Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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The Italian Easter table is an array of symbolic dishes of the season. Every province has its own unique specialties that represent resurrection, fertility and rebirth. The spectrum covers earthy foods, both savory and sweet. An ancient Italian saying, “Natale con i tuoi, la Pasqua con chi vuoi”, means “Christmas at home and Easter with whomever you wish.” But for the most part, Italians return to the family home to celebrate the holiday.

A traditional meal is usually roasted leg of lamb with fresh rosemary and crushed garlic. It is served with asparagus, homemade pasta and a large salad. Vegetables typically play an important part in Italian meals, especially spring vegetables because they are tender and delicate. These include early peas, baby artichokes, asparagus, spinach and Swiss chard side dishes. They are also an important ingredient in egg-rich savory tortes that are combined with hard-boiled eggs and different kinds of cured meats. These tortes are served as appetizers or main dishes throughout the holiday.

Torta Pasqualina (Easter Cheese and Spinach Pie)

You may substitute 2 sheets of puff pastry for the homemade dough. See directions below.

For the dough:

  • 8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Water

For the filling:

  • 2 pounds fresh spinach or Swiss chard
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup of finely chopped onion
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese, drained in a sieve for 30 minutes
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Egg Wash For Puff Pastry:

1 Large Egg

Directions:

For the dough:

Mix the flour, oil and salt and gradually add enough water (about 1 cup) to make a stiff dough that leaves the sides of the bowl cleanly. (The dough will become sticky if too much water is used.) Knead the dough thoroughly and divide it into 10 equal-sized balls. Put on a lightly floured pastry board and cover with a damp cloth for 15 minutes.

For the filling:

Wash the spinach or chard well, drain thoroughly and cook in as little water as possible until soft. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the onion until soft but not brown. Drain the greens and chop finely. Add to the onions and cook for a few moments. Set it aside to cool.

Mix the ricotta with milk, add a pinch of salt and put aside.

Brush a large deep pie dish or 9 inch springform pan with olive oil.

Roll one ball of pastry into a wafer-thin sheet larege enough to fit in the pan, keeping the rest of the pastry balls under the damp cloth. Place the dough in the prepared pie dish, brush lightly with oil and trim off excess pastry. Repeat this with five more balls of pastry, brushing each layer with oil and layering one on top of the other.

Spread the cooked onion and greens on top of the sixth layer of pastry, and spread the ricotta mixture on top. Hollow 4 wells in the filling and crack an egg into each one. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Parmesan.

Roll out the remaining balls of pastry in precisely the same manner as teh bottom layers and place them, one by one, on top of the filling brushing each layer with oil.

Prick the top layer with a fork, brush it generously with oil and trim off any overlapping pastry.

If using puff pastry:

  • Allow the pastry to come to room temperature.
  • Roll out the two layers until fairly thin, making them large enough to cover the springform pan with a enough overhang to cover the filling.
  • Lay one layer over the other to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.
  • Put the filling into the pan, smoothing it evenly.
  • Make four hollows evenly spaced around the filling and carefully crack the eggs into the hollows.
  • Fold the overhanging edges of pastry over the top of the pie, folding to fit.
  • Beat the egg with a teaspoon of water and brush over the top of the puff pastry.

Bake either pie in a 400-degree oven for about 40-50 minutes or until the pie is golden brown. It may be served hot or cold.

Torta Pasqualina

Eggs, the symbol of life, are an essential component of Easter foods. In nature, hens lay fewer eggs during the long winter and more in spring, as the days grow longer and temperatures get warmer. Aside from dyed and decorated eggs, Easter treats include egg-shaped cookies and marzipan and chocolate eggs.

Easter bread and pastry are found on every table. On the sweet side are round breads from Sicily and Abruzzo with colored hard-boiled eggs baked into the loaf. Also popular for Easter is Colomba, a sweet bread baked in the shape of a dove. The dough contains candied citrus and is topped with toasted almonds and sugar crystals.The dove is a universal symbol of peace.

PASQUA: FIRST COURSE

Easter feasts encourage an adventurous spirit in the kitchen. At Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Italians are likely to stick to traditional dishes, but at Easter, there is much more diversity. There is no typical antipasto or even primo piatto (first course) for Easter, but young cured meats and cheeses are usually served in some form.

Some popular first course dishes include: Fried Artichokes, Insalata di Polpo (Octopus Salad), swordfish or tuna seasoned with grapefruit and generous platters of young pecorino, fava beans and salumi.

Popular pasta dishes for Easter are Lasagna, in all its varieties and Baked Pasta, for which every household in Italy has a different recipe. Those who have the time and skill to prepare homemade pasta, might make their own local specialty (such as, orecchiette, cavatelli or pici), or stuffed pastas such as ravioli or tortelloni. An alternative to pasta is risotto made with fresh seafood and baby peas or asparagus.

PASQUA: THE MAIN COURSE

For secondo (the main course), roasted or grilled meat is usually served. For centuries, the most popular choice for Easter has been lamb—not just in Italy, but in many other Mediterranean and European countries too. In Rome lamb is marinated with lemon and rosemary and then roasted.

Another typical Roman recipe is Grilled Lamb Chops served with roasted potatoes and artichokes. In Tuscany, lamb is slowly braised with onions and carrots, then served with seasoned cannellini beans. In the Puglia region, boiled lamb is served with fresh herbs and vegetables. In Trentino, polpettine (little meatballs) are made with ground lamb, scallions, parsley and rosemary and served with tomato sauce as an entree.

PASQUA: DESSERT COURSE

Dolci (dessert) is an important part of the Easter feast. Chocolate eggs are among the favorite. In Italy and they contain a surprise inside for the children.

The Pastiera Napoletana is another authentic Easter tradition, originating in Naples, this cake is made with ricotta cheese, candied fruit and orange-blossom water.

The Pizza Pasqualina, a dessert made with cinnamon and chocolate, is a specialty of northern Lazio.

In Sicily, cassata and cannoli are the traditional desserts; and in Sardinia, Casadina, a puff pastry dessert stuffed with ricotta and raisins, is usually served.

Pane di Pasqua (Easter Bread) is a famous Easter treat made all over Italy. Sometimes it is prepared as a dessert and other times as a savory pastry. 

In vegetarian households, the symbolism of the “sacrificial lamb” can be represented by small lamb-shaped cakes and pastries that are eaten for dessert.

EASTER MENU:

Lemon Gnocchi with Peas and Spinach

Potato gnocchi are flavored with fresh citrus, sweet peas and baby spinach

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 8 ounces fat free half & half
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • Fine Sea Salt
  • 3 cups packed baby spinach leaves
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (1-pound) package Potato Gnocchi
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

Directions:

In a large skillet, combine peas, half & half, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, until tender. Stir in spinach and cook uncovered until leaves are wilted. Remove pan from heat and mix in lemon zest and juice.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi and cook until they float to the top, about 4 minutes. Drain gnocchi, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water, if needed.

Mix hot gnocchi with the vegetable sauce in the saucepan. Add some of the reserved pasta water, if needed. Stir to coat. Top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

Serves 4 

Roman Grilled Lamb Chops

Though this classic Easter recipe for lamb originated in Rome, it has long since become a national favorite. 

Ingredients:

  • 8 to 12 lamb chops
  • 3 fresh bay leaves, finely ground
  • 3 sage leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • A few juniper berries
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Black peppercorns
  • 1/2 glass dry white wine
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges

Directions:

Layer the lamb chops in a large container.

With a mortar, a knife or an electric grinder, finely grind all of the herbs and spices—including the salt and pepper. (If you use a knife, use the flat side to first crush the juniper berries, peppercorns and salt.) Place them in a bowl, then mix with the wine and the olive oil, stirring with a fork. Pour this marinade into the container with the layered lamb chops. Marinate overnight.

Ideally, lamb chops are best grilled on an open coal fire or barbecue, but you can also cook them on the stove in a cast-iron grill or a heavy pan. They will be ready very quickly—lamb chops (unlike pork chops) can be served rare or medium-rare, according to your preference. Serve them hot with a couple of lemon wedges.

Roasted potatoes are usually served with this dish.

Serves 4

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Coarse sea salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; spread them evenly on the sheet pan, and bake, turning occasionally with a spatula, until golden brown on the outside and creamy inside, about 20 minutes.

While the potatoes are roasting, finely chop the rosemary and garlic together. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on top of the stove.

Drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil over the potatoes, sprinkle with sea salt and 2 tablespoons of the rosemary-garlic mixture. Mix well.

Return the pan to the oven to heat the seasonings through.

Serve as a side dish.

 

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, thick stems removed and discarded, cut into 3 inch pieces
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

Directions:

In a large deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, 5-6 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and 1/2 cup water; season to taste with salt and pepper and toss gently.

Cover and cook until the broccoli rabe is softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated and the broccoli rabe is completely tender, 2 minutes longer. Stir 1/4 cup of the pecorino into the broccoli rabe. Sprinkle with remaining pecorino over the broccoli rabe and serve.

 

Springtime Lemon Cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Frosting:

  • 12 ounces chilled mascarpone cheese
  • 1 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons lemon zest, plus extra for ganish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine milk, olive oil, lemon zest and vanilla. Set them both aside.

Beat butter and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well until mixture turns pale yellow. Turn the speed down to low and add the flour mixture and milk mixture, alternating both. Continue to beat until combined.

Fill muffin cups two-thirds of the way full with batter. Bake until golden and cooked through, about 17 minutes. Check with a toothpick to be sure. Allow cupcakes to cool before frosting.

Frosting: In a bowl, beat the mascarpone, vanilla, lemon zest and sugar at a medium speed until the frosting is light and fluffy. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle the top of each cupcake with a little lemon zest.

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

 

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Christmas Lights in Saint Mark’s Square

Christmas is by far the most important holiday of the year in Italy—the festivities last from December 24th. through January 6th. Family gatherings are the most important part of the holiday. This is the time of year when families reunite from whatever corners of the world they may have scattered and it is around the table or, a tavola, that Italian families come together. These holidays allow parents and children, siblings and in-laws, friends and sweethearts—and sometimes a grandfather (nonno) or grandmother (nonna), or an old beloved aunt (zia)—the opportunity to see one another after long separations, spending significant time together over splendid food and drink.

Italian children write letters to Santa Claus or Father Christmas asking for presents and in Italy the main day for gift giving is the Epiphany. These presents are brought by La Befana, a kindly old witch, who fill children’s stockings in the night with sweets, “i dolciumi” if they have been good or with coal, “il carbone” if they have been bad. Santa Lucia brings the gifts in Venice and Mantova, while in other regions, it is the Baby Jesus or Gesu’ Bambino who brings the presents. The children also write to their parents to let know how much they love them. This letter is placed under their father’s plate and he reads it at the end of dinner.

Christmas Time, Little Italy, New York City

Among the traditions, customs and other rituals typical of the Christmas season are:

  • The main focus of decorations is the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. The churches have a presepe outdoors and traditional bonfires are assembled in the main square of town.
  • Ceppo known, as The Tree of Light, is a wooden frame with a pyramid shape; it is several feet high and supports many shelves or tiers. The ceppo has on the bottom a manger scene and on the shelves above are placed small gifts of fruit, candy and presents. It is also decorated with gilt pine cones, colored paper, little candles and pennants. At the top is placed a star or a small doll.
  • Urn of Fate: they are wrapped presents for each family member. If you get a present with your name on it, you keep it; otherwise, you try again.
  • Zampognari and Pifferai: Bagpipers and flute players dressed with traditional costumes entertain the people at religious shrines.
  • In the Vatican City, the people go to the square at noon on Christmas day to receive the Pope’s blessing; he appears at his balcony.
  • Another tradition is the burning of the Yule log, which must stay lit until New Year’s Day.
  • The cribs are usually handed down from generation to generation.

Christmas Dinner In Italy

Again it will almost certainly start with a selection of antipasti – perhaps including salami and Parma ham, and a glass or two of sparkling Prosecco. Then there will be a hearty filled pasta dish, such as agnolotti, ravioli or tortellini. Most families will follow this with a roast – often poultry, served with vegetables; others might have a local meaty speciality, such as a stuffed pig’s trotter. Although Italians don’t usually indulge much in desserts, at Christmas, most people will make an exception and follow the meat course with some panettone – a light but buttery sponge cake or other sweets. In some regions people might also have some pandolce, a heavy fruit cake with pine nuts.

The most significant meal of the Christmas Day is the lunch or il pranzo. In Italy the following  dishes are often served:

  • Lo zampone – the skin of the lower pig leg, including the toe little bones, filled with minced meat and sausages                                                                 
  • Il cotechino – pig’s foot stuffed with spiced minced meat 
  • Sausages
  • Turkey stuffed with chestnuts
  • Lamb is also enjoyed with mashed potatoes and lentils
  • Tortellini in chicken stock
  • Crostini with liver pâté

Desserts such as:

  • Torrone – Nougat
  • Il panettone – the Milanese fruit cake filled with candied fruit
  • Gold bread – the traditional cake
  • Il pandoro – similar to il panettone, only without fruits or raisins
  • Il panforte – Gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds

The traditional drinks are:                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  • Vin brule – mulled wine
  • Bombardino – Italian version of eggnog
  • Punch of rum, mandarin and orange flavors

 Christmas Dinner Memories

When I was a child, Christmas was a very special time in our house. We all looked forward to this season: my parents, my grandparents, my maternal aunts and my siblings. It was a busy time shopping, wrapping presents, baking and decorating the house and the tree.

When Christmas arrived, we were up by 5 A.M. to open presents. After we had time with our new gifts, my father would take us to visit his relatives in Little Italy, while my mother started dinner preparations. My father had a large family so this took awhile. By the time we had wished my grandmother and all my father’s brothers and sisters, a Merry Christmas, it was time to head home. My mother never needed to make dessert for Christmas dinner, because after the rounds of visiting the relatives, we went home with a number of special homemade Christmas treats.

Struffoli

Zeppole

Anise Cookies

In fact, before the day was done we had more sweets than we could eat in a week. My mother’s father would come for dinner and he would always bring Italian pastries, ice cream and Hershey bars. What a day!

Dinner was held early in the afternoon and began with a typical antipasto of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables.

The next course was always Lasagna with little meatballs in the sauce. This was followed by a pork roast with roasted potatoes and a green salad. Lots to eat – and don’t forget those desserts!

Christmas Dinner At My House

Because several members of my family are vegetarians, I often serve vegetarian dishes alongside the non-vegetarian dishes.

Onion Soup

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 pounds sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1-26-ounce container Pomi tomatoes
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 slices of thick crusty bread
  • 6 slices of provolone cheese

 Directions:

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn. Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and slowly cook them for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently. The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.

Add the tomatoes to the pot and 4 cups of water. Stir in the onions. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.

When ready to serve, toast or grill the bread and immediately top with the provolone cheese to melt a bit. Alternatively, you could toast the bread quickly under the broiler, then add the cheese and brown and melt the a bit. Add bread with cheese to the bottom of a serving bowl. Ladle the soup mixture over the bread

 

Beef Tenderloin

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine garlic, mustard and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in oil and process until the ingrdients are very finely chopped. Rub mixture over beef and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

Transfer beef to baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake about 40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 135 F. for medium-rare. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

 

 

Gnocchi with Creamy Pesto

(dilute pesto sauce with a little half and half)

See recipe: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/

 

 

Spinach Casserole

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 16 ounces organic baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cups Sargento Italian six cheese blend

 Directions:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 x 11-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spinach (it may be necessary to do this in batches) and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach wilts. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl. Stir in the bread crumbs, parsley, dill, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add the spinach mixture and the Italian cheese, and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and bake until the top has browned and set, about 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Roasted Squash and Cauliflower

Dessert

Italian Cookies see post: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/12/14/my-childrens-favorite-christmas-cookies-part-2/


For most Italians, the sea is never very far away. Though a relatively small country, Italy has 5000 miles of coastline—so it’s easy to understand why fish and “frutti di mare” (literally “the fruits of the sea”) have always had a special importance in Italian daily life and in regional culinary traditions. The love Italians have for fish begins early in life.  

Some of the most succulent seafood dishes in the world can be found in Italy.  Popular varieties of fish include tuna, anchovies, sardines, swordfish, cod, salmon, shrimp, crab, squid, clams and mussels. Such fish and shellfish are traditionally added to stews, pasta dishes and risotto. Cioppino was developed in San Francisco by Italian-American fishermen, who prepared what they had while on their fishing boats, so they must have used local fish and seasoning.  Zuppa di Pesce or Brodetto are the Italian names for fish stews/soups from various Italian regions.

The interesting history behind Italian fish stews stretches back at least five hundred years, as it is believed that fish stew was first made in Livorno around the year 1500. As with many other Italian traditional recipes, there are various legends surrounding its creation, but two of these stories stand out from the rest.

The first legend tells of a fisherman from Livorno who lost his life at sea in a shipwreck. His children were so hungry with no one to provide for them after his death that they turned to all their neighbours for food. Everyone gave them different types of fish, with which their mother made a huge soup, adding tomatoes, garlic, oil and slices of bread – thus creating the first cacciucco (fish stew).  The second is that a lighthouse keeper created the stew. The Florentine Republic had prohibited the use of olive oil which he always used to fry his fish and, so rather than having his favorite “fritto”, he made a fish soup instead.  The most realistic explanation is that after having sold what they fished, fishermen’s families had to cook with whatever had remained unsold, thus starting the tradition of mixing all kinds of fish together. The traditional recipe calls for thirteen different kinds of fish as ingredients, but nowadays, most people use between six and eight varieties.

Entertaining at Home

I have always enjoyed entertaining and inviting friends and family over for a dinner party or informal pizza get-togethers.  I learned quickly that it is a good idea to plan menu items that allow for advanced preparation, so that I could spend time with my guests instead of cooking in the kitchen.  The menu below is an example of how most of the preparation for the menu items can be done ahead of time.  The appetizer can be breaded ahead of time and placed in the baking dishes until close to serving time.  Just before your guests arrive, you can drizzle the vegetables with oil and bake.  Actually, this appetizer tastes good at room temperature.  The lemon dip can be prepared well in advance.  I like to offer an appetizer like this one because it allows guests to eat and talk for a while before the main course.  The cook can do the same because the second course preparations were done ahead.

Much of the second course will have been completed by the time you are ready to serve. The garlic paste can be prepared ahead of time and smeared on the bread just before you put it in the oven. You can put the garlic bread in the oven (the oven will be hot and is the same temperature you used for the vegetables) while you cook the fish in the broth and dress the salad.  Serve the stew in a soup terrine, if you have one.  Just before placing the dishes on the table, I like to move the parfaits from the freezer to the refrigerator.  Put the topping and chocolate on when you are ready to serve them.  You will have enjoyed this dinner as much as your guests.



dinner party menu for four

Oven Fried “Fritto Misto”

Italian Fisherman’s Stew

Ok For You Garlic Bread

Salad of Baby Lettuces with Italian Dressing

Almond Mocha Parfait

First Course

Oven Fried “Fritto Misto”

A favorite in Italy, fritto misto (mixed fry) is an assortment of bite-size pieces of vegetables or other foods that are dipped in batter, deep-fried and served as an appetizer. My version keeps it healthy by using the “oven fry” method.


2 cups  vegetables (your pick)
cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
green beans, halved
fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
zucchini, cut into ¼ “ slices
frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into thirds

  • ¾ cup egg substitute
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • olive oil 
  • Lemon Mayonnaise Sauce, recipe below

Directions

Cut vegetables, rinse them off and drain on paper towels.

Spray 2 large 13×9 inch glass baking dishes with olive oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place the egg substitute in a shallow dish.

In a deep wide bowl place the flour mixed with the cheese and spices.

Dip each piece of vegetable first into the egg, and then into the flour mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.

Put the vegetables in the prepared baking dishes and drizzle the tops lightly with olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes or until browned, flipping them over with a fork halfway through the cooking time.  Serve with the lemon mayonnaise sauce.


Lemon Mayonnaise Sauce

  • 1 cup low-fat olive oil mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about ½ lemon) 
  • parsley

Whisk together and chill in a serving bowl.  Garnish top with chopped parsley.

Second Course

Italian Fisherman’s Stew

Halibut is a favorite fish in this dish, but you can use cod, snapper or grouper. You can substitute a cooked lobster or 1 cup of cooked crab meat or squid for any of the fish in the recipe.

  • 1  tablespoon olive oil
  • 1  onion, chopped
  • 1  carrot, chopped
  • 1  celery rib, chopped
  • 5  cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1  (28-ounce) container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1  finely grated rind and juice of orange
  • 1  tablespoon Agave sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2  cups dry red wine
  • 2  cups bottled clam broth
  • 4  fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1  teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1  pounds firm white fish fillets, cut into 2” inch pieces
  • 1 dozen clams or mussels
  • 1  pound sea scallops, cut into halves
  • 1  pound shrimp, peeled
  • 1/4  cup chopped fresh basil
  • chopped parsley

Instructions
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, orange rind and juice, sugar, chile flakes, wine, clam broth, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer over medium heat until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.  The broth can be prepared several hours ahead.  Cover and let sit on the stove until close to dinner time.  You can also prepare the broth a day ahead . Cool and refrigerate. Bring the broth to a boil when you are ready to complete the dish and then add the fish as indicated in the recipe.

Add roasted red peppers and stir in the fish, scallops and shrimp and simmer for about 5 minutes. Next add clams, pushing them down into the soup a little. Cover the pot and simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the clams are steamed open and cooked through.
Discard any clams that do not open. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil.
Pasta bowls work well for serving this dish; garnish with a little chopped parsley. It’s best to have a side plate for each diner to hold empty shells.

Ok For You Garlic Bread

  • 8 cloves garlic

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 Italian bread baguette, cut in half lengthwise

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Place garlic in a small saucepan with enough cold water to cover and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook 3 minutes and drain.
  3. Mash the cooked garlic, oil and salt in a small bowl with the back of a spoon until a smooth paste forms. Spread the mixture over the cut surfaces of the bread.
  4. Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake until the bread begins to brown around the edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Slice and serve.
 Salad of Baby Lettuces and sliced black olives with Italian Dressing

Dessert

Almond Mocha Parfait

  • 3 cups low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen low-fat yogurt, softened
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso granules
  • 8 teaspoons Amaretto
  • 1/2 cup chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (8 cookies)
  • 4 tablespoons reduced-calorie frozen whipped topping
  • Grated chocolate

Combine ice cream and espresso granules; stir well.
Spoon 1/4 cup ice cream mixture into each of 4 (8-ounce) parfait
glasses or pretty stemware.
Top mixture with 1 teaspoon amaretto and 1 tablespoon cookie crumbs.
Repeat layers, ending with ice cream mixture; freeze 1 hour.
Top each parfait with 1 tablespoon whipped topping and grated chocolate.
Serve immediately. Serves 4.


Roasted Chicken

Most of the chicken recipes we associate with Italian cuisine were really developed in the United States by the Italian immigrants. When chicken is eaten in Italy,  it is a simple preparation ,usually browned in olive oil and flavored with olives or lemon and garlic. Additionally, the meat is probably pheasant, squab or rabbit and not chicken. Some of the most well know dishes in America are Chicken Parmigiana, Chicken Marsala, Chicken Cacciatore and Chicken Tetrazzini. These dishes have been on Italian restaurant menus for years and cooked in many homes across the world, but they are high calorie dishes.

Chicken (or Veal) Parmigiana or also known as Chicken Parmesan is made by dipping a chicken breast in a mixture of beaten eggs and bread crumbs, shallow-fried and topped with a tomato sauce and mozzarella. It is then usually baked until the cheese is melted.

Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Marsala is a traditional Italian dish that starts with boneless chicken breasts that are coated, usually with flour.  The sauce  is made of butter, olive oil, mushrooms, Marsala wine, and sherry. Salt, pepper and oregano season the dish. Some chicken Marsala recipes also include capers and lemon juice.

Chicken Cacciatore ( means “hunter’s style) and is a country-style dish where a whole chicken is cut up and browned in olive oil, then braised in a light tomato sauce with vegetables.

Chicken Tetrazzini is a dish made with mushrooms, cream, parmesan cheese, eggs, onion, pepper, salt, milk, sherry and cooked spaghetti. The dish is said to have been named for the Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1941), called “The Florentine Nightingale.” She was extremely popular in the United States and was a star of the San Francisco Opera. She also was a long-time resident of San Francisco. It was a culinary tradition to name new dishes after personalities of the day, and Chefs of the 19th century use to flatter great prima donnas, like Luisa Tetrazzini, making them the inspiration for their creative efforts and then naming dishes for them.
This dish is also a great example of a high calorie entree. Let me cite for you the recipe from the Italian Inn in Tulsa, Ok.

I should tell you that one serving equals 1664 calories and 92.7 g of fat, before you go ahead and make this dish.

                                                                                                                                                     Chicken Tetrazzini

  • 3 1/2-4 1/2 lbs chicken, cooked

    Chicken Tetrazzini

  • 2 sweet red peppers, peeled
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Directions

  1. Remove the meat from the chicken, discard bones and skin and cut chicken into bite size pieces.
  2. Cut the peppers into dice.
  3. Make a veloute sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, then stir in the flour. When it is cooked and bubbling, stir in the chicken stock gradually, continuing to stir until the sauce is thickened.
  4. Add the cream, and season with the salt, pepper, Tabasco and wine.
  5. Put the chicken and diced peppers in the sauce, and hold over low heat while you cook and drain the spaghetti. Stir the cooked and drained spaghetti into the chicken mixture, and pour into a prepared greased baking dish.
  6. Cover the top with the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and almonds.
  7. Dot with butter and place in 475º oven for a few minutes until the topping is glazed and bubbling.  Serves 4.
Childhood Memories
Certain chicken dishes stand out in my mind from my childhood. My mother often make scaloppini dishes (which are thin cutlets pounded thin, breaded, and pan fried) with veal or chicken. Chicken Cacciatore was on the menu regularly .  I remember that my father and grandfather would sometimes get together on a Sunday and prepare chicken cacciatore with rabbit.
That was a dinner I passed up.
 
A favorite dish of my parents was a dish popular in the Italian-American community called Chicken Scarpariello.  The recipe below is similar to the dish my mother prepared.  This version is from the famous restaurant in New York City, Rao’s.
       Chicken Scarpariello
  •  1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  • 1 lb sausage, a combination of hot and sweet, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2- 2 ½ pound chickens, cut into 12 small   pieces, bone in
  • 2 large bell peppers, red, green or yellow, cored, seeded and cut, lengthwise into ¼ inch strips
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut, lengthwise, into ¼ inch slices
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup vinegar hot cherry peppers
  • ½ cup vinegar sweet bell peppers
  • ½ cup of vinegar from vinegar sweet bell peppers
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Sauté sausage for about 8 minutes until lightly browned.  Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from pan and set aside to drain.  Reheat oil so that it is hot but not smoking, pat chicken dry, and sauté chicken for about 15 minutes or until it is almost cooked through.
Stir in bell peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes or until vegetables are soft and beginning to brown.  Drain off all excess oil.  Return sausage to pan.
Add wine and chicken broth to chicken, sausage, and vegetables and bring to a boil.  Stir in hot and sweet vinegar peppers, vinegar, oregano, and salt and pepper.  Again, bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer slowly for about 10 minutes or until flavors have combined and sauce has reduced.  Remove from heat and serve.
serves 6

I really didn’t care for the flavor of the vinegar peppers in the dish and the recipe calls for a lot of oil in its preparation. I did like the idea of roasting chicken, potatoes and peppers for an entree and I worked on making a dish with these ingredients in a healthy way.

A great feature of this meal is that it is a one-pot dish with plenty of leftovers.  The way I have lowered the calories in this recipe was to reduce the oil to 1 tablespoon, use lower fat sausage and brown the chicken and sausage in a hot oven.  You also save cleaning a messy stove-top and a skillet.

I prefer to use chicken sausage (that is nitrate free) in this dish instead of pork sausage. I think the chicken flavor is enhanced with the chicken sausage. I also take the skin off chicken as another fat reducing technique.

The dish does not have a name since I haven’t found any recipes exactly like this one, so I call it this dish:

Baked Chicken, Sausage, Potatoes and Peppers.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 whole 3 lb. organic chicken, cut into 10 pieces or 1 whole bone-in chicken breast, cut into 4 pieces and 6 bone-in thighs,skin removed
  • 1 package Al Fresco or Applegate Farms chicken sausage (lower fat and nitrate free) each link diagonally cut into fourths
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Juice from 2 lemons (about 4 tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 4 medium baking potatoes, cut in fourths
  • 2 green and 2 red bell peppers, cut into one inch strips
  • 1 large sweet onion, cut into eighths
Directions:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil in bottom of a roasting pan and spread over the bottom of the pan with your fingers. Place chicken in the pan, skin side down.  Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken pieces and scatter the sausage pieces around the sausage.
Chicken ready for browning in the oven.

Bake 15 minutes
Turn chicken pieces and bake 15 minutes
Squeeze lemon over chicken, place the lemon skins in the roasting dish with the chicken and sprinkle chicken with minced garlic and oregano.
Chicken browned after 30 minutes,
Add the sliced potatoes onions, and peppers to the pan and sprinkle with salt.
Peppers, potatoes and onions added.
Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees
Cover pan with foil and bake 1 hour, turning the ingredients after 30 minutes.
Serves 6-8 and you do not need to add anything else to this menu.


100_0521


Zucchini

Bell Pepper

Eggplant

Tomato

Bell Peppers, eggplants, zucchini, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes are the vegetables usually used for stuffing.  As I looked through my cookbooks, every one of them has a different version of how to stuff a vegetable.  I am sure that in any culture where there is an abundance of farm raised crops, home cooks try to figure out how to utilize the produce and make dishes that have  variety, as well as appeal.

As a child I remember my mother making stuffed green peppers, regularly, because my father liked them. I wasn’t fond of them and I don’t think my siblings were either. They were always made with ground beef, rice, and tomato sauce. Since I am not overly fond of green bell peppers, that was strike one.  As an adult my tastes for different vegetables improved and, because my husband would often ask for stuffed peppers, I began experimenting with recipes for different fillings and vegetables that we eventually liked.

I still have my mother’s recipe written down on a recipe file card.  It is fading, but still readable. This was pretty much my mother’s way to make Stuffed Green Peppers:

  • 6 large green peppers
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 of a small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Directions
Cut off the top of the peppers and remove the seeds and membranes.
Cook peppers in enough boiling water to cover for 5 minutes and then drain.
Cook ground beef, onion, and garlic and then drain off fat.
Stir in rice, salt, and half the tomato sauce.  Heat through.
Stuff each pepper with beef mixture and stand upright in an ungreased square baking dish.
Pour remaining tomato sauce over the tops.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove from oven and uncover dish.
Sprinkle with cheese and bake an additional 15 minutes.
 

As in the recipe above, many recipes for stuffed vegetables call for boiling the vegetable before stuffing.  I don’t do this because this step makes the vegetables soggy and they will spend the better part of an hour in the oven. Also, I feel the vegetables lose nutrients when boiled.

The recipes for fillings I am including here can be used in any vegetable of your choice and there are both meat versions and vegetarian versions. Preparations of the vegetables before stuffing will vary.

Stuffed Red Peppers

  • 6 medium red peppers

    Stuffed Peppers

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1-1/2 pounds lean ground turkey breast or lean ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-8 oz package shredded 2 % Italian mixed blend cheese
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs

Directions

Cut peppers in half lengthwise and discard seeds.

In a large skillet, saute onion in oil until tender.

Add the turkey, Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper; cook and stir over medium heat until meat is no longer pink.

Transfer to a bowl; stir in half the cheese, the chopped tomatoes and bread crumbs. Spoon into pepper halves.

Place in a large baking pan coated with cooking spray.

Bake, uncovered, at 325° for 40 minutes or until peppers are tender.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return to the oven and heat, uncovered, until cheese is melted.

 Yield: 6 servings.

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

  • 1 cup cooked couscous, or cooked farro, or cooked barley (This would also be a good place to use leftover risotto.)
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup prepared pesto ( see earlier post on Everyday Sauces)
  • 3 large yellow or orange peppers, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
  • 2 cups homemade tomato sauce (see earlier post on Welcome to Jovina Cooks Italian)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish
Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a casserole dish (with lid or you can use foil) with cooking spray and large enough to accommodate all of the peppers.
Combine the couscous or farro or rice and pesto. Stir together. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and if needed.
Fill the halved peppers with this mixture, and arrange in the casserole. Pour the tomato sauce over the peppers.
Cover and bake 45 minutes to an hour or until the peppers are soft but still hold their shape. Remove from the heat, and serve with some of the tomato sauce spooned over the top.
Sprinkle the tops of the peppers with cheese and garnish with basil leaves.
 
Stuffed Zucchini or Eggplant
  • 4 medium to large zucchini or 2 medium eggplant

    Stuffed Zucchini

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound ground lean turkey or beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 ounces of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 seeded and diced plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 egg, beaten or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 
Directions:
Cut the zucchini or eggplant in half lengthwise. Using a melon baller or small spoon, scoop out the flesh from the inside of the zucchini or eggplant.  The shells should be about 1/4 inch thick. Be careful not to pierce the shell.  Reserve and dice the flesh that has been scooped out.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the ground meat and sauté until lightly browned, stirring occasionally – about 8  minutes. Remove the meat to a bowl.
Using the same skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the chopped mushrooms and reserved chopped zucchini flesh. Sauté until tender – about another 5 minutes. Add the ground meat back into the skillet.
Add the wine and diced tomato. Sauté until tomato is soft and heated through. Stir in the pine nuts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before adding the egg.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  When the mixture has cooled, stir in egg or egg substitute, Parmigiano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper.
Fill the zucchini or eggplant halves with the mixture, slightly mounding.  Arrange the stuffed zucchini or eggplant in a greased 13x9x2 baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Pour about 1/4 inch of water in the bottom of the baking dish. Place in the oven.
Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until the filling is golden brown and the vegetables are tender.
 
Vegetarian stuffed tomatoes or zucchini make excellent side dishes.

Stuffed Tomatoes

  • 4 large tomatoes – a thin slice cut from the top and the insides scooped out and reserved
  • 1 cup cooked farro or rice or barley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

    Spinach Stuffed Tomatoes

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped plus extra for garnish
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated plus 2 tablespoons for topping
 
Directions
Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Place olive oil, onion and garlic in a large saute pan over medium heat, and saute until onion is soft but not browned – about 5 minutes.
Add tomato insides, parsley, basil, oregano and simmer another few minutes until thoroughly heated – about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add cooked grain of choice and the 1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Fill tomatoes with stuffing until overfilled and top with  the additional grated cheese.
Place in  an oiled baking dish, and bake until cheese begins to melt and the filling browns – about 20 minutes.
Garnish with basil leaves.

 Spinach Stuffed Zucchini or Tomatoes

  • 4 large summer squash or zucchini
  • or 6 medium tomatoes with top cut off and the insides discarded
  • 2 (10 oz) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup  chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 oz  low-fat cream cheese
  • ½ teaspoon  salt
  • ½ teaspoon  pepper
  • 1/8 red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut squash lengthwise in half  and remove some of the center flesh to make room for the filling and place in a  greased 9 x 13 pan. If using tomatoes, cut off a thin layer from the top and scoop out the insides.
Heat oil and saute onions and garlic over medium heat until soft. Add spinach, cream cheese, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes, stirring until cheese is melted and everything is heated through. Spoon evenly into shells, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.
Bake the squash for 30 minutes and the tomatoes for 20 minutes.. Larger squash may take an additional 10 minutes or more. Test the side with a knife to see if tender.

With over 500 different types of pasta available, it is not only, one of the most popular foods in the world, but it  can be served in hundreds of different ways.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pasta
The drying process is also a key to the flavor of pasta.  Slow drying at low temperatures helps to preserve the nutty flavor of the durum wheat. This method of slow drying pasta is an art as well as a science, since drying times vary depending on the shape of the pasta and outdoor relative humidity levels and temperatures. This subtle difference of a slow-dried pasta can be tasted best before you add the sauce.

There is archeological evidence that noodles existed in China about 4,000 years ago.
Spanish colonists brought pasta to the U.S, but it wasn’t until the large immigration by Italians in the last half of the 19th century that pasta gained popularity. By the 1920′s, pasta was a comfort food throughout America.

Pasta is a healthy food.  It is a source of complex carbohydrates, thiamin, folic acid, iron, riboflavin and niacin, and it contains only negligible amounts of fat, cholesterol, or sodium.  Fettuccine Alfredo is high in calories from heavy cream, butter and Parmesan cheese.  Make pasta healthier by serving it with a tomato-based sauce that contains clams, shrimp, peppers, mushrooms, chickpeas, or other low fat foods and flavorings.

A one cup serving of cooked pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates. And in the context of a balanced diet, 40 grams of carbohydrates is not over doing it. It is the same amount of carbs as in a cup of rice, for example. The problem is that, when it comes to pasta, we seem to think that a larger portion is the norm. For example, a one-cup serving of rice looks perfectly appropriate to us—actually generous, but put one cup of pasta in front of us and it doesn’t look right at all.  

If you’re trying to figure out how much to cook, a serving of dried pasta is about two ounces. For long, thin shapes, that’s a bundle the size of a dime. For smaller shapes, it’s about a half cup.  You can also mentally divide up the box. Each one pound box contains about eight servings.  Once it’s cooked, a serving of pasta equals one measuring cup, or about the size of your fist.

Italian Portion of Pasta

American Portion of Pasta

Different Types of Pasta

Whole Foods Market has an excellent description (as described below) of the various types of pasta on their product information sheet. You can vary the type of pasta you serve based on your nutritional needs or what other ingredients you are going to combine with the pasta.

Alternative grain pastas: This category includes Kamut® (a whole grain pasta), spelt pasta (made with 100% spelt flour) and quinoa (an ancient grain pasta similar to rice).


Durum semolina pasta: This is the best choice for wheat-based pasta. Durum wheat is a high-gluten, exceptionally hard wheat, while “semolina” refers to the milling texture (that of fine sand). If your pasta has a rich ivory color approaching yellow, you can be sure it is made with durum semolina.


Egg noodles: They may be delicate, but egg noodles absorb sauces more readily than regular durum noodles. These are best eaten with light sauces.


Gluten-free pasta:
The primary ingredients used as flour in gluten-free pasta are brown rice, corn, a combination of corn and quinoa, potato and soybeans.


Whole wheat pasta:
This pasta choice offers nutrition and a rich, nutty flavor that stands up to robust sauces. Since production varies, if your first experience with whole grain pasta doesn’t meet expectations, try another brand before giving up on this healthy pasta choice. Vegetable combinations are best used with this type of pasta.

Spaghetti Fork

How To Cook Pasta

The term “al dente” in Italian  literally means “to the tooth,” and can be best translated as “chewy.” It is a pasta that is boiled just to the point of being cooked through, and remains firm.  Americans prefer their pasta to be cooked longer. This is unfortunate, because the length of time pasta is cooked can have quite substantially different effects on blood glucose and the softer the pasta, the higher the glycemic index.  (The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale used to indicate how fast and how high a particular food can raise our blood glucose (blood sugar) level.)

For 1 pound of pasta, use a pot that’s at least 8 quarts. When the water has boiled, salt it generously—about 2 tablespoons.

  1. Add the pasta; stir it right away so it doesn’t stick. Push longer pasta down into the water with tongs or a spaghetti fork to make sure it’s totally submerged. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  2. When the pasta begins to soften, try tasting it. If you bite into a piece and see a thin, starchy line inside, keep boiling.
  3. To achieve the al dente texture, cook the pasta a minute or two under the recommended cooking time.
  4. Drain the pasta in a colander. Don’t rinse, the starch that remains on the pasta will help the sauce adhere.

Save a cup of the boiling water before you drain the pasta. The starch in the water will help thicken the sauce and help it coat the pasta.

Pasta Pot with Built in Strainer

I have an oval Dutch oven that I like to use to cook spaghetti.

My family certainly likes pasta with a tomato based sauce and we always have plenty of that on hand. In order to eat less meat and less fat, I have also accumulated a number of recipes that utilize vegetables, fish, citrus flavorings and low-fat sauces.    Here are some recipes that are good for you:

Penne with Artichokes

I’ve had this recipe from Gourmet Magazine for many years and made it into a healthy version.

  • 1-9 oz package frozen artichokes, defrosted
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, in oil, drained and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  •  1/4 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 12 ounces  penne, cooked and drained ( or any short pasta of your choice)
Directions

Combine artichokes, water and lemon juice in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until tender. Cool artichokes, then cut into thick slices. Reserve the artichoke cooking liquid.

Cook and stir 3 tablespoons garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat until golden. Reduce heat to low. Add artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes; simmer 1 minute. Stir in artichoke liquid, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes.

Stir together the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Pour artichoke sauce over pasta in large bowl; toss gently to coat.
Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese mixture.

Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp

Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp in Lemon Sauce

This recipe can be adapted to whatever vegetables are in season and your protein or herbs of choice.

Servings: 6

  • 1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 lb large ( any size is fine) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound short curly pasta, such as corkscrews, fusilli, chiocciole (small snails) or small shells
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • zest of 2 lemons, finely grated and the juice from the lemons (should be about 4 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Lemon slices for garnish

Directions:

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the asparagus and cook until tender but firm. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon to a bowl and reserve.
  2. Bring the water back to a boil, drop in the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook about 1 minutes.  Add the shrimp and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and cook until the shrimp are cooked through (just pink) and the asparagus are warmed, about 2 minutes more.  Add the lemon juice and toss. Remove from heat.
  4. Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with 1/2 of the Parmesan, 1/2 of the parsley, lemon zest, remaining olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Season with salt and a generous sprinkling of coarsely ground fresh pepper.  Pour into a serving bowl.
  5. Arrange the shrimp and asparagus on top and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley. Garnish with lemon slice.

This recipe is under 350 calories per serving.


File:Eggplant.jpg

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

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

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

Purchasing Eggplant

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

Eggplant Storage

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

Making Eggplant Parmesan

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

First Stage

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

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

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

Second Stage

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

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

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

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

Another Way to Use this Versatile Vegetable

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

Eggplant Rolls

Ingredients

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

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

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

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

Makes 8 appetizer servings.

                                                                                                       

Eggplant Rollatini



Farro

One of the seven original grains cited in the Bible, farro was popular for hundreds of years until modern baking techniques left it behind.  Americans are finding it again and realizing that this savory and tasty grain has many modern uses. Italians not only like to use it in breads but also cakes, pizza and soups. Related to wheat but very different, this grain is friendly to the body, a great source of fiber and naturally contains high levels of nutrients, vitamins and protein.

Farro with Artichokes

Makes 6 servings, about 1 cup each

In this dish farro stands in for rice in a risotto-like dish, full of tomatoes, artichokes and fresh basil.

1 1/2 cups farro, rinsed
1 sprig fresh sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1-15-ounce can, no sodium added, diced tomatoes, drained well
1 9-ounce box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 1/2-2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1. Place farro in a large saucepan and cover with about 2 inches of water. Add sage and rosemary. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the farro is tender but still firm to the bite, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the herbs and drain.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the farro, tomatoes, artichokes, basil, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
3. Add 1/2 cup broth (or water), bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring, until most of the broth is absorbed. Repeat with the remaining broth (or water), adding it in 1/2-cup increments and stirring until it’s absorbed and the farro is creamy but still has a bit of bite, about 10 minutes total. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and lemon zest. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

 Italy‘s Other National Dish-Polenta                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Polenta, a coarsely or finely ground yellow or white cornmeal, has been called by some the “Italian grits” and there are similarities to the hominy grits that are so popular in the southern United States. The key to the popularity of Polenta is its versatility. It can be served with nearly anything and that is why it has spread to every corner of Italy, where Italians always make use of what is locally grown or raised. Soft polenta is often a replacement for bread during a meal, or instead of the pasta course, served with butter and cheese and possibly shaved truffles. Polenta can also be served as a contorno (side dish) to regional meat dishes such as Osso Bucco, chicken and fish. Polenta in cake form can be layered with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and baked.

Italian Style Braised Pork Chops With Polenta

  • 4 boneless loin pork chops (about 1 inch thick) and trimmed of all fat
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup of sliced white mushrooms
  • 1-15 oz. can of diced tomatoes ( no salt added)
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Directions:

Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. Dredge chops in flour.

 Heat oil in large skillet with cover. Brown chops on both sides. Add onions, sweet peppers, garlic and mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano and cover and let simmer for about an hour until tender.

POLENTA

  • 6 cups of water
  • 2 cups of instant polenta
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Directions
Bring water to a boil and slowly add Polenta. Cook Polenta while whisking constantly for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add oil, cheese, salt and pepper. Transfer Polenta to a lightly oiled 9×13-inch dish, smoothing until flat. Chill in refrigerator 30 minutes or until firm. Cut into 3 “ squares, brush with olive oil and grill, pan-fry, or broil until golden brown on the outside and heated through. Place pork chops and sauce over Polenta squares.

Extra squares of Polenta can be frozen for future meals

Polenta Squares


Red bell peppers. Suomi: Punaisia paprikoita.

Many vegetables have been assimilated into Italian cooking from other cultures. Some vegetables that we associate with the Italian cuisine, such as tomatoes and peppers, actually came from the Americas in the sixteenth century.  However, it is what Italian cooks do with vegetables that have made them identifiable with Italian cuisine and what makes them taste do good.  A classic example would be roasting red peppers.  Roasting brings out their sweetness and the roasting gives them a different, richer flavor.   Beyond increasing the sugar in a bell pepper, ripening (red bell peppers are ripened green bell peppers) also doubles the amount of vitamin C.  As the pepper turns from green to red on the vine, the amount of Vitamin A is increased. Red peppers also contain more folate, and are rich in the phytochemicals that help protect us from many diferent chronic diseases. Red pepper ranks among the top ten foods for beta-carotene, lutein and other important antioxidants.  Roasted red peppers can be used in a variety of dishes from pizza to salads. You can even puree it and put it in your pasta sauce.  They are a staple on the antipasto tray and I like to use them for stuffing meat entrees and for sandwich fillings.

Roasting your own peppers taste so much better than the store bought peppers in a jar, and it really isn’t very difficult at all.  I am including a link here for a video that demonstrates the technique for roasting red bell peppers.

http://video.about.com/italianfood/Roasted-Red-Pepper.htm

Heat your broiler (or BBQ grill) to get it warmed up. Rinse the pepper and place it directly on the oven rack right underneath the flame.  The flame will cause the pepper to bubble and turn black. We want this to happen. Once the top side of the pepper turns black, rotate it. Repeat this process until the whole pepper has been roasted.  I usually do four peppers at one time.

Now, take out the pepper and place it in a bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap.  The pepper will continue to cook in its container. This also loosens the skin. After about 15 minutes, remove the peppers from the bowl and let them cool down a little bit.  Save any liquid that collects in the bottom of the bowl if you are going to make marinated peppers for an appetizer or to add to sandwiches.  To cut your pepper, insert the knife on top and cut around the stem. Slice it in half, and remove the seeds. With a knife, gently scrape off the skin. You can slice the pepper into strips as thick as you want them.

You can use roasted peppers in the following recipes.

Mozzarella and Red Pepper Sandwich

Marinated Roasted Red Peppers

Marinated Roasted Red Peppers

4 roasted red bell peppers
Reserved liquid from the roasted peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2-3 fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Cut the flesh into broad strips or bite-size pieces and set them aside.
In a bowl add the olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Put the peppers back into the bowl with the sliced garlic, pepper liquid and carefully toss to combine. If you are planning on serving the peppers the same day, allow them to sit at room temperature. Otherwise, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Chicken Rollatini

Serves 4

4 chicken cutlets (about 4 oz each) or chicken breast halves, trimmed and pounded thin into 4 cutlets

4 roasted red pepper halves

4 slices provolone cheese (deli style)

8 basil leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

olive oil

Salt, Pepper and dried basil

Directions

Lay your chicken breasts out flat.

Place 1 slice of provolone cheese on top, then a pepper half and 2 basil leaves.

Roll the chicken breast up as tightly and evenly as possible and secure with toothpicks.

Season rolls with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add chicken and cook over medium heat, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with dried basil and add wine, cover, and cook over low heat, about 7 minutes. Uncover and transfer rolls to serving platter. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Boil juices in skillet until reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Diagonally slice rolls into thick pieces, drizzle with pan juices, and serve.

I like to serve this dish over a bed of sauteed swiss chard or spinach.

Video link on how to prepare a chicken breast for stuffing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SD76s1JPhQ


Authentic Italian cooking is not just pasta as many people think here in the States. Portion sizes are much smaller, and pasta is generally served as a first course, separate from the main entree. Family meals are important events and diners are encouraged to savor their food.  Vegetables and fruits are prepared to enhance and accompany the flavors of the main course.  Vegetables, such as, eggplant, asparagus, artichokes, peppers, fennel, spinach, beans, and escarole are most commonly used.   Italian cuisine places emphasis on the quality and freshness of ingredients and most Italian cuisine originates from frugality and poverty. Locally grown and regional products are the basis for meals.

The dish featured here, will demonstrate how vegetables flavor and support the main dish protein. This dish features fennel, which is a vegetable that is not well know, but is showing up more and more in food magazines and cooking shows.  Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a tall, wispy, frond top that looks rather like dill. The fronds can be used in salads or to dress a serving plate, but the main attraction of fennel is the bulb itself. It’s very firm and crunchy, and it tastes a bit like licorice and anise. It has a fresh, bright taste and is excellent for salads or slaws. It can also be grilled or braised until tender and it becomes sweet, mild and delicious.

Fish Braised With Fennel, Artichokes and Lemons

In this recipe you can use any firm white fish fillets that are found in your region, such as, halibut, cod, grouper or bass. I also prefer frozen artichoke hearts to bottled types because I think the frozen taste much fresher. This is a typical Italian preparation for fish fillets and includes many mediterranean flavors. Give it a try for your next meal and let me know how you like it.

You will need:

  • 2 lemons
  • 1 – 9oz. package frozen artichokes, defrosted and cut in half
  • 1/2 large onion, halved crosswise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup

    Fennel

  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, halved crosswise, core removed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
  • Salt,  freshly ground pepper, flour for dredging
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4  fillets (each about 6 ounces and 1 inch thick), skinned
  • Fennel fronds

Squeeze juice from 1 lemon; cut the remaining lemon into very thin slices.

Put onion, fennel, artichokes, oregano, lemon juice and lemon slices, 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1/4 cup water, and 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large saute pan or deep pot.  Cover pan.

Bring to a low boil. Reduce heat, and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until artichokes are tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove to a bowl. Set aside.

In same pan season both sides of fish with salt, pepper and a light coating of flour.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add fillets. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook fillets, without moving them, until bottoms are golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip; cook until fish is opaque and flakes easily, 2 to 3 minutes more.

Return artichoke mixture to pan and warm a minute or two.  Spoon 1/2 cup artichoke mixture over each fillet. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Servings:  4

fish



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