Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: pecan

Varieties of nuts: peanuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, cashews, pistachio and pecans. Food and cuisine. Stock Photo - 8333516

Nuts and seeds — raw, toasted, or ground — add flavor, nutrition and texture to just about anything we put them in. Even better, consistent evidence shows that all manner of nuts, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and cashews, promote healthy arteries and cholesterol levels when we consume them in moderation. Eating a small handful of nuts about five times a week is recommended.

Botanically speaking, a nut is a dry fruit with a seed that’s encased in a hard, woody shell. While all nuts are seeds (the fruit is the seed — think pecans), not all seeds are nuts (the seed can be separated from the fruit and is not one in the same —think pumpkin seeds).

Here are a number of  healthy nuts that should have a place in your pantry:

ALMONDS: calcium-rich — sold whole, shelled, raw, blanched, sliced, slivered or dry-roasted are available year round. Almond flour is a great gluten free choice in baking.

BRAZIL NUTS: come from magnificent, large trees that grow wild in the Amazon rain forest. Similar to coconut in texture, Brazil nuts are eaten raw or roasted.

CASHEWS: The cashew tree is related to poison ivy and poison sumac, but don’t be afraid ! This rich, curved nut — which is actually lower in total fat than most nuts — is always a crowd favorite.

CHESTNUTS: The lowest in fat of all nuts, chestnuts are appreciated for their flavorful contribution to soups, stuffing and stews, as well as the holiday tradition of eating them roasted. Chestnuts are available fresh only in the autumn, but dried, canned and pureed versions are available year round.

FLAX SEEDS: are the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids and are high in fiber. While they’re identical nutritionally, brown flax seeds have deep, nutty flavor while golden flax seeds are mild. Add to breads, cookies and smoothies or sprinkle on cereal and salads.

HAZELNUTS (also known as. Filberts): Bakers and confectioners are partial to these nutrient dense nuts — which can be made into butter, flour, oil and paste — because their rich flavor and texture lend themselves well to desserts and snack foods.

HEMP SEEDS: are a healthful food with omega 3 fatty acids, similar to flax seeds. They’re also similar in flavor to sunflower seeds and can be used in or on baked goods, salads, yogurt and cereal.

MACADAMIA NUTS: are rich and creamy nuts with the highest fat levels of all nuts and are among the most expensive ones available.

PEANUTS: which are actually legumes, not nuts at all — originated in South America but have become an important crop throughout the tropics and in the southern half of the U.S. They have a good deal of both protein and fiber. They grow on low vines, forcing the shells into the ground.

PECANS: are native to the southern Mississippi River Valley with a buttery and slightly bittersweet taste. They’re excellent in pies, quick breads, cakes, cookies, candies and ice cream.

PINE NUTS ( also called Pignoli nuts): — are exactly what you think; they’re the edible seeds of pine trees. These delicious little nuts are the essential ingredient in fresh pesto or a great addition to salads.

PISTACHIOS: have beige shells with nuts that range from dull yellow to deep green. Primarily sold as a snack food, they’re easily adaptable to recipes where pecans or other nuts are used.

PUMPKIN SEEDS (also known as Pepitas): Roasted pumpkin seeds are commonly eaten in casseroles, salads, soups and breads. Their rich, peanut-like flavor makes them a terrific snack food.

SESAME SEEDS: are frequently sprinkled on breads and cakes as a form of decoration, but they’re delicious and good-looking on just about anything. Look for black or white sesame seeds in the grocery aisles.

SUNFLOWER SEEDS: Sunflowers belongs to the daisy family and are native to North America. Their shelled seeds are delicious eaten raw or toasted or added to cakes and breads or sprinkled on salads or cereals.

WALNUTS: have come into greater favor recently because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, a heart-healthy compound. In addition to their health benefits, walnuts add texture and flavor to pastas, salads, stir fries and desserts.

Tips for Toasting:

While nuts and seeds are certainly delicious eaten raw, toasting them brings out a richer flavor. To enhance their flavor or crisp them up, toast nuts on the stove top or in the oven.

On the stove: Place a single layer of nuts in a heavy, ungreased skillet and toast for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat, shaking the pan and stirring until the nuts are golden brown and fragrant, then remove them from the pan immediately and let cool.

In the oven: Arrange the nuts in a single layer in a shallow baking pan and bake in a 350°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring them occasionally.

Nut roast recipe

How To Add More Nuts To Your Recipes:

LEAFY GREENS: Chop the toasted nuts and sprinkle over braised hearty leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard. Finish off with a splash of balsamic vinegar, orange juice, or lemon juice.

SALAD: Try a classic salad combination: bitter leafy greens (arugula), dried fruits ( cherries), fresh seasonal fruits ( pomegranate), fresh herbs, and chopped nuts. Drizzle with a tangy vinaigrette.

FISH OR MEAT COATING: Mince the toasted nuts finely and whisk together with butter, mustard, and seasonings to make a breading, then bake or pan-sear. Try with wild salmon, barramundi, or shrimp for seafood, or lamb, duck, or pork.

FRUIT CRISP OR COBBLER: Substitute any chopped nuts for the usual almonds or walnuts in your crisp or cobbler topping. Also toss some add-ins into the topping mixture, like grated ginger, chopped chocolate chips, or ground cinnamon.

ROASTED VEGETABLES: Combine seasonal vegetables ( Brussels, sweet potatoes, red onions, rutabagas, turnips, and/or pumpkin) with olive oil and seasonings, then bake until golden and soft. Toss cooked veggies with toasted nuts and finish with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and/or balsamic vinegar to taste.

PIES OR TARTS: Use any combination of toasted nuts as a substitution for pecans in any traditional pecan pie recipe—experiment with different nuts and spices. Use ground nuts as a base for pie crust instead of flour.

HOLIDAY STUFFING: Add a few handfuls of chopped toasted nuts to your seasonal stuffing, especially any stuffing that includes dried/fresh fruits and herbs.

COOKIE BATTER: It’s easy enough to add nuts to any cookie batter before you bake them. Simply fold anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts into your cookie batter just before baking.

PASTA: Cook pasta noodles al dente and toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice to taste. Finish with chopped toasted nuts, cheese of choice, and minced herbs like parsley or rosemary.

POPCORN: Add seasoned nuts of choice to freshly popped popcorn for a wholesome snack.

Cooking With Nuts And Seeds:

There are many regional variations of cooking throughout Italy, but in general, grain foods such as pasta, bread, rice, and polenta are mixed in a variety of interesting ways with vegetables, beans, fish, poultry, nuts, cheeses and meat. Nuts such as pine nuts, walnuts and almonds are used in cooking or eaten as snacks. One of Italy’s most famous sauces, pesto—which originates from the seaport of Genoa —is a mixture of pine nuts, garlic, fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.

A deliciously different pesto made with walnuts and richly-flavored sun-dried tomatoes, is featured in this post. You can use this pesto as a dip or spread, you can stir it into soups to add richness and flavor and, of course, you can serve it with pasta.

Sun-Dried Tomato and Walnut Pesto

Makes 1 cup                                                                                                                                                                                      

Ingredients:

  • 1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Place all the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor.

While you process, slowly pour the olive oil into the mix until all the ingredients turn into a smooth paste (you may have to scrape the sides occasionally).

Variations: Pine nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamias, almonds or cashews can be substituted for the walnuts.

Salmon and Asparagus                                                                                             

2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 7 oz Farfalle pasta ( bow tie) or Rigatoni whole wheat or regular (Wheat makes it healthier)
  • 2 uncooked salmon fillets (6 oz each) cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 8 fresh Asparagus spears – trim ends and cut in half 
  • 1 red pepper – julienned
  • 1 cup of the sun dried tomato walnut pesto, recipe above

Directions

First prepare the pesto and set aside.

Boil the pasta and add the asparagus and red pepper to the pot for the final 8 minutes of cooking. Add the salmon to the pot for the final 3 minutes. Drain the cooked pasta, salmon and vegetables in a mesh colander.

Put the pesto in the bottom of the pot and top with hot pasta, salmon and vegetables. Toss or stir together gently to combine well and heat through.

If you prefer, you can use shrimp in place of salmon.

Risotto with Squash, Spinach, Beans and Walnuts

2 servings                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion—finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic—finely chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups peeled and cubed pumpkin or winter squash (cut into half inch cubes)
  • 2 packed cups roughly chopped fresh spinach
  • 3/4 cup canned cannellini beans—rinsed well and drained
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

Directions:

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the garlic and rice, stirring to coat the grains in oil and cook for 1 minute.

Add the wine, stock, salt, black pepper, pumpkin or squash and spinach, stir to combine and bring to a boil.

Cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes without lifting the lid.

Stir in the white beans, walnuts, Parmesan, basil and remaining tablespoon of oil to combine.

Variations: Use toasted pine nuts instead of the walnuts. Use chickpeas or fresh fava beans instead of the cannellini beans.

Farro Salad                                                                                                        

Servings: 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, or you can use pecans (2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, minced (2 tablespoons)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cups Thyme-Scented Farro, recipe below

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and toast until golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

In a bowl, whisk the oil with the vinegar and shallot and season with salt and pepper. Add the Thyme-Scented Farro, pine nuts, apple, pomegranate seeds and parsley; toss before serving.

MAKE AHEAD:  The salad without the pine nuts can be refrigerated overnight. Bring the salad to room temperature before serving and add the pine nuts.

Thyme-Scented Farro

Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups farro (10 ounces)
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the farro and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly toasted; the grains will turn slightly opaque just before browning. Add the onion and thyme and cook over low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the water and kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over very low heat until the water is absorbed and the grains are tender. Fluff the grains and discard the thyme sprigs. 

MAKE AHEAD:  The cooked grains can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

Makes 3 – 4 dozen cookies                                                                                                                                                  

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon anise extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup scant sesame seeds

Directions

Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Grease 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray.

Place milk in a small bowl. Place sesame seeds in a small bowl.

Cream butter, sugar and brown sugar in an electric mixer bowl. Add eggs and vanilla, blend well.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Add gradually to the creamed mixture, blending well.

Break off a small piece of dough and mold into a smooth ball in your hand.

Dip the top of the ball in milk and dip in sesame seeds.

Place on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove to wire racks to cool.

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Thanksgiving Day Stuffing – Or Any Day

Stuffing, also called dressing depending on where you live, is a seasoned mix of vegetables and starches and sometimes eggs that are cooked within or alongside a meat entree. Some stuffing recipes utilize other meats, such as sausage (especially popular in Italian dishes) or oysters in their mix and vegetarian stuffing is usually based on bread, rice or potatoes.

Various kinds of stuffing go as far back as the Roman Empire , where recipes appear in De re Coquinaria , a collection found within a kitchen anthology called Apicius that chronicles thousands of Roman dishes. In De re Coquinaria , chicken, rabbit, pork and dormouse stuffing are included and there are long traditions and other historical references that corroborate the wide use of stuffing in Ancient Italy.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

Since humans were thought to be stuffing small animals long before the days of the Roman Empire, it seems natural that the pilgrims might think to stuff a turkey. However, there is no historical evidence that stuffing was served at the first Thanksgiving, but the tradition has been long standing in America.

Stuffing is not uncommon, but is not regularly utilized in most households, other than during the Thanksgiving holiday. Turkey stuffing is the most widely used, and while many buy pre-packaged stuffing such as Stove Top, there are yet many varying family recipes that have endured over the years. Stove Top introduced boxed stuffing in 1972. It was home economist Ruth Siems who discovered how to manipulate bread crumbs in such a way that made reconstitution practical, and Stove Top, now owned by Kraft Foods, sells almost 60 million boxes of stuffing every Thanksgiving.

In Victorian England, “stuffing” became “dressing” and remained so in its emigration to America.  Now “stuffing” and “dressing” are used interchangeably in America, although some places, especially in the Midwest, still refer to the dish as dressing. The famous cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking”, says that a mixture is considered stuffing if you cook it inside the bird, and dressing if you cook it in a pan.

Other differences are in the ingredient choices which vary according to regional locations. The base is usually a crumbled bread product such as cornbread, biscuits or bread. Most call for chopped onion and celery. Some recipes call for sauteing the onions and celery until they are tender. Another key ingredient in almost every recipe is poultry seasoning.There are recipe variations that can include sausage, walnuts, cranberries and in coastal areas, oysters.

There is a health risk involved with placing stuffing inside the turkey cavity while it is cooked. The stuffing can develop bacteria if it is not cooked to 165 degrees. The problem is that it is possible for the thigh of the turkey (where you insert the thermometer) to register an internal temperature of 180 degrees while the stuffing may not be the same temperature. If the turkey stuffing has not reached 165 degrees it must be cooked longer, which can result in the turkey being overcooked.

When it comes to the texture of stuffing, there is no right or wrong way to make it. Some people like it dry and crisp; some like it moist and dense. Soft breads produce a dense, spongy stuffing; toasted breads produce a drier stuffing because the bread crumbs can absorb more juices without becoming soggy.

To get the consistency your family prefers, follow these simple suggestions:

  • For a drier stuffing, use prepackaged dry bread crumbs or cubes and limit the amount of liquid.
  • For moist stuffing, add broth or juice until the mixture is just moist enough that it sticks together when pinched. But keep in mind that stuffing baked in poultry or in a tightly covered dish will not dry out as it bakes.
  • For fluffier stuffing, add a beaten egg or egg substitute, such as Egg Beaters. It will allow the stuffing to bake to a lighter, more airy consistency. For food safety reasons, use an egg substitute in dressing that is stuffed into poultry.
  • Ensure stuffing is done by using a meat thermometer. The temperature at the center of the stuffing inside the bird should reach 165°.
  • For stuffing baked in a separate dish, either egg or egg substitute can be used. Refrigerate leftover stuffing promptly.

If you like stuffing, you don’t have to limit it to holiday dinners. It bakes up just as well on its own as an accompaniment to chicken or other meats. Simply place stuffing in a greased shallow baking dish, cover with foil and bake at 325°F. to 350°F. for 1 hour or until heated through. For a crisper crust, uncover stuffing during the final 15-20 minutes of baking.

My Family’s Favorite

Italian Bread & Sausage Stuffing

Yields about 18 cups, enough to fill a 12- to 14- pound turkey and a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Ingredients:

  • 14 cups Italian bread, like ciabatta, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 loaves)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds bulk hot or sweet Italian sausage (or sausage links, casings removed)
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 large ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 5 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1-1/2 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tablespoon. dried sage
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth

Directions

Pile the bread cubes into a very large bowl and set aside.

Spray a large sauté pan with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula until light brown, about 5 min. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the bowl of cubed bread. Wipe out the pan and add the olive oil, onions, celery, and garlic  and saute until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 min. Stir in the thyme, sage, salt, and peppers, cook 1 minute, and add the mixture to the cubed bread. Add some of the broth to the bread mixture; stir until well combined. The stuffing should just hold together when pressed together, if not add more broth.

If cooking in a turkey, put the stuffing in the bird just before roasting. Pack the stuffing loosely, leaving enough room to fit your whole extended hand into the bird’s cavity. Cook the stuffing in the bird to 160º to 165ºF, checking with an instant-read thermometer. If the bird is done before the stuffing is, take the bird out of the oven, spoon the stuffing into a casserole dish, and continue to bake it while the turkey rests.

My preferred method:

If baking some or all of the stuffing in a casserole, pour a cup or two of broth over the stuffing to replace the juices the stuffing would have absorbed from the bird. Bake it covered until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a crunchy top, uncover it for the last 15 minutes of baking.

 

Fennel, Pecan and Caramelized Apple Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Cooking spray
  • 5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped carrot
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 3 cups chopped Golden Delicious apple
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 16 minutes or until golden, stirring after 8 minutes. Place in a large bowl. On a separate baking sheet place pecans and bake for 6-8 minutes and add to bread cubes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and next 5 ingredients (through garlic). Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add vegetables to bread mixture.

Return pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add apples and sugar; sauté 5 minutes or until apples caramelize, stirring occasionally. Add to the bread mixture.

Combine broth and eggs in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add broth mixture and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper to bread mixture; toss well to combine.

Spoon bread mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover with foil. Bake at 400°F. for 20 minutes. Uncover dish; bake for 20 minutes or until browned and crisp.

You can adjust oven temperature and baking time, if you are baking the stuffing alongside a turkey or you can stuff the turkey.

 

Wild Rice Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans (13 3/4 to 14 1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup wild rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 medium celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups regular long-grain rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Directions:

In a 4-quart saucepan over high heat, heat chicken broth, wild rice, salt, thyme, and 1 1/2 cups water to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, in nonstick 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add carrots, celery, and onion and cook until tender-crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove carrot mixture to bowl.

In same skillet in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, cook mushrooms until golden brown and all liquid evaporates.

Stir long-grain rice, carrot mixture, and mushrooms into wild rice; over high heat, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 20 minutes longer or until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in chopped parsley. Use to stuff 12- to 16-pound turkey or, spoon into serving bowl; keep warm.

Cherry Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 5 cups country bread cubes
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) or frozen (defrosted) pitted tart cherries, drained
  • 1 turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

In a saucepan, saute celery and onion in butter until tender. Stir in thyme and poultry seasoning. In a large bowl, combine bread, dried cherries and celery mixture. Add broth and canned cherries; toss to mix.

Loosely stuff turkey just before baking. Skewer openings; tie drumsticks together. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Brush with the olive oil.

Bake, uncovered, at 325°F. for 4 to 4-1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 180° for the turkey and 165° for the stuffing. Baste occasionally with pan drippings. Cover loosely with foil if turkey browns too quickly.

Cover and let stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the turkey. If desired, thicken pan drippings for gravy. Yield: 10-12 servings (6 cups stuffing).

Note: The stuffing may be prepared as directed and baked separately in a greased 2-qt baking dish. Cover and bake at 325°F.for 50 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer or until lightly browned.

 



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