Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: tomato

Classic Italian foods such as pizza, bruschetta, pasta, rice, soups, and stews all typically include this blend of herbs. The mixture can be used to season lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and beef dishes.  Sandwiches, meat marinades, salads, and flavored breads can also be seasoned with Italian herbs.

One popular use of Italian seasonings involves mixing them with butter and Parmesan cheese to make a spread to use on breads, crackers, and other foods. Vegetables that are particularly good when flavored with Italian seasonings include potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant. Italian seasoning can be used to flavor vinegar, olive oil, and other dips and sauces as well.

Italian seasoning blend is considered a staple herbal mix in most pantries. It can be purchased pre-mixed from grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and most places where food supplies are sold. Italian seasonings are usually sold in a plastic or glass jar, though some fresh varieties can be purchased in sealed bags or other airtight packages.  Blends can, also, be created from fresh herbs at home.

ESSENTIAL ITALIAN SPICES

Rosemary: The fresh, strong taste of rosemary enhances poultry, fish, and seafood. Italian cooks often add it to roasted lamb with potatoes and many grilled meats as well. Try it in any vegetable dish and in breads, especially focaccia.  The woody stems are often used in place of skewers for grilling kabobs.

Sage: This herb is typically found in stuffings, poultry and meat dishes, sausages and soups. Italian cooks also use it, along with garlic, to flavor butter for pasta dishes. It enhances salads (especially bean salads), and dressings. Sage is traditional in Tuscan white beans and in Saltimbocca, a veal dish.  Chopped sage can be added to cornbread for a different flavor combination.

Chilies: Italian cooks sometimes use pungent chili peppers to enliven sauces, stews, and seafood dishes. They’re also often found in Italian sausages. Experiment with different varieties for different effects.

Fennel Seeds: The distinct, licorice-like fennel is found in Italian meatballs and sausage and with roasted meats and fish. To enhance the flavor, toast the seeds lightly before adding to your dish.

Chives: For a mild onion flavor, Italian cooks use chives in salads and dressings, pasta dishes, casseroles, soups and stews. Dried chives are a convenient staple.

Marjoram: Like its relative oregano, marjoram is used liberally in Italian kitchens. It’s a versatile seasoning, compatible with many vegetables, meats and poultry. You’ll find it used in recipes for Italian soups, stews, sauces, and salad dressings.

Thyme: Its affinity for tomatoes makes thyme a good choice in Italian cooking.  Aromatic and pungent, it takes just a light touch to season poultry, seafood, fish, meats, marinades and stuffing. Sprinkle thyme on top of blue cheese and serve with fresh figs for a great appetizer.

Bay: Bay leaves are an important addition to Italian broths, soups and stews, grilled meats, and roasted poultry. It generally takes just one leaf to fully season a large serving.

Onions: “Sauté onion and garlic” begins many an Italian recipe. Dried onion flakes, onion powder, onion granules, minced onion and onion salt provide maximum convenience. Add them directly to soups and sauces, dressings and casseroles.

Nutmeg: Not just a dessert spice in the Italian kitchen, nutmeg adds a rich scent and flavor to ravioli filling and tortellini dishes. You’ll also find it in recipes for Bolognese meat sauce and Italian stews.

Basil:  A member of the mint family, basil has shiny green leaves and a fragrant aroma. Basil’s flavor is sweet and pungent.  Good in all tomato, pepper and eggplant dishes. Try adding chopped basil to corn on the cob.

Sauces

Salsa Verde

Salsa verde is used as a condiment or dipping sauce for grilled meats, fish, poultry, or vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1 whole garlic clove
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth

Directions:
Put the parsley, capers, the whole garlic clove, the lemon juice, anchovy paste, mustard,  salt, and pepper into a food processor or blender. Pulse just to chop, six to eight times. With the machine running, add the oil and chicken broth in a thin stream to make a slightly coarse puree. Leave this salsa verde in the food processor until ready to serve; pulse to re-emulsify just before serving.

Low-Fat Fettuccine Alfredo

Recipe makes enough sauce for 9 ounces fresh fettuccine pasta, cooked
4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed but kept whole
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Directions:

In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in the flour until mixture is smooth and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, half-and-half, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Discard garlic, stir in Parmesan and remove from heat.

Spaghetti Carbonara Low Fat Version

I prefer to use egg substitute instead of the traditional raw eggs in this recipe.

4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound cooked whole wheat spaghetti,
  • 2 bacon strips cooked, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (for garnish)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Mix parmesan cheese with egg substitute. Set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan and add olive oil. Sauté garlic until fragrant. Add the cooked pasta to the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute to heat
the pasta up. Add the egg substitute mixture and cook until thickened but not scrambled.
Serve in individual portions and sprinkle each with the crumbled bacon and chopped parsley

Sicilian Pistachio Sauce

This orange-scented sauce from Sicily can be served with fish or vegetables, or as a topping for crostini.

Ingredients:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, moistened with water and squeezed dry
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
Turn on a food processor fitted with the steel blade and drop in the garlic. When the garlic is chopped and adhering to the sides of the bowl, stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the salt, bread crumbs and pistachios and process to a paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Turn on the machine and add the orange zest, orange juice, and lemon juice. With the machine still running slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and adjust salt.
Yield: Makes about 1 1/4 cups
Advance preparation: This will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. It will become more pungent.

Piedmontese Tomato Sauce

Good with gnocchi or as a side with grilled flank steak.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped 
  • 1 large tomato, cored, seeded and roughly chopped 
  • 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • Fine sea salt 
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 

Directions:
In a large skillet combine bell pepper, tomato, onion, oil and pinch salt. Bring to a simmer. Gently simmer, covered, until vegetables are very soft, about 12 minutes. Add vinegar and cook, uncovered, 1 minute more. Process with an immersion blender or strain through a mesh colander and transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.

Sicilian Pesto

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 to 2 serrano chilies, cored, and seeded, depending on how spicy you like your food
  • 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup sliced blanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plus ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • Salt 

Directions:
Place the basil, mint, garlic, chilies, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, and almonds in a food processor and pulse three times to start the chopping process. Add in the oil in a thin stream and pulse four or five times to create a thick paste (not a thin, oily sauce). Add ¼ cup of the cheese and pulse once to mix it in.
Season the pesto with salt, if it needs it.

Butter and Sage Sauce                                                              

Good sauce for ravioli or gnocchi and will cover a 8-9 oz. of fresh pasta.
Serves:  4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 8 sage leaves
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions:

While your pasta cooks, melt butter in a small saute pan and continue cooking until a golden brown color just starts to appear . Add sage leaves and remove from heat. Add lemon juice and the cheese.  Drizzle over cooked pasta.

Easy Pizza Sauce

Makes enough sauce for 2 pizzas.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes 
  • 1- 28-oz. container Pomi strained tomatoes 
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, 5 minutes. Add garlic and chili flakes; cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes, increase heat until sauce starts to bubble. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, 20 minutes. Stir in honey, basil and salt and pepper to taste. 

Spices                                                                                                                                                                                 

Homemade Italian Seasoning

Makes about 2 cups

  • 1/2 cup dried basil
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup dried rosemary
  • 1/4 cup dried marjoram
  • 1/4 cup dried parsley
  • 1/4 cup dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup dried savory
  • 2 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients; store in an airtight glass container.

Italian Parmesan Paste

This is a cheese rub that contains herbs and spices for flavor and olive oil and red wine vinegar to turn the mixture into a thick paste. Use this rub on any grilled meat to add great Italian flavor.

  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients in a processor and pulse just until combined.  Pour into a nonreactive airtight container and refrigerate.

Marinades

Chicken or Steak Italian Marinade

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 2 tablespoons dry parsley
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Mix above ingredients. Use to marinate chicken or steak for up to 3 days in refrigerator.

Vegetable Marinade    

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons white pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cups chopped parsley

Directions:
Combine water, both vinegars, lemon juice, pepper, garlic and parsley in large saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, simmer 10 minutes.  Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, cover and chill at least 2-3 hours. Drizzle over cooked vegetables.


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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat more than 22 pounds of tomatoes every year. More than half this amount is eaten in the form of ketchup and tomato sauce. There are more than 4,000 varieties of tomatoes, ranging from the small, marble-size cherry tomato to the giant Ponderosa that can weigh more than 3 pounds.

Tomatoes do not become more flavorful and develop adequate flavor unless allowed to ripen on the vine. They will change color and soften, but the sugar, acid, and aroma compounds are locked in once the fruit is taken off the vine. So, choose vine-ripened tomatoes, preferably locally grown, because the less the tomatoes have to travel, the more likely they were picked ripe. Seek out locally grown tomatoes whenever possible. They may not be as “pretty” as store bought, but beauty, but taste is what you are after.

Select tomatoes that are firm, glossy, smooth, plump, heavy for their size, and free of bruises. Avoid tomatoes that are overly ripe and soft. Fragrance is a better indicator of a good tomato than color. Use your nose and smell the stem end. The stem should retain the garden aroma of the plant, if it doesn’t, your tomato will lack flavor. Since fresh tomatoes are summer fare and off-season tomatoes are rarely flavorful, substitute canned Italian plum tomatoes in cooked dishes. Cook for ten minutes to reduce the liquid and enhance the taste.

Storing Ripe Tomatoes:  

NEVER REFRIGERATE FRESH TOMATOES! Cold temperatures make the flesh of a tomato pulpy and destroys the flavor. Always store tomatoes at room temperature stem-end down. This prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting its scar, prolonging shelf life.

To ripen, place green or unripened tomatoes in a brown paper bag and place in a dark spot for three or four days, depending on the degree of greenness. The bag will trap the fruit’s ethylene gas and encourage ripening. Do not put tomatoes in the sun to ripen – that will soften them.


Tomato Equivalents

Fresh Tomatoes:

  • 1 small tomato weighs 3 to 4 ounces.
  • 1 medium tomato weighs 5 to 6 ounces.
  • 1 large tomato weighs 7 or more ounces.
  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes = 3 cups chopped and drained fresh tomatoes or 2 1/2 cups seeded, chopped cooked tomatoes.
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes = 3 cups pureed tomatoes.
  • 25 to 30 cherry tomatoes = 2 cups chopped tomatoes.

Canned Tomatoes:

  • 1 (16-ounce) can = 2 cups undrained tomatoes = 1 cup drained tomatoes.
  • 1 (28-ounce) can = 3 cups undrained = 2 to 2 1/2 cups drained tomatoes.
  • 1 (35-ounce) can = 4 cups undrained = 2 1/2 to 3 cups drained tomatoes.
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste = 1/4 cup.

Tomato Tips:

  • Add a pinch of sugar to tomatoes when cooking them. It enhances the flavor.
  • To keep baked or stuffed tomatoes from collapsing, bake in greased muffin tins. The tins will give them some support as they cook.
  • If the seeds and skins won’t be noticeable in a dish, keep them in. If you are making a smooth sauce, you can always strain out the seeds and skins later as the skins and seed will add flavor.
  • While the flesh contributes the sugars and amino acids, the flavors of a tomatoes are not just in its flesh, the jelly and juice surrounding the seeds contribute acidity. However, the seeds and surrounding jelly will contribute liquid to the dish you are using it in, which can make uncooked dishes, such as salsa, too watery. The tomato skins also have a way of curling up into tough little bits when they are cooked.

Tips for Freezing Tomatoes:

  • The simplest way to preserve tomatoes is to freeze them whole. Just rinse them, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and freeze overnight. When frozen, put them in a freezer bag and return to the freezer. To use, remove from bag and thaw. When thawed, slip the skins off, and use in your favorite recipes.
  • Peel the tomatoes, puree them in a blender, and then strain them through cheesecloth or a coffee filter to drain off the excess tomato water (this can be used in soups). Freeze the pulp in ice cube trays. When frozen, store the frozen cubes in a freezer bag.
  • Roast halved tomatoes with olive oil and herbs before freezing.

How To Peel Fresh Tomatoes:

* *

In a 5-quart pan over high heat, bring 3 ½ quarts water to a boil.

Prepare a large bowl of ice water that contains enough ice water to cover the tomatoes you want to peel.

With a paring knife, cut an “X” through the skin on bottom of each tomato.

* *

Working in batches of three, plunge (drop) the tomatoes into the boiling water, a few at a time, 10 to 15 seconds.

Do not leave tomatoes in the boiling water for more than 15 seconds as your tomato will become mushy (especially if you are using the tomatoes uncooked in a salad or salsa, you don’t want them in a boiling pot any longer than they have to be, because they’ll start to cook.)

Remove tomatoes from hot water with a slotted spoon.

With a slotted spoon gently place in a bowl or sink filled with ice water to cool them down.

Once the tomatoes are cool, immediately take them out of the water to drain. Leaving the tomatoes in water may cause them to become waterlogged.

Gently pull away the skins, beginning at the points created by the X. The skin will easily slip off each tomato.

You may use a small paring knife or your fingers.

Contrary to popular belief, tomatoes have been grown as a food since the 16th century, though they have in various times and places been regarded as both poisonous and decorative plants. The Italian name for the tomato is pomodoro, meaning “apple of love” or “golden apple,” because the first tomatoes to reach Europe were yellow varieties. Tomatoes were not cultivated in North America until the 1700s, and then only in home gardens. In colonial America (1620-1763), tomatoes were thought to be poisonous and were grown as an ornamental plant called the “love apple.” The odor of the leaves made people think it was poisonous.

According to an article from, The Thomas Jefferson Society, called Thomas Jefferson’s Favorite Vegetables by Peter J. Hatch, regarding tomatoes and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd President of the United States:

Thomas Jefferson was raising tomatoes by 1782. Most people of that century paid little attention to tomatoes. Only in the next century did they make their way into American cookbooks, always with instructions that they be cooked for at least three hours or else they “will not lose their raw taste.”  Jefferson was a pioneer grower of “tomatoes.”  Beginning in 1809, he planted tomatoes yearly in his vegetable garden and  Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, and granddaughters, Virginia and Septimia, left numerous recipes that involved tomatoes, including gumbo soups, cayenne-spiced tomato soup, green tomato pickles, tomato preserves, and tomato omelettes. Tomatoes were also used for presidential dinners during Jefferson’s time, which helped this modern garden favorite get off to a good start.

 Here are a few recipes for you to try when tomatoes are at their best.

Appetizer

Ricotta Crostini with Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • Handful of cherry tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 loaf of ciabatta or another peasant-style bread
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1–1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

1.  Place tomatoes in a small oven proof skillet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, set 5″ under the broiler, and leave until the tomatoes have burst and started to release their juices, about 8 minutes. Set aside.
2. Heat a stove top grill pan over medium heat. Cut bread into 1/2″-thick crosswise slices. Drizzle the bread with olive oil. Grill bread slices until both sides have grill marks and slightly charred crusts, 4–5 minutes.
3.  While hot, rub bread with garlic. Spread 1 tablespoon of the ricotta on top of each toasted slice.
4.  Spoon cherry tomatoes on top. Garnish with thin shavings of parmesan cheese and black pepper.
SERVES 4–6

Lunch

Broiled Tomatoes with Farro Salad

Serves: 6
The natural nuttiness of farro matches beautifully with the saltiness of the olives and the sweetness of the broiled ‘Roma’ tomatoes. Serve with a lightly chilled fruity red wine. To save time, substitute a quick-cooking grain or pasta such as couscous, orzo, or instant brown rice for farro.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 cup Farro
  • 6  plum tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup  crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Directions:

  1. Cook the farro: Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the farro and gently boil until tender — 40 to 45 minutes. Drain and keep warm.
  2. Broil the tomatoes: Heat oven to 400°F. Arrange the halved tomatoes on a baking pan. Brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with the garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the pepper, and roast for 10 minutes. Heat oven to broil and continue to cook until tomatoes begin to brown — about 5 minutes. Remove tomatoes from oven and set aside.
  3. Prepare farro salad: Combine the lemon juice and remaining salt in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup olive oil in a thin, steady stream while whisking continuously. Set aside. Heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. Add the cooked farro and toss just until warmed–2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large serving platter or bowl, add the feta, olives, lemon-juice mixture, and fresh thyme leaves and gently toss to combine. Top with the broiled tomatoes and serve immediately.

Roasted Tomato Soup

When tomatoes are oven-roasted at a low temperature, their flavor becomes very concentrated. When they’re then pureed, even dead-of-winter plum tomatoes make a delicious soup that tastes like summer.

Ingredients: 
  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • About 3 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  • Basil Leaves

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise through the stem; quarter larger tomatoes. In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to coat.
  2. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on a large baking sheet and sprinkle with the sugar and salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes for about 2 hours, or until most of their juices have evaporated and they are just beginning to brown. The tomatoes should look like dried apricots and hold their shape when moved.
  3. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a small skillet. Add the shallots, cover and cook until they are soft and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the shallots to a food processor, add the tomatoes and puree. With the machine on, drizzle in the chicken stock and process until incorporated.
  4. Pass the soup through a coarse strainer into a clean saucepan and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with basil. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve hot.

Dinner

Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Sweet Peppers

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 small red chile, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 3 medium tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Put chickpeas in a medium bowl and add enough cold water to cover by 2”.  Set aside to soak for at least 4 hours, or overnight, then drain.
Place chickpeas in a medium pot, add enough cold water to cover by 3”, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until chickpeas are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain and set aside.
Heat oil in a heavy medium pot over medium heat. Add bell peppers, chiles, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, oregano, half the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add chickpeas and simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve hot or cold, sprinkled with remaining parsley.

 Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna, Capers, and Herbs

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium firm but ripe red tomatoes
  • Coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans Italian tuna packed in oil, drained
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions:
Cut a 3/4-inch slice off the stem end of each tomato and reserve. With a spoon, carefully scoop out the pulp and discard. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with salt and place the tomatoes upside down on paper towels to drain for 1 hour.
In a medium bowl, mix together the capers, pine nuts, parsley, oregano, olive oil, and lemon juice. Add the flaked tuna and mix together gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with pepper. Distribute the tuna evenly among them, cover with the reserved tops, and serve.
NOTE: These can be made several hours in advance and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before serving.

Grilled Chicken Stuffed with Basil and Tomato

Butterflying the chicken — splitting each piece in half and fanning it open like a book — creates two layers to hold tomato and basil.
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Directions

  1. To butterfly chicken breasts: Put halves on a cutting board, smooth sides down, with the pointed ends facing you. Starting on one long side, cut breasts almost in half horizontally (stop about 1/2 inch before reaching the opposite side). Open cut breasts like a book. Sprinkle each piece all over with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate, and coat both sides with garlic and oil. Let stand 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a grill or grill pan until medium-hot. Place 3 basil leaves on the bottom half of each opened chicken breast; top each with 2 slices tomato. Fold over other half of chicken breast, and secure with two toothpicks or short skewers.
  3. Grill chicken breasts, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and no longer pink in the center, about 15 minutes. Place on a clean serving platter; garnish with basil. Remove toothpicks or skewers before serving.



Benefits of Buying Seasonal Produce

Cost: Seasonal food is often cheaper than out of season produce because it doesn’t require anywhere near as much effort to produce. If it’s the right season, food can be pretty much left to grow on it’s own, meaning it’s far less labor intensive and time-consuming. As consumers, we have gotten used to seeing strawberries in our stores all year round and many of us don’t realise the hidden costs of having out of season produce available.  We may, also, forget what the taste of real, seasonal strawberries are like.
Flavour/taste: Blueberries and cherries taste great in the summer but buy them in the winter and you will be disappointed with the taste, texture and flavor. Food that’s allowed to grow and ripen properly is far tastier than artificially produced food that’s travelled thousands of miles to reach the supermarket shelves. On a positive note, some supermarkets are starting to stock produce from local suppliers and you often find the number of air miles (or the country of origin) printed on the packaging which allows us to make a more informed choice.
New experiences with food: If you follow the seasons (as opposed to a shopping list) you’ll also find a more rich and varied collection of fruit and vegetables, which will entice little ones to experience lots of interesting tastes and textures.

Seasonal Ingredient Map

Use Epicurious’ interactive map to see what’s fresh in your area, plus find ingredient descriptions, shopping guides, recipes, and tips.

http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/seasonalingredientmap

Summer Vegetable Pizzas

Most fresh seasonal vegetables are delicious on pizza — thinly sliced red or green tomatoes, sweet peppers (red, green, yellow or orange), red onions, scallions, finely chopped broccoli, sliced mushrooms and asparagus tips. Fresh herbs will give intense flavor and fragrance — oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary, arugula, dill and plenty of fresh minced garlic. Keep the combinations simple and light without adding too much cheese. Thinly sliced green tomatoes with basil leaves, oregano, scallions and garlic  are colorful and inviting choices.
Use a mixture of Italian (parmigiano reggiano, asiago, pecorino romano, fontina) and other imported cheeses, such as Irish cheddar, French gruyere or English cheddar. Look for flavorful American artisanal cheeses or sharp white Vermont cheddar (Cabot). Grate and mix two or three cheeses together. Keep the cheeses in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Pizza Dough

All-purpose unbleached flour makes an excellent crust, with a deep golden color and a rich baked taste.  Add whole-wheat flour for a more nutritious, nutty taste.

2 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour and 2 cups King Arthur white whole-wheat flour
2 packages dry rapid rise yeast
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ cups warm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Mix the flour, salt and yeast in an electric mixer (such as a KitchenAid) using the dough hook,  Mix very warm water and the olive oil together. Pour the liquids into the flour mixture. Knead with mixer for about 10 minutes, until the dough comes together. It will form a ball and should be firm and not sticky. Place the dough in a deep oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place. It will double in size in about one hour. While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings.

Putting It Together

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. You will need two large pizza baking pans, greased and very lightly sprinkled with cornmeal.
Shape the dough to fit the pizza pan using oiled fingers. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Sprinkle the dough with a small amount of the grated mixed cheeses. This will help to seal the dough and keep it crisp. Top with sliced tomatoes, other vegetables, garlic and herbs. Season the pizza with freshly ground white pepper. Lightly sprinkle more grated mixed cheese or crumbled feta or shredded mozzarella cheese on top.

Don’t use too many ingredients and leave space between the toppings, so that the pizza will turn out crisp. The preheated oven should have racks on the bottom and the middle. Place one pizza on the bottom rack and one on the middle rack for about 10 minutes. Switch positions and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes until the cheese is melted, but not brown. Pizzas can be baked separately on the middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes.

Some Ideas To Get You Started

green tomato, broccoli, asparagus, basil, and cheese pie

red tomato, yellow squash, sweet peppers, and red onion pie

Summer Vegetable Pizza

When peppers, sweet corn, and cherry tomatoes are at their peak, there’s nothing like enjoying them on pizza.

  • 1 large pizza crust, recipe above                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  • 1 cup homemade marinara sauce
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced thin
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degree F.  Stretch or roll pizza dough out to cover a 16 inch pizza pan.
In a small bowl mix marinara sauce, garlic, olive oil, and oregano. Spread evenly over the dough. Top with corn, peppers, and tomatoes. Season vegetables with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Top with basil, mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake for about 20 minutes at or until the top is golden, and bubbly – and the crust is browned and cooked underneath. Let cool before slicing.

Herbs and Tomato, Kalamata Olive  Pizza with Peppers, Arugula, Onions, Basil, Olives, and Cheese

4 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
2 oz. Italian fontina, shredded
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup of fresh arugula, chopped
1 cup fresh basil leaf (julienne)
1 cup plum tomatoes, sliced
1 red bell pepper sliced into strips
½ medium sweet onion, sliced into strips
4 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 small hot chile, chopped (crushed red pepper may substitute)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste


Arrange topping ingredients on pizza dough and bake as directed above.

Now create some summer pizzas of your own based on what is in season in your area.


Thick Crust Pizza

A bit of pizza history:

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

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

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

My Family’s Love Affair with Pizza

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

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

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

Thin Crust Pizza

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

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

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

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

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

How to Make Whole Grain Pizza Dough

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

KIng Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour

       

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing the Pizza Dough for Baking:

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

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

Spinach and Feta

Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Pizza Sauce

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

http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/

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



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