Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: chicken

 

At present, approximately 150,000 – 200,000 households in the U.S. are estimated to raise small numbers of chickens on their family property. Dozens of cities across the country have recently updated or passed new laws or ordinances for “urban chickens,” with many cities setting a cap at five or six chickens per family and their residing a minimum distance of 25-50 feet away from neighboring houses.

Commercial production of chicken in the U.S. has grown continuously and dramatically over the past 30 years. In 2010, production of broiler chickens surpassed 35 billion pounds and is expected to surpass 40 billion pounds by 2020. Per capita chicken consumption was approximately 50 pounds per year in 1985 but grew to nearly 85 pounds per year in 2005. Consumption of chicken presently exceeds consumption of beef by approximately 35%.

The United States is the world’s largest producer of broiler chickens and the U.S. states, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina produce the most chicken for meat purposes. (In terms of egg-laying flocks: Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas are states with the most production.)

Chicken (not deep-fried) is a great alternative to red meat. It’s low in fat — without the skin — and it’s very tasty, if it’s prepared correctly. Chicken is a great source of protein and, as an added bonus, it’s less expensive than beef. But remember, there’s always the risk of E. coli infection when you’re dealing with chicken. Be sure to cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. to avoid any problems.

Many diet plans recommend dieters choose white meat instead of dark meat chicken, because dark meat usually contains more calories than white meat. But dark meat chicken isn’t quite as unhealthy as you may have been led to believe. Dark meat chicken is rich in myoglobin, a compound packed with iron found in muscle cells. The dark meat parts of the chicken, like the chicken’s legs, are rich in myoglobin, whereas white meat chicken contains no myoglobin at all. In addition, dark meat chicken contains more zinc and B vitamins than white meat chicken.

The bottom line is dark meat chicken still contains more calories and fat than white meat, although dark meat does pack greater nutritional value. Occasional consumption of dark meat chicken is also a healthy option.

On average, a 6 oz. piece of white meat chicken breast with skin has approximately 340 calories. If you remove the skin from that same piece of chicken breast, it will contain only 240 calories. Chicken skin mostly consists of fat, so by removing it, you’ll be able to save at least 100 calories per 6 oz. serving. A 6 oz. skinless piece of chicken breast contains 3 g of fat, but that same piece of chicken with skin contains 14 g of fat.

Chicken is a great source of protein. One 6 oz. serving of chicken contains 48 g of protein. Chicken is also rich in potassium, calcium and contains no carbohydrates. The nutritional makeup of chicken makes it a healthy, filling food option. By eating healthy cuts of chicken, you’ll consume only a small amount of calories and your stomach will stay full for hours. This decreases your likelihood of snacking on unhealthy foods later in the day.

Although chicken is a naturally healthy food, it’s easy to make it unhealthy. The best preparations for chicken are grilling (broiling) and baking. You should avoid deep frying and use healthy marinades.

When purchasing whole chickens, look for ones that have a solid and plump shape with a rounded breast. Whether purchasing a whole chicken or chicken parts, the chicken should feel pliable when gently pressed and it should not have an “off” smell. Do not buy chicken if the sell-by date on the label has already expired or the packaging is broken. The color of the chicken’s skin, white or yellow, does not have any bearing on its nutritional value. Regardless of color, the skin should be opaque and not spotted.

If purchasing frozen chicken, make sure that it is frozen solid and does not have any ice deposits or freezer burn. Additionally, avoid frozen chicken that has frozen liquid in the package as this may indicate that it has been defrosted and refrozen.

Shopping for Chicken

Buy organic. Organic standards help lower risk of contaminated feed and organic chicken usually has higher quality and taste. However, remember that organic by itself does not guarantee a natural lifestyle for the chickens.

Ask for Pasture-Raised

Go beyond organic by asking for pasture-raised. Don’t get sidetracked by the confusing array of labeling terms. You are likely to find phrases like “pasture-raised,” “pastured,” free-range” and “cage-free” on chicken meat packaging, but labeling laws allow products to display these terms even if the chickens spend little or no time outdoors in a pasture setting. Talk to your grocer or the chicken farmer and find out how the animals were actually raised.

Consider Local Farms

Organic, pasture-raised chicken may be available from local farms with small flocks and a natural lifestyle for their chickens. Two websites that can help you find small local farms in your area are http://www.localharvest.org and http://www.eatwild.com. Both sites are searchable by zip code.

Chicken should be stored in the coldest section of your refrigerator. If the store packaging is intact and secure, store it this way since this will reduce the amount of handling. Yet, if the packaging is not secure and it seems as if the chicken liquids will leak, rewrap it securely before storing. This is very important to make sure that the chicken does not contaminate other foods in the refrigerator. Refrigerated raw chicken can keep for two to three days.

To freeze chicken: remove it from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels. Using either aluminum foil or freezer paper, wrap the chicken parts carefully so that they are as airtight as possible. Well-wrapped frozen chicken can keep for about one year.

Wash hands, tools and counters completely after working with chicken.

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Capers

Serves 4

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 oz. each)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, patted dry, and chopped
  • 1 lemon, zest finely grated, and juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Make a lengthwise horizontal slice almost all the way through each chicken breast and open each up like a book.

Flatten the chicken with a meat mallet until it is 1/4 inch thick. Put the Parmigiano, bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons capers, lemon zest and 1 tablespoons parsley in a mini chopper or food processor and pulse a few times to combine.

Sprinkle the mixture on top of the chicken breasts. Fold each breast closed and secure with toothpicks. Sprinkle the breasts with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil in a large (12-inch), heavy-duty, oven-proof skillet with a cover over medium-high heat until the butter melts and starts to foam, about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken and cook, without moving it, until it browns and easily releases from the pan, about 2 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook the other side until browned, about 2 more minutes.

Add the garlic and the remaining 1 tablespoon capers to the skillet, transfer the pan to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken cooks through (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part should register 165°F), about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil.

Set the skillet over medium-high heat; add the chicken broth and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits, until it reduces by about half, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Adjust seasoning, if needed.

Serve the chicken drizzled with the butter sauce and sprinkled with the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley.

Chicken Cacciatore

The secret to really great tasting cacciatore is to make it a day ahead, refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs chicken cut up or use all thighs, skin removed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
  • 1 large onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cups)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 (26-oz.) container Pomi brand crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Directions

Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or plate. Season with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a ziplock bag. Place a few pieces of chicken in the flour and shake until the chicken is coated. Return to the baking sheet and flour all the chicken.

Place a large Dutch oven over high heat for several minutes. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add a layer of chicken and brown on both sides. Remove to a large plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil and brown the remainder of the chicken.

Add the remaining oil and vegetables; reduce the heat to medium and sauté until the vegetables are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the tomatoes and the chicken to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 1 ½ hours or until the chicken is very tender.

Remove pot from heat and cool. Remove chicken to a large baking dish and pour the sauce from the Dutch Oven over the chicken. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day heat oven to 350 degrees F. and heat chicken covered for one hour.

Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. Serve the chicken over the cooked pasta.

Roasted Chicken with Apples and Sage

Servings 6

Ingredients

  • One 4-pound roasting chicken
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 medium apples, cored and quartered
  • 3 small onions
  • 2 ribs celery 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup fruity white wine, such as Riesling
  • 3/4 cup apple juice or cider

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Rub the inside of the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Chop 1 apple, 1 onion and the celery into 2-inch pieces. Toss the apple mixture with the garlic and 1 tablespoon sage and place it all in the chicken cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings securely under the chicken.

Mix the butter and mustard to a smooth paste and rub half of the mixture over the chicken and sprinkle with the remaining salt and white pepper. Place the chicken in a medium roasting pan. Roast in the lower third of the oven for 30 minutes.

Brush the remaining mustard-butter over the chicken and continue to roast for 1 hour. Baste the chicken with the pan drippings and sprinkle with remaining sage and thyme.

Scatter the remaining apples and onions around the chicken, tossing lightly to coat with the drippings. Add the white wine and roast the chicken 20 minutes more.

Baste the chicken and toss the apples and onions again for even browning. Continue to roast until juices run clear and the meat between the leg and thigh reaches 165° F.

Remove from the oven and transfer the chicken to a serving platter with the apples and onions.

Prepare the au jus: Tip the roasting pan so the liquid pools to one end and use a large spoon to remove any excess fat from the pan juices. Add the apple cider and place the pan over medium-high heat. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan and then pour the au jus over the chicken, apples and onions.

Slow Cooker Rosemary Chicken with Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary 
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • Snipped fresh parsley
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs

Directions

In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker, combine onion, garlic, broth, tapioca, 1 teaspoon of the lemon peel, the snipped rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Add chicken.

Sprinkle chicken with the salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

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

If using the low-heat setting, turn cooker to high heat. Add thawed artichokes and pepper strips. Cover and cook for 30 minutes more. To serve, sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon of lemon peel. If desired, serve with hot cooked rice. If desired, garnish with rosemary sprigs. Makes 6 servings.

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts 

Ingredients

  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 pounds)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Half a 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, toasted
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Place 1 chicken breast half between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Pound lightly with the flat side of a meat mallet into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Remove plastic wrap. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat with all the chicken breasts.

For the filling: in a medium skillet cook shallots and garlic in the 2 teaspoons hot oil until tender. Remove from heat; stir in spinach, nuts and mozzarella. In a shallow bowl combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling on each chicken breast. Fold in the bottom and sides; then roll up. Secure with wooden toothpicks.

Lightly brush each roll with the 1 tablespoon olive oil; coat with bread crumb mixture. Place rolls seam side down in a shallow baking pan.

Bake, uncovered, in a 400 degrees F. oven about 25 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and registers 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer.

Let rolls rest, covered with foil, for 5 minutes. Remove toothpicks before serving. Makes 6 chicken rolls.

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Tips For Grilling Chicken

To keep the chicken from sticking: grease your grill: Before you light the grill, spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray or brush it with oil. Use a marinade or rub the chicken with some oil.

Keep it hot: sear the chicken on a hot grill — this helps seal in the juices and makes it easier to turn over the chicken. Finish cooking over indirect heat.

Indirect Heat: cooking with indirect heat occurs when you use an area of the grill that is not directly over the heat source. Using indirect heat slows the cooking process down, which allows the center of the cut to cook thoroughly without burning the outside. On charcoal grills, coals are pushed to one side of the grill or banked into a ring around the outer edges. On gas grills, the side of the burner, which is below the area where the food will be placed, is turned off after the grill is preheated. Using one of the indirect setups will provide an area on the grill that is a low heat source. The meat is placed over the area in which there are no coals or over the burner that is turned off on a gas grill. Indirect heat is good for cooking whole chickens or larger pieces, such as a full chicken breast.

Direct Heat: cooking with direct heat occurs when you cook the meat directly over the heat source. The chicken is cooked quickly over medium or high heat coals or over burners set to medium or high heat on a gas grill. Direct heat is used when grilling food that cooks in 30 or less minutes, such as boneless chicken breasts and small chicken pieces.

Watch seasonings carefully: marinades and basting sauces, many of which have a high sugar content, will burn if the grill temperature is too hot or if exposed to heat for too long. A hot grill is normally not a problem with quick-cooking cuts (such as skinless, boneless breasts); longer-cooking cuts (such as bone-in chicken parts) should be cooked over a lower heat. And don’t start basting until the chicken is almost fully cooked.

Close the top: if your grill has a cover, always cook your chicken with the cover down. It will make your grill more oven-like and your food will cook more evenly. Also, because the cover cuts off some of the oxygen, you’ll have fewer flare-ups.

Be patient: resist the urge to continuously move the chicken around while it cooks. The chicken will cook more evenly and more quickly, if you follow the recipe cooking instructions or turn it over only once midway through the grilling.

Use the right utensil: use long-handled tongs or a wide metal spatula to move the chicken. Poking it with a fork will cause juices to escape.

Test for doneness: don’t risk serving undercooked chicken. When in doubt, make a small cut into the thickest part so you can be positive that it’s no longer pink inside. You can also use a meat thermometer to check if your meat has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Let the chicken rest so that juices can be redistributed. The cooking process continues for 5-10 minutes.

Be sure to clean up: scrape your grill rack after each use; otherwise, the chicken will pick up charred bits from your last barbecue. Chicken has a tendency to stick to a dirty grill.

Promote good hygiene: proper hand-washing — 20 seconds with hot, soapy water — is absolutely essential before and after handling raw chicken.

Protect against cross-contamination: place the package of raw chicken in a plastic bag to separate it from other groceries. Take it straight home from the store and refrigerate immediately (35 to 40 degrees F). Set wrapped raw chicken on a plate on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices don’t drip onto other foods. Always thoroughly wash cutting boards, knives, utensils, and countertops after they come in contact with raw chicken. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw chicken.

Make seasoning safe: always marinate in the refrigerator. If using a marinade as a basting or dipping sauce, set aside a portion before adding the raw food. Wash basting brushes with hot, soapy water after using on chicken. Discard leftover marinade that comes in contact with raw chicken, or bring to a boil for 1 minute before serving.

Refrigerate or cook: thaw chicken in the refrigerator; never leave it at room temperature. Never partially grill and finish cooking later; cook completely to destroy harmful bacteria.

Master Recipe for Grilled Chicken

If your gas grill has a smoke box that sits on or between the burners, put wood chips in it to give your chicken some smoky flavor. Or wrap some wood chips envelope-style in heavy-duty foil. Poke holes in the top and set it on the grill grates to produce some smoke.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken (4-5 lbs), butterflied
  • 1 cup apple juice for basting

Spice Rub

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons minced dried onion
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper

Combine all the ingredients and blend well.

Barbecue Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon onion salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 2 cups tomato ketchup
  • 1 cup peach preserves, pureed
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cubed and well chilled

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the butter. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Partially cover with the pot lid to protect yourself and your kitchen from any sputtering. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. With a whisk, blend in the butter cubes, a couple at a time, until incorporated.

Chicken

Butterfly the chicken: remove the backbone,  flatten the breastbone and tuck wings behind back. Using hands or handle of wooden spoon, loosen skin over breast and thighs and remove any excess fat. Pat the chicken with paper towels to dry. Sprinkle on the rub generously, rubbing it under the skin also.

Charcoal Grill:

Using a chimney starter, light 40 to 50 pieces of good-quality lump charcoal. When the coals are glowing, transfer them from the chimney to one side of the grill. Leave one side of the grill empty. (If you don’t have a chimney starter, stack the charcoal around some crumpled newspaper in a pyramid in the grill and light the newspaper. The coals will be hot in 20 to 30 min.) Place chicken skin-side down over cooler side of grill with legs facing the fire and cook until skin is lightly browned and faint grill marks appear, about 22 minutes. Baste the chicken with some of the apple juice several times during the cooking process. Using tongs or towel, grip legs and flip chicken (chicken should release freely from grill or use a thin spatula to loosen if stuck) and transfer to hot side of grill, skin-side up, breast facing into grill. Cover grill and cook until chicken is well-browned, about 12 minutes.

Gas Grill:

Heat one side of the grill to very hot and arrange the chicken on the other side. Close the lid and maintain the temperature of the grill between 230° and 250°F. Baste the chicken with some of the apple juice several times during the cooking process. Using tongs or towel, grip legs and flip chicken (chicken should release freely from grill or use a thin spatula to loosen if stuck) and transfer to hot side of grill, skin-side up, breast facing into grill. Cover grill and cook until chicken is well-browned, about 12 minutes

Finishing the Chicken

Cooked chicken should read 165°F in the meatiest part of the thigh or breast. You’ll also know the chicken is done when its juices run clear after being sliced into with a knife.

When the chicken is cooked, pour some of the barbecue sauce into a separate container (to avoid contaminating the whole batch) and brush it onto the chicken. Cook it an additional few minutes so that the sauce adheres to the chicken as a sticky glaze; watch the chicken carefully at this point and pull it off the grill if the sauce starts to burn. Remove the chicken from the grill, let rest for 5 -10 minutes on a platter and serve with some of the barbecue sauce on the side.

Grilled Chicken and Asparagus Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off and discarded
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 cups loosely packed parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 heads Bibb lettuce (about 1 1/2 pounds in all), torn into bite size pieces (about 4 1/2 quarts)

Directions:

Light the grill and heat to medium. Coat the chicken breasts with 1 tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Grill the chicken for 5 minutes. Turn and cook until just done, about 4-5 minutes more. When the chicken breasts are cool enough to handle, cut them into bite-size pieces.

Toss the asparagus spears with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus, turning occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes, depending on the width of the spears. Cut the spears into 2-inch lengths.

In a blender, combine the garlic, water, parsley, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/3 cup oil. Puree until smooth, scraping down the side of the blender with a spatula as necessary.

In a large glass or stainless-steel bowl, toss the lettuce, chicken and asparagus with half the vinaigrette. Put the salad on plates. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the salad, if desired.

Fennel Garlic Chicken Legs

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 4 whole chicken legs (12 to 14 ounces each)

Directions:

In a mortar, pound the garlic, fennel seeds, oregano and crushed red pepper with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt until a coarse paste forms. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil. You can also use a mini processor.

Make four 2-inch slashes on the skin of each chicken leg, cutting to the bone; make 2 slashes on the underside of each leg. Rub the paste into the slashes, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Light a grill. Brush the chicken with oil and season with salt. Grill over moderate heat, turning, until lightly charred and cooked through, 25 minutes.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lemon and Thyme

Servings 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 4 bone-in chicken breasts (about 2 1/4 pounds in all)

Directions:

Light the grill. In a shallow dish, combine the lemon juice with the thyme, red-pepper flakes, garlic, oil, salt and black pepper. Coat the chicken with the mixture. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Grill the chicken breasts over moderately high heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Turn and cook until the chicken is done (165 degrees), about 10 minutes longer.

Variations

• Try any dried herb you like in place of the thyme: marjoram, oregano, rosemary or sage are all good choices.

• Use boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of bone-in breasts. Grill them about five minutes per side over moderately high heat.

• Use a quartered chicken instead of bone-in breasts. Cook the breast sections as directed above and allow 13 minutes per side for the leg quarters.

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Sweet Onions and Peppers

This dish is good at room temperature also.

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced, lengthwise
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet red bell peppers stemmed, seeded, sliced lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup Ruby Port
  • 1/3 cup drained capers
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 chicken thighs (6 to 8 oz. each)
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Directions:

In a large pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add onions and peppers, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until very juicy and almost soft, 16 to 20 minutes. Add the Port, capers and thyme; cook uncovered, stiring often, until all the liquid has evaporated and vegetables are very soft and beginning to brown, 25 to 35 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper.

You can do this early in the day and wrap the pepper mixture in heavy duty foil, sealing tightly; heat the packet on the grill while cooking the chicken.

Preheat grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high) and oil the grates. After preheating, turn one side of the grill off.

Brush the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Lay thighs, skin down, on the direct heat side of the grill. Cover and grill for 5 minutes on each side. Move the chicken to indirect heat. Cover and grill an additional 5 minutes on each side or until done.(165 degrees on a meat thermometer.)

Transfer to a platter. Spoon onion-pepper mixture over chicken and sprinkle with parsley.


Most people are creatures of habit. We go to the grocery store on the same day every week and fill our carts with the same stuff. If it’s Monday, chicken’s for dinner and Wednesday, always means spaghetti. We are comforted with knowing what to expect—even if our meals aren’t that exciting–we know what we’re going to eat.

That’s what makes eating healthier so scary sometimes. We are so used to eating a certain way that we rarely think about what we’re actually putting into our bodies. So planning a healthier diet means paying attention to what’s on your plate.

Explore these tips for eating well:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat whole grains, such as whole wheat, oatmeal, and brown rice
  • Use healthy fats in your cooking, such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Choose low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Choose lean sources of protein and don’t forget to add nuts to your meals.
  • Compare sodium in foods, especially soup and frozen meals and choose foods with less sodium.
  • Eat seafood at least twice a week
  • Pay attention to portion size.
  • Drink tea.

All you need to round out these entrees is a garden salad with Italian dressing (made with olive oil) and some whole grain Artisan country bread.

 

Homemade Vegetable Soup

Makes about 9 cups; 60 calories per cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 6 cups vegetables fresh or frozen vegetables (about 28 ounces total)(see choices below)
  • 4 cups liquid (water, stock or broth), enough to cover
  • 15 ounces canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dried herbs such as basil, Italian seasoning or other spice blends
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, if using water for liquid, otherwise to taste

Directions:

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil until shimmery on medium high. Add onion, celery and carrots and stir well to coat with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables turn golden.

While the onion-celery-carrot mixture cooks, prep the other vegetables.  It helps to keep starchier vegetables (potatoes and sweet potatoes) separate from the rest. Stir vegetables in (starchier ones first) and let them cook for a few minutes, stirring often. Add the non-starchy vegetables and saute a few minutes more.

Cover with liquid. Add tomatoes, dried herbs and salt. Bring to a boil.

Cover and reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer and let cook for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are done.

Notes:

Vegetable Choices

Aim for 4 to 6 kinds of vegetables, varying color and shape and kind of vegetable. Use all fresh vegetables or half fresh vegetables and half frozen vegetables. Good fresh vegetables include bell peppers (red for color, green for price), turnips, fennel, rutabaga, sweet potatoes (peeled), potatoes (skins on), turnips, zucchini, bok choy, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, spinach. Good frozen vegetables include corn, green beans and green peas.

Cooking Tips:

The trick to this soup is flavor and texture. For flavor, let the onion/carrot/celery mixture cook really well, until golden. For texture, the other vegetables should be cooked just until done.

Fresh Broccoli and Red Pepper Frittata

Makes 4 servings. (serving size: 1/4 of a 10-inch Frittata) 211 calories

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cups broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper strips
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fat free milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat broiler.

Bring 1/2 cup water to a boil in a medium nonstick skillet with a cover over medium-high heat. Add broccoli, and return to a boil. Cover and boil 2 minutes or until just crisp-tender. Drain well in a colander.

Wipe skillet dry with a paper towel. Reduce heat to medium; add oil, and heat. Add onion and bell pepper, and cook 3 minutes or until onion is translucent, stirring frequently. (Note: Do not overcook peppers, as their color will start to fade.)

Meanwhile, combine eggs, milk, 1/4 teaspoon salt, thyme, and ground red pepper in a medium bowl. Stir until well blended.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add broccoli to onion/pepper mixture in skillet, and stir gently. Pour egg mixture evenly over all. Cover tightly, and cook 12 minutes or just until set. Remove from heat; sprinkle with remaining salt, and top with cheese.Place in the broiler and cook until top starts to brown lightly.  watch carefully so the top does not burn. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

 

Italian Seafood Stew

6 servings

Serving Size: 2 cups; calories 214

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces fresh or frozen cod or other white fish
  • 8 ounces fresh or frozen shrimp
  • 1 cup finely chopped leeks
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1-26 ounce container Pomi diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1-14 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1/2 cup clam juice
  • 1 pound mussels, soaked, scrubbed, and beards removed or clams
  • 1/2 cup snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Directions:

Thaw fish and shrimp, if frozen. Rinse fish and shrimp; pat dry with paper towels. Cut fish into 1-inch pieces. Peel and devein shrimp; halve shrimp lengthwise. Set fish and shrimp aside.

In an 8-quart Dutch oven, cook leeks, fennel, celery, carrot, and garlic in hot oil about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in tomato paste and Italian seasoning; cook for 1 minute. Add wine and stir until wine is nearly evaporated.

Stir in tomatoes, broth, the water, and clam juice. Bring to boiling; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Add mussels or clams and fish. Cover and cook about 5 minutes or until shellfish open. Discard any that do not open. Add shrimp; cook for 1 to 2 minutes more or until shrimp are opaque. Stir in half of the parsley. Ladle into shallow soup bowls. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley. Makes 6 servings (2 cups each)

Tip

Scrub mussels or clams in shells under cold running water. Remove beards on mussels. In an 8-quart Dutch oven, combine 4 quarts cold water and 1/3 cup salt; add mussels or clams. Soak for 15 minutes; drain and rinse. Discard water. Repeat soaking, draining, and rinsing twice to rid the shellfish of sand.

 

Spaghetti with Tomatoes & Shrimp

Makes: 4 servings; Calories 275 per serving

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces dried whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 12 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-26 ounce container Pomi chopped tomatoes, undrained
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Chopped fresh basil (optional)

Directions

In a medium saucepan cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp and garlic and cook until the shrimp are opaque throughout, about 4 minutes. Transfer the shrimp mixture to a bowl and set aside.

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano, capers, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Return the shrimp mixture to the pan and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add pasta and heat. Turn into serving bowl and garnish with basil.

Peppered Chicken in Marsala Sauce

Makes: 6 servings; 275 calories per serving

Ingredients

  • 6 chicken breast halves (about 3 1/2 pounds total)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Wondra instant flour
  • 1 ¼ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry Marsala
  • Coarsely ground black pepper (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Skin chicken. Brush chicken with oil; sprinkle black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt over chicken. Arrange chicken in a 15 x 10 -inch baking pan. Bake, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink (170 degrees F).

Meanwhile, for sauce, in a medium saucepan, cook mushrooms in hot butter until tender. Stir in flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add broth and Marsala. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly; cook and stir for 1 minute more. Place sauce on serving plates and top with a chicken breast. If desired, sprinkle with additional pepper.

Roasted Pecan Salmon Fillets

4 servings; 265 calories per serving:

Ingredients:

  • 4 salmon fillets (5-6 oz. each)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • Wedges of fresh lemon

Directions::

1. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Place skin side down on baking sheet.

2. Combine mustard and honey, brush on top of salmon.

3. Mix topping of bread crumbs, nuts, and parsley or rosemary and sprinkle over salmon.

4. Bake at 400°F 15-20 minutes or until flaky. Serve with wedges of fresh lemon.


Thought to be the sweetest fruit, figs are also one of the oldest fruits recognized by man. Ficus carica, known to us, as the common fig, originated in northern Asia Minor. Spaniards brought the fig to America in 1520.

The fig tree was mentioned prominently in the Bible and some scholars believe the forbidden fruit picked by Eve was a fig rather than an apple, but it has been around much, much longer than the stories depict. Sumerian stone tablets dating back to 2500 B.C. record the usage of figs. The fig tree can live as long as 100 years and grow to 100 feet tall, although domestic trees are kept pruned to a height of about 16 feet. The fig actually bears its flowers inside the fruit and relies upon wasps to crawl inside to pollinate them. This unique fertilization process is called parthenocarpy.

There are hundreds of varieties of figs, ranging in color from nearly black to almost white, and only the female fruits are edible. The green varieties are normally reserved for drying. Cooked figs were used as sweeteners in lieu of sugar in historical times, and this usage continues today in North Africa and the Middle East. High in potassium, iron, fiber and plant calcium, figs are also used for medicinal purposes as a diuretic and laxative.

Italians have been eating figs for a very long time — figs, together with cheese, bread, and olives, were among the staple foods of the Roman Legions — and many of the immigrants who came to America from southern Italy, where fig trees grow very well, planted trees where they settled, harvesting the bounty in the summer and covering the trees in the winter if it got cold.

Times have changed and most of us have to make do with what we can find in the markets. Figs range from pale green to blackish burgundy red, and should look firm, with a rather voluptuous roundness to them. There should be no whitish sap emerging from the stems, though a drop or two of nectar from the depression at the base of the fig and slight splits in the skin are acceptable. If they’re overripe they become very sweet, but can also begin to ferment.

California is the largest fig producer in the United States, with most of the harvest ending up dried. It takes over six pounds of fresh figs to produce two pounds of dried figs.

Here are the more popular varieties:

• Adriatic: light green or yellowish-green in color with pale pink or dark red flesh. Not as sweet as other varieties. Noted for its pronounced flavor, especially when dried.

• Brown Turkey: medium to large, maroon-brown skin with sweet, juicy pulp. All purpose usage.

 

 

• Calimyrna (Smyrna grown in California): large, green skin with white flesh. Less moist and not as sweet as the Mission. Most popular in its dried form. Having thick skin, they are usually peeled when eaten fresh.

• Celeste: small to medium, violet skin with extremely sweet, juicy white pulp. Good fresh or dried. A favorite for container gardening.

 

Kadota: medium size, yellowish-green in color, thick-skinned with sweet white to amber-pink pulp. It has only a few small seeds. All purpose usage.

 

• Mission: purplish-black in color with red flesh, full-flavored, moist and chewy texture. Best for eating fresh, but also good dried. They are named for the California Franciscan missions where they have been cultivated since 1770.

It’s important to keep fresh figs cold to slow deterioration. Use them immediately or store in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your refrigerator for up to two days. Figs can be frozen whole, sliced or peeled in a sealed container for ten to twelve months.

Canned figs will be good for a year in your pantry. Opened canned remainders can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for a week.

Though serving them at the end of the meal obviously comes to mind — they are, after all, fruit — they also go very well with thinly sliced prosciutto as an antipasto.

Figs produce protein-digesting enzymes that break down muscle and connective tissue in meat, making them an excellent tenderizer as well as flavor-enhancer.

Fig Equivalents – How to Measure Figs

• 1 pound fresh figs = 9 medium

• 1 pound fresh figs = 12 small

• 1 pound fresh figs = 2-2/3 cups chopped

• 1 pound canned figs = 12 to 16 whole figs

• 1 pound dried figs = 44 whole figs

• 1 pound dried = 3 cups chopped

Dried Figs

Not to worry if you don’t have access to fresh figs. Dried figs are readily available.

Dried figs can be stored in the original sealed package at room temperature for a month. For longer storage, keep them in the refrigerator, six months to a year. Opened dried figs should be transferred to a sealable plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator.

 • Dried figs can be used interchangeably with prunes, dried apricots, and dates in most recipes.

• When chopping dried figs by hand with knife or scissors, dip cutting implement into warm water occasionally to prevent sticking.

• When chopping in a food processor, add some of the sugar called for in the recipe to prevent the figs from sticking.

• If dried figs seem hard or too dry, they can be soaked, steamed or poached to restore moisture.

• To separate dried figs that are stuck together, pop them in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

Cooking with Figs

You have probably had figs wrapped in prosciutto or stuffed with gorgonzola cheese as an appetizer. You may have had figs sliced over a salad or cookies with a fig filling. Have you tried figs as an accompaniment to your meat entree?

Fig and Rosemary Pork Pot Roast

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 8-ounce package dried Calimyrna figs, stemmed, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 6-rib blade-end or center-cut pork loin roast, chine bone removed, ribs cracked
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring wine and figs to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat and let stand until figs soften, about 15 minutes. Drain figs, reserving wine and figs separately.

Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Add pork to pot and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer pork to platter.

Add onion and carrot to the same pot. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Stir in rosemary and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add broth and reserved wine.

Return pork to pot, meat side down. Bring to boil. Cover and transfer to oven. Bake until a thermometer inserted into center of roast registers 150°F, about 1 1/2 hours. Add figs during the last 10 minutes of roasting,

Transfer pork to cutting board. Using slotted spoon, transfer figs to small bowl. Tent pork and figs with foil to keep warm. Spoon fat from surface of sauce. Bring sauce to boil. Stir butter and flour in medium bowl to blend. Whisk 1 cup sauce and mustard into butter mixture. Whisk mustard-butter mixture into sauce in pot. Boil sauce until thickened and slightly reduced, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer pork to platter, surround with figs, and pour sauce over. Carve pork between rib bones.

Note: You can use a center-cut pork loin roast (the most commonly available cut), but for a more moist roast ask your butcher for a six-rib blade-end pork loin roast. This cut isn’t stocked by many markets, so be sure to order it in advance.

 

Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Figs

6 servings

Ingredients:

Lamb Chops

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 2-pound racks of lamb, trimmed of fat and sinew
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

Directions:

Combine herbs in small bowl. Rub lamb with olive oil, half of chopped herbs, and garlic; cover and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat grapeseed oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper; sear until brown on both sides, 5 minutes total. Transfer lamb to large rimmed baking sheet; roast to desired temperature, about 20 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer lamb to cutting board; let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Maintain oven temperature; reserve baking sheet for figs.

Roasted Figs

  • 12 ripe Kadota figs, halved lengthwise
  • 16 sprigs lemon thyme or regular thyme
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Place figs and thyme sprigs on baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining herbs and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Roast in oven at 425°F for 10 minutes.

Cut lamb racks into individual chops; arrange on plates and place figs alongside.

Chicken with Figs and Port Sauce

The figs for the sauce need to marinate overnight, so start one day ahead.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 12 ripe black Mission figs
  • 1 1/4 cups ruby Port
  • 3 bay leaves, divided
  • 1 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 breasts with wings attached
  • 18 slices prosciutto (about 12 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance blend, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth

Directions:

Place figs, Port, and 1 bay leaf in medium bowl. Cover and let figs marinate at room temperature overnight.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Wrap 3 pieces of prosciutto around each piece of chicken, securing with metal lacing pins or toothpicks. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil in a large pot. Add chicken and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to plate. Add shallots and garlic to pot. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add 2 bay leaves, tomatoes, celery, and coriander; sauté 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup Port from fig marinade. Return chicken to pot. Add 2 cups chicken broth. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, adding more broth if too dry and turning chicken occasionally, about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, transfer remaining Port from fig marinade to small saucepan. Boil until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add figs; cover and set aside.

Transfer chicken to platter. Boil sauce until reduced slightly, about 4 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve with figs in Port sauce.

 Roast Beef with Mushroom-Fig Sauce

Roast Beef with Mushroom-Fig Sauce

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pound beef eye round roast
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces fresh cremini, stemmed shiitake, or button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or sweet onion
  • ½ cup dry red wine or port wine
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • ¾ cup lower-sodium beef broth
  • ½ cup chopped, stemmed dried figs
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Trim fat from meat. Sprinkle meat with the salt and pepper, rubbing in with your fingers.

2. Place meat on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert an oven-proof meat thermometer into center of roast. Roast, uncovered, for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours or until thermometer registers 135 degrees F (it is not recommended to roast an eye round roast past medium-rare). Cover meat with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before slicing. Temperature of the meat after standing should be 145 degrees F.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallot to skillet. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until mushrooms are just tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add wine to the skillet. Return to the heat and bring to boiling; boil gently, uncovered, for 3 minutes or until wine is reduced by about half. Whisk in mustard and 1 teaspoon rosemary. Add broth and figs. Bring to boiling; boil gently, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until liquid is slightly thickened and reduced by about one-third.

4. Thinly slice meat and serve with mushroom-fig sauce. Garnish with rosemary sprigs.

Still Life with Figs and Bread by Luis Melendez

Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Figs and Bread, 1760s, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington,


Now it’s hot. The kind of hot that forces you to sit still, preferably under a ceiling fan, sipping a cold drink. You can almost hear the grass growing taller and the air conditioner spending money. Everyone slows down. It’s so hot you don’t want to cook – not for anybody! But you still have to eat! At least with the recipes below, you won’t have to turn the oven on.

Menu 1

Omelet with Summer Vegetables

This satisfying entrée for one or two is good for any meal, from breakfast to dinner. Serve with fruit or the salad below.
1-2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil plus cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
  • 1/2 cup chopped zucchini
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 large egg whites plus 1 large egg or you can use ¾ cups egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheese of your choice

Directions:

Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray and add the olive oil. Add corn, zucchini and onions to the pan; sauté 4 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove vegetable to a bowl.

Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt, water, pepper, egg whites, and egg, stirring well with a whisk. Return skillet to heat. Pour egg mixture into pan; cook until edges begin to set (about 2 minutes). Gently lift the edges of the omelet with a spatula, tilting pan to allow the uncooked egg mixture to come in contact with the pan. Spoon the corn mixture onto half of the omelet; sprinkle the corn mixture with cheese. Loosen the omelet with a spatula, and fold in half over the corn mixture. Cook 2 minutes or until the cheese melts. Carefully slide the omelet onto a plate.

Baby Greens with Oranges

Blood Oranges are attractive in this salad when they are available in your area.

Makes 4 (1-1/2-cup) servings.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups mesclun or other mild salad greens
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 4 thin slices red onion, separated into rings
  • 1 cup orange sections
  • 3 tablespoons mixed country olives or regular kalamata olives
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Place greens in a large salad bowl. For dressing, whisk together olive oil, orange juice, and vinegar in a small dish. Pour dressing over greens, gently tossing to mix.
Divide mixture into servings and top with onion rings, orange sections, and olives. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Menu 2

Linguine With Fresh Herbs

6 servings

This is a lean pasta dish, filled with flavor as well as color. Serve as a main entree with the Caprese Salad (recipe below).

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from cubed Italian or French bread, including crust, coarsely ground in food processor
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth, low-sodium canned
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1 pound linguine

Directions:

In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and toast until golden, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl.

In same skillet, heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil over low heat. Add red onion and saute, stirring frequently, until soft but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until soft, about 30 seconds. Stir in chicken broth and simmer until heated. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.

Transfer mixture to a pasta bowl, and add basil, mint, parsley and thyme. Stir to combine.

Cook pasta in 6 quarts salted boiling water until al dente. Drain pasta, transfer to pasta bowl, and toss with herb mixture. Sprinkle toasted bread crumbs on top and serve.

Frugal Tip:  I keep a zip bag in the freezer and add any leftover pieces of bread I have from dinner.  When I need fresh breadcrumbs, I can pour out the amount needed and process them into crumbs.

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

4 servings
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Freshly-ground black pepper and salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Alternate fresh mozzarella slices with sliced tomatoes, overlapping, in a circular design on a serving plate.
Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Just before serving, drizzle with top-quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Menu 3

Chicken and Pepper Stew

This dish can also be cooked in your Slow-Cooker (about 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high).

Serve with Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes and Green Salad.

Frugal Tip:  Bell peppers are in season now, so take advantage of their lower price. I buy extra peppers, slice them into thin strips and place them in freezer bags for the winter months. Frozen peppers work very well in casseroles or omelets or in sauces.

Ingredients:

  • 8 chicken thighs or legs, skinned
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 pounds (4 large) mixed green or yellow or orange or red bell peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1-28-ounce container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil or fresh basil leaves sliced thin

Directions:

1. Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, and brown the chicken pieces, in batches, on each side for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or plate.
2. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze, until the onions begin to soften. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and sweet peppers, a bit of salt and the garlic, and cook, stirring, until the peppers begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir together until the tomatoes begin to bubble and smell fragrant, about 5 minutes.
3. Return the chicken pieces to the pan. Cover and cook 25 to 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring at regular intervals and turning the chicken pieces over so that the ingredients don’t scorch and the chicken cooks evenly. The peppers should be very soft and the chicken quite tender. Add  oregano, basil and freshly ground pepper; taste and adjust the salt.

Olive-Oil Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold  potatoes
  • Salt and ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup skim milk or buttermilk

Directions:

  1. Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks. In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches and add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil; cook until potatoes are very tender and easily pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain; transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Using a potato masher or fork, mash potatoes with olive oil and milk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with more olive oil before serving, if desired.

Menu 4

Italian Bean Salad With Tuna

Frugal tip:  Early in the week, grill fresh tuna fillets for dinner and include an extra half a pound to cook and save for this recipe later in the week.

Serves 4.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. fresh cooked tuna
  • 2 cans of low sodium white (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1 red onion finely minced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry oregano 
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup of sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped
  • Grilled Italian Bread slices

Directions:

In a large non metallic bowl combine all the ingredients, and mix well.

You can serve this dish right away or refrigerate for two to three hours and serve with the grilled bread.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley just before serving.

Menu 5

Steak Salad with Tomatoes, Peppers, Sweet Onions and Balsamic Vinaigrette

4 Servings

Ingredients:

For the balsamic vinaigrette:

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the grilled steak:

2 top sirloin steaks, about 8 ounces each

For the green salad:

  • 8 cups romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, rinsed and sliced in half
  • 1 green bell pepper stemmed, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced Vidalia onion

4 small whole grain crusty rolls

Directions:

For the balsamic vinaigrette:

Place the shallots and vinegar in a small mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Continue whisking and slowly add the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

(This can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

For the grilled steak:

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Season the steaks with salt and pepper.

Grill the steaks on both sides until it is cooked as you prefer, about 5-6 minutes per side for medium and depending on the thickness of the steak. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board to rest for five minutes. (The steak can be grilled in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

For the green salad:

Slice the steaks into thin strips and place them in a mixing bowl. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper and onion slices and half of the balsamic vinaigrette.

Place the romaine lettuce in a separate salad bowl and toss it with the remaining vinaigrette. Arrange the steak, tomato, bell pepper and onion mixture on top. Serve with a roll.

Tropical Sherbet

Last-Minute Tropical Sherbet

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups cubed mango or 1 (12-ounce) package frozen mango chunks 
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen pineapple chunks
  • 1 (6-ounce) carton lemon low-fat yogurt 
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest

Ciro’s Italian Village, Washington, D.C. (1930)
Photo courtesy of Bill Walsh, copy editor at The Washington Post.

In the early 1900′s the Italian Immigrants who came to America lacked a common language and a common interpretation of “Italian cuisine.”  In Italy they had  been sharecroppers and tenant farmers and had become accustomed to living on the foods they grew on their land. While there was no single style of cooking that typified the newly-arrived Italian, one foodstuff that all Italian immigrants had in common was pasta made from soft wheat flour, water, and salt. At the time, semolina pasta made with durum wheat (as we know it today), was a staple for only the Italian upper classes, however, that would change once the newcomers found housing and steady incomes in America.

As they began to form communities in America, the Calabrese settled with other Calabrese; Sicilians with other Sicilians, etc. They cooked the dishes they remembered from Italy, whenever possible, with ingredients close to those they knew from home. These Italian neighborhoods became the ‘Little Italy’ communities in the major cities of the United States. Among the better known are the North End in Boston, North Beach in San Francisco, The Hill in St. Louis, the Bella Vista neighborhood in Philadelphia, Federal Hill in Providence, and the Little Italy quarters of Chicago, Baltimore, and New York.

Commercial pasta production—on a mom-and-pop level—began with the first waves of immigrants. Many set up shops, some in the front parlors of their apartments, to sell their homemade products to neighbors.

Although many worked as laborers and longshoremen, Italians found that even with a $10.00 weekly wage, one could enjoy the semolina pasta and salume (cured meats) they had been unable to afford back home. Tenement living may have been crowded and unpleasant, but semolina pasta—even simply dressed with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes—gave them a sense of liberation from the oppressive poverty they had known in Italy.  (Source: Almost Italian: A Cookbook & History of Italian Food in America by Skip Lombardi and Holly Chase.)

Following the First World War, pasta was an inexpensive choice at a time when food prices were rising in America. Recipes for spaghetti and tomato sauce started turning up in women’s magazines. American millers found a new use for flour, the consumption of which had decreased as the population moved to cities and began eating  more varied diets, which were not based on bread. The millers sponsored “eat more wheat” campaigns in the early 1920s and promoted macaroni. Pasta makers began using durum wheat, which they advertised as being higher in protein than soft wheat (it is, but not by much). Campbell’s, Heinz and other manufacturers brought out canned macaroni with tomato sauce, joining Franco-American, which in the 1890s had begun to sell canned spaghetti, stressing that it used a French recipe. Cooking pasta long enough to can it safely, institutionalized what was already a long-established practice, one for which Italians still deride Americans—over cooking pasta.  

Semolina Flour

It became acceptable and fashionable  to promote Italian food, even if the pasta was mush and the tomato sauce was full of sugar and salt. One typical recipe for tomato sauce omitted garlic and consisted of canned tomato soup with Worcestershire sauce added. In 1927 Kraft began marketing grated “Parmesan” cheese in a cardboard container with a perforated top and suggested that the cheese be served as a topping for spaghetti with tomato sauce. Spaghetti sales outnumbered those of egg noodles and ran a strong second in popularity to elbow macaroni, called simply macaroni, which was already conventional in salads.

spaghetti and meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

The promotional efforts worked and annual per capita consumption of pasta went from near zero in 1920 to 3¾  pounds by the end of the decade (as compared with fifty pounds in Italy). Restaurants accounted for much of this rise. Cafeterias, which became extremely popular in the twenties, served a great deal of spaghetti and tomato sauce. Italians all over the country opened “spaghetti houses” that served spaghetti and meatballs (purely an Italian American creation) to blue-collar workers. By the end of the twenties Italian restaurants had become the most popular ethnic restaurants in American cities, a lead they now hold nationwide. The Depression made spaghetti less an option than a necessity, and spaghetti and meatballs began appearing regularly on millions of American tables. ( Source: July 1986 ATLANTIC MAGAZINE)

In the mood for some real Italian spaghetti, try these recipes:

Spaghetti with Sausage and Simple Tomato Sauce                                                                                                                

Yield:  4 servings (serving size: 1 1/4 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces hot Italian pork or turkey sausage links
  • 8 ounces uncooked spaghetti
  • 1 (28-ounce) container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:
1. Preheat broiler.
2. Arrange sausage on a small baking sheet. Broil sausage 5 minutes on each side. Remove pan from oven (do not turn broiler off). Cut sausage into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices in a single layer on the baking sheet. Broil sausage slices 2 minutes on each side or until browned.
3. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
4. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add crushed red pepper and minced garlic; sauté 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, and salt; cook 4 minutes or until slightly thick. Add sausage and cooked pasta to pan; toss well. Top with fresh basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Sautéed Chicken with Pesto Spaghetti                                                                                                     

4 Servings

Ingredients:

Directions:

1. Make the pesto if using homemade.
2. Trim the chicken breasts. If very thick, slice in half lengthwise to create two thin cutlets. Dredge the chicken in the flour.
3. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat until melted.  Add in the chicken and sauté until browned on each side and almost cooked through – about 3 – 5 minutes per side. (Do not move them until you are ready to turn them – let them caramelize.) Place chicken on a plate and set aside.
4. Add the white wine to the pan and simmer for a few minutes to deglaze. Lower the heat. Add in the stock and simmer for a few minutes.  Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken and any juices to the pan and allow to simmer until cooked through.
5. Meanwhile, bring salted water to boil in a large pasta pot.  Add pasta and cook according to package directions until ‘al dente’. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain pasta.
6. Return pasta to the pot in which it was cooked.  Remove chicken from the sauté pan to a plate. Pour the sauce from the sautéed chicken over the pasta.  Reserve 1/4 cup of the pesto and add the remaining to the pasta.  Stir to incorporate. If dry, add in as much pasta water as needed.
7. Arrange the pasta on a warmed serving plate.  Arrange the chicken over the pasta and top with the reserved pesto.

Spaghetti with Shrimp, Scallops, and Clams                                                                                                 

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh red chili, seeded and finely chopped or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 pound fresh clams, scrubbed and rinsed well 
  • 1/2 pound. fresh scallops, cut small
  • 1/2 pound fresh raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, to serve

Directions:

1.  Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat and sweat the garlic and chili for a few minutes until soft. Add the wine to the pan. Tap the clams on the work surface and discard any that do not close.  Add the clams and scallops to the pan and continue to sweat, taking care that the garlic and chili do not burn. As soon as the clams open (discard any that do not), remove the clams and scallops to a plate and set aside. Add the shrimp to the same pan and saute over medium-high heat for a few minutes until they turn lightly pink. Return the clams and scallops to the pan.  Season with salt and a little black pepper, and toss briefly to heat through.
2.  Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pan of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and add to the sauce with a tiny amount of the cooking water (just enough to keep the pasta moist). Stir well, transfer to a large serving bowl or individual pasta bowls, and sprinkle with lots of chopped parsley.

Note
How to clean clams:
Scrub the clams well under cold running water to wash away any grit. Put the clams in a large bowl of salted water making sure they are well covered with water (but do not cover the bowl). Soak in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or even overnight – any grit or sand will be left behind in the bottom of the bowl when you remove the clams. Pick out the clams by hand and rinse in plenty of fresh cold water.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti With Artichokes And Ricotta                                                                                                       

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and as soon as it starts to sizzle, add the artichokes and lemon juice. Add 1/4 cup water, cover the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions until al dente.

Meanwhile, whisk the ricotta, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of hot pasta water together in a large pasta bowl until creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley.

Reserve about 1/2 cup pasta water and drain the pasta. Add it to the pasta bowl with the ricotta and toss to coat the pasta. If necessary, add a little hot pasta water to attain a creamy consistency. Add the artichokes and toss again. Serve immediately with generous amounts of grated Parmesan.

Spaghetti With Fresh Veggies                                                                                                                     

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 16 thin stalks fresh asparagus (or any fresh green vegetable in season)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 medium plum (Roma) tomatoes, seeded and chopped (2 1/4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter*
  • 3/4 pound of spaghetti 
  • 1/4 cup shredded fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup fat free half

Directions:

Trim asparagus. Remove tips; set aside. Bias-slice asparagus stalks into 1 1/2-inch pieces; set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and cook about 2 minutes, stirring often.

Add asparagus stalks, wine, and salt. Cook, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Add asparagus tips; cook uncovered, for 1 minutes. Add butter; stir till melted.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta. Return to pan and toss with asparagus mixture, half and half and basil.

Note: The butter is used in this recipe to bind the sauce. Margarine might not be an effective substitute.


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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We live in busy times. The demands of work and family and personal activities can leave one with little room to pay attention to a healthy diet. When it comes to food, a person on the go doesn’t always make the best choices. When you’re hungry, a fast food meal that takes a couple of minutes to order at a drive through window can be so much more appealing than one that takes much more time to plan and prepare. Fast food, also known as “junk food” is fine occasionally, but when it becomes a habit, it can lead to weight gain and health problems down the road.
According to WebMD, Not only are most fast food items not terribly healthy, one study indicates that there may be something about fast food that actually encourages gorging. This food is often low in fiber, high in fat, sugar and calories.  The draw of fast food is it is both quick and tasty, but unfortunately, it isn’t that great for your overall well being.


It may seem difficult to find quick healthy meals when you’re on the run,  but with a little thinking ahead, you can be well on your way to a healthier diet. If you are flustered just by the thought of cooking, you might start off by making healthier choices when you’re grabbing food to go. The Mayo Clinic outlines several tips for takeout food. They suggest keeping the calories down by watching the portion size, choosing the healthiest side dish available to you, going for fresh greens whenever possible, opting for grilled foods over fried items, asking for healthful substitutions such as low fat mayonnaise or dressing, and foregoing the sugary drink that often accompanies a fast food meal.


Of course, the best option is to think ahead. Become a meal planner. Choose quick healthy recipes that you can take with you and eat on the run. When you plan ahead you have the advantage of knowing exactly what you are eating. You have more control over your choices, and you can choose anything: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, even an extra treat from time to time. Instead of feeling the frustration of having to pick from a menu of unhealthy items, you truly get to have it your way. Planning meals can be fun, and there are plenty of fast healthy recipes available; you can find great resources for these online or by shopping in the cookbook aisle of your local bookstore. You can try the recipes for 5 weeknights below to get you started.

Garlic-Basil Halibut

Serve with sauteed zucchini and quick cooking brown rice.

Makes: 4 servings
Serving size: 5 ounces cooked fish

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds fresh halibut or other white fish fillets (about 1-inch thick)
  • 4 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoon melted butter, or Smart Balance Spread
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Directions:

Pat fish dry with paper towels. Cut fish into 4 serving size pieces.
In a small bowl combine basil, melted butter, garlic, salt, and black pepper.
Brush mixture over both sides of fish.
Place fish on the unheated rack of broiler pan. Broil 4 inches from heat for 8 to 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with fork, turning once.

An stove top grill can also be used to cook the fish.

Pasta with Zucchini and Toasted Almonds

Serve with a green salad and bread sticks.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 (9-ounce) package refrigerated linguine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 cups chopped zucchini (about 1 pound)
  • 3/4 cup less-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil , divided
  • 1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated fresh Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted

Directions:

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add 2 teaspoons oil, tossing to coat.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain well.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add zucchini; sauté 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Stir in pasta and 1 1/2 tablespoons basil; toss well. Remove from heat; stir in tomato mixture. Place 1 1/2 cups pasta mixture in each of 4 bowls; top evenly with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons basil. Sprinkle each serving with 4 teaspoons cheese and 2 teaspoons almonds.

Pork with Lemon-Caper Sauce

Serve pork with orzo and green beans.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 chop and 1 tablespoon sauce)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (Wondra)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons Progresso Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten or 3 tablespoons egg substitute
  • 4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick)
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained

Directions:
1. Combine flour and salt in a shallow dish. Place breadcrumbs, cheese, and pepper in a shallow dish; place egg white in another shallow dish. Dredge pork in flour mixture, dip in egg white, and dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Coat pork with cooking spray.
2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from pan; keep warm. Add broth and remaining ingredients to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 2 minutes or until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 2 minutes).  Serve with pork.

Quick Italian Chicken with Roasted Peppers

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 green bell peppers and 2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced into 1 inch strips
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 16-oz. can no salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup low fat reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4-1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast

Directions:
Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in large skillet. Brown chicken breasts on each side and remove to a plate.

Sauté garlic and red pepper flakes for about 1 minute. Add onion and peppers and continue cooking until tender and soft, about 10 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes, Italian seasoning, parsley, salt and pepper, and broth.

Add chicken breasts to skillet. Increase heat to medium and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Turn chicken breasts and continue simmering for an additional 10 minutes or until sauce is reduced by about half and chicken is cooked through. (Meat thermometer should read 170 degrees when inserted into center of breasts..)

Serve with mashed potatoes and ladle sauce over chicken and potatoes.


Soup and Sandwich Night

Make a quick soup and while it simmers, make the sandwiches.

 Escarole and White Bean Soup

Cook 3 chopped garlic cloves and some red pepper flakes in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 3 cups chicken broth, 1 head chopped escarole and simmer 15 minutes. Add 1 can low sodium white beans, parmesan and salt to taste.

Prosciutto, Fontina Cheese & Sun-Dried Tomato Piadina Sandwiches

An alternative to a classic panini is a piadina. Piadine are flat, almost tortilla-like bread that is from the Emilia Romagna region in Italy.   They are almost always grilled. Most of the same ingredients in a normal panini can be put in a piadina; just the bread changes.   Turkey or ham or grilled vegetables can be used in place of any of the ingredients below.  You can cook these sandwiches on a Panini Press or a grill.

4 Sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, smashed
  • 6 oz. baby spinach (about 6 lightly packed cups)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups grated fontina cheese
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 8 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • Two large pita breads, each split into two rounds
  • 8 very thin slices prosciutto, preferably imported

Directions

Heat the oven to 250°F. Heat the oil and garlic in a skillet over medium-high heat until the garlic starts to sizzle steadily and browns in places, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, tossing, until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a colander. Let cool a couple of minutes, discard the garlic, and gently squeeze out the excess liquid from the spinach.

In a medium bowl, toss the spinach with the fontina, parmigiano, sun-dried tomatoes, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set the 4 pita halves on a work space and top each with 2 slices of prosciutto on one side of the bread. Top each evenly with the spinach mixture and fold in half. You will have four piadinas.
Brush sandwich very lightly with olive oil and place in your panini maker.  Follow directions for your maker. You can also grill the sandwich on a stove top grill pressing down on the sandwich with a large spatula.  Grill until lightly toasted. Turn sandwich and press.  Grill until toasted.  Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Cook the remaining sandwiches in the same manner.

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The modern slow cooker was developed by Rival Industries with the trademarked name Crock Pot. This name is sometimes used informally to refer to any slow cooker. Rival purchased and refined the design of a bean-pot called the Beanery from Naxon Co. of Chicago.

In the early ’70s, the Rival Company, known for its “Juice-O-Mat,” “Ice-O-Mat,” and “Can-O-Mat” convenience appliances, resurrected the idea of slow cooking. The company acquired the rights to the “Beanery,” a primitive slow cooker, and gave the appliance a much-needed makeover. The Crock-Pot slow cooker was born.

The timing couldn’t have been better. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, Americans were encouraged to conserve electricity, and Crock-Pots operated at a very low wattage. In addition, many women were abandoning their traditional roles as homemakers and the Crock-Pot and its motto—”Cooks all day while the cook’s away”—fit their new lifestyle.

The slow cooker is a versatile appliance that’s just as suited to vegetarian foods as it is meat and poultry, everyday meals, and entertaining occasions. You can make hearty, healthy dishes for the whole family.  Simply add ingredients to the slow cooker, get on with your day, and come home to a kitchen filled with tempting aromas.

The slow cooker, which is essentially an electric pot with a stoneware insert, can do what no oven or stovetop burner can: cook food at consistently low and even temperatures for what might be as long as 10 or 12 hours. Dinner cooks while you’re out.

Flavor is one of the big advantages to meals you cook in the pot. You can get a deeply flavored meal at the end of an 8- or 10-hour slow simmer. Time-saving is another reason for the slow cooker’s popularity. Plus, they’re practical, since a slow cooker holds up to five quarts, you can definitely plan to have leftovers.

There is planning involved, however. The pot is perfect for cheaper cuts of meat that need long, gentle cooking to become tender: beef short ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, and lamb shanks. Fish and dairy products, however, don’t fare as well; both will break down during the cooking. Chicken can get mushy, so pay strict attention to cook times for chicken recipes.

Always put vegetables in first. Vege­tables take longer to cook than meat does, so for layering purposes, start with vegetables, then meat, and finally seasonings and small amounts of liquid. To prevent overcooking, fresh dairy products, pasta, or instant rice should be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, or as your recipe directs.

Judith Finlayson, author of Slow Cooker Comfort Food: 275 Soul-Satisfying Recipes and The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes, answers some slow-cooker questions.

How do I prevent meat from drying out?

To prevent poultry from drying out, use chicken thighs—they have more fat and won’t dry out as quickly, says Finlayson. Cook thighs for about six hours and breasts for a maximum of five hours on low heat. Beef, depending on the cut, is much more forgiving, she says. For better results, use stewing beef, short ribs, or brisket as opposed to a rib steak or a sirloin.

How can I prevent flavors from becoming muddy?

“Start with a good recipe and quality ingredients and you will be a long way from having muddy flavors,” says Finlayson. For fresher flavors, add chopped herbs and vegetables with shorter cooking times about 10 minutes before the meal is ready.

How can I clean my slow cooker without lots of soaking and scrubbing?

Though the slow cooker’s insert can be heavy, cleaning shouldn’t be a problem. Slow cookers retain moisture which should prevent scorching on the bottom, says Finlayson. Difficulty cleaning may indicate a technical issue such as the heat being on too high for too long.

Can I cook frozen meats in my slow cooker?

Cooking frozen meats in the slow cooker is an absolute no, says Finlayson. Harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses, flourish in moist environments at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Using frozen meat may cause food to remain at an unsafe temperature for too long.

Is it safe to leave the slow cooker on when I’m not home?

Leaving the slow cooker on is perfectly safe. In fact, it’s comparable to leaving a light bulb on while you’re out, says Finlayson.

Why does my food get overcooked, even on the low setting?

Slow cookers are all manufactured differently and they don’t all cook at the same pace, says Finlayson: “Know your slow cooker. Use quality recipes, and if you are consistently cooking faster or slower, adjust your time accordingly.” Keep in mind: There are no precise guidelines, and it may take a bit of trial and error to fix the issue.

Can I cut a slow cooker recipe in half?

If cutting a recipe in half, you should also reduce the size of your slow cooker so that the heat distributes evenly, says Finlayson.  If you only own one slow cooker, make the whole recipe and freeze the leftovers or stick to soups and stews, since the size of the slow cooker isn’t as important as it is when cooking grains.

Chicken Cacciatore

Makes: 6 servings
Cook: 6 hrs to 7 hrs (low) or 3 to 3 1/2 hours (high)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 – 4 pounds meaty chicken pieces (breast halves, thighs, and drumsticks), skinned
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups thinly sliced fresh cremini and/or button mushrooms
  • 1- 14 1/2 ounce can low sodium diced tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped green bell pepper (1 large)
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Pasta, cooked, optional


Directions:
Place flour in a plastic bag. Add chicken pieces, a few at a time, shaking to coat. In an extra-large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook chicken, half at a time if necessary, in hot oil about 12 minutes or until browned, turning occasionally. Transfer chicken to a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.
Add mushrooms to skillet; cook and stir over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to cooker. Add drained tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, carrots, wine, salt, and pepper to mixture in cooker.
Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 7 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Before serving, stir in basil, parsley, and thyme.
Serve over pasta with salad on the side or skip the pasta and serve with Italian bread.

Slow-Cooker Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna With Romaine Salad                                                                    

Serves 6
Total Time: 4hr 15m

Ingredients:

  • 2-10-ounce packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove excess moisture
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan (3 ounces)
  • 3 cups marinara sauce, see post: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/
  • 6 regular lasagna noodles (not no-boil)
  • 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (6 ounces)

Salad

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 small head romaine lettuce, cut into strips (about 8 cups)
  • 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

Directions:
1. In a bowl, mix together the spinach, ricotta, and ½ cup of the Parmesan. In a second bowl, mix together the marinara sauce and ½ cup water.
2. Spread ¾ cup of the marinara mixture in the bottom of a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker. Top with 2 noodles (breaking to fit), ¾ cup of the remaining marinara mixture, half the spinach mixture, and ½ cup of the mozzarella; repeat. Top with the remaining noodles, marinara mixture, mozzarella, and Parmesan.
3. Cover and cook on low until the noodles are tender, 3 ½ to 4 hours.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add the lettuce, cucumber, and onion and toss to combine. Serve with the lasagna.
Tip:  If your slow-cooker insert is broiler-safe, broil the cooked lasagna until the cheese is golden, 3 to 5 minutes.

Italian Meatball Stew                                                                                                                                                              

Total Time: 5 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs extra lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 cups low sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry basil, crushed
  • 1 (16 ounce) package frozen Italian style vegetables, defrosted

Directions:

In a large bowl combine beef, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, cheese, salt, pepper and garlic. Form into 2 inch balls. Place meatballs in bottom of crock pot.

Combine tomato paste, broth, seasoned salt, oregano and basil.  Pour mixture over meat. Cover.

Cook on low 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Stir in vegetables. Cover and cook on high 10-15 mins until mixture is hot.

Slow-Cooker Bean and Barley Soup                                                                                                                        Hearty Bean and Barley Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 (14-ounce) can no salt added diced tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms, optional
  • 3 cups cleaned baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Put beans, water, tomatoes and their juices, garlic, celery, carrots, onion, barley, bay leaf, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, herb blend, pepper, and Porcini mushrooms (if using) in a slow cooker; cover and cook on LOW until the beans are quite tender and the soup is thick, about 8 hours.

Stir in the spinach, cheese, and vinegar, cover, and let the soup cook until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and black pepper, to taste.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and drizzle each serving with olive oil.

Italian Smothered Steak

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb. boneless beef round steak
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 jar (26 oz) tomato pasta sauce  or homemade marinara sauce, see post: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/
  • 1 package (9 oz) refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half, then cut crosswise into slices (about 1 cup)

Directions:

  1. Cut beef into 6 serving-size pieces; sprinkle with salt and pepper. In 3- to 4-quart slow cooker, layer beef and onion. Pour pasta sauce over top.
  2. Cover and cook on Low heat setting 8 to 9 hours.
  3. About 20 minutes before serving, stir in tortellini and zucchini. Increase heat setting to High. Cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until tortellini are tender.



Sun-dried tomatoes are ripe tomatoes that are placed in the sun to remove most of the water content from the tomatoes. Cherry types of tomatoes will lose 88% of their initial (fresh) weight, while larger tomatoes can lose up to 93% during the process. As a result, it takes anywhere from 17 to 20 lbs of fresh tomatoes to make a single pound of sun-dried tomatoes.

Even after the procedure, the tomato fruits keep their nutritional value. The tomatoes are high in lycopene, antioxidants, and vitamin C, and low in sodium, fat, and calories.

sun dried tomatoes commercial production

Before modern canning methods were available, Italians dried tomatoes on their tile roofs for use in winter when fresh tomatoes were not an option. Nowadays, sun-dried tomatoes (pomodori secchiin Italian) are not as popular in Italy as they are in America, where they are mostly relegated to antipasto or as a flavor-booster for sauce. These dried, concentrated and flavorful tomatoes have enjoyed a popularity boost in the United States in the past couple of decades, initially as a gourmet item but fast becoming a favorite of home cooks.

Sun-dried tomato tips

Sun-dried tomatoes can be used in a wide variety of recipes and come in a variety of shapes and colors. Traditionally, they were made from dried red plum tomatoes, but they can be purchased in yellow varieties as well. Sun-dried tomatoes may also be preserved in olive oil, along with other ingredients such as rosemary, basil, dried paprika, and garlic.

Unless they are already packed in oil, sun-dried tomatoes will need to be reconstituted before use. Just let them soak in warm water for thirty minutes until soft and pliable, drain (reserve the liquid to add flavor to stocks and sauces), pat dry and use as directed in your recipe. You can also use wine, broth, or other cooking liquid to reconstitute. Once reconstituted, use them within several days or pack in olive oil and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  To reconstitute in oil, simply cover the dried tomatoes with oil and refrigerate for 24 hours.

To use oil-packed, drain tomatoes from oil and use. Always be sure that those left in the jar are completely covered with oil, which may mean adding more oil as you use the tomatoes. Don’t toss out that oil when you’re done with the tomatoes. It will pick up flavor from the tomatoes and be great in salad dressings or used for sauteing.

Cooking with sun-dried tomatoes

The flavor of sun-dried tomatoes is quite intense, concentrated, and slightly salty, so a little goes a long way. Although they are wonderful with pasta, you’ll enjoy using sun-dried tomatoes with many other foods, including vegetables, meats, and breads. Unopened commercially dried tomatoes will be fine without refrigeration for six to nine months. Once opened, oil-packed dried tomatoes should be refrigerated and used within two weeks. They can also be frozen.

Sun-Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette

Yield: 1½ cups
This vinaigrette is rich and sweet from the sun-dried tomatoes, so you don’t need to use much of it on salad greens
To use it as a pesto sauce and/or to add it to a pasta dish, omit the vinegar, thin it down with pasta water, and add pine nuts, sautéed zucchini, and chopped fresh basil.

  • 12 oil packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • A few turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Place all the ingredients but the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor (or a blender) fitted with a metal blade, and purée to a thick paste.
Continuing to run the machine, add the oil slowly through the feed tube or the lid of the blender. Taste for salt.

Breakfast

Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata

  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 cup packed fresh spinach, chopped
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 8 sun-dried tomato halves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 425°F. Coat 4 small baking dishes with cooking spray. Set aside. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook shallot until soft but not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add spinach; cook 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Lightly whisk eggs and egg substitute in a bowl. Stir in sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, basil, spinach mixture, salt and pepper. Spoon into baking dishes; bake until firm in the center, 12 to 14 minutes

 Lunch


Turkey, Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Wraps

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, low-fat whipped
  • 2 tablespoons jarred julienned sun-dried tomatoes or 6 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • ¼ cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 10 basil leaves, chopped
  • 4 large whole wheat flour tortilla
  • 3/4 pound sliced smoked turkey breast
  • 4 lettuce leaves, green leaf, Bibb or Romaine, shredded

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and basil.
2. Lay the tortillas out and spread 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on each of them. Divide the turkey among the tortillas and spread the remaining cream cheese mixture on top of the turkey. Divide the shredded lettuce among the tortillas and tightly roll each tortilla into a cylinder, ending with the seam side down.(The wraps can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator.)
3. Cut the wraps in half on the diagonal and serve. 4 servings.

Garlic Shrimp with Sun-Dried Tomatoes - Gambas al Ajillo con Tomates

Shrimp With Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or jarred sun-dried tomato oil
  • Several sprigs thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained if necessary
  • 1/2 cup fish stock or dry white wine
  • 16 to 24 large shrimp, peeled
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped fresh basil.

Put oil in a large, oven proof skillet over medium heat and add thyme, garlic, tomatoes and capers. Cook just until mixture sizzles, then add stock or wine; raise heat and bring to a boil. Cook for about a minute, then add shrimp, turning them in sauce. Cook just until they turn pink. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, garnish with basil, and serve hot or warm with Italian bread.

Dinner

 

Italian Pork Tenderloin

4 Servings

  • 1.5 lb. pork tenderloin
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 4 slices of prosciutto
  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes
  • Olive oil for brushing meat; salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon honey mustard, or mustard of choice

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F. Oil a baking dish just large enough to fit the pork tenderloin. Make the stuffing. Put the oil, sage, prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor. Pulse this mixture a few times until it is combined to a thick paste.

Cut a slit through the middle of your pork, but don’t go through to the bottom and with your hands, spread the stuffing onto the center of the meat. Close the pocket.
Tie together with kitchen twine to secure. Rub the tenderloin with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.

Place meat in prepared baking dish. Roast the pork at 450 degrees F.  for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F. and cook another 30 minutes. Pork should be 160 degrees when done. Let the meat rest  for 5 minutes so the juices can distribute evenly before slicing. Remove the string.

To make a simple pan sauce, use the drippings in the pan and whisk in a tablespoon of honey mustard. There won’t be a lot of sauce, but enough to drizzle over the pork slices.

    

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Sun Dried Tomatoes and White Beans

Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, stems removed, leaves chopped
  • 1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (about 12 pieces), sliced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed or 2 cups cooked dried beans
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water and drain pasta thoroughly.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over high heat, heat olive oil. Add garlic and cook until fragrant but not browned, about 1 minute. Add half the broccoli rabe and sauté until lightly wilted but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add remaining broccoli rabe to pan and cook for another minute or two. Add sun-dried tomatoes and cannellini beans and toss lightly. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Add hot drained pasta to the pan (or to a larger bowl if needed) and toss with the vegetables. Stir and add a few tablespoons of reserved pasta cooking water if mixture seems dry. Season and taste again. Serve immediately with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Chicken & Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo

Fish fillets may also be substituted in place of chicken. Serve with sautéed fresh spinach.
4 servings

  • 8 ounces orzo, preferably whole-grain
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes,oil-packed, divided
  • 2 clove garlic, peeled
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram or oregano, divided
  • 2 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons sun-dried tomato oil, (reserved from sun-dried tomato jar )
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed (1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1- 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese, divided
  1. Cook orzo in a large saucepan of boiling water until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, place  water, 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, 2 teaspoons marjoram, vinegar and  sun-dried tomato oil in a blender. Blend until just a few chunks remain.
  3. Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning, until golden outside and no longer pink in the middle, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; tent with foil to keep warm.
  4. Pour the tomato sauce into the pan and bring to a boil. Measure out 1/2 cup sauce to a small bowl. Add the remaining sun-dried tomatoes to the pan along with the orzo, artichoke hearts and 6 tablespoons cheese. Cook, stirring, until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide among 4 plates.
  5. Slice the chicken. Top each portion of orzo with sliced chicken, 2 tablespoons of the reserved tomato sauce and a sprinkling of the remaining cheese and marjoram.


Sun Ripened Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil



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