Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: May 2012

I have a bookshelf filled with cookbooks, but the ones that mean the most to me, are the Italian cookbooks I have had since the early days of my married life.  Before getting married, I really didn’t take much interest in cooking because my mother took care of all that in our home. Around the time that I was planning my wedding, my mother gave me, what was probably one of the most popular Italian cookbooks of that era, Ada Boni’s, The Talisman Italian Cookbook , and one that most first and second generation Italian-American daughters received as a gift.  I was recently reminded of this traditional custom while I was reading a novel, Adriana Trigiani’s, Very Valentine.  The novel is about an Italian-American family living in New York during the 1960s and one of the women in the novel takes out her copy of the Talisman to look up a recipe.

Ada Boni was a professional food writer in Italy. In 1915, she founded a lady’s home economic’s magazine called Preziosa. Each monthly installment featured recipes that she had collected from all over Italy, with a strong emphasis on recipes from her native Lazio and central Italy.  In 1929, she published a compendium of over 2000 recipes from her columns–a volume that had a major impact on modern Italian cuisine.

Boni’s work was probably the first cookbook published in Italy intended specifically for housewives and was to Italians what, The Joy of Cooking, was to American cooks.  The book was translated and published in the United States in 1950, and sad to say, is no longer in print.  I still have my copy, though.

In the early days of my marriage, I refered to this book for ideas on what to make for dinner because my husband was a lover of Italian food. I was happy to have this reference because I could not keep calling my mother to find out how to make this dish or that dish.

Minestrone Soup was one of the first dishes I learned to make and have included Boni’s recipe for you to read.  The recipe is healthy as written and does not need any changes. While this was my first version of minestrone, I graduated to a more substantial version, minus the bread, over the years that included more vegetables and some type of macaroni.

Minestrone Toscano (Tuscan Vegetable Soup)

Ada Boni

Yield: 6 servings

  • 1/2 pound dried white beans
  • 1 very small cabbage, shredded
  • 2  tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1  stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon parsley, chopped
  • 1  tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1  clove
  • 12 slices thin of toasted bread
  • 2 tablespoons grated Roman cheese

Soak the beans overnight; then boil in 3 quarts water 1 hour or until
tender. While the beans are cooking, place oil,  garlic, onion, celery and rosemary
in soup pan and brown lightly. Dilute the tomato paste with a
little warm water, stir it into the pan and cook 5 minutes.  Add the cabbage,
zucchini, parsley, salt, pepper and clove, as well as the beans and their cooking water.  Cook slowly for 20 minutes.
Place 2 slices of toast in each soup bowl, add soup and sprinkle with cheese.

Leone’s Italian Cookbook 

After a few years I became more adventurous and looked for additional recipes to master.  Of course, I had a few American cookbooks for common, everyday meals,  such as meatloaf and pot roast but I wanted to branch out into more Italian restaurant style food.  Who knows why I thought that then?  In any case I purchased my next cherished book, Leone’s Italian Cookbook by Gene Leone, of the famed New York eatery, Mamma Leone’s.  My husband and I had eaten there a few times and even took the children there once after going to the theater.  The restaurant closed in 1987.  The book was first published in 1967 and is no longer available.

The recipe that I made most often from this book, and one my husband really liked, was Spaghettini with Clam Sauce.  The version I make today is one with less oil, no butter or bacon and uses whole grain pasta.  There are much easier ways to open the clams than the method used in this recipe.  When I made this recipe back then, I usually turned to canned clams so I would not have to shuck them.  A much easier way to open clams in the shell is to use a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, bring 1/4 cup of water or white wine to a boil. Add the cleaned clams, cover immediately, and steam until the clams are open, 3 to 5 minutes.

 Notice some of the terminology and wording used for foods and processes mentioned  in the recipe date this book considerably.

Mamma Leone’s Spaghettini with Clam Sauce

24 medium-sized cherrystone clams

1/4 cup virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh creamery butter

1 ounce salt pork or bacon, diced

3 medium-sized garlic cloves, mashed

12 fresh parsley sprigs, leaves only

Pinch of flour

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 pound spaghettini (thin spaghetti)

Open the clams, saving any juices, and coarsely chop the clams.  Combine olive oil, butter and salt pork in a skillet; heat.( For a meatless meal, omit the salt pork.)

Chop garlic and parsley together and add to skillet.  Cook slowly for 2 minutes.  Do not burn. Add chopped clams and cook 5 minutes.  Add flour and red and black pepper and stir well.

Do not add salt as the clams are salty.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup of the clam juice, but be careful not to make the sauce too liquid. Bring to a boil and mix and the clam sauce is ready.

In the meantime have boiling salted water ready for the spaghettini.  Cook for 10 minutes.  (If a heavier spaghetti is used, cook a little longer.)  Always taste a strand before removing from the heat to be sure it is cooked to your taste.  Drain immediately and place back in the hot pot in which it was cooked.  Pour a little sauce over it and mix.  Serve in a warm bowl and add the rest of the sauce.  Serves 4 to 5.

Note:  You may add a dash of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon to the balance of the clam juice for an invigorating and refreshing cocktail.  Or mix clam juice with a glass of Champagne and a dash of Tabasco.

 Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

After about 10 years, I purchased a much revered book in the culinary world, Marcella Hazan’s, Essentials of Classic Italian CookingBy this time in my cooking experience, I was ready for more sophisticated and more diverse cooking techniques. I was entertaining more and wanted to make dishes like homemade pasta, cannelloni, gnocchi, osso buco and risotto. The author’s style is very clear and her directions are easy to follow. Marcella Hazan has written several books since this classic cookbook came out in 1973. Luckily, her books are still in print and, if you want authentic, classic Italian recipes,  pick up a copy of one of her books.

I learned to make risotto with this recipe, but I did not use truffles.  I don’t think I even knew what they were, when I read this recipe for the first time.  Not something we had in our pantry when I was growing up.  I still make risotto every once in awhile, but like to add more flavorings and ingredients, such as lemon, asparagus, shrimp and chicken broth instead of beef.  The process for cooking risotto, though, will always be, as described here.  Well, maybe not the part about “never stop stirring”.  Risotto can survive with occasionally stirring.

Risotto with Parmesan Cheese


This basic white risotto is the simplest way to prepare the dish, and for many, the finest. Good as it is, it can be even better when blanketed by shaved white truffles.
Ingredients

  • 5 cups Homemade Meat Broth, or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 4 cups water

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons onion chopped very fine

  • 2 cups Arborio or other imported Italian risotto rice

  • ½ heaping cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

  • OPTIONAL: ½ ounce (or more if affordable) fresh or canned white truffle

  • Salt, if required

Directions

1. Bring the broth to a very slow, steady simmer on a burner near where you’ll be cooking the risotto.

2. Put 1 tablespoon of butter, the vegetable oil, and the chopped onion in a broad, sturdy pot, and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, then add the rice. Stir quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.

3. Add ½ cup of simmering broth and cook the rice, stirring constantly with a long wooden spoon, wiping the sides and bottom of the pot clean as you stir, until all the liquid is gone. You must never stop stirring and you must be sure to wipe the bottom of the pot completely clean frequently, or the rice will stick to it.

4. When there is no more liquid in the pot, add another ½ cup, continuing always to stir in the manner described above. Maintain heat at a lively pace.

5. Begin to taste the rice after 20 minutes of cooking. It is done when it is tender, but firm to the bite. As it approaches that stage, gradually reduce the amount of liquid you add, so that when it is fully cooked, it is slightly moist, but not runny.

6. When the rice is about 1 or 2 minutes away from being fully cooked, add all the grated Parmesan and the remaining butter. Stir constantly to melt the cheese and wrap it around the grains. Off heat, taste and correct for salt, stirring after adding salt.

7. Transfer to a platter and serve promptly. Shave the optional white truffle over it, using either a truffle slicer or a swiveling-blade vegetable peeler. Some prefer to shave the truffle over each individual portion.

another excellent cookbook to check out:

 

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

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

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

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

Entertaining at Home

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

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

Dinner Party Menu For Four

  • Oven Fried “Fritto Misto”
  • Italian Fisherman’s Stew
  • Ok For You Garlic Bread
  • Salad of Baby Lettuces with Italian Dressing
  • Almond Mocha Parfait

First Course

Oven Fried “Fritto Misto”

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

Ingredients

2 cups  vegetables (your pick)

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

Batter

  • 3 eggs, beaten or 3/4 cup egg substitute
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil 
  • Lemon Mayonnaise Sauce, recipe below

Directions

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

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

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the eggs in a shallow dish.

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

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

Put the vegetables in the prepared baking dishes and drizzle the tops lightly with olive oil.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until browned, turning them over with a fork halfway through the cooking time. Serve with the lemon mayonnaise sauce.

Lemon Mayonnaise Sauce

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

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

Second Course

Italian Fisherman’s Stew

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

Ingredients

  • 1  tablespoon olive oil
  • 1  onion, chopped
  • 1  carrot, chopped
  • 1  celery rib, chopped
  • 5  cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1  (28-32 ounce) container Italian chopped tomatoes
  • 1  finely grated rind and juice of orange
  • 1  tablespoon sugar or honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2  cups dry red wine
  • 2  cups bottled clam broth
  • 4  fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1  teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1  pounds firm white fish fillets, cut into 2” inch pieces
  • 1 dozen clams or mussels
  • 1  pound sea scallops, cut into halves
  • 1  pound shrimp, peeled
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Chopped parsley

Directions
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, orange rind and juice, sugar, chile flakes, wine, clam broth, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer over medium heat until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.  

The broth can be prepared several hours ahead.  Cover and let sit on the stove until close to dinner time.  You can also prepare the broth a day ahead . Cool and refrigerate. Bring the broth to a boil when you are ready to complete the dish and then add the fish as indicated in the recipe.

Add roasted red peppers and stir in the fish, scallops and shrimp and simmer for about 5 minutes. Next add clams, pushing them down into the soup a little. Cover the pot and simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the clams are steamed open and cooked through.

Discard any clams that do not open. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil.
Pasta bowls work well for serving this dish; garnish with a little chopped parsley. It’s best to have a side plate for each diner to hold empty shells.

Ok For You Garlic Bread

Ingredients

 

  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Italian bread baguette, cut in half lengthwise

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Place garlic in a small saucepan with enough cold water to cover and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook 3 minutes and drain.

Mash the cooked garlic, oil and salt in a small bowl with the back of a spoon until a smooth paste forms. Spread the mixture over the cut surfaces of the bread.

Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake until the bread begins to brown around the edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Slice and serve.

Insalata

Salad of baby lettuces and sliced black olives with Italian dressing

Dessert

Almond Mocha Parfait

Ingredients

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

Combine ice cream and espresso granules; stir well.
Spoon 1/4 cup ice cream mixture into each of 4 (8-ounce) parfait glasses or pretty stemware.
Top mixture with 1 teaspoon amaretto and 1 tablespoon cookie crumbs.

Repeat layers, ending with ice cream mixture; freeze 1 hour.
Top each parfait with 1 tablespoon whipped topping and grated chocolate.
Serve immediately. Serves 4.


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 all-purpose 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

  • 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt

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

  • 1-10-oz package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 8 oz sliced skim milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup skim milk ricotta cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 6 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ripe plum tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds
  • 6 oz sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 12 fresh basil leaves

Pizza Sauce

  • 1-28 oz. container Pomi strained tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

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 over 330,000 copies in print!


My husband has a sweet tooth and when we married, I learned a meal wasn’t complete for him without some type of dessert.  Thankfully, he was content with a couple of cookies or an occasional fruit pie to satisfy that sweet tooth. When my children came along, they too enjoyed those cookies – made having to eat peas or spinach something they could get through. They seemed to have survived those cookie years and became healthy adults – who still look for mom’s cookies around the holidays or on visits with us. As my husband and I aged, though, we realized healthy choices were better for us.

No need to skip dessert when you are planning healthy meals.  Fresh fruit can round out a meal and make you feel satisfied.  Sweetened strawberries drizzled with balsamic vinegar or pears baked in a red wine sauce or grilled peaches served with a scoop of frozen yogurt can make you feel you are not missing out on anything.

There are occasions when you want to make a special dessert. My mother made an Italian dessert for birthdays and other celebrations that consisted of a sponge cake with a ricotta filling. This dessert was asked for and enjoyed often in our household.  Of course, an occasional over indulgence cannot be harmful.

When I entertain friends at a dinner party, I like to prepare a special dessert to end the meal, but I don’t want to go overboard on calories either.  I have developed several light recipes for these occasions and, so far, everyone seems to enjoy them and does not realize that they are lower calorie versions of some of the traditional Italian desserts popular in many Italian restaurants. Italians often eat fruit and cheese for dessert,  but some of those classic desserts are cannoli, a pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and tiramisu, a coffee flavored mousse type dessert.

Lightened Panna Cotta

Light Marscapone Panna Cotta


6 servings
  • 3 teaspoons gelatin
  • ⅔ cup plus 3 tablespoons nonfat milk
  • 2 ½ cups fat free half and half
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 whole vanilla beans, split open
  • ½ cup marscapone cheese
  • ½ cup lowfat sour cream
  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the 3 tablespoons milk and let sit for 15 minutes to soften.
  2. In a saucepan, stir the ⅔ cup nonfat milk, half and half, sugar, and vanilla beans over medium heat until the mixture just starts to boil. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the marscapone and the sour cream until smooth.
  4. Stir the gelatin into the heated milk mixture and stir well for at least 2 minutes or until bits of gelatin are no longer visible.
  5. Pour the mixture through a strainer (to remove any bits of hard gelatin)  into the marscapone mixture .  Whisk thoroughly.
  6. Pour the panna cotta into 6 half-cup molds. Stemmed wine glasses could be used instead. Chill, covered, overnight. Serve with raspberries and garnish with mint leaves or chocolate curls.

Cannoli

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

    Cannoli

  • 2/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, drained overnight
  • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons blanched slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoon mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 4 cannoli shells, purchased
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

In a large bowl, stir ricotta cheese with 1/3 cup confectioners sugar until combined. Add almonds, chocolate chips and almond liqueur.

Carefully spoon into cannoli shells (or pipe from a pastry bag), filling from the center out.

Sprinkle individual cannoli with powdered sugar and cocoa.

Lazy Tiramisu

I call this recipe lazy because it is a quick preparation in comparison to traditional Tiramisu. Many authentic recipes use uncooked eggs in preparing the filling and some recipes call for making a pastry cream.  I really do not want to eat raw eggs and I cannot taste a difference between a cooked pastry cream and the quick fix filling listed in my recipe.  Why do all that work if there isn’t a big difference in taste?  The coffee flavoring in this dessert is the taste that dominates and not the cream filling.  Anytime I can lower the calorie content of a recipe and still have it taste delicious, is worthwhile to me.

Coffee Syrup

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso granules
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Mascarpone Filling

  • 1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (3.5-ounce) carton mascarpone cheese
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Additional Ingredients

  • 24 ladyfingers (2- 3-ounce packages)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated

Directions

To prepare espresso drizzle, combine first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in 2 tablespoons liqueur. Cool completely.

To prepare filling, combine cheeses in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons liqueur; beat at medium speed until well blended.

Split ladyfingers in half lengthwise. Arrange 24 ladyfinger halves, cut sides up, in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Drizzle half of espresso liquid over ladyfinger halves. Spread half the filling over ladyfinger halves, and repeat procedure with remaining ladyfinger halves, espresso liquid, and filling. Combine 1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa and chocolate; sprinkle evenly over top of filling. Cover and chill for 2 hours.

Note: Place toothpicks in the center and in each corner of the dish to prevent the plastic wrap from sticking to the tiramisu as it chills.

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina (Florentine Sponge Cake)

Fat Tuesday is the end of Carnevale and a huge celebration in many parts of the world, particularly in Italy. Two very big festivals take place in Italy, one in Venice and the other in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast. In Florence, children dress up in costumes and throw confetti into the air. At home, they are usually treated to a delicious piece of Tuscan sponge cake, otherwise known as Schiacciata alla Fiorentina. This light and airy dessert is eaten throughout the year but is a favorite around Carnevale. Lighter than American sponge cake, it can be eaten in a variety of ways.

12 Servings

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

  • Zest and juice of 1 orange

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • Powdered sugar, for topping

    Directions

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray..

    Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a mixing bowl.

    In another bowl mix orange juice, eggs, milk, and oil and pour into bowl with flour.

    Beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly mixed together, about 3 to 4 minutes.

    Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes. Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

    Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter, then turn the cake out of the baking pan. Slice and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

    You can make this more elaborate with fresh strawberries and a few tablespoons of sweetened ricotta cheese with each serving.


Roasted Chicken

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

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

Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Parmesan

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

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

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

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

Chicken Tetrazzini

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2-4 1/2 lbs chicken, cooked

    Chicken Tetrazzini

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

Directions

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

 Chicken Scarpariello

Ingredients

  •  1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  • 1 lb sausage, a combination of hot and sweet, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2- 2 ½ pound chickens, cut into 12 small   pieces, bone in
  • 2 large bell peppers, red, green or yellow, cored, seeded and cut, lengthwise into ¼ inch strips
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut, lengthwise, into ¼ inch slices
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup vinegar hot cherry peppers
  • ½ cup vinegar sweet bell peppers
  • ½ cup of vinegar from vinegar sweet bell peppers
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt & pepper to taste

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

Baked Chicken, Sausage, Potatoes and Peppers

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

Ingredients

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

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


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Zucchini

Bell Pepper

Eggplant

Tomato

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

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

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

Stuffed Green Peppers:

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

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

The recipes for fillings I am including here can be used in any vegetable of your choice and there are both meat versions and vegetarian versions.

Preparations of the vegetables before stuffing will vary.

Ingredients

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

Directions

Cut peppers in half lengthwise and discard seeds.

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

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

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

Place in a large baking pan coated with cooking spray.

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

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

 Yield: 6 servings.

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

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

Stuffed Zucchini or Eggplant

 Ingredients
4 medium to large zucchini or 2 medium eggplant

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound ground lean turkey or beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 ounces of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 seeded and diced plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 egg, beaten or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 
Directions

Cut the zucchini or eggplant in half lengthwise. Using a melon baller or small spoon, scoop out the flesh from the inside of the zucchini or eggplant. The shells should be about 1/4 inch thick. Be careful not to pierce the shell. Reserve and dice the flesh that has been scooped out.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the ground meat and sauté until lightly browned, stirring occasionally – about 8  minutes. Remove the meat to a bowl.
Using the same skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add in the chopped mushrooms and reserved chopped zucchini flesh. Sauté until tender – about another 5 minutes. Add the ground meat back into the skillet.
Add the wine and diced tomato. Sauté until tomato is soft and heated through. Stir in the pine nuts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before adding the egg.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  
When the mixture has cooled, stir in egg or egg substitute, Parmigiano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Fill the zucchini or eggplant halves with the mixture.  
Arrange the stuffed zucchini or eggplant in a greased 13x9x2 baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Pour about 1/4 inch of water in the bottom of the baking dish. Place in the oven.
Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until the filling is golden brown and the vegetables are tender.

Vegetarian stuffed tomatoes or zucchini make excellent side dishes.

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Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients

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

Spinach Stuffed Zucchini or Tomatoes

Ingredients

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


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