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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: May 2014

Sabina

Italy has many places of interest that are in the ‘off the beaten track’ category. One such place is Sabina. Sabina is the ancient region in the North-Eastern Province of Lazio.
The Sabine hills are a chain of mountains that lie between the river Tiber in the west and the town of Rieti in the east. The river Nera flows in the north and the river Aniene in the south. The highest peak in the Sabine Hills is Monte Pellecchia.

The Sabina has been inhabited since prehistoric times and remains of a human settlement and tools dating from the Palaeolithic era, (60.000-30.000 B.C.) have been discovered throughout the area. The Sabini, a tribe from the Adriatic coast, arrived in the area around the ninth or tenth century B.C. and founded the cities of Reate, Trebula Mutuesca and Cures Sabini. Thanks to its strategic position close to the river Tiber and the Salaria road, Cures (close to modern-day Talocci) became rich and controlled most of the surrounding lands. Cures was gradually absorbed into the Roman state in 290 B.C. After a destructive earthquake in 174 B.C., the territory was reorganized and new agricultural systems were introduced. The main focus was to increase production and supply the Roman market with olives and livestock.

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The period following the decline of the Roman empire was characterized by repeated invasions, depopulation due to the plague and the lack of a centralized government. It was during this time that Farfa Abbey was established and the abbey played a fundamental role in the history of the area. The abbey belonged to the Benedictine order, a powerful organization with its own political and economic interests. The monasteries during this time period contributed to the spread of knowledge in an almost completely illiterate world. Farfa Abbey became rich under the protection of the Lombard dukes and, after 775 A.D., brought a certain amount of economic and agricultural development to the area.

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During this same period the population abandoned old settlements in the valley bottoms in favor of the more easily defended hilltop sites. Almost all of the villages and towns in the Sabina were founded during the period between the ninth and the eleventh century A.D. and many of them were vassals of the abbey. Almost the entire population lived within the walls, going out to work in the fields during the day. During the twelfth century A.D., the Sabina saw the gradual decline in the power of the abbey and the growth of the Papacy and the Roman nobles. During the Renaissance, some of the medieval castles were transformed into baronial palaces, most notably in Roccasinibalda, Collalto and Orvinio, while other completely new palaces were built, for example, Palazzo Camuccini at Cantalupo and Palazzo Orsini at Toffia.

During the eighteenth century the population moved into the surrounding countryside, building up the farming community. This process took place in the lower Sabina (closest to the Tiber valley), where the fertility of the soil allowed the introduction of the “mezzadria” or sharecropping system, under which farmers gave half their produce to the landowner in return for the rent of the land and farmhouse.

The landscape of Sabina is dominated by the hilltop towns, watched over by their original castles and fortresses. Nowadays, the variety of castles in Sabina range from abandoned, ghostly ruins, to beautifully renovated castles that accommodate weddings.

The Sabina region has a rich culinary heritage and has been famous since ancient times for the quality of its food and drink, in particular its olive oil, one of the best in the world.
Other local products include cheese, meat, honey, mushrooms and fruit. Their high quality is thanks to a way of working the land which has resisted industrialization and older, more environmentally friendly methods continue to be used here simply because they work well.

The oldest olive tree.

The oldest olive tree.

Sabina olive oil is characterised by its low acidity and smooth yet peppery finish, which is a result of both the landscape in Sabina and the main varietal of olive grown (Carboncella). It is the steep hills and rocky limestone which gives the Sabina olive oil its distinctive taste. Sabina olive oil was the first olive oil in Italy to receive the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) appellation. In the village of Canneto, you will find the oldest (and one of the largest) olive trees in Europe. At over 1000 years old and with a trunk of 23 feet (7 meters) in circumference, this huge tree produces 1600 pounds (800 kilos) of olives every harvest!

Harvesting Olives

Harvesting Olives

Sabina, like elsewhere in Italy, has many Sagre. Some villages are especially well-known for a particular Sagra. For example, Roccantica is known for its popular ‘frittelli‘ festival in March. A sagra is simply a particular kind of festival that usually revolves around food and usually one specific seasonal ingredient or dish, which is particularly associated with that town or the local area. Sagre (plural) are run by the people who live in the town, so they are real community affairs, where everyone comes together to celebrate the food that they are so proud of. Visiting a Sagra is a great opportunity to sample some genuine, authentic dishes, cooked by people who live in the town.

Some of these specialties are:

Falloni of the Sabina

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Falloni are a kind of wrap, similar to a calzone, that are stuffed with green vegetables before being baked in the oven.They make a great hot or cold snack or a picnic food. You can find falloni in many a forno (bakery) in the Sabina region, particularly the area around Montebuono, Poggio Mirteto, Torri in Sabina and Selci, where they are a local speciality. The falloni can differ depending on which village in Sabina they are made. Around Selci they like to use chard and raw spinach, in other places such as Stimigliano, they put spinach with other vegetables.The shape of the falloni can range from a long thin wrap to a rounder calzone shape. In some villages they cook the vegetables a little first before wrapping in the dough and finish baking them in the oven, while others do not pre-cook the vegetables. Falloni are pretty much exclusive to the Sabina region and are a great example of a regional food with a number of variations.

Stringozzi Pasta

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Also known as strangozzi , this popular Sabina pasta is flat, rectangular and made without eggs. The shape somewhat resembles shoelaces, which is where Stringozzi gets its name – stringa is a shoelace and stringhe are shoelaces. Stringozzi is also popular throughout Umbria, Marche and other parts of the Lazio region.

Frittelli

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Frittelli, deep-fried savory or sweet bites, are often eaten at some point during a big meal, especially for special occasions. Different types of Frittello may be associated with different occasions, for example a sweet Frittello with raisins is popular at Christmas and Lambs brain can be found on Easter tables.The most common type of Frittelli in Sabina, however, are fried cauliflower florets. Pieces of cauliflower are dipped in batter, fried and then seasoned with a little salt. They are so popular, in fact, that an entire festival was created to celebrate their existence.

Sabina’s Traditional Recipes

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Pollo alla Romana (Roman-style chicken)

This is a traditional, very rustic Roman dish of chicken with bell peppers, onion and tomatoes.

Serves 4

  • 1 chicken, cut into smaller pieces (or 8 chicken thighs). Leave the skin on.
  • 4 bell peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 26-28 oz can plum tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, cut into smaller chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup white wine
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

In a large skillet with a cover, saute the garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper and place in the pan with the garlic. Cook over a low heat, covered, for 45 minutes. Turn the chicken occasionally.

In another skillet, heat the remaining oil and add the peppers and onions. Cook and stir for a few minutes and then add the tomatoes. Season with salt and mix together, cover the pan and cook over a low heat until the peppers are soft.

Pour the white wine over the chicken and cook, uncovered, until all the wine evaporates.

Remove the chicken from the pan and put it in the pan with the onions and peppers. Stir well to mix everything together. Cover again and cook for another 10 minutes.

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Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

This pasta sauce is so famous that it is recognised as a traditional dish of Lazio by the Italian ministry of agriculture, food and forestry.

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 4 oz cubed guanciale or pancetta
  • 28 oz can Italian chopped tomatoes
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • Pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and brown the guanciale until crispy and golden. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Saute the onion, garlic and chilli in the remaining oil until the onions are soft, (but don’t let them brown). Add the tomatoes to the pan with the onion, garlic and chilli and season with salt and pepper.

Simmer until the sauce has thickened and lost its ‘watery’ appearance. Add the guanciale back into the pan with the sauce.

Boil the pasta until al dente. When the pasta is cooked, drain the water and then return the pasta to the pan. Pour the tomato sauce over the pasta, mix well, top with the grated cheese and serve.

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Ciambelle all’ Anice

Ring-Shaped Anise Flavored Breads

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ½ cup dry white wine, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ cup anise seeds
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375º F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pour the water into a mixing bowl and stir in the yeast. Allow it to proof about 5 minutes.

Stir in the wine, olive oil, salt, and anise seeds. Mix well. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. The dough will be soft. If the dough is still sticky after 5 cups of flour have been added, gradually add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes away from the bowl easily.

Transfer the dough to a board or the counter and knead the dough for 2 – 3 minutes. Divide the dough into 12-15 pieces, depending on how big you want the rings.

Roll each piece into a long rope, bring the two ends together and place the rings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a clean towel and let them rise covered for 30 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the Ciambelle to the water one at a time. When each ring floats to the surface, use a slotted spoon transfer the boiled ring onto a damp towel.

When one ring is taken out, place the one before back onto the lined baking sheet. When all have been boiled and put back on the lined baking sheets, bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Parfait (from the French meaning “perfect”) is a type of frozen dessert that dates back to 1894. At that time parfaits tasted like coffee and it was a frozen treat. Eventually, these layered ice cream desserts were laced with fruit syrups or liqueurs.

Modern day parfaits are usually prepared in tall glasses and the visual appeal of these traditional layered desserts makes them a favorite on many party menus. Popular parfait ingredients include fruit, nuts, chocolate, coffee, ice cream and yogurt. Strawberry parfait, mango parfait, apple parfait, peach parfait, yogurt parfait are all different kinds of parfaits that are served chilled as a casual dessert.

PARFAIT

Around the world, parfait can mean many things. In France, parfait refers to a frozen dessert made from a base of sugar syrup, egg and cream. In the UK and Germany, parfait refers to a very smooth meat paste (or pâté), usually made from liver (chicken or duck) and flavored with liqueur. In Italy, Italian ice is a frozen confection somewhat similar to shaved ice or snow cones but should not be confused with gelato, Italian ice cream. Sometimes, parfait-like confections are sold in Italy that layer different flavored Italian ices with gelato. This type of parfait dessert may be called gelati, which may be confusing.

In the United States, parfait refers to a popular dessert made by layering fresh or canned fruit and/or liqueurs with ice cream in a tall, clear glass and topped with whipped cream. In Canada and the northern United States, parfaits may also be made by using yogurt layered with granola, nuts and fresh fruits, such as peaches, strawberries or blueberries and are intended to be a healthier alternative to the ice cream/mascarpone and heavy cream parfaits.

Parfaits may be prepared as comfort food or as a health food, depending on the ingredients used. With ice cream, nuts and whipped cream, parfaits can be pretty high in calories. Yogurt in different forms, such as low-fat yogurt, organic yogurt or Greek yogurt, to name only a few, can be chosen according to suitability for the type of parfait you want to make. Yogurt parfaits make a delicious and nutritious breakfast.

Yogurt Parfaits can be made with unflavored yogurt or flavored varieties. The recipe may be made with a variety of yogurts with different consistencies, depending upon your taste. Full fat yogurt may be preferred by people who do not have to be conscious about losing weight. Those who prefer organic food, can choose to make their parfait with the organic varieties, while others may opt for regular.

Making a yogurt parfait is quite simple. A parfait glass is filled with layers of yogurt, granola and fruit. The layers are repeated and the final topping may be berries. It should be noted that it’s always better to fix a yogurt parfait and serve it immediately, otherwise, the cereal may get soggy and lose its crunchiness, thus making the dish less palatable.

Gelatin Parfaits are prepared by layering different fruit flavored gelatin (jello) in a parfait glass and topping the mixture with whipped cream and nuts. As the gelatin takes time to set, about 4-5 hours, make this parfait only when there is adequate time to prepare the gelatin before the occasion in which it is to be served.

Mixed Fruit parfaits are made with a base of sour cream mixed with sugar, fruit juice of choice and a liqueur. The mixture is placed at the bottom of a parfait glass, fresh fruits are placed as the next layer of the parfait, followed by a final layer of chocolate shavings. The dish is best served after being chilled for a couple of hours.

All parfaits are not desserts, as some are savory dishes made of seafood, vegetables and even foie gras. Savory parfaits are made in the same way as the dessert parfaits, except of course, with different ingredients. The common factor is their method.

Here are a few parfait recipes to suit a variety of tastes. Let your imagination create even more.

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Italian Hazelnut Parfait

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup skinned hazelnuts
  • 15 ounces part-skim ricotta
  • 1/4 cup low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 25 amaretti cookies
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 ounce semi-sweet or sweet chocolate, grated (for garnish)

Directions

Set the oven at 375 degrees F.
Use 4 tall glasses.
In a baking pan, toast the hazelnuts, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes or until browned; cool. Chop the hazelnuts coarsely; transfer to a bowl.

In another bowl, whisk the ricotta until creamy, then whisk in the yogurt, ¼ cup of the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate.

Meanwhile, place cookies in a large zipper-top plastic bag. Use a rolling-pin to crush them to the size of peas.

In a cold bowl with cold beaters, beat the cream and the remaining ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar until it holds soft peaks.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of the ricotta mixture into each glass, sprinkle with amaretti and a few hazelnuts (save 2 tablespoons of the nuts for the top garnish).

Continue to layer in this way, ending with a thin layer of ricotta. Add a spoonful of whipped cream and top with the reserved hazelnuts and grated chocolate.

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Fresh Fruit Parfait

These parfaits are perfect for breakfast or for dessert.

6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 rounded cup (½ dry pint) blackberries, raspberries or hulled strawberries, plus 2 extra berries per person for garnish
  • 1 rounded tablespoon seedless raspberry jam
  • 2 large, ripe, firm bananas
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 cups melon balls from two or three different types of ripe melon
  • Two 8-ounce containers vanilla yogurt
  • Optional additions: Your favorite granola or some dry-toasted sliced almonds or walnuts and fresh mint leaves for garnish

Directions

Place the berries in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender. Process the berries until thoroughly pureed.

Place the jam in a 1-quart saucepan. Position a fine-mesh sieve over the pan and pour the berry puree into the sieve. Using a sturdy rubber or wooden spatula, rub the puree through the sieve, leaving the seeds behind (straining is not necessary if using only strawberries). Bring the pureed mixture just to a simmer over low heat, stirring to break up any coagulated jam. Remove the pan from the stove, pour the mixture into a bowl and let it cool.

When you’re almost ready to serve the parfaits, lay each peeled banana on a flat surface and with a melon ball scoop make banana balls. When you’ve measured at least 1 cup, toss them with the lemon juice to prevent discoloring.

Gently fold together the banana and melon balls. Place 1¼ cups of the fruit balls in each parfait glass and ladle 1/2 cup of vanilla yogurt over the fruit. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the berry puree on top of the yogurt. Allow the parfait to sit for a few minutes so the toppings can trickle down throughout the fruit.

If desired, top each parfait with a tablespoon or so of your favorite granola or some toasted sliced almonds. Garnish each serving with two plump berries and a sprig of fresh mint.

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Healthy Tiramisu Parfaits

Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 4 oz (half of 8-oz package) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), softened
  • 3/4 cup skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 container (6 oz) vanilla yogurt
  • 1/3 cup cold brewed espresso or strong coffee
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur
  • 1 package (3 oz) soft ladyfingers, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 oz semisweet baking chocolate, grated (1/4 cup)

Directions

In medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Beat in ricotta cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla until the mixture is creamy. Beat in yogurt until well blended.

In small bowl, mix espresso and coffee liqueur.

In 8 small parfait glasses or clear drinking glasses, layer half of the ladyfingers, half of the espresso mixture and half of the cheese mixture. Sprinkle each with about 3/4 teaspoon grated chocolate. Repeat layers.

Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour to blend flavors but no longer than 4 hours. Store covered in refrigerator.

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Tomato Caprese Parfaits

Ingredients

  • A pint of grape tomatoes, halved
  • A cup of basil leaves, sliced thin
  • 16 ounces of fresh mozzarella, sliced and then cut into small wedges
  • 1/2 cup prepared pesto 
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 4-6 parfait glasses depending on size

Directions

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pesto to make it more pourable. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the tomatoes.

In attractive parfait glasses, layer tomatoes – mozzarella – basil and then a drizzle of each – pesto and vinegar. Repeat until glasses are full. Top with the basil shreds.

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Seafood Parfait

This recipe makes a great summer first course.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces light cream cheese, softened
  • 4 ounces crab meat
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Cocktail sauce, homemade or store-bought (homemade recipe below)
  • Boiled shrimp, peeled, shells and tails removed and diced
  • Prepared horseradish sauce, homemade or store-bought 
  • Light sour cream
  • Grape tomatoes

Directions

Combine cream cheese, crabmeat, lemon juice and seafood seasoning until well blended.

Line the bottom of tall parfait glasses with shredded lettuce. Add a layer of the crab spread. Add a drizzle of cocktail sauce. Add a layer of diced boiled shrimp and more cocktail sauce.

For the topping, combine equal amounts of horseradish sauce and sour cream. Spoon a dollop on top of each parfait and add a grape tomato.

Cocktail Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons grated horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Directions

Combine all ingredients, making sure the sugar has dissolved. Store covered in the refrigerator.

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In Italy’s north eastern corner lies the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. This small region sits on the Adriatic coast with the Alps bordering it and Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east. Friuli Venezia Giulia cuisine is known as a composite of peasant fare and sophisticated Venetian food with influences from the Slavic and Austrian cultures. Despite these vastly different styles of cooking, this region manages to merge them successfully. The region is also the birthplace of grappa and the source of an astounding variety of wines, despite its diminutive size. The town of San Daniele has produced an excellent prosciutto for centuries that rivals Parma’s.

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Pasta is eaten in many different forms in the Friuli Venezia Giulia cuisine. Lasagna noodles are layered with poppy seeds. Gnocchi are made with potato, winter squash or plums. The filled pasta called bauletti contains ham and cheese. Like many other northern regions of Italy, polenta is a staple food. Stewed meats, game and cheese dishes are often served with it.

Bread is another staple food in the Friuli Venezia Giulia cuisine. In addition to wheat, rye and barley flour are used to make bread. Pumpkin bread is also commonly enjoyed. Gubana is a bread traditionally served for Easter. This rich bread resembles brioche and is filled with layers of cocoa and grappa flavored dried fruit and nuts. Bread is used to make canederli which are dumplings that are served in broth or as a side dish for meat. Potatoes and ricotta are used to fill a savory strudel called strukli.

Friuli Venezia Giulia recipes for soup are widely varied, including many kinds of vegetables, beans, seafood and meat. Boreto alla graisana, or turbot chowder seasoned with garlic, olive oil and vinegar, is served at the port of Grado. Fasûj e uardi is a herb flavored barley soup, thick with beans, pork, onion and celery. Ham and beans are cooked with potatoes and corn to make bòbici. Jota is a soup made from sauerkraut, beans, sausages and potatoes cooked with sage and garlic. Even turtles are made into soup in Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The southern section of Friuli Venezia Giulia lies along the coast where seafood dishes play an important role in the diet. Granzevola alla triestina is a dish of baked spider crab with bread seasoned with lemon, garlic and parsley. Shrimp, squid and mussels are simmered with rice in fish broth to make risotto di Marano. The most popular fish in Friuli Venezia Giulia is turbot, while sardines, eels and cod are preserved in salt and served in many different ways.

fogolar

The fogolar is an open-hearth oven with a cone-shaped chimney used for cooking. Most often, mushrooms, sausages, lamb, kid, poultry and beef are grilled on a fogolar. Stewed meats are commonly prepared in Friuli Venezia Giulia cooking. Venison and rabbit are cooked in a wine sauce called salmi. Gulasch, a beef and pepper stew flavored with hot peppers, onions, paprika and tomato, is served with polenta. Other meat dishes include rambasici or stuffed cabbage and patties of mixed beef and pork known as cevàpcici. Muset e bruada is a sausage made from pork rind, first boiled and then fried in salt pork, onions and garlic. Bruada (pickled turnips) are served as a condiment with this dish. Sauerkraut and horseradish are served with sausage dishes.

Gubana is a rich yeast-raised cake rolled up jelly roll style before placing in a round pan to bake. Its cinnamon flavored filling contains dried and candied fruit, nuts and chocolate. Presnitz, another dried, candied fruit and nut filled pastry, is coiled like a snake before baking. Apple strudel is prepared with pine nuts and raisins. Chestnuts are used in Castagnoli cookies. Chifeleti, or biscuits made with potato enriched dough, and pumpkin fritters called fritulis are fried treats.

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The region has an outstanding reputation for its white wines which account for just over 60% of its output. A mixture of local and international grape varieties are grown with great success here. The region’s winemakers are forward-thinking, even pioneering the “Friuli method”, a modern technique for getting juice off the skins quickly.

Friuli holds two DOCGs for its unique dessert wines. Ramandolo, a little known sweet white, whose Verduzzo grapes are grown on the hills to the north of Udine, was the first to be awarded its status. Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit, a delicate amber wine made from the aromatic Picolit grape, became DOCG in 2006. There are ten DOCs wines in Friuli and two of these are considered to be exceptional – Collio Goriziano, which is usually known simply as Collio, and Friuli Colli Orientali. Quality is also excellent in the Friuli Isonzo DOC area, where some dry whites are made from Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Riesling, as well as some semi-dry and sparkling wines. Tocai Friuliano has been an important variety historically. The grape is now commonly known as Friuliano following a European court ruling to avoid confusion with the Hungarian wine Tokaji. The region has had great success with its single varietal white wines, such as Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla and Verduzzo, whereas Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco from the region tend to be refined.

Some excellent reds are Cabernet and Pinot Nero, as well as vendemmia tardiva (late harvest) blends. Red wines from Friuli have tended to be single varietal wines made from Italian grapes like Refosco, as well as Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Nero. Historically, they were light and not designed for cellaring. But this is a region where experimentation and forward thinking in the winery is as much part of the routine as following traditional techniques are in other parts of Italy. Consequently, there are some fine blends on the market, often aged in oak barrels. The resultant wines have great depth and complexity and a firm structure that ensures they are capable of ageing.

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Dinner Menu

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Canederli in Broth

Ingredients

For the dumplings:

  • 300 g (10 oz) stale bread, diced 
  • 225 ml (1 cup) milk
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 60 g (½ cup) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 3 tablespoons (minced) flat leaf parsley
  • 200 g (7 oz) Italian Fontina cheese, diced
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 12 cups of vegetable or chicken broth (for boiling)

For the broth:

  • 1 cup per serving of extra vegetable or chicken broth
  • Grated Parmigiano cheese
  • Chives, thinly sliced

Directions

Put the stale bread into a large mixing bowl. Add the milk, the eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and let it rest for at least two hours, covered with a tea towel, in a cool place or in the refrigerator. Stir occasionally. After the two hours, add the flour, then the parsley and the cheese. Mix gently and set aside.

Heat the oil and butter and cook the onion for ten minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Let the onion cool off, then incorporate it into the flour mixture. Let the mixture rest for another half an hour covered with a tea towel. It should look uniformly moist and slightly sticky.

Using your hands, form the canederli by pressing together enough of the mixture to make balls the size of a small orange. You should be able produce 14-16 balls out of the entire mix.
After making each ball, roll it in flour to seal the outside and prevent the canederli from sticking to each other. When all the canederli are ready, re-roll them into flour and compress them a second time.

Boil the vegetable or chicken broth in a large pot. Place the canederli gently in the pot, wait until the boil is resumed. Boil the canederli for 12-15 minutes (they will be floating the whole time), then drain them gently.

To prepare the canederli in broth:

Heat 1 cup per serving of vegetable or chicken broth (as the one used for boiling will be cloudy because of the flour). Place two to three canederli into each soup bowl, then pour the broth over them. Garnish with grated Parmigiano cheese and chives.

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Grilled Tuna with Crushed Fennel Seed

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh tuna steaks, 1 inch thick (about 2 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Lemons for garnish

Directions

Marinate the tuna for 1 hour with the fennel seeds, finely chopped fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the lemon juice before grilling.

Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on high.

Season tuna with salt and pepper. Place the tuna steaks on the grill and cook, sprinkled with a bit more fennel seeds if desired, until deep black grid marks appear, 6 to 7 minutes on each side. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and serve with lemon slices.

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Half-moon Potatoes – Kipfel De Patate

Ingredients

Servings 6

  • 2 lb potatoes
  • 1/2 lb all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ oz butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Olive oil 
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until tender. Once cooked, peel the potatoes and mash them. Add salt and let cool. Once cool, add the butter and egg yolk.

Then add the flour and mix well until you have a smooth mixture. Roll spoonfuls of the mixture into pieces as thick as your little finger and 3 to 4 inches long. Then, shape them into half moons.

Saute the moons in hot oil for a couple of minutes until they puff up a little and are golden in color – a sign of a crispy exterior. Serve the half-moon potatoes hot, sprinkled with salt.

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Cappuccio in Insalata – Cabbage Salad

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • A medium cabbage, cored and finely shredded
  • A 1/2 inch thick slice of San Daniele prosciutto
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Melt butter over medium heat in a small skillet and add the diced prosciutto. Saute just until the prosciutto begins to brown. Remove from heat.
Combine the cabbage and the crisped prosciutto in a bowl, mix well and season to taste with salt, pepper and a dash of vinegar.

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Gubana

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 oz butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons grappa

Filling

  • 4 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 cup Marsala
  • 5 oz walnuts, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons almonds, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 oz candied lemon and orange peel
  • 1 tablespoon plain breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg, separated plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 lemon 
  • 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Butter for greasing pan
  • 1 tablespoon flour

To make the pastry

In a food processor place the flour and 1 1/2 oz. of butter, a whole egg and the grappa. Remove and form into a ball, then flatten it into a rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest while you make the filling.

To make the filling

Let the raisins soften in the Marsala for about 30 minutes and squeeze out the excess liqueur. Put the walnuts, almonds, raisins, pine nuts and candied peel into a bowl.

Saute the bread crumbs in the 2 tablespoons butter and mix it into the nuts with the grated rinds of the orange and lemon. Mix well. Add one egg yolk.

Beat egg white until stiff and fold it into the nut mixture.

To make the pastry

Roll out the pastry into a thin rectangle. Spread the filling on top of it. Roll (jelly roll style) and fold in the filling from the long side of the rectangle. Place the dough rolled up into a spiral and set in a buttered and floured round baking pan or casserole dish. Brush with the remaining egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the gubana in the oven at 375°F for about 50 minutes.

 

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Da-Vinci

Self-portrait red chalk on paper.

Born out-of-wedlock to Piero da Vinci and Caterina in a region of Florence, Leonardo received his early education in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter, Verrocchio. Much of his working life was spent in the service of Ludovico in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice and he spent his last years in France at the home awarded him by Francis I. Little is known about Leonardo’s early life. He spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano in the home of his mother, then in 1457 he went to live in the household of his father in the small town of Vinci. His father had married a woman named Albiera, who loved Leonardo but she died young. When Leonardo was sixteen his father married again, but it was not until his third and fourth marriages that Piero produced legitimate heirs.

Leonardo was and is renowned primarily as a great painter. Among his works the Mona Lisa is his most famous and The Last Supper is the most reproduced religious painting of all time. Leonardo’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon, being reproduced on items as varied as the Euro coin, textbooks and T-shirts. Only fifteen of his paintings have survived over time together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams and his thoughts on the nature of painting.

Leonardo was also revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised flying machines, a tank, concentrated solar power, an adding machine, the double hull and a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime, but some of his smaller inventions, such as an automated bobbin winder and a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire, were manufactured during his time. He made important discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, optic, and hydrodynamics, but he did not publish his findings and they had no direct influence on later science.

Milan was once filled with canals and they were used to ship rice to the outer territories and bring marble from the lake quarries into the city center. Canals were its lifeline and linked the city to everywhere else. Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, invited Leonardo da Vinci to be the state’s war, arms and engineering consultant for 20 years. While Milan’s canal system existed as early as the 12th century, da Vinci took it upon himself to improve its locks, which at the time were of the older ‘portcullis’ or ‘blade’ type that required two men and enormous amounts of effort to operate. Da Vinci came up with the miter gate (see drawing below) which works against the natural pressure of the water, so that only one person is needed to easily swing the doors open or closed. Da Vinci’s invention (two doors that meet at a 45 degree angle, pointing upstream, with a smaller gated culvert for flow) is still in use today. All the massive locks on the Panama and Suez canals, for example, use miter locks.

davinci 1

Leonardo worked in Milan from 1482 until 1499. He was commissioned to paint the Virgin of the Rocks for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and The Last Supper for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. In the spring of 1485, Leonardo travelled to Hungary on behalf of Ludovico to meet Matthias Corvinus, for whom he is believed to have painted the Holy Family. Leonardo was employed on many different projects for Ludovico, including the preparation of floats and pageants for special occasions, designs for a dome for a Milan Cathedral and a model for a huge equestrian monument.

At the start of the Second Italian War in 1499, the invading French troops overthrew Ludovico Sforza and Leonardo with his assistant, Salai, and a friend, the mathematician Luca Pacioli, fled Milan for Venice where he was employed as a military architect and engineer, devising methods to defend the city from naval attack. In 1500, he and his household were guests of the Servite monks at the monastery of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and were provided with a workshop, where Leonardo created The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist, a work that won such admiration that men and women traveled long distances to see it. In 1502 Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, acting as a military architect and engineer, travelling throughout Italy with his patron.

Despite the recent awareness and admiration of Leonardo as a scientist and inventor, for the better part of four hundred years his fame rested on his achievements as a painter and on a handful of works, either authenticated or attributed to him that have been regarded as among the masterpieces. These paintings are famous for a variety of qualities which have been much imitated by students and discussed at great length by admirers and critics. Among the qualities that make Leonardo’s work unique are the innovative techniques which he used in laying on the paint; his detailed knowledge of anatomy, light, botany and geology; his interest in physiognomy and the way in which humans register emotion in expression and gesture; his innovative use of the human form in figurative composition and his use of the subtle gradation of tone. All these qualities come together in his most famous painted works, The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks.

Da-Vinci 2

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The continued admiration that Leonardo commands from painters, critics and historians is reflected in many other written tributes. Baldassare Castiglione, author of Il Cortegiano (“The Courtier”), wrote in 1528: “… Another of the greatest painters in this world looks down on this art in which he is unequalled …”, while the biographer Anonimo Gaddiano wrote, c. 1540: “His genius was so rare and universal that it can be said that nature worked a miracle on his behalf.” The interest in Leonardo’s genius has continued unabated; experts study and translate his writings, analyse his paintings using scientific techniques, argue over attributions and search for works which have been recorded but never found. Liana Bortolon, writing in 1967, said: “Because of the multiplicity of interests that spurred him to pursue every field of knowledge … Leonardo can be considered, quite rightly, to have been the universal genius par excellence, and with all the disquieting overtones inherent in that term. Man is as uncomfortable today, faced with a genius, as he was in the 16th century. Five centuries have passed, yet we still view Leonardo with awe.”

The Cuisine of Milan

Like most cities in Italy, Milan and its surrounding area has its own regional cuisine, which uses more rice than pasta and butter instead of oil. Milanese cuisine includes “cotoletta alla milanese”, a breaded veal (pork and turkey can be used) cutlet pan-fried in butter. Other typical dishes are cassoeula (stewed pork rib chops and sausage with Savoy cabbage), ossobuco (stewed veal shank with gremolata), risotto alla milanese (with saffron and beef marrow), busecca (stewed tripe with beans) and brasato (stewed beef or pork with wine and potatoes). Season-related pastries include chiacchiere (flat fritters dusted with sugar) and tortelli (fried spherical cookies) for Carnival, colomba (glazed cake shaped as a dove) for Easter, pane dei morti (“Deads’ Day bread”, cookies flavored with cinnamon) for All Soul’s Day and panettone for Christmas. The salame milano, a salami with a very fine grain, is widespread throughout Italy. The best known Milanese cheese is gorgonzola from the namesake town nearby.

davinci 10

Walnut Gorgonzola Crostini

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces gorgonzola, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 20 fresh sage leaves, washed and patted dry
  • Olive oil
  • 1 ciabatta loaf, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • Kosher salt or fine sea salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup red grapes, sliced in half
  • 1 large pear, sliced thin

Directions

Combine gorgonzola, cream, walnuts and Parmesan in a medium-sized bowl. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon until a creamy spread forms.

Pour olive oil into a heavy saute pan, about a 1/4 inch full. Heat over medium high heat, but not smoking.

Place sage leaves in oil and fry on each side about two to three minutes. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.

Sprinkle the sage lightly with salt. Repeat until all sage leaves have been fried. Once cooled, crumble the leaves.  Save the oil for cooking other foods.

Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. Place ciabatta slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes.

Slice garlic in half. Rub each slice of crostini with garlic. Spread a layer of gorgonzola walnut mixture on to each crostini. Garnish with grape halves and pear slices.

Sprinkle the top of each crostini with fried sage leaves and serve.

Gorgonzola walnut mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

davinci 7

Brasato

Beef

  • 5 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle Italian dry red wine (about 3 3/4 cups)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 3 cups water

Potatoes and carrots

  • 2 1/2 pounds small white boiling potatoes
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots

Equipment: a wide 6-to 8-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid
Accompaniment: crusty bread

For the beef:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Pat beef dry and season with 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Heat butter or oil in the pot over medium heat until it melted, then brown meat, without crowding, in 3 batches, turning, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter.

Reduce heat to medium, then add carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes. Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to the cleared area and cook paste, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir into vegetables. Add vinegar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Stir in wine, bay leaves and thyme and boil until wine is reduced by about two-thirds, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add broth to pot along with water, beef and any juices from the platter and bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in the oven until meat is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

For the potatoes and carrots:

While the beef braises, peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges. Slice carrots diagonally into 1-inch pieces.
Add potatoes and carrots to the stew (make sure they are submerged) and simmer in the oven, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 40 minutes more.

davinci 8

Biscottini di Milan

If you have bread flour, it will be perfect here. Since it’s denser than white flour, you’ll need less volume — 4 cups minus a tablespoon — for 500 g.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/5 cups (500 g) unbleached white flour or bread flour
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, broken up into bits
  • 4 egg yolks
  • The grated zest of a lemon
  • 1/2 cup warm water

Directions

Combine the flour and the sugar on a pastry board, make a mound and scoop a well into it. Drop the yolks and the water into the well together with the butter and the zest and work the dough until it is smooth and homogeneous.

Roll the dough out into a moderately thick (1/4-inch or 1/2-cm) sheet and cut it into rounds using a round cookie cutter or into squares/rectangles with a sharp knife.

Put the cookies on greased and floured cookie sheets and bake them in a 350 degrees F (170 C) oven until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.

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Memorial-Day-6

Technically, summer doesn’t start until June 21 but many people consider Memorial Day to be the unofficial start of the season. This year, we celebrate the holiday on May 27. Many families will heat up the grill, head to the beach or take in a big blockbuster movie. But, Memorial Day has the word “memorial” in it for a reason.

The holiday got started on May 30, 1868, when Union General John A. Logan declared the day an occasion to decorate (called Decoration Day then) the graves of Civil War soldiers. Twenty years later, the name was changed to Memorial Day. On May 11, 1950, Congress passed a resolution requesting that the President issue a proclamation calling on Americans to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. President Richard M. Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May. It is an occasion to honor the men and women who died in all the past wars.

One Memorial Day tradition is for the President or Vice President to give a speech and lay a wreath on the soldiers’ graves in the largest national cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia. Most towns have local Memorial Day celebrations, including parades. Memorial Day should also be a time of solemn reflection on some of the most sacred of human ideals: duty, commitment, heroism and honor. We are profoundly indebted to all those soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen who have given their lives defending us.

A few years ago the US Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. It asked Americans to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. local time and think about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Enjoy the day with your friends and family, but remember to pause and reflect at 3:00 p.m. It may seem like a small gesture, but it’s a way to, however brief, remember those heroes and maintain a tradition that encourages us not to forget.

If you are planning to invite a few friends over for the occasion, I have a few suggestions for your menu.

Memorial Day Menu

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Grilled Potato Skins

Double the recipe, if you have more guests.

4-6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • Light Sour Cream, optional

Directions

Cut each potato lengthwise into four wedges. Cut away the white portion (reserve for another use), leaving 1/4 inch on the potato skins.

Place skins on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Set aside until ready to grill.

Combine the butter, rosemary, salt and pepper and brush over all sides of the potato skins.

Grill potatoes, skin side up, uncovered, over direct medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn potatoes and position over indirect heat; grill 2 minutes longer.

Top with cheese. (I push the potatoes together when I add the cheese, so it doesn’t fall through the grill grates.) Cover and grill 2-3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with bacon and onions. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

Memorial day 2

Grilled Vegetable Platter

Prepare the vegetables first and let them rest while you grill the meats for the Mixed Grill.

6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 fresh carrots, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 large sweet red pepper, quartered
  • 1 medium green or yellow summer squash, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into wedges

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk the first seven ingredients together until blended. Place 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a large resealable plastic bag. Add vegetables; seal bag and turn to coat. Marinate 1 1/2 hours at room temperature.

Transfer vegetables to a grilling grid; place grid on the grill.  If you do not have a grilling grid, use a disposable foil pan. Poke holes in the bottom of the pan with a meat fork to allow liquid to drain. Grill vegetables, covered, over medium heat 8-12 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.

Place vegetables on a large serving plate. Drizzle with remaining marinade.

memorial day 5

Italian Mixed Grill

Choose three of the meats/poultry listed for the mixed grill – ones that you and your guests would like.

Herbed Lemon Oil

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

Mixed Grill

  • 4 fresh Italian sausages (about 1 lb) (pork, turkey or chicken)
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs (about 1 1/4 lb)
  • 1 lb boneless beef top sirloin steak, about 1 inch thick
  • 4 loin lamb chops
  • 4 boneless pork chops

Directions

In small bowl, mix all the Herbed Lemon Oil ingredients. Cover and let stand at least 1 hour to blend flavors.

Brush grill rack with vegetable oil. Heat coals or gas grill for direct heat. Brush all sides of the meat/poultry with the herbed lemon oil mixture.

Grill meats over medium heat, brushing frequently with the herb oil mixture and turning occasionally. Grill chicken and sausages 5 minutes. Then add beef, lamb or pork and continue grilling about 15 to 20 minutes or until the meat or poultry reaches the preferred temperature on a meat thermometer.

Slice meat and poultry and arrange on a decorative serving platter.

memorial day 1

Baked Beans

12-14 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3 bacon strips, diced
  • 1 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 cans (15-1/4 ounces each) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or juice
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves

Directions

In a large skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel. Drain the skillet, reserving 1 teaspoon of the drippings.

In the drippings, saute onions, garlic and pepper until tender.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir in onion mixture and cooked bacon. Transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish.

Cover and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes; stir. Bake, uncovered, 15-30 minutes longer or until thickened. Discard bay leaves.

Memorial day 4

Fruit Tart

12 Servings

Ingredients

  • Pastry for single-crust pie (9 inches)
  • 1 package (8 ounces) light cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract, divided
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 medium ripe peach or nectarine, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves

Directions

Press pastry onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom; trim edges. Generously prick the bottom with a fork.

Bake at 450°F for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and ½ teaspoon almond extract until smooth; spread over the cooled crust.

Arrange fruit in a decorative pattern over the cream cheese mixture.

In a microwave, heat the apricot preserves and remaining almond extract, uncovered, on high for 20-30 seconds or until warm.

Brush over fruit. Store the tart in the refrigerator until serving time.

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salad night cover

A salad is only as good as the quality of its ingredients. To make a truly great salad, you’ve got to use ingredients that are fresh, ripe and in season.

If you think salads are limited to watery lettuce and a few chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, think again. There are endless amounts of wonderful combinations and you can make a salad as simple or as complex as you like. Spend a minute thinking about the contrasts of tastes and textures in the ingredients you are choosing and what sort of dressing you want to use, so you end up with something delicious and exciting every time.

THE BASE OF YOUR SALAD

The ingredient that forms the bulk of your salad is the base. And when we hear the word ‘salad’, lettuce is often the first ingredient that comes to mind because it is used as a base for so many salads. Oakleaf, cos or romaine lettuce and baby mixed lettuces, also make great salad bases, as do chicory, radicchio, arugula, watercress, baby spinach, tiny red-veined chard leaves, mustard leaves, pea shoots and sorrel. But plenty of salads don’t have any lettuce in them at all. You can make beautiful salads using cooked new potatoes, couscous, lentils, shredded cabbages or any other robust interesting vegetable. Use your imagination and you’ll never be bored.

PREPARING AND WASHING SALAD LEAVES

Wash your salad leaves before using them. Make sure your sink is clean then fill it with cold water. Gently wash the salad leaves in the water until they are clean and then transfer them to a salad spinner and spin dry. If you don’t have a salad spinner, put them into a clean tea towel, gather the edges up and spin it around your head. Make sure the leaves are dry – if they aren’t, the salad dressing won’t cling to them. Keep them in the refrigerator or bowl under a damp cloth until you’re ready to use them.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU ADD TO A SALAD?

Raw crunchy veggies, like carrots or radishes, are great in salads. But they can be quite hard if they’re in big pieces, so finely slice them or shave them into ribbons with a peeler. Beets, spring onions, cucumber, squash and celery all work well. Cooked vegetables are also fantastic in salads. Peas, beans, asparagus and corn, cooked very quickly so they are not mushy, add flavor and color. Grilled slices of zucchini or pepper or even chunks of roasted squash or pumpkin also make salads much more interesting.

Adding soft herbs at the last-minute adds loads of extra flavor. Basil, tarragon, parsley, dill, mint or even thyme or marjoram tips are all great choices.

It’s also nice to add a bit of protein to a salad, especially if you’re having it as a main meal. Use your imagination; there are really no limits to what you can include. Try a few slices of smoked salmon, shredded roast chicken, cooked shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, buffalo mozzarella, crispy bacon, cannellini beans, lentils or crumbled goat cheese.

For a bit of crunch, try adding a few nuts or seeds. Toasted or flaked almonds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, crumbled walnuts and chopped cashews all work well.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DRESSING

Think of your salad dressing as the link that brings all the ingredients in your salad together. There are loads of ready-made bottled dressings available in the markets, but it’s so easy to make your own, so try to get into the habit of doing that rather than buying them. Store-bought dressings are likely to contain lots of hidden ingredients and may be high in calories and sugar. Plus if you make your own, you can tweak it every time to suit the other ingredients in your salad.

The easiest way to make your salad dressing is in a clean jar. Just add all of your ingredients, pop the lid on and give it a good shake!

Most salad dressings contain an oil element – such as extra virgin olive oil, nut oil or sesame oil – and an acid element, such as balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, or lemon or lime juice. Aim for a ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid, then add any other ingredients you fancy. Half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard or some finely chopped fresh herbs or chillies can add loads of flavor. If you want a slightly creamy dressing, try stirring a spoonful of natural yogurt into the dressing.

Once dressed, salad leaves can wilt after a few minutes, so always add your dressing right before serving. If you want to ensure a really good even coating, using clean hands, quickly toss everything together. Just make sure you don’t add all of the dressing at once; add a little, mix it up, then have a taste before deciding whether you need to add more. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away.

salad night 1

Mediterranean Pita Salad

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed with a press
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups shredded romaine lettuce (about 1 large head romaine)
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 2 pita breads, toasted and broken into bite-size pieces

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt, coriander and pepper. Whisk in oil in a slow, steady stream until blended.

Add romaine, mint, parsley, tomatoes, radishes, green onions, cucumber and toasted pita and toss until blended. Serve immediately.

 

salad night 2Steak Salad with Yogurt-Lemon Dressing

6 servings

Ingredients

Dressing:

  • 2/3 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Steak:

  • 1 rib-eye, strip loin or top sirloin steak (about 12 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Salad:

  • 4 cups finely chopped hearts of Romaine lettuce
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 avocado, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 cup pitted and sliced Kalamata olives
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta

Directions

To make dressing:

Whisk yogurt, garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl until smooth. Thin with up to 3 tablespoons of water so it dribbles off a spoon. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes to develop flavors. (Can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.) Makes 1 cup.

To prepare steak:

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill for high heat, pat steak dry and season with salt and pepper. Grill 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and let rest 10 minutes before slicing into thin strips.

To prepare salad:

Make a bed of romaine on a large serving platter and sprinkle with parsley. Arrange cucumber, tomato, chickpeas, avocado, olives and feta in mounds and place steak strips in the center. Pass the dressing on the side.

salad night 3

Crab Salad with Lemon Dressing

Serves 2

Ingredients

Crab

  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 dashes hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces lump crabmeat

Salad

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives, more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound baby Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1/3 pound thin green beans, trimmed
  • 1 bunch arugula
  • 1 bunch endive, chopped in 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, halved and cut into thin wedges
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and finely chopped

Directions

For the crab:

Stir together shallot, hot sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and chives in a medium bowl. Add crabmeat and lightly toss. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill.

For the rest of the salad:

Whisk together mustard, shallot, vinegar, chives and lemon juice. Slowly whisk in olive oil until dressing slightly thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Steam Yukon gold potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. While potatoes are still warm, pour a tablespoon or two of dressing over them.

Steam green beans until tender. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain thoroughly. Combine green beans with arugula, endive and radish. Toss with a tablespoon of dressing.

Toss fennel with remaining dressing in a small bowl. Check over the crab for any pieces of shell.

To serve:

Arrange greens on a platter or individual plates. Top with crab, fennel and eggs. Garnish with chives and serve immediately.

salad night 4

Couscous Salad with Zucchini and Parsley

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup whole wheat couscous
  • 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 small zucchini
  • 1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo Beans (also called chickpeas), rinsed and drained

Directions

In a large, heatproof bowl, pour water over couscous, cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork and set aside to let cool for 5 minutes more.

Meanwhile, whisk together vinegar, tahini and salt in a second large bowl.

Thinly slice zucchini over dressing and then use kitchen shears to snip parsley leaves into the bowl; discard stems.

Add tomatoes, beans and couscous and toss gently to combine.

salad night 5

Grilled Chicken and Wheat-Berry Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup wheat berries, rinsed and drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, divided
  • 1 cup green apple, peeled and cut into julienne strips
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 4 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken or turkey breasts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions

Cucumber Yogurt Dressing

  • 1 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
  • 3 tablespoons plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried dill

Directions

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring mixture to a simmer; cover and cook for 2 hours, 15 minutes or until wheat berries are almost tender.

Drain and place in a salad bowl; discard bay leaf.

For the salad dressing:

Place all ingredients in a blender and process until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate dressing in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Preheat grill.

Coarsely chop the spinach leaves. Add spinach, apple, bell pepper and 3 tablespoons of the cucumber dressing to the wheat berries and toss well.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until done. Thinly slice chicken.

Arrange chicken evenly over salad mixture; sprinkle with green onions. Pass dressing on the side.

 

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seafood night cover

Fish is easy to digest, has a high level of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, trout and sardines comprise high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids.

Why is this important?

Researchers have proved that Omega 3 fatty acids offer safety against harmful cardiovascular disease by reducing the levels of poor cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Omega 3 prevents the arrival of diseases such as macular degeneration, which is one of the most widespread causes of blindness related to aging. An increase in Omega 3 fatty acids is favorable for people with diabetes and has been proven to delay the appearance of dementia, as well Alzheimer’s disease. More recent studies, which have focused on its impact on the nervous system, show benefits in increased brain functions and even in combating depression.

Eat more fish and less meat. It’s so simple, really, and this is probably the most powerful change that you can make in your diet. Just as with vegetables, many people say that they don’t like fish. As with veggies, look for delicious and healthy recipes and try a few different types of fish or shellfish before you rule out fish on your menu. Even if you don’t like stronger tasting fish, like tuna and salmon, freshwater fish, which are lighter tasting, may appeal to you. While leaner freshwater fish such as trout, bass and whitefish may not be the best source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they still have them and they’re both delicious and low in calories and fat.

A number of environmental organizations have created lists that help identify fish that are sustainable and those that are not. Seafood Watch, the program run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, has combined data from leading health organizations and environmental groups to come up with their list “Super Green: Best of the Best” of seafood that’s good for you and good for the environment. Click on the link below for their recommendations.

http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_recommendations.aspx

seafood night

Tilapia with Lemon-Garlic Sauce

I like to serve this entrée with orzo or rice and a green vegetable, such as broccoli.

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 (6-ounce) tilapia fillets
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons quick-mixing flour (such as Wondra)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup unsalted chicken stock 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish. Dredge both sides of the fish in flour; reserve unused flour.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add fish to the pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fish from the pan to a serving platter and keep warm.

Add reserved flour and garlic to the pan; cook 90 seconds or until lightly browned, whisking constantly. Add wine and stock, stirring with the whisk; bring to a boil.

Cook 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove pan from the heat; stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter, parsley and lemon juice. Pour the sauce over the fish in the serving platter.

seafood night 2

Shrimp Pasta Primavera

All you need to round out this dinner is a green mixed salad and a glass of white wine.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces uncooked angel hair pasta
  • 8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 6 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup low salt chicken broth
  • 1 small plum tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon each minced fresh basil, oregano, thyme and parsley
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cook pasta (al dente) according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute the asparagus and mushrooms in oil for 3 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Add the shrimp, broth, tomato, salt and pepper flakes; simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink.

Drain pasta. Add the pasta and herbs to the skillet; toss to coat. Sprinkle with cheese. Yield: 2 servings.

seafood night 3

 

Parmesan-crusted Fish

Serve this entrée with sautéed greens.

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless cod fillets (1-1/2 pounds total)
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cups julienned carrots ( My market sells carrots shredded)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Lightly coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Rinse fish, pat dry with paper towels and place on the prepared baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl stir together the panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese; press this mixture on the fish.

Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish or until crumbs are golden brown and the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet bring the water to boiling; add carrots. Reduce heat. Cook, covered, for 4-5 minutes. Uncover; cook for 2 minutes more. Add butter and oregano; toss. Serve fish with the carrots.

seafood night 4

Seafood Arrabbiata

Don’t forget the crusty Italian bread.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces uncooked linguine
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 8 ounces bay scallops
  • 8 ounces peeled and deveined medium shrimp
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, according to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can petite-cut diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup clam juice
  • 12 littleneck clams
  • 12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil

Directions

Cook pasta (al dente) according to package directions; drain.

While pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops and shrimp to the pan; cook 3 minutes. Remove the mixture from the pan to a bowl and keep warm.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper and garlic; cook 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and tomatoes; bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes. Add clam juice; cook 1 minute.

Add clams; cover, reduce heat to medium and cook 4 minutes. Add mussels; cover and cook 3 minutes or until clams and mussels open. Discard any unopened shells. Stir in reserved scallop/shrimp mixture and parsley; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Serve over pasta. Sprinkle with basil.

seafood night 5

Baked Cornmeal-Crusted Grouper Sandwich

Serve with coleslaw and pickles.

4 servings

Ingredients

Grouper

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat milk
  • 4 (6-ounce) grouper fillets or fish fillets that are available in your area
  • 4 hamburger buns, split
  • Sliced tomatoes and lettuce, optional

Tartar Sauce

  • 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons capers, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F.

To prepare grouper:

Dry fish well with paper towels.
Place flour in a shallow bowl. Combine cornmeal, salt and cayenne pepper in a second shallow dish, stirring well with a fork. Place milk in a third shallow bowl.
Dust both sides of each fillet with flour; dip each fillet in milk and dredge both sides in the cornmeal mixture. Place fish on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until fish is flaky and crusty, turning once.

To prepare tartar sauce:

Combine mayonnaise and next 5 ingredients (mayonnaise through Worcestershire), stirring with a whisk.

Spread about 2 tablespoons of the tartar sauce over the cut sides of each bun; place one fish fillet on the bottom half of each bun. Add sliced tomatoes and lettuce, if desired. Top fillets with the remaining bun halves.

seafood ending

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