Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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Pork is the culinary name for meat from the domestic pig and is one of the most commonly consumed meats worldwide, with evidence of pig husbandry dating back to 5000 BC.

Since the animals are now bred to be lean, the meat is higher in protein and about 30 percent lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol than the pork produced in the 1970’s.

With so many lean cuts of pork to choose from, many pork cuts are comparable to skinless chicken cuts. A 3-ounce serving of pork tenderloin is as lean as a skinless chicken breast. It contains 120 calories and only 2.98 grams of total fat. Pound for pound, pork is one of the most economical buys in the meat case. Not only will you be getting nutritional value of B vitamins, zinc and iron; but pork’s financial value will leave you a little extra cash in the pocketbook.

Common Cuts of Pork for Grilling

Pork Chops

The meatiest chops are cut from the center of the loin: The two most common types are loin chops, which look like miniature T-bone steaks with a bit of the tenderloin attached and rib chops, without the tenderloin (see Pork Tenderloin). Because they dry out quickly during cooking, it’s especially important not to overcook lean boneless chops. Choose cuts that are at least an inch thick so they stay juicy.

Pork Loin

Buy this large cut (from the back of the pig) without bones, which makes it easier to slice.  Stuff it and cook it as a roast or slice it into 1-inch chops for pan-frying and grilling.

Pork Tenderloin

This lean, very tender cut from the end of the loin is long, narrow and tapering at one end. It is much smaller than a pork loin roast, so it cooks quickly and is a good choice for weeknight dinners. This cut of pork is the most healthy cut of pork. Cut from the back of the pig, it has virtually no fat. This fact also makes it easy to dry out and for that reason technique is important: grill it on hot grates and grill it quickly. Tenderloins also absorb marinades really well. 

Pork Sausage

Made from ground pork, sausages come in a variety of sizes and seasonings. Flavors range from sweet to savory and spicy. Sausages can be used in sauces, stews or as a pizza topping. Grilled sausage makes an excellent sandwich.

Baby-Back Ribs

Small and meaty, these curved slabs are taken from the pig’s rib cage near the backbone. Prized for their juicy meat, they cook quickly. A full rack has at least 8 ribs. For the tenderest meat, select a rack that weighs 2 pounds or less (which should feed 2-3 people).

Spare Ribs

Although not as meaty as baby-back ribs, spare ribs rely on a generous amount of fat for flavor. Large and irregularly shaped, they come from a pig’s underbelly or lower rib cage (also the source of bacon). A full rack has at least 11 ribs and weighs 3 to 4 pounds (which should feed 3 or 4 people).

Ham

Ham is taken from a pig’s leg. Some hams are sold fresh for baking, but most are cured with brine, salt and spices, making them juicier. Some are sold fully cooked and some are smoked, which imparts a more intense flavor. Hams are sold boneless, semi-boneless and with the bone in. Bone-in hams usually yield the best flavor, while boneless are easier to cut. Ham steaks are best for the grill.

 

 

Grilling is ideal for cooking smaller pork cuts, such as chops, steaks, ham slices, tenderloins, ribs, ground pork patties, sausages and kabobs. Because grilling uses high heat and short cooking times, it tends to toughen the meat, so it is best to use the most tender cuts available. Lean pork cuts will benefit from marinating before they are grilled.

Pork steaks and pork chops that are going to be grilled should be a minimum of 3/4 to 1 inch thick because the high heat will cook the meat quickly. If the cuts are thinner than this, it is easy to overcook the meat, causing it to dry out. The meat must be watched carefully while grilling. Coating the pork with a little oil or marinating it before cooking will help keep it moist. It is important that the grill be properly preheated so that it seals the juices into the meat quickly. The temperature at which the pork is cooked and the distance it is placed from the heat source are both important for providing tender, juicy, properly cooked pork.

Using a meat thermometer is the most accurate method for testing doneness. A regular meat thermometer is inserted before placing the meat on the grill and it remains there throughout the cooking time. An instant read thermometer is used to check for the recommended temperature once the meat has been cooked. 

Whether the grill is charcoal or gas, how you use the heat is key. Understanding the two grilling styles, direct and indirect, are essential for creating perfectly grilled meat. There are instances when either direct or indirect methods are appropriate. The direct method cooks foods directly over the heat source. Grill pork chops, ground pork burgers, pork kabobs and anything less than two inches in thickness over direct heat. Indirect heat cooks at a slower rate, as the heat source is off to the side, to prevent burning the outer area of the food while cooking evenly throughout. Grill larger cuts of meat, like pork shoulder and roasts, using indirect heat. (See photo above for direct/indirect heat method.)

When using direct grilling, the meat should be 3 to 6 inches away from the heat source and cooked on medium high heat. It is important that the heat source be accurately preheated to allow for even cooking. Pork is done at 160 degrees F. Cook larger cuts over indirect heat to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F. and allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes. The final internal temperature will continue to rise to 160 degrees F. A hint of pink in the center equates perfectly cooked pork that is not dried out. 

Start with a clean grill. Scrub the grates with a wire brush removing all grease buildup and charred food particles prior to every use. Grease the grates with cooking oil before starting the grill to prevent sticking and burning of items to be grilled. To reduce flare ups, choose lean cuts of meat, such as: pork tenderloin, top loin chop, center loin chop, rib chop, sirloin roast or 96% lean ground pork. Also, trim any visible fat before placing on the grill.

Marinades can come from fruit and vegetable purees. Vinegar mixtures, citrus juice, herbs, spices and olive oil all make great ingredients for marinades. In addition to marinating to maximize the natural flavor of lean meats, such as pork tenderloin and ham, pair pork with fresh fruits and vegetables to brighten and lighten up summertime meals. Pairing meat with citrus fruits or adding sliced apples, strawberries or other fruit  to your grilling skewer will increase the meal’s nutrition value. Grilled fruit, such as peaches, nectarines and plums add great flavor to pork entrees. Adding vegetables to the grill alongside the meat is a healthy alternative to fattening summer sides and it saves the cook time and work.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

This is a master grilling recipe for pork tenderloin that works perfectly, no matter how you flavor the pork. 

Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 pork tenderloins (about 2 pounds total)
  • 1 recipe Rosemary-Orange Glaze, see recipe below
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 recipe Orange Balsamic Sauce, see recipe below

Brining:

In a medium bowl, mix salt and sugar with 1 quart cool water until dissolved. Trim the tenderloins of excess fat and silverskin and submerge them in the brine; let stand about 45 minutes. Remove the pork from the brine, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry.

Season and grill:

Rub the brined tenderloins all over with the Rosemary-Orange Glaze and then season with the pepper. 

Heat a gas grill, turning all the burners to high until the grill is fully heated, 10 to 15 minutes.

Put the pork on the hot grill grate. Close the lid and grill for 7 minutes.

Turn the pork over, close the lid, and grill for another 6 minutes.

Turn off the heat (keep the lid closed) and continue to cook the pork for another 5 minutes. At this point, an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the thickest end of the tenderloin should read 145° to 150°F. (If not, close the lid and let the pork continue to roast in the residual grill heat.) Remove the pork from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes before carving. Cut across the grain into 1/2-inch slices and serve with the Orange Balsamic Sauce .

To use a charcoal grill:

Prepare a two-zone fire, banking all the coals to one side of the grill. Use a wire brush to clean the grill rack and then brush it lightly with oil; close the lid and wait to let the air inside the grill get hot again. Position the pork directly over the hot coals and cook (covered), turning once, until nicely seared on both sides. Move the tenderloins to the coolest part of the grill (over no coals), close the lid, and cook for 5 minutes more. Grilling time may vary a bit, depending on how hot and consistent your fire is.

Rosemary-Orange Glaze 

Yields enough to glaze two pork tenderloins.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

In a small saucepan, bring the concentrate, brown sugar and rosemary to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture reduces to about half. Set aside to cool slightly.

Orange Balsamic Sauce

Yields about 1/3 cup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup orange marmalade
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant and sizzling, about 30 seconds. Stir in the marmalade and vinegar. Heat until warm. After slicing the pork, add any juices from the carving board to the sauce and mix well. Pass separately when serving the pork tenderloins.

Pork Chops with Marsala and Porcini Mushrooms

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups very hot water
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 pork rib chops, each 8 to 10 ounces and ¾ to 1 inch thick
  • 3 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts only), divided (9 scallions)
  • 1/2 cup good-quality dry marsala
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup half & half

Directions:

Pour the water into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, add the porcinis, and stir to submerge. Cover with a plate or bowl to keep the porcini submerged. Let soak until the mushrooms are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the soaking liquid and the porcini separately. If the porcini pieces are large, roughly chop them and set aside.

While the mushrooms are soaking, prepare the pork chops. In a small bowl combine 2 teaspoons of the rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Brush the pork chops on both sides with the oil and season evenly with the spices.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the creminis and cook until they release their liquid and become brown, 7 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the drained porcini, 3/4 cup of the scallions and the remaining rosemary. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the marsala and boil until reduced by about half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth and the 1 cup reserved porcini soaking liquid, leaving any sediment behind. Boil until slightly reduced, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the half & half and boil until the liquid thickens to your desired sauce consistency, 3 to 5 minutes. Season the sauce with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the pork chops over direct high heat with the lid closed , 6 to 8 minutes depending on their thickness, turning once. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Spoon the mushroom sauce over the pork chops and top with the remaining 1/4 cup scallions. 

Pork Kabobs

Marinade:

  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley 
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt

2 pork tenderloins, each about 1 pound, trimmed of silver skin and any excess fat, cut into 1¼-inch cubes

2 large bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green, cut into 1¼-inch squares

Directions:

Whisk the marinade ingredients, including a 1/2 teaspoon salt. Put the pork cubes in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Press the air out of the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to distribute the marinade, place in a bowl, and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours, turning occasionally.

If using bamboo skewers, soak in water for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).

Remove the pork from the bag and discard the marinade. Thread the pork and bell pepper squares alternately onto skewers.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the skewers over direct high heat, with the lid closed, until the pork is barely pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove from the grill and serve immediately.

Ham Steaks with a Citrus Sauce

Serves: 6

Sauce:

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley 
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Marinade:

  • 1 tablespoon orange marmalade
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 bone-in ham steaks, each about 1 pound and ¾ inch thick

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 orange, cut into wedges

Directions:

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (400° to 500°F).

In a medium, nonreactive bowl combine the sauce ingredients.

In a small saucepan combine the marmalade, orange juice and vinegar. Cook over low heat just until the mixture thins slightly.

Blot the ham steaks dry with paper towels. Brush both sides of each ham steak with the marmalade mixture and season one side evenly with 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the ham steaks over direct medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until they are grill marked and crispy around the edges, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once. Remove from the grill and cut into individual portions. Serve warm with the sauce and orange wedges.

Sausage Vegetable Grill

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound lean hot or sweet Italian Pork Sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup quartered fresh mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine the oil, oregano, parsley, garlic salt and paprika.

Pour over sausage mixture; toss to coat.

Divide mixture between two pieces of heavy-duty foil (each about 14 in. x 12 in.). Fold foil around sausage mixture and seal tightly.

Grill both packages, covered, over medium heat for 25-30 minutes or until the sausage is cooked through.

Open foil carefully to allow steam to escape.

 

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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.

 


There are a great variety of Italian savory cakes, pies and tart recipes for all occasions. You can serve them cold or warm, as a starter or as a one-plate meal accompanied with a green salad.

The main ingredients are fish, meat, vegetables and eggs and they can be made with a pie crust or puff-pastry or pizza dough

A torta (the plural is torte) is a pie, usually a savory one, at least in the countries across the Mediterranean—consisting of a filling (often based on vegetables) enclosed in thin dough and baked in an oven or cooked over an open fire. The notion of savory pies is ancient, perhaps dating to the Mesopotamians. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all ate something similar.

Torta Pasqualina

Torte of various designs are made all over Italy today, but the Ligurians seem to produce this dish in its purest form—just dough and filling, without any enhancements. The only complex Ligurian torta made today is torta pasqualina, or “Eastertide torta”, which is filled with either artichokes or Swiss chard and mixed with eggs, cheese, and herbs. Traditionally, torta pasqualina was made with 33 layers of dough—ten on the bottom and 23 on the top—to symbolize the 33 years of Christ’s life.

Sandro Oddo, who is a serious student of local history, folklore, and cuisine, writes that, In the old days people in the mountains ate torte everyday. Pasta was a rarity.” Pasta is filling and comparatively inexpensive, but because little wheat grows in the Ligurian countryside—or anywhere else in the region—flour was expensive, and pasta was usually purchased instead of being made at home. So instead of making pasta, less than a pound of flour could be formed into a thin-dough torta with a filling of wild greens or mushrooms, some eggs from the barnyard and some homemade cheese.  This pie could  feed eight to ten family members. The prevalence of torte in this region wasn’t originally a matter of cultural preference; it was a matter of survival.  

Liguria vacation in Italian wine cooking

Liguria is known as the Italian Riviera. It’s a sliver of land along the Ligurian Sea north of the Mediterranean.

Until 1994 Triora, a city in Liguria, held an annual torta-making contest.  “In the last two years of the contest,” Oddo says, “only two women bothered to enter. It wasn’t much of a competition and the event has been permanently canceled. The art is being lost,” he adds. 

A past contest winner, Allavena, created a torta that was different from that of most of Liguria. Instead of many top and bottom layers, hers was made with a single oversized sheet of dough; the filling was placed in the middle, the edges were drawn up to the center in irregular pleats and the pie was baked. While she often made a traditional chard-filled torta, her specialties were, torta di patate with a filling of puréed potatoes and torta di polenta  with a spinach and herb filling.

She usually baked her torta in a small oven in her little kitchen, but on special occasions Allavena used to carry them down the street to the local communal oven.  “The baker would cook it for you in the leftover heat after he’d finished his loaves,” she said. Unfortunately, the oven closed down recently in response to new Italian safety laws. Another lost art.

In the United States torta often means a combination of layered soft cheeses, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. This is served in a loaf form and spread onto breads or crackers, but this is not the traditional torta as viewed by the Italians. Instead, the Italian torta is a meat and cheese pie or tart, usually double crusted, that slightly resembles a quiche. The primary difference between quiche and torta, besides the double crust, is that the slightly eggy custard in a torta is much more cheese based than egg based. Usually egg is only used to bind ingredients together, instead of making up the majority of the savory filling, as in a quiche.

Some chefs suggest using a pizza dough for the Italian torta, while others suggest a more traditional piecrust. Either type of dough can make a delicious torta, but the pastry crust is more traditional than bread dough. When pastry dough is used, the torta may be made in a large springform pan instead of in a pie dish.

Italian torte can have any combination of ingredients. Some are completely vegetarian, and are flavored merely with vegetables like artichokes or spinach. Other recipes introduce ham or sausage. The principal filling is usually a combination of ricotta cheese, parmesan, parsley and onion. From that point on, you can get creative and use many different ingredients to augment the Italian torta.

You can serve a torta while it is still slightly warm and the cheese semi-melted, or you can serve it cold, especially for parties. The pie’s interior, when cool, is more like a solid cheese custard. Do observe caution when storing the pie, if you plan to serve it cool. It should be kept in the refrigerator, because of its high cheese content, until about ten minutes prior to serving. As mentioned, ingredients can vary significantly. Any and all can make for a delicious and unusual dish to offer guests.   

To keep these dishes on the healthier side, my pie dough is made with olive oil and the pies are made with a single crust. I also use lighter ingredients in the fillings. These savory tarts make a great lunch entrée or you can serve them for dinner with a salad.

Tart Dough/ Oil Pie Crust

Pie crusts made with vegetable oil have a crisp, tasty crust with no trans fats or cholesterol. No rolling needed, just mix it right in the pie plate and pat it into place. This recipe makes enough for a single deep dish crust.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour or 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour and 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons water 

Directions:

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. This can be done right in the pie pan, if you like.  Whisk together the oil and water in a small bowl, then pour over the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened.

Pat the dough across the bottom of the pie pan and up the sides. A flat-bottomed measuring cup can help you make the bottom even. Press the dough up the sides of the pan with your fingers, and flute the edge.

Chill the pie crust or fill and bake depending on your recipe.

Roasted Tomato Tart

Serves 6 to 8

Most of the tomatoes’ moisture evaporates when they are slow-roasted, concentrating their flavor and making them ideal for using in a tart filling. Since the size of tomatoes varies so much, use your judgment as to how many will be necessary.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for sprinkling on top of the tart
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Handful of chopped fresh herbs such as, basil, oregano, thyme, or chives
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled
  • 10 to 15 Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, recipe below
  • Sliced basil leaves for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F. and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

Combine the ricotta, 1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese, salt, pepper,  egg substitute, and the herbs in a small bowl. Stir until well combined. 

Spread the filling in the prepared tart and arrange the tomatoes on top, leaving a little space between them. Sprinkle the top with additional grated Parmigiano.

Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Garnish top with sliced basil.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Makes 24

Any size or type of tomato can be slow-roasted but the timing will vary depending on the size and juiciness of each tomato; just look for shriveled edges and just a bit of wetness in the center to tell you they’re done. Enjoy them on their own, or in salads, sandwiches, tarts, and pizzas. Since the juices are reduced, they won’t turn a tart or pizza soggy.  They will keep, layered in a jar and covered with oil, for about a week. The oil can be used in vinaigrettes or as a finishing oil to drizzle over grilled fish.

Ingredients:

  • 12 plum tomatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 or 3 thyme sprigs
  • 2 or 3 oregano sprigs
  • Coarse sea salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. and position the rack in the middle of the oven. Line 1 large or 2 smaller baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sliver the garlic as thinly as possible. Cut the tomatoes in half. Cut larger ones in quarters. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on the baking sheet, leaving plenty of space in between. Drizzle with oil and rub the tomatoes with your fingers to coat well. Sprinkle with the garlic, herbs, and salt.

Reduce the oven to 300°F and bake for 2 to 2½ hours, until the tomatoes are shriveled and beginning to brown. Let cool, and transfer to an airtight container.

Squash and Herb Pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds zucchini or yellow squash or a combination, ends trimmed
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup shredded reduced calorie Sargento Italian blend cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled

Directions:

Grate the zucchini using a food processor or a hand grater. Place in a large colander, salt generously, and let drain for 1 hour, pressing down on it occasionally to squeeze out liquid. After an hour, take up handfuls and squeeze out moisture (or wrap in a kitchen towel and twist the towel to squeeze out the moisture). Place in a medium bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes, then add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute. Transfer to the bowl with the zucchini. Stir in the herbs, cheese, eggs and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 425°F, and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

Spread the filling in the prepared tart. Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Crab and Red Pepper Tart

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup diced crabmeat 
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into very thin strips
  • 1/2 cup shredded reduced calorie Sargento Italian Blend cheese
  • 3 large eggs or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 3/4 cup nonfat milk
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seafood seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 whole scallions, chopped
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F, and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

In a medium bowl beat the eggs and add the milk, crabmeat, scallions, cheese, seafood seasoning, salt and pepper.  Pour into the prepared tart and lay the red pepper strips on top in a decorative design.

Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Spinach Ricotta Tart

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions (scallions)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1  cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh chives
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten, or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F, and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray and add olive oil, green onions and spinach to pan; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a bowl and add the ricotta cheese, eggs or egg substitute, sliced fresh chives, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour mixture into prepared crust; sprinkle mixture with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sausage Tart

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Italian sausage (pork, turkey or chicken), casing removed
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1/3 cup green peppers, chopped
  • 1 large plum tomato seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup low-fat evaporated milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

Heat skillet, add sausage and brown well.  Drain on paper towels. Drain fat from skillet and wipe clean with additional paper towels.

Add olive oil to skillet and cook until onions are translucent.

In a medium bowl combine sausage, onion, tomato, green pepper and cheese. Add flour and mix until ingredients are coated with the flour.

In another bowl mix spices with beaten egg and add evaporated milk, and add to sausage.  Mix well and pour into prepared tart.

Place the tart on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Semolina Flour

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

spaghetti and meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

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

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

Spaghetti with Sausage and Simple Tomato Sauce                                                                                                                

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

Ingredients:

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

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

Sautéed Chicken with Pesto Spaghetti                                                                                                     

4 Servings

Ingredients:

Directions:

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

Spaghetti with Shrimp, Scallops, and Clams                                                                                                 

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

Whole Wheat Spaghetti With Artichokes And Ricotta                                                                                                       

Serves 4

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

Spaghetti With Fresh Veggies                                                                                                                     

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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


Sometimes, cooking for one or two may seem like it’s not worth the trouble; however, everyone needs a variety of foods to stay healthy. Homemade meals usually are more nutritious, better tasting and more economical, compared with restaurant meals. Planning makes a difference in eating healthy meals. Set a goal to plan menus for a week at a time, and incorporate your “planned-overs.” For example, making a small roast on Sunday could provide the meat for a sandwich on Monday and a vegetable beef stir-fry on Tuesday. To help plan, read your recipes ahead of time and refer to the grocery store flyers for other ideas. Organize your shopping list based on the grocery store layout. Keep a list handy in the kitchen, so jotting down when you need flour, sugar or other items is easy.

Tips

  • Cook a batch and freeze single portions. For example, make a casserole or stew and freeze individual-size servings. Then take out only the amount of food you need. Be sure to write the date and contents on packages and move older packages forward as you add food to your freezer.
  • Prepare one-dish meals. For quick and simple cooking, choose a dish that serves as the whole meal. Look for dishes that include items from several food groups, such as meats, whole grains, legumes and vegetables. Healthy examples include beef, barley and vegetable stew; chicken, vegetable and rice casserole; turkey and bean casserole; and vegetarian chili.
  • Use extras wisely. Plan meals so that you can use the extra food in new dishes. For example, cook rice and use as a side dish for one meal and the remainder in a casserole or rice pudding. Bake chicken for a meal and use the leftovers in sandwiches or soup, or toss with greens, dried fruit and nuts for a salad. Or make a meatloaf mixture and bake some as a meatloaf and freeze the uncooked portion to use later in stuffed peppers.
  • An economical strategy is to buy a family pack of chicken breasts, marinate them overnight in light salad dressing, then grill them. Slice the grilled chicken and portion it into airtight freezer bags. Then, the chicken portions to make pasta, tacos, barbeque chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, chicken Caesar salad, etc. Preparing dinner is a cinch when the chicken is already cooked!

Reduce The Number Of Servings 

Choose recipes that fit with your tastes and time requirements. Whether you’re a 20-something single person or an “empty nester couple” with grown children, you don’t need to throw out your favorite family recipes. You can adapt many of them to fit your current household size.

Try these tips to help reduce your recipes:

Choose recipes that are easy to divide mathematically.  Consult The Reducing Table, below, to help you reduce the number of servings in recipes.

• If a recipe calls for a can of beans or soup and you would like to divide the recipe in half, use what you need and either refrigerate or freeze the remaining food. Label the container with the contents and date.

• Add seasonings gradually. Sometimes you may need to add more (or less) to reach the desired flavor.

• Check for doneness of halved recipes five to 10 minutes sooner than the original recipe.

• Keep notes about what works — and what doesn’t!

Table For Reducing Ingredients


When the recipe calls for use:
1/4 cup…………….. 2 tablespoons
1/3 cup…………….. 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons
1/2 cup…………….. 1/4 cup
2/3 cup…………….. 1/3 cup
3/4 cup…………….. 6 tablespoons
1 tablespoon…….. 1 1/2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon……….. 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon…….. 1/4 teaspoon


Making One-third of a Recipe
1/4 cup…………….. 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon
1/3 cup…………….. 1 tablespoon + 2 1/3 teaspoons


Another key to quick, nutritious meals is to keep a variety of foods in your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. Whether you’re thinking about a pasta dish, salad, pizza, soup, sandwich, stew, or omelet, a well-stocked kitchen makes preparation fast and easy. In addition to lean meat, poultry, and fish, stock these tried-and-true ingredients:

Freezer

  • Whole-wheat rolls
  • Bags of frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Pre-cooked chicken strips
  • Pizza shells
  • Lean meats, poultry, and seafood
  • Frozen entrees

Pantry

  • Canned and dry beans, peas, and lentils
  • Whole-grain pasta, rice, and other grains
  • Pasta sauce, pesto, tomatoes
  • Cereal
  • Dried and canned fruits
  • Canned vegetables
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Salad dressings, oils, vinegar, and mustard
  • Dry sauce mixes
  • Jarred peppers, olives
  • Croutons
  • Whole-grain bread and crackers
  • Canned fish in water
Refrigerator
  • Dairy foods — yogurt; cheese; skim or low-fat milk
  • Eggs
  • Fresh fruits, vegetables
  • Pre-washed salads in bags
  • Light margarine
  • Pickles
  • 100% fruit juice

Spicy Cioppino

2 servings, 2 cups each

Ingredients

  • 4 small red potatoes, (1- to 2-inch diameter), quartered
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tilapia fillet, diced (about 5 ounces) or whatever fish is available
  • 4 ounces bay scallops, patted dry
  • 1 small sweet onion, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend 
  • 1-2 teaspoons hot paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 plum tomatoes, diced

Directions:

  1. Place potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add tilapia and scallops; cook, stirring once or twice, until just opaque, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
  3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and onion to the pan and stir to coat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high, add Italian seasoning, paprika to taste, salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine, water and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the fish, scallops, potatoes and capers (if using), return to a simmer and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Fusilli with Italian Sausage & Arugula

2 servings, 2 cups each

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces whole-wheat pasta, such as shells or fusilli
  • 4 ounces hot Italian turkey sausage, removed from casing
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups arugula, or baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta 8 to 10 minutes, or according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic, arugula (or spinach) and tomatoes. Cook, stirring often, until the greens wilt and the tomatoes begin to break down, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; cover and keep warm.
  3. Combine cheese, pepper and salt in a large bowl. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid; drain the pasta. Whisk the cooking liquid and oil into the cheese mixture; add the pasta and toss to combine. Serve the pasta topped with the sausage-arugula mixture.

Baked Sea Scallops

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 8 sea scallops, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance Spread, melted
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 shallot, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • lemon wedges for garnish (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Place scallops, melted butter, garlic, and shallots in a bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Transfer to a casserole dish.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine bread crumbs and olive oil. Sprinkle some under and on top of scallops.
  4. Bake in preheated oven until crumbs are brown and scallops are done, about 11 to 14 minutes. Top with parsley, and serve with lemon wedges on the side. 

Fontina Melts

Add a side of whole-wheat pasta, a salad and a glass of Pinot Noir.
2 servings

Ingredients

2 turkey or pork or chicken cutlets, (8 ounces), pounded thin
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large shallot, minced
1/4 cup dry sherry
1- 6-ounce bag baby spinach
1/4 cup finely shredded Fontina cheese
1 teaspoon butter

Directions:

  1. Position oven rack in the upper third of the oven; preheat broiler.
  2. Sprinkle both sides of the cutlets with flour. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cutlets and cook until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the cutlets to a plate.
  3. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and shallot to the pan; cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sherry and spinach; cook, stirring constantly, until the spinach is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  4. Carefully mound equal portions of the spinach on top of the cutlets. Transfer the spinach-topped cutlet and any accumulated juices to the pan. Top the spinach with cheese and transfer to the oven. Broil until the cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Transfer the melts to 2 plates. Add the butter to the pan and whisk into the juices over medium-high heat until melted, about 30 seconds. Drizzle over the melts.

Eggs for Two

This combination of eggs braised in tomato sauce served on crusty bread is unusual but delicious. You might also try it over angel hair pasta.

Serve with broccoli or broccoli rabe.

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 ounce pancetta, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup prepared marinara sauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 slices whole-wheat country bread, toasted

Directions

  1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and pancetta (if using). Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown, 4 to 6 minutes.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add marinara and adjust heat to maintain a simmer. Crack an egg into a small bowl, taking care not to break the yolk. Make a well in the sauce roughly large enough to hold the egg and slip it in so that the yolk and most of the white is contained (some white may spread out). Repeat with the remaining egg, spacing the eggs around the pan. Sprinkle the sauce with basil; cover and cook until the eggs are the desired doneness, 6 to 8 minutes for medium-set. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with Parmesan and pepper.
  3. To serve, top each slice of toasted bread with an egg and sauce. 



Related Articles


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

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

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

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

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

Tips

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

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

Appetizers That Taste Good And Are Good For You

appetizers

Salmon Pastries with Dill Pesto                                                                                                                                         

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

appetizer1

Creamy Seafood and Red Pepper Spread

2-1/4 cups or 18 servings

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

Fresh Squash Chips

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

Ingredients:

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

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

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

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

appetizers1

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms  

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

Serves 12

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

appetizers3

Marinated Olives      

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients:

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

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

appetizers4

Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Spread      

Makes 3 cups.

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

appetizer2

Italian Style Sausage Skewers

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

12 Servings

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

Cook the sausage according to the directions on the package and cut it into 1-inch rounds. Cut the basil leaves lengthwise into thirds.
Put a cheese cube about 1/3 of the way down onto a skewer. Then add 1 strip of basil, folding so it fits nicely on the skewer. Follow with 1 grape tomato and a round of sausage. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving.

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

Fresh Fruit Bowl

Use whatever fresh fruit is in season.
Ingredients

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

Directions

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

  • Yield: 3-4 quarts.



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