1.5 ounces of hard cheese, 1/3 cup shredded cheese, or ½ cup of soft cheese.

                       The Cheeses of Italy

In Italian American cuisine, cheese is often added to everything, not so in Italy. There are certain foods that call for cheese, others that do not.  The no cheese with fish custom has nothing to do with snobbery. Most Italians feel that cheese would overwhelm the delicate taste of fish.
Although most Americans think of mozzarella and Parmesan as typical Italian cheeses, Italy produces many varieties with each individual Italian region quite proud of their own. Many Italian varieties are not available in America, but the cheeses listed are some of the more common cheeses you can find in the United States.

Soft Cheeses

Mozzarella is a generic term for the several kinds of fresh Italian varieties that are made by spinning and then cutting: the Italian verb mozzare actually means to cut. Mozzarella was first made in Italy near Naples from the milk of water buffalos.
Today, two types of mozzarella are produced in the USA. Low-moisture mozzarella produced primarily for pizza, and fresh high-moisture mozzarella which is quite soft and can be eaten as appetizers or in salads. With the increasing popularity of Italian food, fresh high-moisture mozzarella is now readily available in USA supermarkets. Most fresh mozzarella is now made from cow’s milk, although it can be made from a combination of milks including goat’s milk and a small amount of buffalo-milk. It is also possible to get buffalo milk mozzarella imported from Italy.

Gorgonzola is a creamy, firm bleu variety originating from Lombardy, Italy. It can range from mild to sharp and is often used in dips, salads or paired with beef.

Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese, milky-white in color, spreads easily and often is used instead of butter to thicken and enrich risotto. It is also a main ingredient of tiramisu and lasagna. Mascarpone is used in various dishes of Lombardy, Italy, where it is a specialty.                                  

Ricotta - The name “ricotta” means “cooked again” (“re-cooked”) in Italian, referring to the second processing of the liquid done to produce the cheese. A traditional creamy cheese made from the whey of cow or sheep’s milk and is very similar to cottage cheese, though considerably lighter and with more flavor. Its excellent in lasagna and desserts.

Semi-Hard Cheeses

Provolone is an Italian cheese that originated in southern Italy. It is basically mozzarella that has been aged and smetimes smoked. It is drier than fresh mozzarella and is therefore excellent on sandwiches.

Bel Paese is a mild, white creamy cheese made from cow’s milk. Originally produced in Melzo, a small town near Milan in the Lombardy region, it is now made in both Italy and the United States. It has a mild, buttery flavor and served with fruity wines. It is excellent as a snack or dessert cheese and melts easily for use on pizzas or in casseroles. It can be used as a substitute for mozzarella cheese.

Fontina Val d’Aosta is one of the oldest cheeses in Italy. Fontina cheese has been made in the Aosta Valley since the 12th century. Made from cow’s milk, Fontina melts well and is often used as a dessert cheese and in fondue. It is excellent on pizza as well.

Hard Cheeses

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a grana, or a hard, granular Italian cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.

Grana Padano is one of the most popular cheeses of Italy. The name comes from the noun grana (‘grain’), which refers to the distinctively grainy texture of the cheese, and the adjective Padano, which refers to the river Po. Grana Padano is a semi-fat, hard cheese which is cooked and ripened slowly (for up to 18 months). Today it is made in the regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto, and in the province of Trento.

Pecorino is the name of a family of hard Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk. The word pecora, from which the name derives, means sheep. Most are aged and sharp. Of the four main varieties of mature pecorino, all of which have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law, Pecorino Romano is probably the best known outside Italy, especially, in the United States which has been an important export market for the cheese since the nineteenth century.
Pecorino Romano is most often used on pasta dishes, like the better-known Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan). It also needs to be bought whole and grated fresh to enjoy its wonderful flavor. Its distinctive, strong, very salty flavor goes well with pasta dishes with highly-flavored sauces.

Asiago is a hard cheese from the Veneto region and develops a strong flavor as it ages. It is grated and perfect for sauces or for slicing over salads.

 Recipes That Use Cheese in a Healthy Way

Spinach Stuffed Lasagna Rolls

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 uncooked lasagna noodles
  • Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
  • 2 pkgs. 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 cup skim ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup egg substitute
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups prepared marinara sauce, (see post for recipe, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/)
  • 1/2 cup shredded skim mozzarella

Filling:
Combine spinach, ricotta, parmesan cheese, egg substitute and salt and pepper. Refrigerate while cooking the pasta.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Spray  a 9”x13” baking dish with cooking spray.  Spread 1 cup marinara sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add noodles and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and gently transfer to a clean dish towel.

Working with one noodle at a time, spread with about Spread a heaping 1/3 cupful over each noodle.. If you have any filling leftover, divide it evenly among the rolls.
Starting at one end, roll up the lasagna noodle tightly; then arrange in pan either seam-side down or with the rolls close enough together to hold each other closed.
Pour remaining marinara over assembled rolls then sprinkle with mozzarella and bake until golden and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.

Grilled Eggplant with Ricotta and Tomato-Basil Relish

4 servings

For the grilled tomato-basil relish:

8 ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, diced fine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil plus fresh leaves, for garnish

Heat your grill to high.
Place the tomatoes in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes on the grill and cook until charred on all sides, and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the grill and coarsely chop.

DO NOT TURN OFF THE GRILL.

Put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, onion, vinegar and basil and gently mix until combined. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Can be made 4 hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.

For the eggplant:

8 slices (1 large eggplant, ends trimmed, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices)
olive oil for brushing on eggplant slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
15 ounces skim milk ricotta
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Lightly brush eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place the slices on the grill and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Turn over and continue grilling until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Stir together the ricotta and parsley in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place the grilled eggplant on a large platter and top each slice with a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta and a heaping tablespoon of the tomato relish.

Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Asiago Cheese

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4  beef tenderloin steaks, cut 3/4 inch thick (about 5-6 oz.each)(organic, grass-fed beef is healthier)
  • 1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1  tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4  cup lower sodium beef broth
  • 1- 8-ounce package sliced button mushrooms
  • 1  ounce Asiago cheese, shaved
  • 4 cups arugula dressed with Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette, to taste

Directions

  • Trim fat from steaks. Rub both sides of steaks with pepper.
  • In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook, uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.
  • Add steaks to skillet; reduce heat to medium. Cook to desired doneness, turning once halfway through the cooking time. Allow 7 minutes for medium rare (145 F) to 9 minutes for medium (160 F). Transfer steaks to a plate and keep warm.
  • Add beef broth to skillet. Cook and stir until bubbly to loosen any browned bits in bottom of skillet. Return mushrooms to the skillet and heat.
  • Place 1 cup of arugula dressed with the Orange Balsamic dressing to taste on each of four dinner plates.
  • Place a steak on top and spoon mushroom sauce over steaks. Sprinkle with shaved cheese.


Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/4 cup white or red balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard


Peel garlic clove and smash with the side of a chef’s knife. Using a fork, mash the garlic with salt in a small bowl to form a coarse paste. Whisk in oil. Add juice, vinegar and mustard; whisk until well blended.
Cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days. The oil will solidify, so bring to room temperature and whisk before using.


Thick Crust Pizza

A bit of pizza history:

With pizza being so popular and abundant, one might wonder where did it all start?  A little history checking tells us that pizza was considered a peasant’s meal in Italy for centuries, but we cannot say who invented the very first pizza pie. Food historians agree that pizza-like dishes were eaten by many people in the Mediterranean including the Greeks and Egyptians. In 16th century Naples, a flatbread was referred to as a pizza. A dish of the poor people,  it was sold in the street and was not considered a kitchen recipe for a long time. Before the 17th century, the pizza was covered with red sauce. This was later replaced by oil,  tomatoes (after Europeans came into contact with the Americas) and fish.
However, the modern pizza has been attributed to baker Raffaele Esposito of Naples. In 1889, Esposito who owned a restaurant called the Pizzeria di Pietro, baked what he called “pizza”,  for the visit of Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita,” a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, to represent the colors of the Italian flag. He was the first to add cheese.
The first pizzeria in North America was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi at 53 1/3 Spring Street in New York City.  The first “Pizza Hut” a chain of pizza restaurants, appeared in the United States during the 1930s. Frozen pizza was invented by Rose Totino.

A little trivia for you:
Americans eat approximately 350 slices of pizza per second. And 36 percent of those pizza slices are topped with pepperoni slices, making pepperoni the number one choice among pizza toppings in the United States. However, in India pickled ginger, minced mutton, and paneer cheese are the favorite toppings for pizza slices. In Japan, Mayo Jaga (a combination of mayonnaise, potato and bacon), eel and squid are the favorites. Green peas are popular in  Brazilian pizza shops and Russians love red herring pizza.

Pizza has the potential to be healthy but, unfortunately, has been ruined by the fast food industry.  “Fast food pizza” is unhealthy because of its ingredients. Most pizza is made on a white crust made from processed and bleached flour. These refined or processed grains are stripped of most of the healthy nutrients in the name of taste. You’re left with is a grain that contains a lot of empty calories but little in the way of any nutrients such as vitamins, minerals or fiber. “Fast food pizza” is also loaded with cheese, fatty meats and salt, all of which can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Pizza remains one of the most popular foods in our culture and if you love it, don’t stop eating it, simply make it healthier.

My Family’s Love Affair with Pizza

My mother made pizza just about every week and she made the dough herself, by hand, without the help of an electric mixer. My grandmother did the same thing and I can still visualize her standing over the dough and kneading it back and forth on the table. They both used the same recipe, the one they had always used; one that was probably in the family going way back in time. The ingredients they used were white flour, yeast, water, salt and shortening.  

For years I made pizza the same way. My husband and my children were crazy about pizza, so I made it regularly.  In fact, if I don’t have pizza available weekly,  my husband is blue.  Again, as time passed, and I became aware of what constitutes a healthier diet, I began to experiment with different dough recipes until I found a pizza crust that we really liked and, one that made us forget the old family recipe.  I also wanted to make the process a whole lot easier than most of the recipes I tried. If you live in a metropolitan area, you will be able to find prepared whole grain pizza dough, but if you cannot find it where you live, then I hope you will give my recipe a try.                                                                                                       

How can you make it healthier?  The best way to accomplish this is to make pizza at home and use the following suggestions.

Thin Crust Pizza

Use a whole grain crust. You can purchase a pre-made whole wheat pizza crust, or make your own by substituting whole wheat flour for part or all of the white flour in your pizza dough recipe. Whole grains add fiber which will keep you feeling full longer and are important for a healthy digestive system. You can also add flax-seed and wheat germ to your pizza dough. Flaxseed and wheat germ will add omega 3 fatty acids, fiber and a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals into your pizza with little change in taste or texture.  Thin crust has fewer calories than thick crust.

Use lots of tomato sauce because it is an excellent source of  lycopene,  a powerful antioxidant that may help to prevent disease.

Although cheese is an excellent source of calcium, a lot of the calories in a pizza come from the cheese. Use half the amount of cheese, than you are used to or choose a lower-fat type of cheese (such as skim mozzarella) to cut calories and saturated fat.

Pepperoni and sausage are high in fats, and processed meats are associated with stomach and colorectal cancer. Choose lean topping options, such as chicken or low-fat ground beef or turkey pepperoni or skip the meat altogether and make it vegetarian.

Load the pizza up with vegetables, since they are nutritious and low in calories. Some delicious choices include sun-dried tomatoes, onions, broccoli, spinach, olives, spinach, bell peppers, roasted red peppers and mushrooms.

How to Make Whole Grain Pizza Dough

Whole wheat pizza crust has real nutritional value, but a crust made with too much whole wheat flour can be heavy, dry and tough. I’ve found that a formula, which combines whole wheat and unbleached all-purpose flour, makes a crust that is both healthy and tasty. If you are hesitant about trying whole wheat in your pizza dough, then you might want to start with less whole wheat flour than the recommended amount in the recipe below, for example, 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour and 1 cup white whole wheat flour as a start. Gradually, you can add more whole wheat until you have a combination that you like.  White Whole Wheat Flour has all the fiber and nutrition of traditional whole wheat flour, with a milder flavor and lighter color. This flour will not make your dough dark in color. I like to use King Arthur brand in my baking.

KIng Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour

       

Tip:  Start this recipe about an hour before you want to make your pizza.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine all of your ingredients.

Using the paddle attachment from your mixer, stir on speed 2 until a loose dough forms.

Attach the dough hook to your mixer and allow the mixer to knead for 8 minutes on speed 2.

After the kneading is finished, using floured hands gently form the dough into a ball. Place in a greased bowl,  cover with a damp towel and allow to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

After the dough has risen, divide the dough in half (I like to weigh the dough a scale).

Preparing the Pizza Dough for Baking:

Spray a large pizza pan with cooking spray and sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom of the pizza pan.
Pick up the risen dough and gently shape into a circle and place it in the pizza pan.  Oil your fingers and stretch the dough to the rim of the pan. If the dough starts to resist stretching, allow it to rest for a few minutes before continuing.

Place an oven rack in the lowest position of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place pizza toppings on the dough and bake for 20 -25 minutes.

Spinach and Feta

Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Pizza Sauce

To complete the pizza:
Place 8 oz. sliced mozzarella on top of the dough in the pan. Cover with sauce.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top and bake as directed above.  You can also add other ingredients of your choosing on top of the sauce.

http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/

Jeff Hertzberg  & Zoë Francois wrote, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2007) so that baking homemade bread and pizza would be easy enough for people struggling to balance work, family, friends, & social life. They refined their methods for refrigerator-stored artisan dough while juggling busy careers and families.  By 2011, “Artisan Bread” had a over 330,000 copies in print!


I have read that Italian breakfasts are very light, usually consisting of coffee (espresso) or cappuccino and some kind of pastry or bread.  Biscotti are also favorites for an Italian breakfast. Biscotti are a, not too sweet cookie, that is baked, cut, then baked again to form slices of hard biscuits that are often dunked in coffee . Egg dishes, such as frittatas, are usually eaten at lunch or dinner, never for breakfast.

I can remember going to my grandparents’  home around breakfast time and my grandfather would be having a cup of coffee and eating the heel end from a loaf of Italian bread.  This was pretty much his usual breakfast.  I am not sure when Italian-Americans began eating specialty pastries from a bakery, but I can remember Italian bakeries were numerous where I grew up in New Jersey.  I think  the tradition of going to the Italian bakery came about when folks who had just come from church services wanted a special breakfast on Sunday.  I can remember long lines at the bakery counter, didn’t like standing there, but liked those pastries. My grandfather even got into the habit and would bring us pastries when he visited us on Sundays.  He continued the tradition when my children were little and brought us pastries up until the time that he died.  Some of those delicious pastries (just wanted to make you drool) are pictured below. Of course you know they are not a healthy choice.

Sfogliatelle feature luscious mandarin flavored ricotta filling encased in a crispy shell shaped pastry.

Pasticiotti are tender pastry cups filled with either ricotta cheese, vanilla cream or chocolate cream

Frittatas

I recall that most of my breakfasts growing up were the usual cereal and scrambled eggs. Very American.  My mother, however, often made traditional Italian style egg dishes, such as potatoes and eggs, or peppers and eggs or spinach frittata and I will share those recipes with you.  My children weren’t so fond of fritattas when they were growing up, but they like them now as adults, so I like to make frittatas for breakfast when they visit.

A frittata is a healthy and economical dish that you can eat for any meal of the day. It is a dish similar to a French quiche,  an American omelette,  or a Spanish tortilla.  Frittatas generally consist of eggs,  vegetables, cheese, and herbs.

In my house, the contents of a frittata usually consist of whatever leftovers I have in the refrigerator that day. Italians are frugal and know how to use leftovers creatively.

You will want to pick items that have a natural affinity for each other. Think of things that you might find on a plate together anyway, or on a pizza and cheese is a key ingredient in any frittata. Making this dish is very simple as long as you have an ovenproof skillet.  Sauté whatever veggies you are putting into the dish and heat through any cooked meat leftovers.

Here are some ideas:

  • 1 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sauteed until soft, 2 diced plum tomatoes and 4 ounces of diced or shredded Fontina.
  • A bag of cleaned spinach cooked in a skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper, 1/4 pound sliced Prosciutto, some grated Parmesan cheese and some shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • I prefer to use reduced- fat shredded cheeses from Kraft or Sargento and substitute half of the eggs with egg substitute to save on calories.

General techniques include

  1. Turn on the broiler.  Place a non-stick skillet with an oven safe handle on the stove over medium heat.
  2. Heat the pan and add 1 tablespoons olive oil.  When the oil is hot add the frittata vegetables, stirring until warm, and then pour the eggs beaten with the egg substitute over the vegetables.
  3. Slowly cook the frittata until the edges start to firm up. When the frittata is cooked about three-quarters of the way through, scatter the top with shredded cheese and move it to the heated broiler.
  4. Set the frittata about 6-inches below the broiler.
  5. When it is just golden brown and puffed up, remove the skillet to your stove top.
  6.  BE SURE TO PROTECT THE HOT HANDLE WITH A HOT PAD SO YOU DO NOT BURN YOUR HANDS!

Spinach Frittata

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion

5 eggs and 1 1/4 cups egg substitute

8 ounces chopped raw spinach (or 1-10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oil  in a 10 or 12 inch skillet with a heat-resistant handle over medium heat.   Saute onion in the oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted.  Remove from heat.  In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the mozzarella cheese. Whisk until well blended. Pour egg mixture into skillet with onions and spinach. Return to low heat and cook 8-10 minutes.  Sprinkle the top with shredded mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler. Remove when the top is golden brown and cut into wedges.

Some Traditional Italian Style Egg Dishes

Peppers and Eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced red pepper
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute (such as, Egg Beaters)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooking Directions

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the garlic and sauté until lightly golden.
Add the peppers, cook 10-15 minutes until they begin to soften.
Cover skillet and cook 5 more minutes until they are tender.

Mix the eggs, oregano, salt and pepper together and por over the peppers in the skillet.
Stir fry the eggs and peppers to allow the uncooked portions to reach the bottom of the skillet.
Remove from heat when the eggs are done to your liking.

Potatoes and Eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Cooking Directions

Heat the oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the potatoes until tender and golden brown. Add the onion and salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onion is soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the egg mixture to the potatoes and onions. Stir fry the mixture turning the ingredients with a spatula over and under until the eggs look cooked to your liking.

Completing the Breakfast Menu

The best accompaniments to the egg dishes featured here are bread and fruit, such as, melon or berries. Certainly a loaf of  Italian bread would be good, but I like to serve Focaccia.

Focaccia  is a flat oven-baked Italian bread which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients.
Focaccia is popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes herbs, and may be topped with onion, cheese, meat, or vegetables.
Focaccia dough is similar in style and texture to pizza dough but is usually baked in a deep dish pan. The bread bakes up thicker than pizza and can be used for sandwiches.

In Ancient Rome, foccacia, was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the fireplace. The word is derived from the Latin word meaning “centre” and also “fireplace” – the fireplace being in the centre of the house.  As the tradition spread, the diverse regions and the different local ingredients resulted in a large variety of breads.  The basic recipe is thought by some to have originated with the Etruscans or ancient Greeks, but today it is widely associated with Ligurian cuisine, a coastal region of north-western Italy.  In America, it is referred to as focaccia bread.

Here is a recipe I have adapted from King Arthur.

This bread is just about the easiest home-baked bread recipe that I have found because it can be made without kneading and is ready in under 2 hours.

No-Fuss Focaccia

1 1/2 cups warm water

3 tablespoons olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling)

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

1 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour

1 tablespoon instant yeast

Italian seasoning or other herbs of choice

Grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Drizzle the bottom of a 9″x 13″ pan with 1 tablespoons olive oil.

Combine all of the ingredients and beat at high-speed with an electric mixer for 60 seconds.

Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan.  If you spray a spatula (or your fingers) with cooking spray, the dough will be easier to smooth out.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger.  Drizzle it lightly 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning and grated parmesan cheese.

Bake the bread until it is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.  Remove it from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Focaccia


File:Eggplant.jpg

The ancient ancestors of eggplant grew wild in India and were first cultivated in China in the 5th century B.C.  Eggplant was introduced to Africa before the Middle Ages and then into Italy, the country with which it has long been associated, in the 14th century.  The eggplant made its first appearance in Sicily, and then, in other Italian southern regions, such as Naples and Calabria.  Both sets of my grandparents were from these regions in Italy

If you would like to know more about the history of this vegetable read Clifford Wright’s information in the link below. Mr. Wright is a leading source for the authentic and traditional foods of Italy and the Mediterranean in their cultural and historical context.
http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/topic_id/4/id/109/

Eggplant Parmesan was often seen on our dinner table and my mother was fond of making this dish. As a child, I always enjoyed Eggplant Parmesan and I would look forward to when my mother made this for us.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized how fattening Eggplant Parmesan can be when made in the traditional way because it is breaded, fried and covered in melted cheese.  I have worked out a recipe that is delicious and healthy, if not traditional.  I will share that preparation with you in this post.

Purchasing Eggplant

Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration or scars or bruises, which usually indicates that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.
The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb.  If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
I am fortunate to participate in a CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) where I live and I am able to get wonderful eggplants all summer long. With so much eggplant at one time,  I learned to prepare the eggplants for the freezer during the summer for future use.

Eggplant Storage

Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in storing them. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold . Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for only a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay. Instead, place it on a shelf within the refrigerator.
If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible, since the plastic will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.
When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel knife, as carbon steel will react with its phytonutrients and cause it to turn black.  Wash the eggplant first and then cut off the ends before peeling.

Making Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan is not a dish that can be prepared quickly, but with some of my make ahead tips, you can enjoy this entree for dinner and have several leftovers for future use without spending all day in the kitchen. Eggplant freezes very well in all stages of its preparation, which makes this an ideal vegetable to work with in your food preparation.

First Stage

I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them, individually, for future use.
For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:

  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled
  • ½ cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
  • 1 cup Italian style Progresso bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.
Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker).  You want them to be thin.
Place the egg substitute in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs in another.
Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute mixture, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and bake until crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.
If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place it in a zip lock freezer bag.  Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.

Second Stage

To assemble the casserole, you will need:
Spray an  8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

  • 2 ½ cups Marinara sauce (see earlier post for the recipe)
  • 1-8 ounce package Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese (You certainly can use mozzarella cheese, if that is your preference.)

Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the package of cheese. Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Makes 6 servings and each serving is less than 200 calories.

Another Way to Use this Versatile Vegetable

One of my daughters-in-law is crazy about eggplant, so I try to come up with numerous dishes that fit different occasions for when she visits.  The following recipe for Eggplant Rolls ( Eggplant Rollatini) is an excellent appetizer dish.  Some chefs do not peel eggplant for this dish, but I prefer eggplant without the peel becauset is more tender without the peel.

Eggplant Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant about 1 lb.  Peeled and cut into 8 lengthwise slices.  (Try to pick an eggplant that is more long than wide.)(See photo below.)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh oregano, thyme, and basil ( or ¼ teaspoon each of dried herbs)
  • ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces  Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups Marinara sauce

  • Combine the ricotta, Sargento cheese, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the eggplant.

Heat a grill pan or the broiler. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil.  Grill or broil eggplant slices three minutes on each side or until lighlty brown. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the filling on each eggplant slice.  Roll up tightly, jelly roll style.  Place the rolls in a greased baking dish and drizzle with marinara sauce.

Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes.  Arrange on a serving plate with fresh herbs to decorate.

Makes 8 appetizer servings.

                                                                                                       

Eggplant Rollatini




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