Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: August 2012

Southern peas and butter beans, popped fresh from the pod and there are dozens of types—each with a subtle difference in taste and texture.

I had never heard of field peas until I moved to the South. Green peas, I knew, so I just figured field peas were another name for peas. Apparently not!

Shell beans are one of the highlights of a southern summer and they are good. They are low in fat and loaded with protein, potassium and fiber. These petite vegetables are all different and yet incredibly similar at the same time. They come in multiple shapes, sizes and colors. They are confusingly referred to as peas, beans or both, and they are a much revered staple in Southern cooking. Since the spring green pea is not well suited to the Deep South‘s infamously hot and humid weather, field peas or cowpeas thrive in this type of weather and, therefore, popular. Every region has its favorites, which are the result of localized seed saving. They come in a wide array of shapes, sizes and colors with curious names, such as Red Ripper, Stick Ups, Myrtles, Old Timer and Dixie Lee. Their flavors are remarkably distinct, ranging from “hints of cardamom to boiled peanuts.”

Field peas, however, were not always so highly regarded. They were known to have spread to Florida from the West Indies around 1700 and to the Carolinas by 1714. Field peas came with the slaves from Africa and, because of the field peas ability to adapt to southern tropical conditions, the vegetable became a staple. The importance of field peas in the southern diet cannot be overstated. Rivaled only by corn, these little legumes have saved many poor farmers from starvation more times than can be counted. Nutritious field peas provided the backbone of their diet when the only meat on the table was what seasoned the vegetables.

During the Civil War, salt was scarce and those with several hogs had no way to preserve the meat after the slaughter. Without meat, protein-rich field peas became the primary source of nourishment. Many unfortunate Southerners in the path of the Union’s March to the See had their livestock slaughtered and their crops and storehouses burned. Field peas were left untouched, however, because they were considered food for the livestock and slaves. Aristocratic Southerners, who had previously scorned the humble field pea, now found them the last resort against starvation. Superb taste, rather than desperation, have driven the consumption of field peas across boundaries of race and class ever since.

How the Peas are Packaged at the Farmer’s Market

Here in the Deep South these various shell beans are easily interchangeable in recipes and are mostly prepared in the traditional method. That is, brought to a boil and simmered until tender with some seasoning and fat, usually bacon or ham hocks.

Types of Field Peas

Speckled butter beans have a rich, creamy texture and earthy, nut-like flavor. When cooked, they lose their variegated color and turn pinkish brown.

Crowders nestle so closely inside the pod that the ends of the peas begin to square off. Brown crowders are favored by many for their hearty flavor.

Pink-eyed peas have a colorful purple hull and a lighter, less earthy taste than their black-eyed pea cousins.

Butter beans, the colloquial name for baby green limas, are highly prized in the South and when perfectly cooked, the inside of the beans become creamy and take on a rich, buttery texture.

Lady cream peas are smaller and sweeter in flavor than other field peas. Considered to be the top of the line in this vegetable group, they remain pale green or white when cooked. 

What to Look For

When shopping for unshelled peas or butter beans, choose flexible, well-filled pods with tender seeds.

How to Freeze Field Peas

To freeze, wash shelled peas or butter beans and blanch in boiling water to cover for 2 minutes; cool immediately in ice water, and drain well. Package the beans in airtight containers, leaving 1/2-inch head space or in zip-top plastic freezer bags, removing as much air as possible. Seal and freeze up to 6 months. Don’t thaw frozen peas before cooking. Fresh or frozen field peas can easily be substituted in recipes calling for canned beans. Simply use 2 cups cooked and drained peas for one (15-oz.) can.

How to Cook Field Peas

Field peas are excellent for succotash, salads, dips and stews.

Traditional Recipe:

  • 4 cups fresh shelled peas
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • a small slice (about 1- 1/2 ounces) of salt pork or other cured, smoked meat or a piece of fatty pork such as bacon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Put the peas in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim off the foam. Reduce heat, cook covered until the peas are quite tender, but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Add the salt and pepper and mix well. Serve hot with cornbread or rice.

My Way of Cooking Field Peas

Carefully wash and pick over the peas. Discard any damaged peas. Put 3 cups fresh, shelled lady cream peas (or other field pea variety) in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. At this point the peas will give off a lot of foam. Drain the peas in a colander and wash off all the scum. Clean the pot. Return the washed peas to the washed pot.

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed

Directions

To the beans add the broth and remaining ingredients to the pan; bring to a low boil. Partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain; discard thyme and garlic.

Field Peas in Light Tomato Sauce

Note: Peas cooked this way are light enough to accompany a piece of grilled or sautéed fish or chicken, but substantial enough to play a starring role as a summer vegetable entrée. If you like a spicier sauce, finely chop a hot pepper and add it to the onions when making the sauce. A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes will also do the trick.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups shelled crowder peas or any field pea, cooked according to the directions above
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 oz pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1 cup onion, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup celery, finely, freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups fresh tomato, peeled, seeded and finely diced or canned
  • 1 cup chicken stock

Directions

While the peas are cooking, pour the oil in a heavy skillet. Place the pancetta in the pan and cook over medium-low heat, turning as needed, until well browned and very crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pan to a paper towel and set aside.

Add the onion and celery to the skillet, sprinkle generously with salt and a few grinds of black pepper and stir well. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the onion and celery are just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and dried thyme and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir in the diced tomato and sprinkle generously with salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and add the chicken stock. Partially cover and simmer very gently for 20 minutes. Taste carefully for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Drain the cooked crowders, reserving the cooking liquid. Add the crowders and cooked pancetta to the simmering tomato sauce and stir well. Simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes, adding a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid if the sauce becomes too dry. Taste for seasoning. 6-8 servings.

Succotash Salad

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh butter beans or any field pea
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels (3 large ears)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Cook beans according to directions above and drain.

Sauté corn in 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until crisp-tender.

Whisk the lemon juice with the next 4 ingredients and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl; stir in corn and cooked butter beans. Serve immediately or cover and chill up to 3 days.

** FOR USE WITH AP WEEKLY FEATURES ** This photo provided by Artisan shows Flounder With Lady Pea Succotash, made with a recipe from "Frank Stitt's Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions From Highlands Bar and Grill." The flounder is complemented by the tender lady peas, Stitt points out, and the addition of basil, dill and chives makes a very simple dish very special. (AP Photo/Artisan/Christopher Hirsheimer)

Red Snapper Over Lady Peas                                                                                             

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 red onion, cut into 1-inch thick slices
  • 1 cup cooked lady peas (1/4 cup cooking liquid from the peas reserved)
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 2 ears corn, husked, boiled for 4 minutes, kernels cut off the cob
  • 1/2 small shallot, finely minced
  • 4 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced chives
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 4 red snapper fillets, (6-8 ounce each)
  • Oil for brushing on the fish and onion before grilling

Directions

Prepare an outdoor grill or preheat the broiler. Brush oil on the onion slices. Grill or broil the onion slices, turning once, until lightly charred on both sides, approximately 3-4 minutes per side.

Let cool, then cut into 1/4 inch dice. In a large bowl, combine the diced onion, cooked peas, tomatoes, corn, shallot, basil and chives.

Stir in the sherry vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil and adjust the seasonings to taste. Set aside.

To prepare the fish:

Coat both sides of the fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place the fish, skinless side down, on the grill and cook until golden, 3-5 minutes. Carefully turn fish, skin side down, and grill or broil until cooked through, another 3-5 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, add the pea succotash and reserved cooking liquid to a sauté pan and cook over medium heat until heated through. Serve fish over the pea mixture and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top.

Pea Cakes                                                                                                                                                                                      

These cakes are good served over cooked greens.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked peas (pink-eyed purple hulls, butter beans or crowder peas are preferred), drained but retain all the cooking broth
  • 1 cup crumbled cornbread
  • 2 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoon minced red chili pepper, such as a ripe Serrano
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus extra for dredging
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Directions

Puree 1/4 cup of the cooked peas with 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking broth in a blender until smooth.

Pour into a medium bowl, add the remaining whole peas, 1 tablespoon of the reserved broth, the cornbread, chives, hot pepper, 1 tablespoon olive oil, flour, salt and pepper and mix well. Add the egg and mix again. (You may need to adjust the “wetness” by adding a bit more flour or broth: it should be just moist enough to hold together.)

Form 8 to 10 small cakes by shaping about 3 tablespoons of the mixture into 2-inch wide patties, pressing the mixture with your fingers and patting together.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Dust the cakes with a little flour and gently place them, in batches if necessary, in the hot oil. Lower the heat to medium and cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. 

Shrimp, Crab and Field Pea Salad

Serves 6

 Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked field peas, any variety
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup sherry vinaigrette, recipe below
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, sliced and then halved again
  • 1 pound crabmeat, picked
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, cooked and peeled
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup julienned fresh basil leaves
  • Thin tomato slices, enough to cover the serving platter

Directions:

Mix the beans in a large bowl with the shallot, sherry vinaigrette, salt and pepper. Gently stir in the avocado, crabmeat, shrimp and most of the basil. Cover a serving platter with tomato slices and spoon the salad over the tomato slices. Garnish with lemon zest and remaining basil.

Sherry Vinaigrette

File:Sherryvinegar.jpg

Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 shallot finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Combine the shallot, sherry vinegar and a good pinch each of salt and pepper in a small bowl and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Whisk in olive oil in a steady stream. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Note: The vinaigrette will keep for several days in a jar in the refrigerator.

 


Italian Meals

Italians like structure in the way they eat. To them, the balance between the different courses of the meal is as important as the balance between the ingredients of each dish. In Italy, eating is far more than nutrition, it’s a time where families, friends and colleagues get together, relax and participate in the dining ritual. In Italy, even the most informal meals include multiple courses. This does not mean that people eat more food- the various courses are small and a way to break down the meal into different sections, adding variety and creating a progression. Appetizers (Antipasto- the singular form and Antipasti- the plural form of the word) and first courses, Primi Piatto (come first because of their delicate flavors (and textures); second courses follow with their heavier elements; desserts, coffee and liquors are reserved to end the meal.

Antipasto

Antipasto means “before the meal” and is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal. It is served at the table and signifies the beginning of the meal. Its main purpose is to extend the meal. Traditional European dining is nothing like the fast-paced meals we most often consume in the US. Instead, the food is enjoyed slowly and is only one part of the dining experience. The other part is, of course, good conversation. A typical meal, consisting of antipasto, salad or soup, pasta and a meat dish, perhaps followed by a light dessert, is supposed to take time, as it is meant to build and maintain relationships with friends and family.

There is tremendous range and regional variation in what constitutes an antipasto, and in many situations an antipasto could be considered an elaborate meal by itself.

There are several bread-based preparations that may be included with an antipasto. Most typical are bruschetta (known in Tuscany as fett’unta)—toasted or grilled bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with fruity olive oil (chopped tomatoes or other toppings can also be added); and crostini, thin slices of toast covered with an assortment of pastes made from cheese, chicken livers, mushrooms, artichokes, olives and so forth.

One may find any or all of the following on an antipasto table: marinated cold vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, whole small onions, and peppers; boiled greens such as spinach, cicoria (chicory), and broccoli rabe; anchovies, seafood salad, and mushrooms marinated in olive oil; frittatas (unfolded filled omelette); affettato (cold cuts) of cured meats such as salami, prosciutto, mortadella, smoked tongue, and sausage.

There are also cheeses, especially Provolone, Mozzarella, Asiago, Parmesan, and Pecorino. The favored cheese is mozzarella di bufala, which is made at least partly from buffalo milk (that is, the milk of the water buffalo, not that of the American bison) and has a distinctive taste. A popular cold antipasti is prosciutto and melon or figs, carpaccio (very thin slices of raw beef or fish), and bresaola (cured air-dried beef) drizzled with olive oil.

Antipasti can also be fried and served warm. Crocchette (croquettes) are popular; one type is Arancini (rice balls filled with cheese or ground meat, coated in breadcrumbs, and fried). There are olive ascolane (fried stuffed olives), baccalà filetti (dried salt cod, filleted and fried), and vegetables dipped in batter and fried. The famous fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) are stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies before being dipped in batter for frying.

Primi Piatto

Primi Piatto or just primi are felt to constitute the first course of an Italian meal, though they follow the antipasto. This course includes either pasta, rice, gnocchi, or polenta with sauce, or soups containing pasta, rice, or farro (spelt—an ancient variety of wheat).

The variety of pasta shapes and sauces is seemingly infinite. Regions and even villages often have their own specific creations. It is important for Italians to match the shape of the pasta with the sauce, though they allow much flexibility. While almost any combination is possible, there are “rules.” One general rule is that smooth sauces are appropriate on long pasta, and sauces with chunks of vegetables or meats are better on small pasta shapes, which trap the chunks. Another is that fresh egg pastas work better with butter based sauces instead of olive oil–based ones. In the dairy-rich north of Italy, fresh egg pastas are very popular, whereas in the olive oil–dominated south, dried or egg free pastas predominate. An important “rule” is that all pastas are consumed without a spoon (that is, with just a fork), even spaghetti.

Fresh egg pastas include noodles such as fettuccine, tagliarini, and pappardelle (all ribbon-shaped in various widths), and filled pastas such as ravioli, tortellini (small, hand-pinched, ring-shaped), and agnolotti (small, half-moon-shaped). Popular dried pastas include spaghetti, penne (short, thick, tubular, cut diagonally), and farfalle (bowties). Some pasta types are quite specifically associated with a certain region, as is the case with orecchiette (little ears), a traditional pasta from Apulia (Puglia).

Risotto is a uniquely Italian way of cooking rice, resulting in a dish with a creamy consistency. Risotto is best made with special types of rice such as arborio, canaroli, or vialone nano. Popular recipes include Milanese (that is, with saffron—risotto Milanese, unlike other risottos, is traditionally served with osso buco, a meat dish, as a secondo), con funghi (with mushrooms), con frutti di mare (with seafood), and nero (with squid ink).

Polenta (thick cornmeal mush) is typically a northern dish. It can be soft and creamy with a sauce on top (often tomato with sausage and pork ribs), or it can be cut into shapes and baked, fried, or grilled. It is traditionally a cool-weather dish served on a wooden plate.

Gnocchi (dumplings) are either di farina (made from wheat flour) or di patate (made from potato). There are also gnocchi alla romana, made of semolina flour and traditionally served on Thursdays in Rome. Crespelle (crepes) may also be a first course and can be filled with meat or with cheese and spinach.

Most pasta sauces are either butter-or olive oil–based. Tomatoes are probably the next most frequent ingredient, particularly in the south. An important component of baked pastas from Emilia-Romagna is balsamella (béchamel sauce). Whatever the sauce (called sugo or salsa), the most important thing is just to moisten the pasta with it. Italian pasta is served with much less sauce than its American counterpart.

The best-known sauces are probably ragù alla bolognese, made of vegetables, tomatoes, cream, and beef and simmered for a long time, and pesto alla genovese, a mixture of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, pecorino cheese, and olive oil that is traditionally served over trenette (thin strips of pasta), potatoes, and green beans. Other popular pasta sauces are quattro formaggi (four cheeses); boscaiolo (woodsman-style), containing mushrooms, peas, ham, tomatoes, cream, or whatever the chef wants to add “from the forest”; arrabbiata (literally, angry), a tomato sauce with hot peppers; as well as many for seafood (which are served without cheese).

Some Antipasti Recipes for Your Next Dinner Party

Arancini (Italian Rice Balls)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups leftover risotto
  • 4 oz. mozzarella cheese, cut in ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Marinara Sauce

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat eggs lightly with fork. Add the rice and stir gently but thoroughly.

Take 1 tablespoon of the mixture, place a cube of mozzarella in the middle and then top with another tablespoon of rice. Shape into a ball and roll in the breadcrumbs. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the rice mixture.

Refrigerate pan of rice balls for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425°F. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over rice balls.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with warm marinara sauce.

Antipasto Salad

This healthy side vegetable salad is made quickly and is very fresh tasting. It is a great way to add more vegetables to your meals with little effort. It can be served as a salad, side vegetable, or appetizer, and can be made in advance and kept in your refrigerator. Give it a little extra time to marinate before serving and the flavor will be even better.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups carrots, sliced on the diagonal
  • 11/2 cups thick sliced celery
  • 1 cup fresh sliced fennel bulb
  • 2 tablespoons rinsed and halved olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste

Directions:

Bring salted water to a boil in a medium pot while cutting vegetables. Place carrots in boiling water for about 4 minutes and add celery and fennel. Cook for just 1 more minute. Immediately drain through a colander and rinse with cold water. Pat dry and place in a bowl with capers and olives.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together, drizzling olive oil at the end, a little at a time.

Toss with vegetables and marinate for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Cooking Tips:

The cooking time for this recipe can vary depending on the exact size you cut your vegetables. You want your vegetables to be tender on the outside and still crisp on the inside. When they get to this point remove from the heat. Place them under cold water to stop the cooking. To check for doneness, insert the tip of a sharp knife. If you overcook the vegetables they won’t hold up and will get soggy quickly. If you undercook them they won’t absorb the dressing. It is also very important that your vegetables are dry, so they don’t dilute the flavor of the dressing.

Savory Cheese Biscotti

Makes about 45 biscotti

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (coarse grind)
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb mix
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup grated aged Asiago cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds (with skins) or pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, or pistachio nuts, toasted
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten or 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup low fat milk
  • Tomato Marmalade, recipe below

Directions:

Put the flour, pepper, dried herbs, baking powder, salt, cheeses, and almonds in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse briefly. Combine the eggs or egg substitute with the milk and pour the mixture into the food processor. Process just until the mixture begins to form a ball of dough.

Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper and pat it into a disk. Wrap the disk in the waxed paper and refrigerate it for 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 11 inches long, 2 inches wide, and  1 inch thick. Wetting your fingers with water makes it easier to shape the logs.

Cover 2 rimmed baking sheet pans with parchment paper and place one log on each.

Bake the logs for 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets on the oven shelves after 15 minutes. The logs should be lightly brown on top and springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a rack to cool for 20 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. Place a log on a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut it on the bias into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices back onto the baking sheets.

Bake the biscotti for 40 minutes, turning them over once halfway through, until they are golden and crisp and switching the baking sheets on upper and lower oven shelves. Remove the biscotti to a rack to cool completely. Serve as an appetizer with cheese, salami, olives, and tomato marmalade.

Tomato Marmalade

Spread this marmalade on crostini and top with a sharp or pungent cheese. Using a sugar alternative such as, Domino Light or Truvia for Baking, works just as well as regular sugar in recipes. Since the sugar amount can be reduced by half with a sugar alternative, calories are saved.

Makes two 1/2-pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups sugar or 1 cup light sugar alternative
  • Juice and peel of 2 oranges (peel should be cut into strips)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 chile peppers, minced

Directions:

Cut each tomato into 4 pieces. Put the tomato pieces into a heavy-bottomed non-reactive pot as you go.

Add the remaining ingredients into the pot with the tomatoes. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook at a fairly lively simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the marmalade is glossy and thick enough to spread. Be sure to stir often to prevent burning. Remove bay leaves.

If you prefer a smoother sauce, you can blend the mixture using a blender, food processor or immersion blender.

Spoon the marmalade into sterilized jars and store the marmalade in the refrigerator, where it will keep for at least a month.

Some First Course Recipes for Your Next Dinner Party

Whole Wheat Fettuccine with Artichokes and Ricotta

Serves 4

Ingredients:

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

 Directions:

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

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente.

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

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

Herbed Italian White Beans

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 (14-oz.) can cannellini beans (Italian white beans), drained
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes may be substituted)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, shredded
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sage. Sauté about 2 minutes.

Add drained beans and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer about 10 minutes.

Uncover pan and remove from heat. Immediately add basil and vinegar and serve.

Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Pancetta & Spinach

4 servings, about 1 cup each

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound refrigerated or frozen gnocchi
  • 10 oz. frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Put a large pan of water on to boil.

Cook pancetta in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add spinach, tomatoes, sugar and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes are almost completely broken down, about 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar and salt. Remove from the heat.

Cook gnocchi in the boiling water until they float, 3 to 5 minutes or according to package directions. Add the gnocchi to the sauce in the pan; toss to combine. Serve with Parmesan.

 


Cherries in Delft bowl with red and yellow apple (Painting by Amelia Kleiser)

Life is just a bowl of cherries.

Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.

You work, you save, you worry so,

But you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go.

So keep repeating it’s the berries,

The strongest oak must fall,

The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned

So how can you lose what you’ve never owned?

Life is just a bowl of cherries,

So live and laugh at it all.

Written by songwriters,  Lew Brown and Ray Henderson 1931

Cherries

The cherry is one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits, along with its cousin, the apricot. Cultivation dates back to 300 B.C. and its lineage dates back even farther. The common cherry tree, Prunus avium, is native to the temperate areas of eastern Europe and western Asia and is part of the Rose family. Its name comes originally from the Greek, and in Latin means, of or for the birds, due to the birds’ obvious love of the fruit. The English word cherry originates from the Assyrian karsu and Greek kerasos. The tree was beloved by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans both for its beautiful flowers and its versatile fruit. Although a different species of cherry was already strongly established in America by the time the first colonists arrived, the new settlers brought along their favorite European variety and eventually cross-bred the two. Today, 90 percent of the commercial cherry crop is grown in the U.S., mostly in Michigan, California, Oregon and Washington.

The most popular variety is the Bing cherry, which was developed by Seth Luelling of Milwaukie, Oregon in 1875. It was allegedly named for his Manchurian foreman. There are now thousands of varieties of cherries and most are still picked by hand.

There are two general varieties of cherries: sweet and sour. The success of your recipe will depend on choosing the right variety. Fresh sweet cherries are available in the U.S. from May through August. Sour cherries begin ripening in June. Dried cherries are now available year-round and can be eaten as snacks or used in recipes like raisins.

A Japanese legend tells of a brave warrior who lived to a great age, outliving friends and family. His most beloved memory was of playing beneath a cherry tree in Iyo during his youth. One summer, the tree died, which the man took as a sign that it was also his time to die. Although a new cherry tree was planted nearby, the old warrior was inconsolable. During the winter season, the old man pleaded with the dead tree to bear flowers just one more time, vowing that if his request was granted, he would give up his long life. The tree bloomed, and true to his promise, the old warrior committed hara-kiri beneath the dead branches of the tree. As his blood and spirit soaked down to the roots, the tree bloomed once again in the dead of winter. Legend holds this tree in Iyo still blooms in winter every year on the anniversary of the warrior’s death, though all other trees nearby lay in dormant winter state. Japan has gifted the United States with thousands of cherry trees on more than one occasion as a gesture of friendship. The trees are planted in America’s capital city, Washington, D.C.

Types of Cherries

Sweet Cherries

Usually eaten out of hand, sweet cherries are larger than sour cherries. They are heart-shaped and have sweet firm flesh. They range in color from golden, red-blushed Royal Ann to dark red to purplish-black. Bing, Lambert, and Tartarian are other popular dark cherries. Sweet cherries also work well in cooked dishes.

Sour Cherries

Normally too tart to eat raw, sour cherries are smaller than their sweet cousins, and more globular in shape with softer flesh. The Early Richmond variety is the first available in the market in late spring and is bright red in color, with the Montmorency soon following. The dark red Morello variety is another popular sour cherry. Sour cherries are normally cooked with sugar and used for pies, preserves, and relishes.

Fresh cherries should be clean, bright, shiny, and plump with no blemishes. Sweet cherries should have firm, but not hard flesh, while sour cherries should be medium-firm. The darker the color, the sweeter the cherry. Avoid cherries with cuts, bruises, or stale, dry stems. You’ll find stemmed cherries less expensive, but be aware that cherries with the stems intact will have a longer shelf life.

Frozen cherries can be substituted for fresh cherries in most recipes. If you are substituting canned cherries for fresh, you may need to drain and/or rinse off the syrup before proceeding.

Unopened canned cherries can be stored on the shelf up to a year. Once opened, keep the canned cherries in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within one week. Maraschino cherries will last six to twelve months in the refrigerator. Unopened dried cherries will last up to 18 months.

Cherry Storage

Store unwashed cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and wash just before eating. Before eating fresh sweet cherries, leave them out on the counter for a few hours as the flavor is much better at room temperature. Fresh cherries should be consumed within two to four days.

When using cherries in baked goods, you might notice a blue discoloration around the cherries in the finished product. This is due to a chemical reaction between the cherries and alkaline substances, such as baking powder or baking soda. To prevent discoloration, substitute buttermilk or sour cream for milk in the recipe or add an acidic liquid such as lemon juice. Pure almond extract is a natural companion to cherries. Less than 1/4 teaspoon added to cherry mixtures really brightens the cherry flavor.

When using dried cherries in recipes, you can plump them up just as you would raisins, by covering them with hot water and letting stand about thirty minutes.

Complimentary Cherry Foods

Black pepper goes amazingly well with cherries, especially when paired with pork, beef, or game meats. Dairy products also bring out the mild tart flavors of cherries, particularly sweet cream, gorgonzola (blue) cheese, ricotta cheese, and mascarpone. As for herbs, choose sage, chives, and verbena.

Cherry Measurements

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = about 80 cherries

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = 2-1/3 cups pitted

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = 1-1/2 cups cherry juice

• 16 ounces canned cherries = 1-1/2 cups

• 21 ounces canned cherry filling = 1-1/2 cups

• 10 ounces frozen cherries = 1 cup

• 2 ounces dried cherries = 1/2 cup

• 1 cup fresh sweet cherries = 1 serving

Cherries for Breakfast

Cherry-Almond Coffeecake

9 servings

Ingredients:

Topping:

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup regular oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon chilled butter or Smart Balance Blend, cut into small pieces

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar or ¼ cup light sugar alternative
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance Blend, softened
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted sweet cherries, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

To prepare topping:  lightly spoon 1/4 cup flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine flour, brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon in a small bowl; cut in 1 tablespoon butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside.

To prepare the cake:  lightly spoon 1 1/2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat granulated sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter at medium speed of a mixer. Add the yogurt, extracts, and egg; beat well. Add flour mixture, and beat at low speed until well-blended (batter will be thick). Spread half of batter in bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray, and top with cherries. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons topping. Repeat procedure with the remaining batter and topping. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Cherries for Lunch

Spinach Salad with Cherries

4 servings

Ingredients:

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Salad:

  • 5 cups cleaned torn spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 1 cup bite-sized fresh pineapple wedges
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • Crumbled blue cheese,  (optional)

Directions:

For the dressing, combine oil, vinegar, honey and pepper in a medium bowl; mix well. For the salad, combine spinach with pineapple, cherries and onion in a large salad bowl. Spoon dressing over spinach mixture; mix to coat salad with dressing. Serve topped with cheese, if desired.

Cherries for an Appetizer

 Honey-Rosemary Cherries and Blue Cheese Crostini

Begin your party casually by offering this appetizer “help yourself” style. Or, make up single-serving plates and present as a first course at the table.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh pitted cherries or 1 (12-oz.) package frozen dark, sweet pitted cherries, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups loosely packed arugula
  • 16 (1/4-inch-thick) ciabatta bread slices, toasted
  • 1 (8-oz.) wedge gorgonzola cheese, thinly sliced
  • Garnish: freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Sauté shallot in hot oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Add cherries (and any liquid in package) and next 5 ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes or until thickened. Let stand 10 minutes.

Divide arugula among toasted bread slices. Top each with cherry mixture and 1 blue cheese slice. Garnish, if desired.

 

Cherries for Dinner

Grilled Chicken With Cherry Sauce

You can make the cherry sauce with either fresh or frozen berries. You can also serve it over grilled pork chops.

Makes 4 servings (serving size: 1 chicken breast, 1/4 cup cherry sauce)

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup chopped pitted sweet cherries fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • Olive oil

Directions:

Prepare outdoor or indoor grill. Grease grill racks.

Lightly crush cherries in a small saucepan. Add the wine and next 6 ingredients (through honey). Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

Brush the chicken with olive oil. Grill the chicken, covered, for 4 minutes on each side or until it is cooked through. Serve chicken topped with cherry sauce.

Cherries for Dessert

Cherry Tiramisu

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur
  • 1-1/2 cups (Amaretti) almond cookie crumbs (about 30 2-inch cookies)
  • 1 can (21-ounces) no sugar added cherry filling and topping
  • Grated chocolate for garnish
  • Fresh mint leaves for garnish

Amaretti Cookies

Directions:

Combine ricotta cheese, confectioners’ sugar, sour cream and coffee liqueur in a large mixing bowl; mix well. Set aside.

In the container of food processor, process cookies, in small batches, until finely crushed.

Remove 6 cherries from cherry filling; reserve for garnish.

To assemble dessert, spoon 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese mixture into each of six (8-ounce) parfait glasses. Add 2 tablespoons cookie crumbs to each glass; top each with 2 tablespoons cherry filling. Repeat ricotta, crumbs and cherry layers. Finish each serving with an equal portion of the remaining ricotta cheese mixture.

Garnish with reserved cherries, grated chocolate and mint leaves, if desired. Let chill 2 to 3 hours before serving.


 

In one of its many forms, pizza has been a basic part of the Italian diet since the Stone Age. The earliest form of pizza was a crude bread that was baked beneath the stones of a fire. After cooking, it was seasoned with a variety of different toppings and used instead of a bowl or eating utensils to sop up broth or gravies. It is said that the idea of using bread as a plate came from the Greeks who ate flat round bread (plankuntos) baked with an assortment of toppings. It was eaten by the working man and his family because it was a thrifty and convenient food.

1st Century B.C.

In the translated version of “The Aeneid” written by Virgil (70-19 B.C.), it describes the legendary origin of the Roman nation, describing cakes or circles of bread:

“Beneath a shady tree, the hero spread

His table on the turf, with cakes of bread;

And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed.

They sate; and, (not without the god’s command)

Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band

Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,

To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.

Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:

“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”

Our knowledge of Roman cooking derives mainly from the excavations at Pompeii and from a book by Marcus Gavius Apicius called “De Re Coquinaria.” Apicius was a culinary expert and from his writings, he provided us with information on ancient Roman cuisine. Apicius’  book contains recipes which involve putting a variety of ingredients on a base of bread (a hollowed-out loaf). The recipe uses chicken meat, pine kernels, cheese, garlic, mint, pepper, and oil (all ingredients of the contemporary pizza). The recipe concludes with the instruction “insupernive, et inferes” which means “cool in snow and serve!”

In the ashes after Mount Vesuvius erupted and smothered Pompeii on August 24, 79 A.D., evidence was found of a flat flour cake that was baked and widely eaten at that time in Pompeii and nearby Neopolis, The Greek colony that became Naples. Evidence was also found in Pompeii of shops, complete with marble slabs and other tools of the trade, which resemble the conventional pizzeria.

Roman Times

Pizza migrated to America with the Italians in the latter half of the 19th century. For many people, especially among the Italian-American population, the first American pizzas were known as Tomato Pie (as my parents always called pizza). Even in the present 21st century, present-day tomato pie is most commonly found in the Northeastern United States, especially in Italian bakeries in central New York. Tomato pies are built the opposite of pizza pies – first the cheese, then the sauce, and then the topping. This is exactly how I have always made pizza.

So let’s model our early inventors of this marvelous food, get creative and think about a new way you can use pizza dough. I would love to hear if you have a nontraditional way of using pizza dough.

Quick Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

This make-ahead dough has endless uses for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Ingredients:

3 packages (1/4 ounce each) quick-rise yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2-1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 to 3-1/2 cups white whole wheat flour

Directions:

In a large electric mixer bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, salt and whole wheat flour; set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat water and oil to 120°-130°; stir into dry ingredients.

With paddle attachment stir in enough white whole wheat flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).

Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.

Punch down dough; divide into three equal portions.
Use immediately or refrigerate overnight or freeze for up to 1 month.
Yield: 3 pounds (enough for 3 pizzas).
If using frozen dough, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Proceed as directed below.

Italian Spinach Braid

6 Servings

Ingredients:

1 loaf (1 pound) frozen whole wheat pizza dough, thawed
1 pound lean ground turkey
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2/3 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon fennel seed
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg white, beaten
Pizza sauce, optional

Directions:

Roll dough into a 12-in. x 9-in. rectangle. Transfer to a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan coated with cooking spray.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook turkey over medium heat until no longer pink; drain.

Transfer to a large bowl; add the spinach, cheeses, garlic, fennel seed, oregano and salt.

Spread mixture lengthwise down the center of dough. On each long side, cut 1-in.-wide strips 3 in. into center.

Starting at one end, fold alternating strips at an angle across filling. Pinch ends to seal and brush with egg white.

Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with pizza sauce if desired.

Scrambled Egg Turnovers

4 Servings

Ingredients:

4 eggs and 1 cup egg substitute beaten together, divided
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 portion (1 lb.) frozen whole wheat pizza dough, thawed
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Set aside 2 tablespoons of the egg mixture. In a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook and stir remaining egg mixture over medium heat until almost set.

Stir in mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil. Cook and stir until completely set.

Remove from the heat.

On a floured surface, roll dough into a 13-in. square. Cut into four squares; transfer to a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan coated with cooking spray.

Spoon cooked egg mixture over half of each square to within 1/2 in. of edges.

Brush edges of dough with 1 tablespoon reserved egg.

Fold one corner over filling to the opposite corner, forming a triangle; press edges with a fork to seal. Cut slits in top.

Brush with  remaining egg; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 400° for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Swiss Turkey Stromboli

4 Servings

Ingredients:

3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
1 portion (1 lb.) frozen whole wheat pizza dough, thawed
3 slices reduced-fat Swiss cheese
6 ounces sliced deli turkey
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water

Directions:

In a large nonstick skillet, saute mushrooms and onion in oil until tender. Stir in mustard; set aside.

On a floured surface, roll dough into a 15-in. x 10-in. rectangle.

Transfer to a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.

Layer the cheese, mushroom mixture and turkey lengthwise over half of dough to within 1/2 in. of edges.

Fold dough over filling; pinch seams to seal and tuck ends under.

Combine egg white and water; brush over dough. Cut slits in top.

Bake at 400° for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

Whole Wheat Hamburger and Hot Dog Buns (Bread Machine). Photo by SunnyZ

Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns

Take your 1 pound package of pizza dough out of the refrigerator and let it warm up to room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.

Grease a cookie sheet with olive oil. Sprinkle some flour onto a flat, clean board or counter top.

Take the pizza dough out of the package and place it on the surface you floured. Divide it into eight balls. For large hamburger buns, divide the dough into six.

Brush each dough ball with olive oil.

Place the balls of dough onto the cookie sheet with a space between each one. Cover the cookie sheet with a clean towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 20 minutes.

Turn on your oven and preheat it to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

After 20 minutes remove the towel or plastic wrap and place the cookie sheet into the oven.

Bake the hamburger buns for 20 to 30 minutes or until they are golden. Check them after 15 minutes to make sure they are not getting too brown, as some ovens bake hotter than others.

Let the hamburger buns cool on a rack and then slice each bun in half horizontally.

Since I prefer to make my own hamburger buns from whole wheat dough, I purchased a burger baking pan from King Arthur.

Individual Pie and Burger Bun Pan

 


Ferrara’s Bakery & Cafe in New York City, one of the more well known Italian bakeries in America

Rich Italian dessert recipes are known around the world. They rank right up there with the French creations. Any cook interested in preparing delicious desserts will tell you of their favorite tiramisu recipe.

Decadent, flavorful and classic: Italian desserts have it all. These delicious desserts also have a long history, and many of the items on your favorite Italian restaurant’s menu have been around for ages.

Here in the United States most of us think that desserts were devised for our pleasure and, if we have a good meal, we must have a luscious dessert at the end. The Italians reserve these luscious desserts for only special times of the year. Typically they serve fresh fruit and maybe a piece of robust cheese at the end of a meal. Perhaps this comes from their early history of not having regular access to sugar and using much less sugar in their recipes than American cooks.

It is all the fresh ingredients, like cream and cheese, which make Italian desserts so delicious. For example, a dessert originating from Florence is Zuccotto, a semi frozen dessert of ice cream, cake and brandy, that is made in a cone shaped mold. The Panforte recipe is a traditional dessert with a spicy flavor containing fruits and nuts like a fruitcake. This recipe originated in the Tuscany region and, after it was baked, the cake was used as a tax payment to the monks. It is similar to Panettone, a sweet bread made at Christmas time. Biscotti, which are now considered by many to be a gourmet dessert, also originated around this time, although the original versions were less complex than those of today.

Italian dessert recipes are broken down into two groups. The ancient or the oldest of the sweets that were derived from bread recipes. A little honey or fruit was added to sweeten bread recipes. Later came the more modern recipes, when sugar became plentiful. Italy began producing milk, eggs, honey, and almonds. These, along with added sugar, turned out sweet creamy desserts like Italian cheesecake, Panna Cotta, Cannoli and Italian cream puffs.

As sugar became affordable to more home cooks, a new range of Italian dessert recipes appeared, such as Tiramisu, Rum Cake and Cassata Cream Cake. These old-fashioned cakes were made with ricotta or mascarpone cheese. Italian ice is refreshing and popular and is similar to a snow cone, except Italian ice cream is frozen after the fruit juice is added to the water. Italian ice dates back to the time of Nero.

The history of Italian desserts, also, reveals that torrone dates back to Roman times when it was used in religious ceremonies. This nougat confection is made with egg whites, nuts, and honey and  is popular all over the Mediterranean.

Chocolate is often used in Italian cookie recipes and some of the most famous ones include Baci, which is a dark chocolate “kiss” filled with hazelnut cream and Gianduiotto, which is a combination of hazelnuts, sugar, and cocoa. Chocolate has been layered with cream and espresso in the Torino region of Italy since 1763. Today, chocolate is one of the most popular additions to Italian recipes.

Italian desserts continue to be made throughout Italy, and the various regions of the country have their own specialities. Italian American immigrants have made changes to the classic desserts with some delicious results. For example, since mascarpone cheese was not as common in America, many desserts began to use ricotta cheese more frequently in desserts such as cannoli and cheesecake. Despite these changes, Italian desserts are still outstanding and their long historical significance makes them even more appealing to many Italian American families.

Like all countries, Italy has its own Italian food customs. Special days of the years, especially Easter and Christmas, are times to bring out all the Italian desserts. All holidays are celebrated with special foods. Italian Easter food always consists of a traditional Easter pie. Each family has its own unique recipe and each one discusses it with friends and neighbors. For these special days most desserts are made at home but they are, sometimes, purchased in the local pastry shop (or pasticceria). The art of pastry making has been passed down and Italian chefs are renowned for their skills.

Italian Rum Birthday Cake

An Authentic Bakery Version of Italian Rum Cake

My Version of Italian Rum Cake

Once A Year Italian Rum Cake

Italian rum cake is a traditional Italian dessert often purchased at an Italian bakery and served on birthdays or other special occasions. It is a stunning four layer creation that is flavored with rum, filled with alternating layers of vanilla and chocolate (pasticciera) pastry cream, topped with whipped cream icing, and garnished with almonds. I developed my recipe, below, because I am not a fan of the typical rum cake and because my family has shown a preference for this cake at Italian restaurant dinners, I decided to experiment. Since my version of the” Italian Rum Cake” is still very rich and decadent, I only make it once a year, usually for my husband’s birthday. No other cake comes close to this for him.

Ingredients:

For the layer cake:

  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour plus 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 cup finely ground hazelnuts (almonds can be used if you cannot find hazelnuts)
  • 1/2 cup rum

For the cake filling:

  • 1 cup Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese

For the topping:

  • 2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup rum
  • Shaved chocolate

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottoms of two 9 inch round cake pans with cooking spray – don’t spray the sides of the pan. Line the bottoms of the pans with wax paper circles cut to fit. Spray paper with cooking spray and dust with 1 tablespoon flour. Set aside.

For the layer cake:

In an electric mixer beat together the sugar, butter and vanilla for 5 minutes. This is important- do not cut the time down.

Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

Add 1/3 of the flour to the sugar mixture alternating with 1/3 of the milk. Repeat until all flour and milk are incorporated ending with flour.

Stir nuts in on low speed.

Pour evenly into pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Do not overbake or the cake will be dry. Cool 10 minutes and remove layers to a cooling rack and carefully peel off the paper. Cool thoroughly.

 

Place layers on kitchen towels and cut each in half horizontally. Drizzle each of the four layers with the rum and let sit for awhile.

For the filling:

Beat together the Nutella and the mascarpone cheese until very smooth.

Spread evenly on top of 3 cake layers.

For the topping:

Whip the cream until very stiff. Add powdered sugar and blend. Add rum on low speed.

To assemble:

Place one layer covered with filling (filling side up) on a cake plate and top with remaining layers ending with the unfrosted layer on top. Completely cover the cake with the whipped cream mixture.

Chill in the refrigerator for several hours. Just before serving decorate the the cake with chocolate shavings.

Italian Desserts

The rest of the year – try one of these healthier Italian dessert recipes for your next special occasion.

Sweet and Savory Taralli Cookies

Italian Cookies

Italian Taralli cookies are a great example of Italian baked goods. These crunchy, curly cookies can be sweet or savory. They can be plain or with fruit or nuts and they might also contain spices like fennel or anise. You can find Italian Taralli cookies all over southern Italy but they are especially popular in Puglia. These light-flavored, not very sweet, cookies make an appearance in Italy on birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and Christmas because most Italians associate them with these events. Everyone has their own preferences as to what to eat on these occasions but taralli are really good and, if you have not had them before, you will be impressed with them for sure. You can frost them if you want to, using any frosting recipe to do this.

Another characteristic that makes Italian Taralli cookies wonderfully unique is their shape. These cookies come in different shapes but the most common ones are rings. There is no reason for making them this shape – it is purely traditional.

Sweet Taralli Cookies

Makes 2 1/2 dozen

Ingredients

For The Cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
  • 1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • Zest of 2 oranges

For The Icing

  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, orange zest and salt.

In a separate larger bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg until well combined. Stir in the olive oil and wine. Slowly add the flour mixture until well combined, kneading slightly until the dough is easy to handle and medium-soft.

On a clean surface, use your hands and roll the dough into 1/2-inch-thick, cigar-like rolls. Cut each cigar into 6-inch pieces, folding each piece into a loop-shape. Press the dough with fingers to seal together. Place on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely.

If you wish to ice them, whisk 2 tablespoons of milk and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into 1 cup confectioners’ sugar. It should be the consistency of thick whipping cream. Dip one side of the cookie in the glaze and let dry. For special holidays the cookies are decorated with sprinkles.

Savory Fennel Taralli                                                                                                                                               

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Directions:

Pour the water into a bowl and whisk in the yeast. Whisk in the oil.

Put the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the liquid and pulse again until the dough forms a ball. Let the processor run continuously for about 10 seconds to knead the dough.

Invert the dough to an oiled bowl and carefully remove the blade. Turn the dough over so that the top is oiled and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until in doubles in bulk, about an hour.

After the dough has risen, scrape it out of the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and use a bench scraper or knife to cut it into two equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough under the palms of your hand to a 15″ length and cut each into 1″ pieces to make 30 equal pieces in all.

One at a time, roll each piece of dough under the palms of your hands, into an 8″ strand. Join the ends together to make a circle, pressing firmly to seal. Line up the formed taralli on a lightly floured work surface or floured baking sheets, making sure they do not touch each other.

Set the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. You will need two baking sheets with cooling racks (see picture of baking pans in this post).

Fill a large pot (such as the one in which you would cook pasta) 3/4 full with water. Bring the water to a full rolling boil. Set one of the baking sheets on the stovetop next to the pan of boiling water. Drop the taralli, 6 or 8 at a time into the boiling water and remove them with a skimmer as soon as they float to the surface. Arrange them about an inch apart in all directions, on the prepared baking sheet with rack.

Bake the taralli about 30 minutes, rotating from the upper third of the oven to the lower third, and vice versa, midway through the baking. Continue baking the taralli until they are golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature on the cooling racks in which they were baked.

(Makes 30)

Italian Cakes

Cornmeal was introduced to Italy around 1600 through commerce with Asia. Cornmeal is used throughout Italy to make polenta and is also traditionally added to dessert cakes and other baked goods.

Torta Di Meliga (Italian Cornmeal Cake)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 ounces melted butter or Smart Balance Blend
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. degrees.

Combine in a mixing bowl almonds, cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt and butter.

Spray a 9 inch springform pan with cooking spray; spread dough in pan.

Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown; let cool slightly and remove sides of pan.

Let cool completely and sift powdered sugar over top. Serve with fresh fruit.

Italian Plum Cake

Italian Plums

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unblanched almonds
  •  1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs (1/2 cup egg substitute also works)
  • 1/2 cup milk (low-fat is fine)
  • 4 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance Blend, melted
  • 2 pounds Italian plums or regular plums if your market doesn’t carry Italian plums

Directions:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

Put the almonds and the 1/2 cup of sugar (or sugar alternative) in a food processor.

Pulse until the almonds are finely ground.

Add the flour and the salt and pulse once more.

Transfer this to a mixing bowl.

Beat the eggs with the milk then add the butter.

Add the egg mixture to the flour almond mixture. And mix until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the springform pan and smooth with a spatula.

Pit the plums and slice in thick wedges.

Place the plum slices in a circle pattern on top of the batter.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top begins to brown. Remove to a cooling rack and let rest 10 minutes.

Take a butter knife and go around the circumference of the pan. Open the clip of the pan and carefully lift up the rim. Cake can be served warm.

Italian Fruit Desserts

Italian fruit dessert are served at the end of a meal; they are very popular all over Italy.

Stuffed Figs                                                                                                                                                           

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe even sized figs
  • 1/4 cup sugar or 2 tablespoons light sugar alternative
  • 1 cup skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur
  • 4 shelled whole almonds

Directions:

Cut fig from top to bottom in half: DO NOT CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH.

Cut fig the same way through the halves making 4 quarters still hooked together.

Then cut all the way through 1 of the cuts.

Now you can open the fig and have 4 sections still hooked together. See picture in post.

Combine in a mixing bowl the sugar and ricotta cheese and beat together (with hand mixer) until mixture is light.

Add amaretto and fold lightly into cheese mixture.

Spoon 1/4 cup mixture into the center of each opened fig and top with an almond.

Balsamic-Macerated Strawberries with Basil                                                                                                                          

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb. fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick (about 4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 8 to 10 medium fresh basil leaves
  • Frozen yogurt, optional

Directions:

In a large bowl, gently toss the strawberries with the sugar and vinegar. Let sit at room temperature until the strawberries have released their juices but are not yet mushy, about 30 minutes. (Don’t let the berries sit for more than 90 minutes, or they’ll start to collapse.)

Just before serving, stack the basil leaves on a cutting board and roll them vertically into a loose cigar shape. Using a sharp chef’s knife, very thinly slice across the roll to make a fine chiffonade of basil.

Portion the strawberries and their juices among four small dessert dishes and scatter with the basil to garnish. Top with a spoonful of frozen yogurt.


Healthy Tips from Grill Master: Steven Raichlen

How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques

Steven Raichlen, who changed the grilling world forever with his Barbecue Bible, gives us an excellent book for the backyard griller. This “How To” book delivers great instruction and information on virtually every grilling task. If you’re just starting out with grilling, this is a perfect book for you. Even if you’ve been grilling for years, you’ll learn a lot here. Steven Raichlen’s book is more about the techniques for grilling than offering a variety of  recipes.

 

Grilled Chicken Thighs


1. Go with thighs, which have deeper, richer chicken flavor than breast meat. They can withstand the dry heat of the grill and stay moist.

2. Dark meat is fattier than white, so to cut your sat fat intake, take the skin off. But, leave the bone in.

3. Coat the chicken with a bold spice rub to amp up flavor.

4. Grill the chicken over indirect heat. Putting the meat over the cooler side of the grill cooks it slowly, gently, and evenly and ensures the glaze won’t scorch.

5. Finish it for five minutes over direct heat to add delicious light charring and caramelize the glaze.

Grilled Vegetable Salad

6. Go with a variety of produce for color and texture contrasts: corn, bell peppers, and green onions.

7. Add avocado to the mix: People don’t think to grill avocado, but it adds fantastic smoky depth to the buttery fruit.

8. Crank up the grill heat to high for optimum charring—it’s the browned and blackened bits that really make the salad shine.

9. Watch carefully, since each item has its own ideal doneness—the green onions need to brown and wilt slightly; the peppers should fully blacken so they can be easily peeled; and the corn has to be turned often so it browns evenly. The avocado gets just a minute or two or it will become bitter if cooked too long.

10. Bring the chopped salad together with some cooked beans, a touch of earthy herbs, and fresh lemon juice to brighten flavors.

Grilled Steak

11. Score the beef lightly to help the marinade penetrate quickly and keep the steak flat while it cooks. For marinade idea see post: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/08/07/what-makes-a-good-marinade/

12. Keep it juicy and tender by letting it rest for several minutes after cooking, then slicing thinly against the grain: Flank steak turns tough if sliced with the grain or into thick pieces.

13. Add salt just before grilling, after the steak comes out of the marinade. (If you add salt to a wet marinade, you will lose some of it with the discarded liquid.)

14. Add smoked paprika to the spice rub. The steak doesn’t spend long on the grill, so paprika boosts its open-fire flavor.

15. Buy flank steak: It’s lean—with almost 30% less saturated fat.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

16. Choose a lean pork cut. Not all parts of the hog are fat bombs. Go with grill-friendly tenderloin: It’s a leaner cut than pork loin chops, saving you as much as 3g sat fat per serving.

17. But tenderloin is extremely mild-tasting, so pair it with big, strong flavors: salty sauces, peppery ginger, tangy vinegar, and fiery chiles.

18. Slice meat into thin medallions before marinating it. This increases the surface area for the marinade to coat and helps the flavorings fully permeate the pork.

19. Thread the meat onto skewers so it’s easier to handle on the grill. Then, cook over very high heat; it’s how you get those delicious crispy, blackened bits on the edges of the meat.

20. Pack the pork up in lettuce wraps loaded with fresh, crisp veggies, fragrant herbs, and toasted nuts. It’s the perfect setup for a casual, serve-yourself kind of gathering.

Grilled Salmon

21. Since the skin won’t be in direct contact with the grill to get nice and crisp, go with skinless fillets.

22. The smoky fish can stand up to the spicy sweetness of a tropical fruit salsa. Prepare it before cooking the fish so the flavors have time to meld.

23. Grill on cedar planks: Rich wood smoke infuses the salmon.

24. Put the lid on the grill so the fish bathes in cedar smoke, the main “seasoning.”

25. Choose salmon: Packed with flavor and heart-healthy fats, it can handle the grill. Flaky fish like cod, sole, and tilapia tend to fall to pieces.

Grilled Burgers

26. Start with ground buffalo. It has fewer calories and as much as half the sat fat of 90% lean beef, but boasts big, meaty flavor.

27. Add some Parmigiano-Reggiano to the patties—it kicks up the savory taste and seasons the burgers from the inside.

28. Stir in a splash of extra-virgin olive oil. A little heart-healthy fat added to the patties helps keep the extra-lean burgers moist.

29. Make a kickin’ condiment: Slow-roast tomatoes to intensify their sweetness. (see post: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/07/26/italian-tortasavory-pies/).  Add a little tangy balsamic vinegar and peppery basil, then puree the mixture into a ketchup.

30. Grill the burgers over high heat to no more than medium so they don’t dry out. Toast the buns on the grill to add a little crisp texture and some lightly charred flavor.

Here Are Some Of My Favorite ” Good For You” Burger Recipes For Your Next BBQ:

Grilled Grass Fed Beef Burgers

Grass Fed Beef cooks as much as 30% faster and needs a lower temperature than grain fed beef. There is less fat on grass fed beef and it melts at a lower temperature than the grain fed beef.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds ground grass fed beef
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh finely chopped rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons fresh finely chopped sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

Directions:

Mix the garlic and spices into the meat. Form beef into 4 patties. Make a slight indentation in the center of each burger to avoid burger bulge – the tendency for the burger to get too big in the middle.

Rub burgers with 2 teaspoons oil.

Cook on medium low heat on a gas or charcoal grill, covered, turning once, about 6 minutes total for medium-rare or to desired temperature.

Serve burgers on whole wheat buns with cheese, tomato slices, lettuce, red onion slices, and any other condiments you wish (mustard, ketchup, mayo).

Mushroom-Rice Burgers with Cheddar Cheese

Serves 4

The following recipe combines mushrooms, oats and brown rice into a patty that looks like a hamburger and has a rich, earthy flavor. It’s also a great way to use up leftover brown rice. Note that vegetarian burgers are more fragile than meat burgers. Cook them on a well-oiled vegetable grill grate (see picture in this post) and turn as gently as possible with a wide spatula.

For the burgers:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces white mushrooms, wiped clean with dampened paper towels and finely chopped
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 4 ounces coarsely grated sharp Cheddar cheese (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs

For Serving:

  • 1 large fresh, ripe tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Pickle slices
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
  • 4 whole-wheat hamburger buns
  • Ketchup and/or mayonnaise and/or mustard

Vegetable Grill Grate

Directions:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

1. Prepare the burger mixture.
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft but not brown, about 4 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and most of the mushroom liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes.

2. Stir in the brown rice and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the oats, cheese, bread crumbs and egg. Add salt and pepper.  Cover the mixture and refrigerate until firm, 3 to 4 hours.

3. Line a baking sheet or large plate with plastic wrap. Wet your hands slightly and form the vegetable mixture into 4 patties. Place the patties on the prepared baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

4. Preheat grill to high.

5. When ready to cook, place a vegetable grill grate on the hot grill and preheat it for 5 minutes. Oil the vegetable grate and place the patties on it. Grill, turning carefully with a spatula, until nicely browned on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Aas the burgers cook, toast the buns over the flames as well.

Serve as you would any burger, with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and condiments.

Turkey and Vegetable Burgers

The vegetables in this turkey burger mixture not only contribute lots of vitamins and nutrients, but they also help to moisten burgers that can otherwise be quite dry. Make sure to buy lean ground turkey breast.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 large garlic clove, green shoot removed, minced
  • 2/3 cup finely grated carrot (1 large carrot)
  • 1 1/4 pounds lean ground turkey breast, preferably organic, from humanely raised turkeys
  • 2 tablespoons prepared barbecue sauce or see recipe for Quick BBQ Sauce below
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Canola oil for the skillet
  • Whole grain hamburger buns and condiments of your choice

Directions:

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes, and add the diced red pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and the grated carrot and cook, stirring, for another minute or two, until the carrots have softened slightly and the mixture is fragrant. Remove from the heat and cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey with 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce and ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper Add the sautéed vegetables and mix together well. Shape into 6 patties, about 3/4-inch thick and place on a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

3. Heat a nonstick griddle over medium-high heat and brush with a small amount of canola oil, or prepare a medium-hot BBQ grill and cook the patties for 4 minutes on each side. Serve on whole grain buns, with the condiments of your choice and additional BBQ sauce.

Yield: 6 burgers.

Advance preparation: You can make this turkey burger mix, shape into patties and freeze for 2 or 3 months. Thaw as needed. The mix will keep for a day in the refrigerator, but check the use-by date on the turkey package.

Quick BBQ Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried yellow mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
  • Hot sauce, if you like it spicy

Purée all sauce ingredients in a food processor until very smooth.

 


2012 Marcella Hazan in her kitchen in Longboat Key, FL

Marcella Hazan has been called the godmother of Italian cuisine in America. She introduced Americans to regional Italian cooking, pure flavors, fresh and varied ingredients.

Marriage to Victor Hazan, a New Yorker, meant straddling the Old World and the New. In 1969, Marcella began teaching Italian-cooking classes out of their small apartment kitchen in midtown Manhattan. Her first American students were six ladies she met while taking a course in Chinese cooking. “What do you eat at home?” they wondered, and so Marcella introduced them to lamb kidneys, squid, rabbit and fish with the head on. Thus, began her teaching career.

Though 88, officially retired and wrestling with back and other health issues, Hazan continues to teach. This time it isn’t in a refurbished 16th century palazzo in Venice. It’s on Facebook.
Hazan has many ardent fans. And in the twilight of her career, they have found in her a willing and still feisty teacher happy to offer advice, challenge assumptions and continue to teach.

In her book,

Marcella Hazan devotes a chapter to, “Why and How You Should Be Making Your Own Egg Pasta”.  After a discussion about how commercially made pasta is produced, she comments, “ What one responds to in homemade pasta, is its lightness, its buttery texture, its suave entry into the mouth, a deeply satisfying cohesion of pasta and sauce, and a buoyant, palate caressing richness of taste.  The only  egg pasta that delivers such sensations is one that you make at home, using low-gluten white flour for your dough and thinning it with gradually applied light pressure. Take into account, moreover, that when you make your own pasta you can produce noodle shapes that are usually unavailable commercially….”
Marcella also recommends using modern conveniences in making homemade pasta. She says,” You need a food processor for kneading the dough and a pasta machine ”  for rolling and cutting. She also notes that she tested her recipes using these gadgets and the pasta was just fine.

Here is my version:

Why should you make homemade spaghetti when you can buy a box of dried spaghetti in your supermarket? Fresh pasta is not inherently better than dried pasta; it’s just different – definitely lighter and more delicate than dried pasta. Use dried pasta when you want to enjoy noodles with a lot of texture or for heavy sauces; use fresh when you want a softer, subtler dish that will let a delicate sauce shine. Making homemade pasta in our busy world cannot be a common occurrence but give yourself a treat, every once in awhile, so you can experience this unique taste. 

I prefer to mix the harder southern Semolina (durum) flour with the softer unbleached flour or the Italian 00 flour to give some extra body, gluten and flavor to the pasta. Italian-Style 00 flour makes a supple dough, that is smooth and easy to work with. The “00” refers to the grind of the flour, and how much of the wheat’s bran and germ have been removed, not to its protein level.

Whole eggs add an old World richness to the mix, which is why genuine fresh pasta has a yellowish hue like egg noodles. Extra virgin olive oil in my mix also adds moisture and flavor. Many recipes only call for salt in the boiling water. I use it in the mix and in the boiling water so the pasta will have flavor.

Fresh Pasta made using pasta machines from ACS

Homemade Spaghetti

If you would like a closer look at the photos in how to make the homemade spaghetti dough, you can double click them for an enlargement.

For a whole wheat version, substitute 1 cup of whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup of the all purpose flour and 1/2 cup of the semolina flour.

Ingredients:

1 cup unbleached flour or Italian 00 flour
1 cup Semolina durum flour
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup warm water, if needed
Heavy pinch of Kosher salt

Directions:

Ingredients for Homemade Spaghetti

Mixing dough

Put all of the ingredients in the large bowl of a processor. Pulse until the mixture begins to form a ball.

Dough forms a ball.

Remove dough from the bowl and form into a round ball.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour.

Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Rolling the Dough

Preparing the dough with a hand crank pasta machine.

Divide dough into about 3″ x 2″ pieces. Dust the dough with flour on both sides if the dough is too sticky. Start thick and gradually crank to desired thinness.

Knead dough with the pasta maker rollers.

After the first pass through the machine, fold the dough in half to help develop the gluten. To make good straight edges, fold the ends of pasta sheet to the center and then rotate it 90º so that the folded edges are on the sides.

Next, move the rollers to the next smaller setting and run the dough through one time. Move to the next smaller setting and run the dough through again. Lightly flour the rolled dough strips as needed to prevent sticking in your pasta machine. 

Cut the kneaded dough in half before rolling through the last setting.

Keep rolling the dough through the next smaller setting until you have reached the second to the last setting, but you can roll the dough to whatever degree of thinness you prefer. I prefer the next to last setting for spaghetti.

As you move to the thinner settings, your pasta will become become more delicate. If it tears as you roll it through, don’t worry, it’s not ruined. You can simply fold the pasta and re-roll. However, I have found the pasta recipe that I am using is very supple and I have never had the dough tear.

Cutting the Spaghetti

Place the rolled dough strips on floured kitchen towels to dry for 10 -15 minutes.

When you have finished rolling the dough, let it dry on a cutting board or cloth for about 10-15 minutes. This will prevent sticking and will make it much easier to cut the dough in your pasta machine. Don’t let it get too dry or it will become stiff and brittle and will not feed through your machine. When the dough is finished drying, cut the dough into shorter strips to make it easier to cut in your machine.

Cut the dried dough strips in half lengthwise before cutting with the spaghetti roller.

Put the dough through the spaghetti roller.

As soon as you cut the pasta, either place the cut pasta on a floured flat surface or hang it on a pasta drying rack. 

Hang the cut spaghetti on a pasta tree.

You can also dry the spaghetti on floured kitchen towels.

This type of fresh pasta will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, or it can be air dried on your pasta rack and then stored in an airtight container.

Since I make pasta early in the day, I place it in a container, sprinkled with semolina flour, and refrigerate the container until it is time to cook the pasta.

Fresh pasta can also be frozen in a vacuum bag. Do not keep dried fresh pasta out because of the eggs in the mixture.

Cooking Homemade Pasta

Note: Fresh pasta cooks very quickly.

Drop the pasta into a large pot of salted boiling water and boil until tender or “al dente” for about two to three minutes. Do not overcook the pasta to a mush. Drain well and serve.

Some Recipes To Cook After You Make the Spaghetti: 

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 pound pancetta, cut into 1/2-by- 1/4-inch strips
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons dry red wine
1-1/2 cups Pomi chopped tomatoes
½ to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt
1 recipe homemade spaghetti
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately low heat until very soft, 7 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook until translucent, 3 minutes. Add the vinegar, wine, tomatoes, crushed red pepper and 2 tablespoons of water and simmer until thick, 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente; reserve 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce along with the reserved cooking water and cook over moderate heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of cheese. Serve right away, passing more cheese at the table.

Spaghetti With Tomatoes, Capers and Olives

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, 2 sliced, 1 minced
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 ½ cups Pomi chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup green or black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (2 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 recipe homemade spaghetti
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:

Begin heating a large pot of water for the pasta. Meanwhile, combine 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the sliced garlic over medium-low heat in a medium saucepan or skillet. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic turns golden, about two minutes. Do not let it take on any more color than this. Remove the garlic slices with a slotted spoon and discard, then add the bread crumbs to the pan. Turn the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until the bread crumbs are crisp. Remove from the heat, and pour into a bowl.

Return the pan to medium heat, and add the remaining olive oil, the red pepper flakes and the minced garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds until the garlic smells fragrant, and add the tomatoes, capers and olives. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

When the water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the spaghetti. Cook al dente,  drain, and toss with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and parsley on top, toss again briefly and serve, passing the Parmesan at the table.

Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large bunch broccoli rabe, about 1 1/2 lb., ends trimmed
1 tablespoons plus 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 recipe homemade spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
2 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth 
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Cut off the broccoli rabe florets and coarsely chop the leaves and tender stems.

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a boil. Add the 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta and cook until al dente.

While the water is heating, in a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes.

Stir in half of the broccoli rabe, including the florets, coating them with the oil. Cook until the wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining broccoli rabe and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.

Pour in the broth and reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the broccoli rabe is tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Stir in the 1/4 tsp. salt and season with pepper.

When the pasta is ready, drain. Place the pasta in a serving bowl and top with the broccoli rabe sauce. Sprinkle with cheese.                                                                                             

Marcella Hazan on her first date with now-husband Victor in Cesenatico, Italy, 1952

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An Ancient History

Since birds and eggs preceded man in the evolutionary chain, they’ve existed longer than historians. East Indian history indicates that wild fowl were domesticated as early as 3200 B.C. Egyptian and Chinese records show that fowl were laying eggs for man in 1400 B.C. Europe has had domesticated hens since 600 B.C. There is some evidence of native fowl in the Americas prior to Columbus’ arrival. However, it is believed that, on his second trip in 1493, Columbus’ ships carried to the New World the first of the chickens related to those now in egg production. These strains originated in Asia.

Most people of the world eat the egg of the chicken. Nearly 200 breeds and varieties of chickens have been established worldwide. Only a few breeds are economically important as egg producers. Most laying hens in the U.S. are Single-Comb White Leghorns.

Why are eggs good for you?

Eggs contain all the essential protein, minerals and vitamins, except Vitamin C. But egg yolks are one of few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D. Eggs also contain choline, which is necessary for healthy cell membranes in the body. Choline stimulates brain development and function and helps preserving memory. Eggs also are good for your eyes because they contain lutein which helps prevents age-related cataracts and mascular degeneration. In fact, eggs contain more lutein than spinach and other green vegetables.

How can you tell what you’re buying, when you’re shopping for eggs? What do terms like cage-free, free-range, organic, and others mean?  

Cage-Free Eggs

Cage-free eggs are eggs from birds that are not raised in cages, but in floor systems usually in an open barn. The hens have bedding material such as pine shavings on the floor, and they are allowed perches and nest boxes to lay their eggs.  However, they may still be at close quarters with many other hens — just not in cages. That depends on the farm.

Free Range Chickens

Free-Range Eggs

Free-range eggs are laid from hens that have the opportunity to go outside. Smaller farms may keep birds outside under a canopy area. They may travel in and out of a barn at free will or spend some portion of their day roaming outdoors.

Organic Eggs

Organic eggs are laid from hens that may be kept in any kind of caging system, but generally are cage free. They eat an organic feed and don’t receive vaccines or antibiotics.
In order to qualify for USDA organic certification, the grains used for the hens’ diets must be produced on land that has been free from the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years.

Genetically engineered crops are not permitted, and hens must be maintained without hormones, antibiotics, and other intrusive drugs.

Vegetarian Eggs

Vegetarian eggs are laid from hens that are only fed a vegetarian diet — free from meat or fish by-products. Hens are kept in cages or indoors and do not peck any grubs or worms.

Pasteurized Eggs

Pasteurized eggs are eggs in their shell that have been put through a pasteurization process where they are heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for three and a half minutes. Eggs are not required to be pasteurized.

Pasteurization completely kills bacteria without cooking the egg. The process can also be done for packaged egg whites used in cooking.
Eating pasteurized eggs is recommended for young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems so they can reduce the risk of contracting a salmonella infection.

Which Egg Is Safest?

“Those terms (organic, free-range, and cage free) have nothing to do with contamination. That does not assure eggs will be salmonella-free,” says Mike Doyle, PhD, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety. However, it may ensure the hen has a better life.

To protect yourself further:

  • Check eggs before buying to make sure there are no cracked or leaking eggs, which could transfer any bacteria that are present.
  • Immediately refrigerate eggs to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below so if bacteria are present, they won’t multiply.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly so the white and yolk are firm, which kills salmonella.
  • Wash hands, utensils, and preparation surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water when handling and preparing eggs.
  • Use pasteurized eggs for recipes that call for raw egg in foods like salad dressing, hollandaise sauce, or spaghetti carbonara.
  • When buying fresh eggs from a local farmer’s market, ask whether they’ve been washed and refrigerated within 36 hours of being collected, which cuts the risk salmonella.

What is salmonella?

Salmonella enteritidis is a common bacterium found inside perfectly normal-looking eggs. If eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, it can cause illness including abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting within 12-72 hours. Most people recover without treatment, but infants, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems are at risk for serious illness.

Here are a few things you might not know about this frugal food:

From starting salmonella scares to causing worry about high cholesterol, the humble egg can get a bad rap. But these “little guys” also serve as the glue to make great baked goods, provide a lot of nutrition for a low cost, and can serve as the basis for a whole host of delicious meals.

Chicken Eggs Come in More Colors Than White and Brown

Different breeds of chickens produce different colors of eggs. In addition to the typical white and brown, some chickens produce blue, blue-green, reddish-brown, or even speckled eggs. A great place to look for atypical egg colors is at your local farmers market; one vendor at my market sells a dozen eggs in a mix of blue, white, cream, and brown.

You Can Use Water to Easily Determine the Age of an Egg

If you have eggs of questionable freshness, fill a bowl with enough water to cover the eggs, then add them to the bowl. If an egg sinks to the bottom, it’s fresh. If it floats to the top, it’s not. This happens because as an egg ages, it develops a larger and larger air pocket in its shell.

According to The Oxford Companion to Food, it’s actually better to choose a less-fresh egg if you’re hard-boiling it, because in fresh eggs “the white adheres closely to the shell, making it more difficult to remove the latter.”

Eggs Are a Great Hangover Cure

Eating eggs is a great way to help shake off the previous evening’s festivities.

Raw Eggs Can Make Delicious — and Safe — Food and Drinks

Classic recipes for mayonnaise, caesar salad dressing, lemon curd, and several cocktails include raw eggs. While salmonella is certainly a concern in using raw eggs or other raw animal products, you can reduce your risk by using the freshest eggs possible (ideally locally produced) or purchasing pasteurized eggs.

Chickens Aren’t the Only Birds That Lay Edible Eggs

Duck, quail, emu, goose, and ostrich eggs can all be cooked up.

A little folklore:

According to legend the folds in a chef’s hat used to represent the number of ways s/he knew how to cook an egg, with the vaunted 100-fold hat reserved for the heads of only the most knowledgeable culinary experts. But are there really 100 ways to prepare eggs?  The answer is “yes.”

FOOLPROOF BOILED EGGS

Makes 6 eggs.   

You may double or triple this recipe as long as you use a pot large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer, covered by an inch of water.

Place eggs in medium saucepan, cover with 1 inch of water, and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a medium bowl with 1 quart water and 1 tray of ice cubes (or equivalent). Transfer eggs to ice water bath with slotted spoon; let sit 5 minutes. Peel and use as desired.

If you plan on peeling your eggs immediately after cooking, drain the hot water from the pot used to cook the eggs and shake the pot back and forth to crack the shells. Then plunge them in enough ice water to cover the eggs until they cool down. The water seeps under the broken shells, allowing them to be slipped off without a struggle. If you want to leave the shells intact (perhaps for decorating), and wish to peel them later, the best way is to start to peel from the large end of the egg, which has an air pocket. This lets you get under the membrane without digging into the white.

What can you do with boiled eggs?

Egg salad sandwiches
Deviled eggs
Add boiled eggs potato salad
Diced eggs on top of a salad.
Boiled eggs are the perfect diet snack (a 75 calorie trick that tides over hunger between meals.)
Sliced egg on top of an English muffin with melted cheese.
Slice and layer egg in a lasagna
Chop up egg and toss it in macaroni and cheese.
Chop up one egg and mix into your dog’s food. It’s good for his/her hair and skin.
Dice an egg and sprinkle it over hummus to serve with pita bread.

Eggs Marinara

Ingredients

1/2 cup Basic Marinara Sauce per person -see recipe below
1 egg per person
Coarse salt or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) cheese, room temperature

Directions                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

In a frying pan (large enough to fit the amount of eggs you want to serve), the place prepared marinara sauce; bring to a simmer.

NOTE:  just before adding the eggs, make a well with a spoon for each egg.

One at a time, break each egg into small cups or bowls. Slip eggs carefully into simmering tomato sauce by lowering the lip of each egg-cup 1/2-inch below the surface. Let the eggs flow out. Sprinkle with the grated parmesan cheese. Immediately cover with a lid and turn heat on low.

Set a timer for exactly three minutes for medium-firm yolks. Adjust the time up or down for runnier or firmer yolks. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, depending on firmness desired. Lift each cooked egg from the tomato sauce with a slotted spoon or spatula. 

Before serving, sprinkle with additional grated cheese over the top and season with salt and pepper. 

How to serve: These delicious eggs may be served as cooked or over thickly-cut crusty bread, cooked pasta, cooked polenta or mashed potatoes.

Basic Marinara Sauce:

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1 (28-32 ounce) container Italian strained (crushed) tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and cook and stir another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning. Season with salt. Cook until completely heated, another 2 to 3 minutes.

Makes approximately 3 1/ 2 cups (enough for 4 to 6 servings).

Baked Eggs

Eggs Baked in Potatoes

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 extra-large (about 13 ounces each) baking potatoes (with peel)
  • 3 tablespoons light sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or 1 1/2 teaspoons diced green onions
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese (medium or sharp)
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Pierce potatoes in several places with fork to allow steam to escape. Bake approximately 1 1/2 hours until potatoes are tender. Remove from oven and let cool until able to handle. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop out potato pulp into a bowl, leaving approximately 1/4-inch thick shells. Place potato shells onto a lightly-greased baking sheet; set aside. Do not turn oven off.

Using a potato masher, potato ricer, or fork, mash potato pulp until no lumps remain. Add sour cream, chives or green onions, butter, salt, and pepper; stir well. Divide and spoon potato mixture into the four (4) potato skin shells, spreading evenly.

Make a 3/4-inch deep oval indentation in the filling along the length of each potato shell to hold an egg. Bake the potato, uncovered, for approximately 10 minutes until hot; remove from oven.

Break one (1) egg into each potato indentation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, parsley, and paprika. Return to oven and bake approximately 12 to 15 minutes or until the eggs are cooked to your liking.

Check the eggs after about 10 minutes baking time. When done, the whites should be completely set and the yolks beginning to thicken but not hard. Remove from oven and serve.

Fluffy Baked Eggs with Roasted-Vegetable Hash

Fluffy Baked Eggs with Roasted-Vegetable Hash

Ingredients:

  • 10 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 oz Swiss cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)
  • 10 oz cremini mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped (1/4-inch pieces)
  • 1 large sweet potato (8 to 10 oz), peeled and coarsely chopped (1/4-inch pieces)
  • 1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 450°F. Spray a 2-quart shallow baking dish (about 2 inches deep) with cooking spray.
Whisk together eggs, milk, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until smooth, t
hen whisk in cheese. Pour into baking dish. Bake in upper third of oven until puffed, golden, and set, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss together mushrooms, sweet potato, shallot, oil, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 17- by 13- by 1-inch baking pan. Spread vegetables in an even layer, then roast in lower third of oven while eggs are baking, stirring twice after 10 minutes, until tender and golden brown, about 18 minutes.
Serve eggs with roasted vegetables spooned on top.

Poached Eggs

How to poach eggs.

There’s no added fat, and they’re very easy to make. If you’re an egg lover, this is certainly a dish for you!

Things You’ll Need

  • Large Eggs
  • Salt And Pepper
  • White Vinegar
  • a 12-inch straight-sided skillet with cover
  • Slotted spoon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. The water should be at least five or six inches deep (the deeper the better).

Season lightly with salt and pepper.

When the water boils, add 1 tablespoon vinegar

Lower the water to a slow simmer.

Carefully crack one egg into a large ladle.

Lower the ladle into the water and pour the egg out as gently as possible.

The egg white will coagulate in the water and turn white.

Most eggs will take between two and three minutes for the white to cook but leave the yolk still runny.

Remove the egg at this point with a slotted spoon or strainer.

Repeat with remaining eggs. You can poach several eggs at once in the same pot.

Tips

The vinegar is actually an important element in egg poaching. It causes the egg white to immediately turn white and begin cooking, and it speeds up the cooking process so the egg doesn’t overcook.

Pasta with Poached Eggs and Truffle Oil

Yields: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large portobello mushroom
  • 1 (9-ounce) package fresh tagliatelle pasta
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons white truffle oil
  • 1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Coarse salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Remove the stem of the portobello mushroom. Place the cap on a plate with the gill side up. With a paring knife, cut the mushroom in half and begin to scrape the gills away from the cap where they meet. You will notice that the gills look like small, rectangular chopped truffles as they drop onto the plate.

Repeat with the other mushroom half. Set aside the gills for the “truffles” to sprinkle on top of the pasta dish when finished.

Cook tagliatelle pasta according to package directions to al dente; drain and return to pan to keep warm. NOTE: Reserve about 1/2 cup of the hot pasta water to moisten the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, poach the eggs following directions above.

Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon to a warmed plate (in the same order they went into the pan).

Toss the pasta with the butter, truffle oil, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. If it seems too dry, add a few more tablespoons of the cooking water and toss again.

Divide the pasta among 6 individual warmed serving bowls. Top each portion with a poached egg, sprinkle the reserved gills or “truffles” over the top, and serve immediately.

Asparagus with Poached Eggs & Shaved Parmesan

Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds asparagus, cut into 5- to 6-inch lengths (use the thicker stemmed ones)
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup (lightly packed) parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 small piece of Parmesan cheese, room temperature

Directions

Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus; cook in boiling salted water until just crisp-tender, approximately 4 to 5 minutes for thick stalks. Remove from heat, drain, and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Divide asparagus among 4 dinner plates and keep warm.

Poach eggs according to directions above. Lift each perfectly poached egg from the water with a slotted spoon, but hold it over the skillet briefly to let any water clinging to the egg drain off. Place a warm poached egg on top of each asparagus portion; dab with a paper towel to soak up any visible water. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley. With a cheese planer or use a vegetable peeler across the top of the piece of Parmesan cheese to produce wide shavings. Arrange several shavings around each plate. Serve immediately.

Pan Cooked Eggs

Italian Eggs

What makes these eggs “Italian”? A movie! Moonstruck, to be exact. There is a scene in Moonstruck where Cher’s character is making breakfast and she hollows out a slice of bread, tosses it in a frying pan and adds an egg to the hollowed out center.

Ingredients

  • 4 slices Italian bread – cut thickly
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese

 Directions

Hollow out the center of each slice of bread. Heat some oil in a heavy frying pan with a lid over medium heat and add the bread.

Add an egg to the center of each slice of bread. Do this slowly so the egg begins to set and doesn’t flow out from underneath the bread. Cook until the bottom of the egg is well set.

Flip once and allow to cook for a few minutes longer.

Top with mozzarella cheese and cover with the lid of the pan for a few minutes until the cheese melts.

Mushroom and Wild Rice Frittata

If you are not a mushroom lover, zucchini can be substituted in this dish for the mushrooms.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water, for wild rice
  • 1/2 cup wild rice (see Tips & Techniques), rinsed
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt, for wild rice
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 pound mixed mushrooms (cremini, white button, shiitake), sliced
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 4 (about 2 ounces) thin slices prosciutto, chopped

Directions:

To prepare wild rice: Combine water, rice, and salt in a small heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the rice is tender with a slight bite, 40 to 50 minutes. Drain; you’ll have about 1 1/2 cups cooked rice.

To prepare frittata: About 30 minutes after you start cooking the rice, beat eggs and egg substitute in a large bowl with parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg.

Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.

Heat oil in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onion and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in rosemary, then add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until they release their liquid and the pan is dry, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; stir in the rice.

Pour the reserved egg mixture evenly over the rice and vegetables. Partially cover and cook until set around the edges, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan and prosciutto. Place the pan under broiler and broil until the eggs are set and the top is nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Tips & Techniques

Ingredient note: Regular wild rice takes 40 to 50 minutes to cook. To save time, look for quick-cooking varieties, which can be on the table in less than 30 minutes, or instant wild rice, which is done in 10 minutes or less.

 

Egg Olympics


When it comes to cooking techniques, there’s one that almost every home cook uses: marinating. That’s because it couldn’t be simpler: just stir together the ingredients, soak the food, and you’re ready to go. But as easy as that is, there are a few things you may want to know about what makes a good marinade and the most important “dos and don’ts” for using one.

The Makeup of a Marinade

To flavor foods effectively, a marinade should contain three fundamental components: an acid, a fat, and seasonings.

Acids are the flavor foundation.

Some excellent acids for marinades are cider vinegar, wine, beer, buttermilk, peach nectar, and lemon, lime, orange, and cranberry juice. Other acidic juices, like those from raw pineapple, papaya, melon, ginger, and kiwi, are fine for short soaks; but take note: they all contain enzymes that can turn meat into mush, and the longer the marinating time, the mushier the meat will get.

Fats keep the food moist.

Common examples include mayonnaise and full-fat Greek yogurt. You can also use flavored oils like hot chile oil, basil oil, or Asian sesame oil as part of the fat component, but since these can be very concentrated, use them sparingly, if you’re adding seasonings to the marinade as well. Some people are tempted to leave the fat out of a marinade to make it lighter, but it’s not a good idea. Not only does the fat keep the food moist, but it also promotes browning and prevents food from sticking to the pan or grill.

Seasonings act as flavor boosters.

There are endless good choices. Try fresh or dried herbs and spices; aromatics like garlic, shallot, scallion, onion, fresh ginger, or citrus zest; condiments like hot sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce, mustard, jam, marmalade, or Worcestershire sauce; or even a touch of spirits. Just beware of adding too many sugary ingredients, which can cause the food to burn on the outside before it’s cooked on the inside.

Marinating Dos and Don’ts

Always marinate in a nonreactive vessel, such as a stainless-steel or glass container, or in a heavy duty zip-top plastic bag. Do not marinate in an aluminum container, which will react with the acidic ingredients, change the color of the food and give it a metallic flavor.

Marinate in a closed container in the refrigerator, making sure that none of the marinade and raw meat juice can contaminate other foods.

Use enough marinade to coat the food. Your food doesn’t need to be swimming in marinade, but it should be well coated.

Marinades generally penetrate only the outer 1/4 inch of the food, which doesn’t take very long. Soak shellfish for about 15 minutes and fish for 20 to 30 minutes. Meat and poultry will vary according to the recipe you are using. Don’t over marinate. If your food starts to turn a cloudy grayish-white, take it out of the marinade because the acid and enzymes in the marinade are “cooking” the food.

Note that citrus and vinegar marinades are stronger and work more quickly than mayonnaise or buttermilk marinades.

Turn the food as it marinates. Do this at least once to make sure all sides of the food are exposed to the marinade.

Don’t wipe off the marinade. Just remove food from the marinade and let the excess drip off; what’s left will create a delicious exterior.

Salt marinated food just before cooking. There’s not much salt in these marinades because a salty marinade tends to dry out food. Salting before grilling is important because it brings out the food’s natural flavor.

Never use a marinade as a sauce unless it has been boiled for three consecutive minutes to kill any bacteria from the raw food.

                    Types of Marinades

Oil-Based Marinades

Oil-based marinades are the most often used when it comes to day-to-day preparation of meats. This is because they are ideally suited for preserving or adding moisture during the cooking process. They also promote even distribution of flavor by preventing herbs and spices from settling in one area, and they give meat a glossy sheen. You can keep it simple by adding just pepper to the oil marinade, or spice it up with minced garlic or fresh herbs.
Olive oil and sesame oil are both great for marinades and each one contains a great deal of flavor and nutrients, so as little as half a cup is all that is usually needed. Sesame oil is rich in powerful antioxidants and vitamin E while olive oil is the leader among natural oils for providing monounsaturated fatty acids and helping keep LDL (bad) cholesterol levels down while raising HDL (good) cholesterol. And thanks to the natural flavor, you can skip popular ingredients such as sugar or molasses that would add unnecessary calories.

Italian Dressing Marinade

Bottled Italian dressing is a popular marinade, but this homemade version is so much fresher, and you can change the herbs to suit your taste. The small amount of mayonnaise helps emulsify the ingredients. Use for steak, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, scallops, shrimp, or vegetables.
Yields about 2 cups, enough to marinate 2 lb. food.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 cup olive oil

Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar and wine. Whisk in the mayonnaise until the color is milky white and there are no lumps. Whisk in the fresh garlic, parsley, oregano, sage, dried onion and garlic, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly whisk in the oil until completely incorporated.

Make ahead tips

The marinade will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Grilled Balsamic Chicken Breast

Makes 8 servings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Ingredients:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (8 oz each)

For the Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary

Directions:

Cut breast in half lengthwise so you have two chicken cutlets.

Combine the marinade ingredients and pour over chicken. Let it marinate in the refrigerator a minimum of two hours, but preferably 4 to 6 hours.

Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to medium-high. Make sure your grates are clean and lightly rubbed with oil to prevent sticking.

When the grill is hot, lay the chicken on the grill. Cook the chicken until well browned on both sides and firm, but not hard to the touch, about 7 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate when done.

Chunky Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette

Ingredients: 

  • 1-1/2 lb. fresh ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
  • 1 large or 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

Directions:

Gently mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl, taking care not to break up up the tomatoes. The vinaigrette should have a slightly peppery bite. Set aside at room temperature until serving time.

Mediterranean-Style Flank Steak

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh aromatic herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram, or a mix)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2- to 2-lb. flank steak, trimmed of any excess fat and membrane
  • 1 recipe Chunky Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette

Directions:

Mix the oil, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub all over the steak and let sit for about 20 min. at room temperature.

Meanwhile, heat a gas grill to medium-high (you should be able to hold your hand 2 inches above the grate for 3 to 4 seconds) or prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. If your grill has a hot spot, position the thicker end of the flank steak nearer the hottest part of the fire.

Grill until medium rare, 12 to 15 min., turning the steak every 3 to 4 min. to ensure even cooking. The thickest part of the steak will register 135°F to 140°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for 3 to 5 min. Slice across the grain, portion onto dinner plates, spoon on the tomato vinaigrette, and serve.

 

Citrus-Based Marinades

Where oil-based marinades enhance moisture, the acidic properties of orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice and other citrus fruits can be used in marinades to tenderize meat and add a natural, sweet flavor. Citrus-based marinades are popular because of the refreshing flavors they offer. Citrus-based marinades are inherently healthy since these fruits are loaded with vitamin C, and many are naturally sweet, eliminating the need for refined sugar or other sweeteners. As healthy as citrus is; it’s also a pretty smart choice for what it lacks: cholesterol, sodium and fat. And you can avoid processed ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and preservatives when you prepare citrus marinades yourself rather than buying them in bottles or packages.

Citrus Turkey Breast                                                                                                                              

It’s important to allow the meat to rest before slicing to ensure that the juices are properly distributed.Citrus Grilled Turkey Breast (Light). Photo by kellychris

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 bone-in turkey breast (4 to 6 pounds)

Directions:

Combine orange and lime juices, garlic, onion, herbs and salt in processor and blend until smooth. Transfer 1/2 cup sauce to a small bowl and refrigerate.
Rub turkey with remaining sauce and place in a baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours (up to 12 hours).
Remove turkey from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roast in the oven for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Baste once or twice with pan juices during cooking.
Transfer turkey to a cutting board; let stand about 10 minutes before slicing.
Serve with reserved sauce.

Lemon Shrimp

4 servings, about 3/4 cup each

Ingredients:

Marinade                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, (30-40 per pound), peeled and deveined

Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or basil

Directions:

Combine lemon juice, wine, 2 teaspoons oil and garlic in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Drain well, reserving marinade.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and cook, turning once, until barely pink, about 30 seconds per side; transfer to a plate. Add bay leaf, crushed red pepper and the reserved marinade to the pan; simmer for 4 minutes. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the pan; heat through. Season with salt, sprinkle with parsley.

Grilled Zucchini-and-Summer Squash Salad

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

  • 2 tablespoons grated orange rind
  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice (about 3 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 red onions
  • 4 zucchini, each halved lengthwise (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 4 yellow squash, each halved lengthwise (about 1 pound)
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

Directions:

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Peel onions, leaving root intact; cut each onion into 4 wedges. Add onion, zucchini, and yellow squash to bag. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 1 hour, turning bag occasionally.
Prepare grill.
Drain vegetables in a colander over a bowl, reserving marinade. Place vegetables on a greased grill rack and grill for 8 minutes or until tender; turn and baste occasionally with 3/4 cup of the marinade. Place the vegetables on a serving platter; sprinkle with the basil. Serve the vegetables with the remaining marinade.

Wine Marinades

People have been cooking with wine for almost as long as they’ve been drinking it, and for good reason. The spectrum of flavors wine provides is vast, and using it for marinating can be as healthy as it is delicious. Like citrus, wine is acidic and will tenderize the meat as well as enhance its flavor. This keeps the ingredient list simple since you have one element doing the work of two. You could easily add in some garlic or fresh herbs to enhance the flavor, but using just the wine will also do the trick.
When using wine, it’s best to keep the shade of the meat and the shade of the wine in the same neighborhood. Red wines generally pair well with dark meats like steak, lamb or duck, while pork and poultry are best marinated in white wine. And even though wine can be high in calories, just a little bit can go a long way. Most of the calories come from the alcohol, which you can reduce by bringing the marinade to a boil (alcohol begins to evaporate at 178 degrees Fahrenheit).

Red Wine and Coffee Marinade

This marinade is especially good for steak. It does not contain added salt, so remember to salt your food just before grilling. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brewed espresso or very strong black coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 cup full-flavored red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Zinfandel
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, grated on a rasp grater
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Coarsely ground black pepper

Directions:

In a medium nonreactive bowl, whisk the coffee, wine, olive oil, garlic, mustard, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons pepper until well blended.

Make ahead tips

The marinade will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Chicken Baked in White Wine Marinade

4 servings (serving size: 1 breast half)                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 (8-ounce) bone-in chicken breast halves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 4 hours or up to 24 hours, turning occasionally.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Place the chicken, skin side up, in an 11 x 7–inch baking dish. Pour marinade over chicken. Cover and bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 40 minutes or until done. Transfer chicken to a platter. Discard skin, bay leaf, and marinade. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper.

Grilled Rib-Eye Steak With Red Wine Marinade

2 (8-ounce) boneless rib-eye steaks, preferably 3/4- to 1-inch thick
Red Wine Marinade

For the marinade:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

Combine the red wine, garlic,  shallot, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, salt, black pepper, and the mustard in a large resealable plastic food storage bag.

Place the steaks in the bag with the marinade; remove most of the air from the bag and seal. Lay the bag flat in a large baking dish.

Let it sit in the marinade at room temperature for to 1 hour.

For the steak:

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450F). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them under the cooking area for direct and indirect heat. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.

Remove the steaks from the bag and place on a plate.   Pour the marinade into a bowl, discarding the bag.

Cook the steaks over the direct-heat side of the grill for about 5 minutes; until the meat is nicely browned.

Baste the steaks with the marinade and place them on indirect heat side.

Baste and turn the steaks every 2 minutes until the internal temperature of the meat registers 135 to 140 F. on an instant-read thermometer, for medium-rare. 

Wet Rubs

Wet rubs or pastes are a good transition between traditional soaking marinades and dry rubs, which we’ll discuss in the next section. They’re usually thick and stick to the meat, providing an even coating. This gives you more control over the taste because the rub can be applied in large or small amounts as needed.
Spicy mustard is a great wet rub base because it’s low-calorie and packs a robust flavor. You could also add a light vinegar or mix in some honey to sweeten the mustard’s kick. Avoid barbecue sauces and ketchup in rubs because the flavor benefits usually don’t outweigh the sugar, sodium or preservatives they contain.

Three-Mustard Bistro Marinade

Use for steak, pork, lamb, chicken, fish (especially salmon), or vegetables (especially mushrooms and potatoes).Yields about 3 cups, enough to marinate 3 lb. food.

Ingredients:

  • 1 -8 oz. jar Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup grainy mustard
  • 1/4 cup honey- mustard
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter or Smart Balance Blend
  • 4 or 5 scallions, trimmed, white and green parts chopped
  • Fine sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the Dijon, grainy mustard, honey- mustard, and white wine.
Melt the butter in a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the mustard mixture, scallions, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and heat, whisking, until the sauce has emulsified. Cool completely before using as a marinade. Let the flavors meld a few hours before adding fish or poultry.

Make ahead tips

The marinade will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
This marinade is excellent for salmon. Bake fish in a 400 degree F. oven for 15-20 minutes or grill fish 10-12 minutes.

Grilled Pork Chops with Basil-Garlic Rub

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

4 pork bone-in rib chops, 3/4-inch thick

Parmesan cheese

Toasted pignoli (pine) nuts

Basil-Garlic Rub:

  • 2 cloves garlic , peeled
  • 1 cup fresh basil, packed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice , fresh
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

With machine running, drop garlic through feed tube of food processor to mince. Stop, add fresh basil, and process until chopped. Add lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper and process to make a thin wet rub. Spread both sides of pork chops with basil mixture. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in grill. Brush the grate clean and oil the grate. Grill chops, over direct heat until medium rare, 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.  Follow with  a 3-minute rest time.

Makes 4 servings

Serving Suggestions:

Top the chop with shavings of Parmesan cheese (from a wedge of cheese using a vegetable peeler) and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

Dry Rubs

Dry rubs are generally used by cooks who favor slow cooking over speed, and dry rubs are usually reserved for meat prepared on the grill. But they are also the simplest to prepare, and with just a few ingredients, you can create a savory, healthful rub.
Onion powder, chili powder, basil and paprika are all great ways to season your rub. Just a pinch of any of these ingredients carries enormous flavor and is ultra-low in calories. Cayenne pepper, for example, offers a savory, intense heat and loads of nutritional benefits, including vitamin A and beta carotene. It’s also known to boost immunity and help lower cholesterol, all without a single calorie or gram of fat. Brown sugar is a common base for dry rubs used for pork because of the sweet, aromatic flavors it produces when cooked slowly over low heat. But the high number of calories means it’s not the best choice to use on an otherwise healthy cut of lean pork.

With a little imagination you can add flavor to your vegetables, taking them from bland and ordinary to sumptuous and delicious. The process is simple. Place your chosen vegetable in a roasting pan and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Then take your favorite dry rub, and liberally sprinkle to taste over your vegetables. Stir the vegetables, oil and dry rub together to thoroughly coat, and place in a 400 degree F. oven to roast.

The great thing is that dry rubs work with just about any vegetable, beans, beets, broccoli, potatoes, and more. It is entirely up to you and your culinary imagination to decide which dry rub to use and on which vegetables. A couple of common and popular combination are Lemon-pepper and green beans and Poultry or Steak Rub on potatoes.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Dry Rub:

  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Root Vegetables                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 sweet onions
  • 2 beets
  • 2 large parsnips
  • olive oil

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix the dry rub ingredients together in a small bowl.

Cut all vegetables into equal sized chunks and spread over a cookie sheet. Sprinkle the spices over the vegetables.

Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, then using your hands, toss the vegetables until they are nicely coated.

Place baking sheet on the oven’s center rack and roast for about 30-40 minutes.

Grilled Spicy Tuna Fillets

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Tuna steak
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, coarsely ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Lemon wedges, and extra virgin olive oil, for serving

Directions:

One 1-inch thick tuna steak per person (Multiply the recipe, to serve 2, 4, 6, etc.)

Drizzle the tuna with lemon on both sides and sprinkle with salt.

In a bowl mix together all the spices. Dip each cut side of the fillets into the spice mixture,  and press so that it will stick to the surface of the fish. 

Heat the broiler, the charcoal grill or an oven top grill, and cook the tuna fillets until seared and firm.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and drizzle with olive oil.

 

What makes a recipe healthy? To me, healthy eating means consuming a wide variety of whole foods, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, limiting fat and sodium intake and trying to meet the minimum vitamin and mineral recommendations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Because we lead busy lives, we need healthy recipes that can be completed in a hurry and provide all those requirements.

Since many of us do use processed foods to cut down on time spent in the kitchen, learn to read nutrition labels. Make special note of the number of servings in each package, and the serving size. Most people eat far more than the recommended serving size of most foods. Also pay attention to ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ dates, to keep you and your family safe.

Besides the basics of paying attention to calories and serving size, here are a few tips from the Food and Drug Administration to guide you:

● Choose products with high daily value percentages (20 percent or more per serving) of fiber and of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron.

● Look for low daily value percentages (5 percent or less) of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

● The following terms signal added sugars, which contain lots of calories but little nutritional value: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey and maple syrup.

Ideally, if we had all the time in the world, we would cook everything from scratch for our families, using only the most fresh and organic products. But guess what? We don’t always have the time or energy. We know that life gets in the way of even the best plans, and sometimes we can use a little assistance in the form of a time saver when it comes to cooking. There are some convenience products that are great time-cutting products that, also, meet healthy standards for nutrition and flavor.

 

Here Are My Top 10. What Are Yours?

Washed Organic Lettuce or Spinach

Store Bought Pizza Dough. Check if they have a whole wheat variety.

Low Sodium Canned Beans

Fresh Pasta-Whole Wheat Ravioli. Notice the Whole Grain Stamp.

Quick Cooking Brown Rice

Frozen Steamed Vegetables

Low Sodium Organic Chicken Broth

Jarred Spaghetti Sauce with low sodium, sugar and fat

Frozen Sweet Potato Fries

Tuna or Salmon Packed in Water

 

Using Healthy Convenience Foods for Quick Dinners

The recipes below have a low percentage of fat, lots of fiber, cruciferous vegetables, and fruits, and a wide variety of ingredients.  They are ready in 30 minutes or less, or have a preparation time of 20 minutes or less. Try some of these recipes this week and feel good about the food you’re feeding your family.

 

Easy Baked Fish Fillets

Serve with quick cooking brown rice that cooks in 10 minutes.
4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 (4 ounce) fish fillets, such as, tilapia, flounder, cod, grouper.
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 (16 ounce) package frozen vegetables with broccoli and carrots (or any combination your family likes), defrosted and drained

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees F). Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.
Place the fillets in the bottom of the baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.
Combine spices and sprinkle over top of each fillet. Top each one with a slice or two of lemon.
Arrange the frozen mixed vegetables around the fish, and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Cover the dish and bake for 2o to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until vegetables are tender and fish flakes easily with a fork.

Cheese Ravioli with Veggies                                                                                                                                                           Cheese Ravioli with Veggies

4 Servings
Use any combination of frozen vegetables that you like in place of the California Blend.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen California-blend vegetables
  • 1- 9 ounce package whole wheat cheese ravioli
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Mrs. Dash garlic herb salt-free seasoning blend
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Fill a Dutch oven two-thirds full with water; bring to a boil and add salt to the boiling water.

Add the frozen vegetables; cook for 5 minutes. Add the ravioli. Cook 5 minutes longer or until vegetables and ravioli are tender; drain.

Gently stir in oil. Sprinkle with seasoning blend and cheese.

Pork Chops With Chard and White Beans                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 4  boneless pork chops (3/4 inch thick; about 1 1/2 pounds total)
  • 1  teaspoon  paprika
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1  bunch Swiss chard, stems thinly sliced and leaves torn into bite-size pieces (about 5 cups)
  • 1  medium onion, chopped
  • 1  15-16 ounce can low sodium cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 2  tablespoons  red wine vinegar

Directions:

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the pork with the paprika, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and tent with foil.
2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chard stems and onion and cook, tossing occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the beans, chard leaves, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook, tossing frequently, until the chard is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes more. Mix in the vinegar and serve with the pork.
Tip:
For a bit of sweetness, add a handful of raisins to the bean mixture.


Baked Eggs Florentine                                                                                                                                                                           

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 36 ounces frozen spinach
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 8 large eggs
  • 8 slices tomato
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook spinach according to package instructions. Wring out as much water as possible and stir in olive oil and butter. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread spinach over bottom of the dish. With a spoon, make 8 indentations; place tomato slices into indentations. Crack eggs over tomatoes and lightly season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Evenly divide and sprinkle parmesan over casserole.
Bake on middle rack of oven 20-30 minutes, or until cheese is golden and eggs are cooked to desired level of doneness.

Fettuccine with Scallops                                                                                                                                                                           

Serve with a small salad on the side.

5 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each

Ingredients:

  • 8-9 ounces fresh whole-wheat fettuccine
  • 1 pound sea scallops or bay scallops
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, (Wondra all purpose flour works well here)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded Romano cheese, divided
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook fettuccine according to package instructions. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, pat scallops dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and scallops and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Whisk milk, flour, white pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Pour the mixture into the skillet and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Return the scallops and any accumulated juices to the pan along with peas and return to a simmer. Stir in the fettuccine, 1/2 cup Romano cheese, chives, lemon zest and juice until combined. Serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled on top.

Quick Berry Cobbler                                                                                                                                 

Self Rising Flour is a time saver.  It is all purpose flour that already has the leavening ingredients (baking powder and salt) in it that gives quick breads, biscuits and other similar recipes the ability to rise. It is considered a convenience item for a baker because it cuts down on the number of ingredients to measure out.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of sugar ( or use 1/2 cup light sugar-Domino or Truvia)
  • 1 cup of lowfat milk
  • 1 cup of Self Rising Flour
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 2 cups of fresh, washed berries *
  • 4 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance Blend

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Melt butter in a glass 8 inch square baking pan in the microwave.
Combine sugar, milk, water, and flour in a large measuring cup
Pour mixture over melted butter.
Pour berries over the top and spread them evenly.
Bake: 350° for 45 min.

* whatever berries are in season



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