Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: October 2015

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The province of Caserta is in the Campania region of Italy located 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Naples. It is an important agricultural, commercial and industrial area. The Roccamonfina Regional Park is the location of an extinct volcano whose eruptions shaped this region long ago. It is an ideal habitat for the chestnut forests, vineyards and olive groves that are found in the area.

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Festivals and fairs that marry both the sacred and the pagan recall the history, culture and traditions of Caserta Province – in particular, the Sagra delle Pallottole, a food festival held every year in San Leucio. The event features a historic procession in which participants wear traditional clothing and the local women prepare and serve potato croquettes. Exhibits, events, concerts and the famous float parade all enliven the streets in celebration of one of the most colorful times of the year, Carnevale.

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The cuisine of Caserta is made of simple recipes using local products.

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Buffalo mozzarella is produced with craftsmanship in this province. It is often made into different shapes: round, braided, knotted or small balls. The water buffalo milk is also used to make butter and other cheeses such as, burrino, burrata, smoked provola and fresh or dried ricotta. Salaprese is a sheep’s milk cheese that is not matured but eaten right after having absorbed the salt. It tastes fresh and sweet, with a strong hint of sheep’s milk.

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Local farms supply meat used to prepare cold cuts such as capicollo, prosciutto di Monte, pancetta tesa and the filet, Vairano Patenora. The province is also famous for its salsiccia, a sausage seasoned in special terra-cotta vases.

The Campanella artichoke, porcini mushroom, the many varieties of apple, the golden plum and the chestnut are all delicacies that distinguish the local cuisine.

Desserts consist of honey and walnut biscuits; pigne are glazed sweets and a pastry called serpentone that is stuffed with honey and walnuts.

The wine list is long as well and includes Asprinio di Aversa, Falerno del Massico and Galluccio, all labeled DOC.

Culinary Specialties of Caserta

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Mozzarella di Bufala Salad

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Ingredients

  • Buffalo mozzarella (1 large ball for every 2 servings)
  • Breadcrumbs
  • All purpose flour
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Mixed salad greens

Sauce

  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 small chili pepper
  • Handful of basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

Directions

Make the sauce first.

Grill the red pepper, turning it often until it starts to char evenly on all sides. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin, cut open the pepper and clean out the seeds and any pulp. Cut the flesh into smaller pieces and place in a food processor along with the oil, chili pepper, garlic, basil, salt and mascarpone. Process until smooth. Taste and correct for salt. Place in the refrigerator to thicken while you prepare the other ingredients. Remove the sauce about 5 minutes before serving and give it a good stir.

Tip: You can make the sauce in advance to save time. It will keep for a few days. If you want a thicker sauce, leave out the olive oil.

Prep the mozzarella.  

Set out a plate for flour and another for the breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Drain the mozzarella and slice each ball in half. Gently pat both sides of the slices dry with a paper towel. Dredge each piece of cheese in the flour, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs, making sure to cover the cheese entirely; set aside on waxed paper. Repeat until all the cheese is breaded. Depending on how many cheeses you are using, you may need more breading ingredients.

You can serve all the cheese on one platter with the salad or as individually plated servings. Arrange the salad greens accordingly.

Heat the olive oil. You want at least an inch of cooking oil, so use a small pan and fry the cheese in batches. Gently slide the slices into the oil. They are ready to turn over after about 3 minutes, or when the bottom has turned golden brown and firm. Gently turn them and cook for another 3 minutes. When golden and crunchy on all sides, transfer the cheese to paper towels to drain and lightly salt them.

Let them cool slightly, but be sure to serve them warm-hot. You can also slice them in half. Drizzle the pepper cream sauce directly over the cheese and garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Linguine with Colatura di Alici and Erbe di Campo

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb (500 gr) linguine
  • 1 ½ lbs (700 gr) wild greens or broccoli rabe
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon colatura di alici (Italian anchovy sauce)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes

Directions

Wash and clean the broccoli rabe and cut them into 2-inch pieces; set aside.

In a large pan, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until lightly golden, add the broccoli and season with salt. Cook over medium heat until the broccoli is tender, then remove the pan from the heat.

Place a pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the pan with the broccoli. Toss the mixture over low heat, add the colatura and chili; toss again to coat the pasta evenly.

Add a couple of ladles of pasta cooking water to create a creamier sauce. Serve hot.

Salt Cod Baked in Spicy Tomato Sauce

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (900 g) thick salt cod fillets
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (chili)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 cans (each 12 ounces; 340 g) Italian plum tomatoes, pureed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

Salt cod must be soaked overnight before cooking to remove the salt. Place it in a bowl with cold water to cover and soak for 24 hours, changing the water three or four times.

If you’re in a hurry, try the quick-soak method. Rinse the cod under cold running water for 15 minutes. Place it in a pan with cold water to cover and gradually bring to a boil. Drain the fish and rinse in cold water. Repeat the boiling and rinsing process two or three times.

Cut the cod into 4 x 1 1/2-inch (10 X 4-cm) pieces, then pat dry with paper towels and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil until golden. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the hot pepper flakes and parsley. Stir, then replace the skillet on the stove. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and oregano. Simmer 5 minutes and set aside. Remove and discard the garlic.

Heat the vegetable oil in another skillet over moderate heat. When a cube of bread browns in about 1 minute, the oil is ready for frying. Flour the cod fillets lightly and fry until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Arrange the cod fillets in a bake-and-serve dish and cover with the tomato sauce. Bake for 20 minutes.

Limoncello Sorbet Cups

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup limoncello
  • Lemon zest from two lemons
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Lemon cups (1 hollowed out lemon  per serving)

Directions

Bring the water and sugar just to a boil in a sauce pan, stirring frequently, until you have a thick, clear syrup. Turn off the heat and let cool.

Transfer the syrup to a bowl and add the lemon juice, lemon zest, limoncello and salt. Stir well and transfer to a ceramic baking dish or plastic container, cover and freeze for at least 3 hours.

Check the sorbet periodically and move it around with a fork. When ready, scrape the sorbet with a fork; then use an ice cream scoop to serve.

To make the lemon cups:

Slice ¾ of an inch off the stem side of the lemons. Using a paring knife and teaspoon, carefully cut and scoop out the lemon pulp. Do this over a bowl so you can save the juice. Slice about ¼ inch from the bottom of the lemons, so they will stand.

Freeze the cups along with the sorbet. When the sorbet is ready, fill the cups and place them back in the freezer until serving. You can make a batch of several sorbet cups in advance.

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The best way to get the freshest fish available is to simply ask. Ask your local market what’s fresh today? This will sometimes require being flexible about the kind of fish you cook. Fresh fish always tastes better. The freshest fish will smell of the sea (briny) but not fishy; the gills should be bright and moist; the meat firm and springy; and the scales should not be dull or flake off easily.

Fish come in three basic varieties:

  • White fish — cod, grouper, sole and haddock, etc. These fish have translucent skin that turns an opalescent white when cooked. This type of fish is good for sauteing and baking.
  • Meaty fish — salmon, trout, tuna and sardines, among others. Meaty fish are oilier and thicker than other varieties and contain good oils (omega 3 fatty acids). They are often grilled.
  • Shellfish — lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, mussels and oysters. Shellfish can be cooked almost any way and served hot or cold.

Resist the temptation to cook fish until it flakes. Fish is done when the color turns from translucent to opaque (white) or has reached 140°F on an instant read thermometer, otherwise, you run the risk of overcooking it.

If you buy fresh seafood, use it the same day or freeze it immediately. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, never on the kitchen counter. Rinse fish in cold water, drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Almond-Crusted Fish

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Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped green pimento-stuffed olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped 
fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped 
drained capers
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Four 5-oz skinless white fish fillets (cod, grouper, catfish, sea bass, halibut, grouper, haddock, snapper, etc.)  about ¾ inch thick
  • 1 large egg white, 
lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup sliced unsalted almonds

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine the minced onion, olives, parsley, capers, vinegar and the 2 tablespoons olive oil; set aside.

Brush the top (skinless side) of the fish with egg white. Press almonds evenly over the top of the fish.

In a very large skillet on medium, heat the remaining 4 teaspoons of oil. Add the fish, crusted side down and cook until the almonds are toasted, 
2 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn the fish with a wide spatula and continue cooking until the fish is cooked through, 
3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the fish to a serving platter and spoon the olive mixture on top.

Parchment-Baked Fish

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Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • One 6-oz fish fillet
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 thin slices red onion
  • 1/2 small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
  • 4 Kalamata, pitted and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper (chili) flakes, or to taste
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Tear off 1 piece of parchment to form a square large enough to enclose the fish. Place the parchment on a baking dish and place the fish in the center of the square. Drizzle with oil, then rub in the garlic and season with black pepper. Sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes over the top.

Arrange onion slices over the fish and top with the fennel and olives. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and lay rosemary sprigs on either side of the fish, tucking them firmly against the fish.

Grasp the top and bottom edges of the paper parallel to the work surface and bring them together up over the fish, pinching together at the top. Fold over by about 1 inch, then continue folding down, leaving about 1/2 inch of space above the fish to allow for steam. Fold each side toward center until about 1/4 inch from fish.

Place the baking dish in the oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the  thickness of the fish. Remove the baking dish from the oven and place the pouch on a serving dish or plate. Carefully unfold parchment to allow steam to escape and serve immediately.

Fish Florentine

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Serves 2

Ingredients

  • Two 5-oz fish fillets
  • 5 grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian-leaf parsley
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 large shallots, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz. baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the fish and the tomatoes in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle garlic and parsley over the top and squeeze the lemon juice over the fish. Cover with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the fish is opaque and registers 140°F on an instant read thermometer.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, sauté shallots in oil for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium and add the spinach, cooking until wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the feta cheese and heat until melted and evenly distributed.

To serve, place 3/4 cup of the spinach-feta mixture on each plate and place 1 fillet and half the tomatoes on top of each serving.

Poached Fish In Tomato Sauce

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili)
  • One 14.5-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Four 5-oz. skinless cod, bass, flounder, etc. fish fillets

Directions

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook, stirring often (garlic should not brown), about 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you add them, wine, bay leaves, saffron and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, 5 minutes; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to medium-low; season fish with salt and pepper and place in the skillet with the poaching liquid. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until fish is opaque throughout, about 5–7 minutes and the fish registers 140°F on an instant read thermometer. (Thicker pieces will take longer to cook).

Gently transfer fish to individual shallow bowls and spoon poaching liquid over.

Fish Baked in Phyllo Pastry

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This recipe makes a great entree for company.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • Six 5 ounce fish fillets
  • 4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • 4 ounces crab meat
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 sheets phyllo pastry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Hot sauce to taste

Directions

In a mixing bowl gently combine the crab, cream cheese, onion, parsley, salt, pepper and a few shakes of hot sauce.

Divide the stuffing evenly on top of each fillet and pat it flat with a spatula.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown the fish fillets on the side without the stuffing.

Remove 2 sheets of phyllo pastry from the roll and cut them in half. Lightly brush each piece with melted butter and stack them together.

Place a fish fillet on top of the phyllo layer and fold the pastry over the fish so it is completely covered and the edges are sealed.

Repeat the process with the remaining 5 fish fillets and pastry. Place the fish packets on a platter and refrigerate until it is time to cook them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake 20-25 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden.


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Yes, pasta is healthy!

Pasta makes the perfect delivery system for the healthy foods you should have each day. Pair pasta with a variety of nutrient-dense foods and create meals that you can feel good about. Fiber-filled vegetables and beans, heart healthy fish and monounsaturated oils, antioxidant-rich tomato sauce and protein-packed cheeses, poultry and lean meats are all nutrient dense foods.

Carbohydrates like pasta provide glucose, the crucial fuel for your brain and muscles.  Pasta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which provide a slow release of energy.  Unlike simple sugars that offer a quick boost of energy, pasta helps sustain energy.

Pasta is very low in sodium and enriched varieties provide a good source of several essential nutrients, including iron and several B-vitamins.  Whole wheat pasta can provide up to 25% of daily fiber requirements in a one cup portion. Enriched pasta is also fortified with folic acid – essential for women of child-bearing age.  FDA regulations require enriched grain products to contain this important vitamin.  A serving of dry pasta supplies the equivalent of roughly 100 micrograms of folic acid or 25% of the recommended daily intake.

Pasta meals are central to the Mediterranean Diet, not only because they are tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare, but because they are the perfect way to highlight and complement many of the other healthy foods in this diet. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of death from heart disease and cancer and it is one of the most recognizable successful diets.

So here is how to keep your pasta healthy:

Farfalle with Zucchini and Butternut Squash

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This pasta dish makes a great meatless Monday dinner option.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb farfalle (bow-ties) pasta
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, diced into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 zucchinis, sliced into half moons
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions. Reserve one cup of the pasta water.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and oregano and sauté for 1-2 minutes.

Add the butternut squash and sauté for another 6-8 minutes, or until lightly browned and softened.

Add the zucchini and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to the vegetables and bring to a simmer.

Toss the drained pasta with the sauce and cheese.

Chicken Fettuccine in Parmesan Cream Sauce

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • Non-stick olive oil spray
  • 10 ounces skinned and boned chicken breast, cut into 1-inch long strips
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups reduced fat milk
  • 1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt, white pepper and ground nutmeg
  • 8 oz. dried fettuccine
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, blanched or frozen florets, defrosted and drained on paper towels

Directions

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain.

Spray a 10-inch nonstick skillet with nonstick olive oil spray, add the 2 teaspoons of butter and heat over medium-high heat for 1 minute; add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken from the skillet; set aside and keep warm.

In the same skillet melt remaining butter over medium-high heat; add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 1 minute. Sprinkle butter with flour and cook, stirring constantly with wire whisk, for 1 minute. Continuing to stir, slowly add the milk; cook until bubbly and thickened, about 3 minutes.

Add cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg to the milk mixture; stir until the cheese is melted. Add cooked fettuccine, broccoli and reserved chicken; reduce heat to low and toss until all ingredients are evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.

Pasta with Eggplant Olive Sauce

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • One 28 – ounce can Italian-style tomatoes, cut up, undrained
  • One 6 – ounce can Italian-style tomato paste
  • One 4 – ounce can (drained weight) sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine or beef broth
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives or pitted ripe olives, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 8 oz. penne pasta
  • 1/3 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Directions

Peel eggplant, if desired; cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes.

Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the eggplant, onion and garlic. Cook until the eggplant begins to brown.

Add undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, mushrooms, wine or broth, the water and oregano.

Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer with the saucepan cover ajar and cook for about an hour or an hour and a half or until the sauce thickens.

Stir in olives and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain.

Mix the cooked pasta into the eggplant sauce; add the Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. Serve.

Herbed Shrimp Linguini

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen peeled, deveined medium shrimp
  • 8 ounces dried linguini or spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary, plus additional for a garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Directions

Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Rinse shrimp and set aside.

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Add the shrimp to the pasta water the last 3 minutes of cooking.

Drain well and place in a large pasta bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the cheese, the garlic, olive oil, snipped rosemary, salt and black pepper and toss until well coated.

Sprinkle evenly with the 2 tablespoons remaining cheese and garnish with additional rosemary leaves. Serve immediately.

Rigatoni With Roasted Cauliflower and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 oz rigatoni pasta
  • ½ medium head cauliflower (about 1 pound), cut into florets
  • ½ cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil and drained
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato oil from the jar
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 ounces grated Pecorino cheese (about 1/2 cup), plus more for serving

Directions

Heat oven to 450° F.

On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower and onion with the thyme, sun-dried tomato oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Roast, tossing the vegetables once halfway through cooking, until golden brown and tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Add the roasted vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, Pecorino cheese and ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the pasta.

Toss to combine (add more cooking water if the pasta seems dry). Serve sprinkled with additional Pecorino cheese.


 

Adding just a splash of white wine to a pan of littleneck clams being simmered in butter, garlic, shallots and cream. Shallow dof, focus on the wine and clams in the front.

Adding wine to your favorite recipe can add wonderful flavor—but too much or the wrong style wine can also ruin the taste of the dish. Wine contains sugars, acids and tannins and each of these tastes may be noticeable in your finished recipe.

A very dry wine has very few natural sugars remaining and is usually higher in alcohol. In contrast, the sweeter wines contain a larger amount of natural sugar from the grapes.

Acid is a term used to describe both red and white wines and it refers to the sharp bite in the wine (much like you would experience with lemon juice or vinegar). Acid can help bring out the natural flavors in a mild food, such as fish (this is why fish is often served with a wedge of lemon). To maintain a balance, check your recipe for acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar and cut back to make room for the acid in the wine.

Tannins are generally found in red wines and refers to the bitter element in the wine (similar to the bitterness you’ll find in a strong cup of tea). The tannins in red wine pair well with strongly flavored dishes and hearty foods, like steak.

Red or White?

Use the type of wine in the recipe that you would serve with the dish you are making. Unless you’re serving a rare or expensive wine, buy an extra bottle and use it in the recipe.

Generally, it’s thought that a light-flavored wine goes best with delicately flavored foods. It would follow that a bold-tasting wine might do well in a boldly flavored dish. For example, a dish heavily spiced usually needs a full-bodied red wine to stand up to it. One with a light or creamy sauce calls for a drier, light white wine.

When you’re making a red wine reduction sauce, watch out for the wine’s tannins, as they can become harsh in this type of recipe.

Read the bottle to find out what flavors are present in the wine, then you can be sure that it will work well with the same flavors in your recipe. The most important thing to remember is that if you like drinking it, you’ll like the flavor that it will add to your food. For deeper flavors, experiment with fortified wines like Port, Sherry, Madeira and Marsala.

Here are some recipes that use wine in a variety of ways.

Mussels in White Wine

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Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 4 pounds mussels, de-bearded, scrubbed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • Italian country-style bread (for serving)

Directions

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it begins to darken, about 2 minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is slightly reduced, about 1 minute.

Add mussels and 1/2 cup water to the pot, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mussels open (discard any that do not open), 10–12 minutes.

Ladle mussels and broth into shallow bowls and top with thyme; serve with bread.

Pasta all’Amatriciana

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8 servings

Ingredients

  • Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl), finely chopped
  • 4 ounces pancetta (Italian bacon), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound penne or other tube-shaped pasta
  • Finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan

Directions

Purée tomatoes with juices in a blender; set aside. Cook onion, guanciale, pancetta, oil, red pepper flakes and 1/2 cup water in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the water is evaporated and fat begins to render, 8–10 minutes.

Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring often, until reduced by half, 5–8 minutes.

Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover pan partially with a lid, reduce heat, and simmer until the meat is tender and flavors are melded, 40–45 minutes. Add sugar and season with salt and pepper.

When the sauce is almost done, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain pasta.

Add pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Serve topped with Pecorino.

Red Wine-Braised Brisket

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10–12 Servings

Ingredients

  • One 5-lb. untrimmed flat-cut brisket
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 celery stalks with leaves
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • One 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • One 750ml bottle full-bodied red wine
  • 8 carrots, peeled and cut in half

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Season brisket with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large ovenproof pot with a cover over medium-high. Cook brisket, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 8–10 minutes; transfer to a plate. Discard the fat in the pot.

Place onions, celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, tomatoes, tomato paste and wine in the pot and stir to combine; season with salt and pepper. Place brisket on top, fat side up. Cover the pot and braise in the oven, spooning the braising liquid over the brisket every 30 minutes, until meat is fork-tender, 3–3 1/2 hours.

Uncover the pot and place the carrots around the brisket Return the pot to the oven uncovered and cook until the carrots are tender, the top of the brisket is browned and crisp, and the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. Skim fat from the surface of the sauce; discard. Remove brisket from the pot and slice against the grain, Serve with the braising sauce and carrots.

Chicken Thighs Cooked in White Wine

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-lidded pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.

Add shallots and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add thyme and white wine; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until reduced, about 4 minutes.

Return chicken, skin side up, to the pot; add broth, bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven. Braise until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 20–25 minutes. Uncover; continue to cook in the oven until the skin begins to crisp, 8–10 minutes longer.

Braised Lamb Shanks

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8 servings

Ingredients

Lamb Shanks

  • 6 lbs. lamb shanks (6–8 shanks, depending on size), trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground fennel seeds
  • 7 garlic cloves, 1 clove grated, 6 cloves minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, minced
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups drained canned diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus extra if needed

Directions

Place lamb on a large rimmed baking sheet; season all over with 2 tablespoons salt and generously with pepper. Mix rosemary, fennel seeds and grated garlic in a small bowl; massage into the lamb. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or, preferably, chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8–10 minutes.

Add minced garlic, flour, paprika and red pepper flakes. Stir vigorously to distribute flour. Cook, stirring often, until mixture becomes dry, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and wine. Simmer briskly, stirring often, until the juices thicken and the tomatoes begin to break down, about 10 minutes.

Gradually stir in the broth. Simmer until the flavors meld, 3–4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lamb shanks to the pot in a single layer, pushing them down into sauce (add additional broth if needed so that shanks are about ¾ submerged).

Roast, uncovered, until the tops of the shanks have browned, about 30 minutes. Using tongs, turn shanks over and roast for 30 minutes longer.

Cover and cook, turning shanks occasionally, until meat is fork-tender and almost falling off the bone, 45 minutes to 1½ hours (time will depend on size of shanks). Remove the pot from the oven and let the shanks rest in the liquid for 30 minutes.

Discard any fat from the surface of the lamb shank mixture and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently, occasionally turning shanks and stirring sauce, until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve the shanks and sauce with polenta or couscous.

Pear Pie

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8 servings

Ingredients

  • Pie crust for a 9 inch double crust
  • ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1¾ cups dry red wine, divided
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 teaspoons all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 pounds firm but ripe pears (such as Comice, Anjou, or Bartlett), peeled, cored, thinly sliced
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions

Bring the ¾ cups granulated sugar, rosemary and 1½ cups of the wine to a boil; cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 2/3 cup, 5–8 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. Whisking constantly, gradually add butter and whisk until smooth. Set syrup aside.

Whisk cornstarch, cinnamon, the 5 teaspoons of flour and the remaining 1/4 cup wine in a small saucepan set over medium heat; cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute. Slowly add reserved syrup, whisking until smooth, then stir in vanilla and salt. Chill until cool, about 30 minutes.

Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375°F.

Mix pears and red wine syrup together in a large bowl.

Roll out 1 disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and fit into a 9 inch pie dish. Pour filling into the crust and chill while the second crust is rolled.

Roll out the remaining disk of dough to about 10 inches and cut into twelve strips. Arrange 6 strips crosswise across the top of the pie. Arrange the remaining 6 strips lengthwise across the top of the pie, lifting crosswise strips and weaving lengthwise strips over and under to form a lattice.

Brush the edge of the dough with the beaten egg and press ends of the strips and bottom crust together to seal. Trim strips to the same length as the bottom crust, then fold bottom crust over lattice strips; crimp edge. Brush crust with beaten egg and sprinkle with the granulated sugar.

Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F, rotate pie, and continue baking (tent with foil if the crust is browning too quickly) until juices are bubbling and the crust is golden brown, 60 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool at least 4 hours before slicing.


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The Province of La Spezia is located in the Liguria region of Italy. Beaches that overlook the sea, spectacular views and small villages that dot the green valleys are all characteristic of La Spezia. The capital city of the province also called La Spezia, has a major naval base that is located at the head of the Golfo della Spezia, southeast of Genoa. The site was inhabited in Roman times, but little is known of its history before 1276, when it was sold to Genoa by the Fieschi family. The province became a maritime office during the French Empire era and also in the Duchy of Genoa era in the Kingdom of Sardinia. The province became an Italian naval headquarters after the transfer of the military fleet from Genoa in 1857 and, in 1923, it became the provincial capital. The province was severely damaged by bombing during World War II.

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laspezia3Notable landmarks include the medieval Castel S. Giorgio, a 15th-century cathedral (rebuilt after 1945) and the naval arsenal (1861–69, also rebuilt after 1945) adjacent to the naval museum. The archaeological museum has a collection of prehistoric monoliths cut in the form of human figures and Roman artifacts from the nearby ancient city of Luni. La Spezia’s industries include shipbuilding, iron foundries, oil refineries and mechanical engineering. It is also a terminus for natural gas shipments from Libya.

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la-spezia-beachThe warm Mediterranean air helps create good conditions for growing olives (producing exceptionally light flavored oil), wine grapes, corn, herbs (particularly basil), garlic, chickpeas, zucchini (especially the blossoms), potatoes, onions and artichokes.

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The vineyards that cover the province’s sunny terraces are evidence of La Spezia’s ancient tradition of making wine. The Luni Hills, Levanto Hills and Cinque Terre wines are perfect with the local cuisine. Sciacchetrà, the famous D.O.C. wine, with hints of apricot, dried fruit and acacia honey, goes very well with the local sharp cheeses.

La Spezia also has vast expanses of olive groves on the coast and further inland. The oil produced in this area between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea is protected by the Riviera Ligure D.O.P. label. The area’s oil is used in the preparation of most of the local dishes, especially the fish caught in the waters of the Ligurian Sea. Among such specialties are mussels stuffed with eggs, bread, mortadella, parmigiano, parsley and olive oil. The Monterosso anchovies, either sauteed with lemon juice, fried, stuffed or pickled are all popular in the province.

Mesciùa, a soup mixture of chickpeas, wheat, white beans, broad beans and lentils that are all boiled in olive oil, is a local favorite.  Pizza, flatbread made with chickpeas, focaccias and handmade pasta are made in abundance, as well as, the trofie al pesto, now widespread throughout the province.

600-05756267 © Arian Camilleri Model Release: No Property Release: No Focaccia, Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Province of La Spezia, Liguria, Italy

Culinary Specialties of La Spezia

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Pasta With Chickpea Sauce

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Chef Daniel Gritzer, says: “Using dried beans that are boiled with aromatics produces a more deeply flavored final sauce. The beans blend into a creamy sauce that coats the noodles, but doesn’t require dairy of any sort.”

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 1 large onion, cut in half
  • 1 head garlic, 3 cloves thinly sliced, the rest left unpeeled
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups cooked chickpeas, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups chickpea-cooking liquid or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
  • 1 pound short ruffled pasta
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

Directions

Place chickpeas in a large pot and cover with lightly salted water by at least 2 inches. Add unpeeled garlic, onion and rosemary. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook, adding water as necessary to keep beans submerged, until beans are very tender and creamy with no graininess left, about 2 hours. Discard onions, garlic and rosemary. Drain beans, reserving beans and liquid separately.

In a medium saucepan, combine oil, sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of the cooked chickpeas and most of the chickpea-cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and, using an immersion blender, blend to a smooth puree, adding more chickpea-cooking liquid if too thick. Stir in remaining 1 cup chickpeas, crushing some lightly with a wooden spoon or potato masher but leaving them mostly whole. Season with salt and pepper.

In a pot of salted, boiling water, cook pasta until just short of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta-cooking water, then drain the pasta. Return the cooked pasta to the pot and add the chickpea sauce along with 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta-cooking water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until pasta is al dente and the sauce has thickened just enough to coat the pasta, about 3 minutes; add more reserved pasta-cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the sauce becomes too thick. Remove from the heat, stir in chopped parsley and drizzle in some fresh olive oil, stirring to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta and sauce into bowls, garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

La Spezia Style Sea Bass

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8 servings

Chef Maurizio Quaranta roasts sea bass with olives and tomatoes until the fish is crisp. He then spoons toasted warm pine nuts over the fish before serving.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 pound tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 3/4 cup pitted and chopped green or black olives
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Two 3-pound sea bass, cleaned
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a very large roasting pan, toss the potatoes, tomatoes, olives and basil with 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Make 3 shallow slashes in both sides of each fish. Rub each fish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the fish in the roasting pan, tucking them into the vegetables. Roast for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the fish are cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the pine nuts in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Spoon the pine nuts over the fish and vegetables in the roasting pan and serve right away.

Castagnaccio

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Castagnaccio is a chestnut flour cake (castagna in Italian means chestnut) with raisins, pine nuts, walnuts and rosemary. The recipe does not use yeast, baking powder or sugar. According to food historians, the origin of this recipe goes back to the Ancient Romans, when a chestnut bread was made out of coarsely ground chestnuts and travelers’ and workers’ could pack the bread into their bags. Good chestnut flour is very sweet when you taste it raw (and this is why you do not need to add sugar to the castagnaccio). Taste your flour before using it. If you find it sour, this can be the result of two things: the flour is of poor quality or the flour is too old and has gone stale (chestnut flour doesn’t keep well. Purists only make castagnaccio in November-December, as the flour is prepared in October/November when chestnuts are available. In both cases, you can add some sugar to the mix to reduce the bitterness, but the final result may be inferior. Castagnaccio is best served with a cup of espresso or sweet wine like vin santo.

Ingredients

  • 250g (1/2 pound) chestnut flour
  • 2-3 cups water (500-700ml) – depending on the quality of the flour
  • 1/3 cup (75g) raisins
  • 1/4 cup (50g) pine nuts
  • 5 whole walnuts (shelled and coarsely ground)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 20 rosemary leaves

Directions

Pass the flour through a sieve and put it in a mixing bowl.

Add water to the mix slowly, while stirring. You want the batter to be soft enough to fall from the spoon, but not too liquid. Normally 2 1/2 cups (600ml) is the perfect amount of water, but you may need more or less.

Add the olive oil, the pine nuts, the walnuts, the raisin and mix them together thoroughly.

Oil a 9 inch round cake pan  Pour the batter in.

Sprinkle the rosemary leaves on top of the batter. Do not stir: you want them to be visible.

Bake the castagnaccio at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) for 30-40 minutes.

Take the cake out of the oven and let it cool on a wire rack.

You can eat plain or with a tablespoon of ricotta cheese on top, which is how Italian families traditionally eat it.

Wrapped in plastic or foil, the cake will last 4-5 days, but it will dry out a bit.


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Fall brings us lots of hearty, nourishing toppings for pizza. If the chill in the air has you wanting to turn out some cool weather pizzas, think apples, butternut squash, sage, kale, mushrooms, cauliflower and figs for something different. Roasting vegetables first, makes them even tastier.

Roasted Fall Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (about 1 medium) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 pounds small red new potatoes (12 to 14), well scrubbed and quartered
  • 1 pound medium red onions (about 2 to 3), peeled and quartered
  • 1 pound carrots (6 to 8 medium), halved lengthwise, if thick, and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Toss the vegetables and garlic in a bowl with the oil, salt and pepper.

Divide the vegetables and garlic evenly between two rimmed baking sheets. Roast until the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, 40 to 50 minutes, tossing them and rotating the sheets from top to bottom, halfway through cooking.

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Fall Vegetable and Ricotta Pizza

Ingredients

  • Olive oil, for the baking sheet and drizzling
  • Flour, for dusting surface
  • 1 pound homemade or store-bought pizza dough, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 6 cups (about 1/2 of the recipe above) Roasted Fall Vegetables, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Brush a large baking sheet (preferably rimless) with oil.

On a lightly floured surface, roll and stretch the dough into a 12-by-16-inch oval (or as large as will fit on your baking sheet); transfer the dough to the pan.

Sprinkle dough with half the mozzarella. Scatter vegetables on top and drop tablespoons of the ricotta on top; sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and rosemary.

Drizzle with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Bake until bubbling and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Rest five minutes and cut into serving portions.

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Pizza with Zucchini and Fresh Herbs

Sometimes I add a sliced red onion to the roasting pan with the zucchini and add it to the pizza.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb homemade or store-bought pizza dough, at room temperature
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
  • Juice of 2 large lemons, divided
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Fresh thyme leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

For the zucchini:

Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the zucchini rounds in a bowl. Reserve a tablespoon of the lemon juice for the finished pizza and squeeze the remainder over the zucchini, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. With your hands rub the mixture into the zucchini rounds in the bowl.

Then place them on the prepared baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until soft.

For the pizza:

Turn the oven up to 500 °F. If using a pizza stone, allow the stone to heat in the oven for 30 minutes before baking on it.

Stretch out the pizza dough round onto a pizza peel dusted with flour or onto a cookie sheet or pizza pan (if not using a pizza stone).

Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top of the pizza dough and place the roasted zucchini evenly on top of the cheese. Drizzle with olive oil.

Sprinkle the fresh Parmesan cheese directly over the top and slide the prepared pizza into the oven.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling if using a pizza stone. A pizza pan will take longer, 15-20 minutes.

Remove the pizza from the oven, garnish with freshly chopped parsley, thyme, a grind of black pepper and the reserved tablespoon of lemon juice.

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Deep Dish Mushroom Pizza

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb homemade or store-bought pizza dough, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces Fontina Valle d’Aosta, fontina, provolone or mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
  • 2 large sweet onions (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups assorted sliced mushrooms (such as shiitake, oyster, cremini, chanterelle, morel and/or button)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary
  • Snipped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degree F. Stretch the pizza dough across the bottom and up the sides of an oiled 13 x 9 x 1 inch baking pan. Arrange cheese slices on top of the dough in the pan.

In a large skillet, cook onions, covered, in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat for 13 to 15 minutes or until the onions are tender, stirring occasionally. Uncover; cook and stir over medium-high heat for 5 to 8 minutes more or until onions are golden. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.

In the same skillet, combine mushrooms, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the garlic and rosemary. Cook over medium heat until the mushrooms are tender; drain well. Spoon mushroom mixture over the cheese on the pizza dough. Top with the onions.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the crust bottom is slightly crisp and brown.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Cut the pizza into 3-inch squares and serve immediately.

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Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pizza dough, at room temperature
  • 8 oz Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (chili)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Stretch the dough to fit an oiled 14-15 inch pizza pan.

Heat in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil and sausage, cook until the sausage is lightly browned. Break the sausage into large pieces. Remove to a paper towel lined plate.

Add the sliced fennel and cook until the fennel is tender.

Mix together the ricotta and garlic.

Separate the red onion slices and spread over the pizza dough along with the fennel seeds and the crushed red pepper. Top with spoonfuls of the ricotta and the sausage pieces. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake for 20  minutes, until golden.

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Antipasto Pizza

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pizza dough at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced in strips
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 4 ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and sliced in strips
  • 16 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced in strips
  • 2 small to medium tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 cup sliced black olives
  • 1/2 cup of crumbled feta

Directions

Place a pizza stone or invert a heavy baking sheet on the rack of your oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the onions in hot oil about 10 minutes, until translucent. Stir in sugar and balsamic vinegar; cook until the juices bubble. Transfer the onions to a strainer set over a bowl. Drain for 3 minutes. Return the drained juices to the skillet. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture turns into the consistency of honey. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the cooked onions to skillet and stir to coat, then set aside.

For the pizza:

Stretch the dough into a circle that fits on a pizza peel (pizza-size spatula) or a rimless cookie sheet dusted with flour.

Top the dough with the onion mixture then arrange the artichokes, peppers, sliced tomatoes and olives on top. Sprinkle with feta cheese.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the toppings bubble and the pizza edges are golden brown. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing.

You can also bake the pizza in a regular 14-15 inch pizza pan and cook the pizza for 10 minutes longer.


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When you’re planning meals, think about what the extras can become because they can be a time and budget saver. If you prepare twice the vegetables you’ll need for tonight’s dinner, you’ll have the starting point for a soup or pasta dish later in the week. Anticipate using leftover roast poultry, meat or fish on sandwiches; cook twice as much rice and potatoes as you need and freeze the extra for later use.

Put aside a lunch-able portion of dinner in a container and pack it for lunch the next day. With a bit of planning and no extra effort, you can create a week’s worth of healthy take-it-to-work lunches.

Turn extra cooked vegetables into a frittata. Mix cooked vegetables with a can of whole tomatoes and seasonings to create a pasta sauce. Use leftover cooked rice, meat and vegetables for a burrito for a quick dinner.

Extra leftover vegetables can become soup on another day. In a blender, puree the vegetables with 3 or 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth, then warm the soup in a pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and finish the soup with a bit of pesto, olive oil and croutons.

Another way to use extra cooked vegetables, cheese, grilled steak, shrimp or chicken is to toss them with lettuce and your favorite dressing to create a delicious salad.

Certainly, for environmental and financial reasons, it makes sense for us to get smarter about using the food that we purchase.

Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

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I often have a small amount of cooked spinach leftover and since I am a frugal cook, I save even small amounts of leftovers. They can go into soups, omelets or a stuffing.

Ingredients

  • 6 large mushrooms, stems removed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup leftover cooked, chopped spinach
  • 2 tablespoons reduced fat cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • 3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • Pinch salt and pepper

Directions

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Heat a small skillet and add the olive oil, onion and chopped mushroom stems. Cook until lightly brown. Add the spinach to the skillet and heat. Add the cream cheese and chives and cook until the cheese melts. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the panko crumbs. Stuff the mushrooms with the spinach mixture and place in an oiled baking dish.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes.

Zucchini, Onion and Pepper Fritatta

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Have leftover sautéed vegetables? They are delicious in a fritatta.

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs plus 2 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 3 cups leftover sautéed vegetable mixture, such as zucchini, red and green bell pepper, onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup mixed Italian shredded cheese (mozzarella, parmesan and asiago)

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Directions

Preheat the broiler to high.

In a large bowl combine the eggs, milk and salt. Set aside.

Brush a 9 inch ovenproof skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and heat over medium heat.

Saute the garlic until soft and add the vegetables and oregano. Heat about five minutes.

Pour in the egg/milk mixture.Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the eggs are partially set. Sprinkle the cheese on top.

Place the pan about 5 inches under the broiler and broil for 2-3 minutes until the top cooks and puffs up and the cheese melts.

Italian Fish Cakes

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Have leftover fish and mashed potatoes? Turn them into fish cakes.

Makes 8-12 fish cakes, depending on size

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 cup celery, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound leftover, cooked fish (such as cod, halibut, flounder or salmon, flaked
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup  bread crumbs
  • Olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Generously brush two baking sheets with olive oil.

In a large saucepan melt the butter and saute onion, garlic and celery in butter over medium high heat until tender.  Slowly mix in flour, cheese, Old Bay seasoning, dry mustard, salt, pepper, mashed potatoes and milk. Turn heat to low and fold in flaked fish. Mix gently. Remove pan from heat. If you have time, chill the mixture in the refrigerator for an hour.

For perfect even cakes, try using an ice-cream scoop to form balls. With floured hands shape batter into cakes 1/2 inch by 3 inches. Coat in breadcrumbs and place on the  prepared baking sheets.

Spray the top of the cakes with olive oil cooking spray.

Bake the fish cakes for 10 minutes, turn the cakes over and bake another 15 minutes until golden brown.

Leftover Vegetable Pasta

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If you have leftover, cooked sausage, chicken, pork, etc, add them in as well.

Ingredients

For 2 servings

Any of the following leftover vegetables:

  • Squash
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato
  • Onion
  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms
  • Bell Peppers

All of the following:

  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 1 cup dried penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili)

Directions

Slice all the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Put the olive oil in a large skillet and add the garlic, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and vegetables. Cook and stir until heated through.

In a separate pot, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup pasta cooking water. Drain.

Add the pasta and cheese to the skillet with the vegetables. Add the pasta cooking water and stir well. Heat and serve immediately with extra cheese on the side.

Quick Meat Stew

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Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cans (14 oz each) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 lb leftover pork or beef roast, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1 red potato, cubed
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Add the flour and cook, stirring, just until the flour turns a light brown, about 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes (with juice), meat, vinegar, carrots, potato, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until flavors have blended and the meat is hot. Remove the bay leaves before serving.


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What flavors do you associate with fall? For me the ones that immediately come to mind are apple cider, maple, cinnamon, caramel and pumpkin. Here are a few recipes to peak your fall taste buds.

Maple

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Maple Mascarpone Cheesecake

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16 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups walnut pieces, plus extra for the topping
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Two 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • One 3 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon maple flavoring
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch springform pan; set aside. In a food processor or blender combine the 1 1/2 cups walnut pieces and the 1/4 cup granulated sugar; cover and pulse or blend with several on/off turns until fine crumbs form. Add the 1/4 cup melted butter; pulse or blend to mix. Press crumb mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until crust is firm and lightly browned on the edges. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, the 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and the brown sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed about 5 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl; beat for 1 minute more. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the 1 teaspoon vanilla, the maple flavoring, and the 1/4 teaspoon salt; mix well.

Pour cheese mixture into cooled crust. Bake in the 350 degrees F oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until cheesecake is puffy around the edges but wiggles slightly when gently shaken. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

In a small bowl combine yogurt, maple syrup, the 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and the 1/8 teaspoon salt. Spread yogurt mixture evenly over cheesecake, spreading to within 1/2 inch of edges. Bake in the 350 degrees F oven for 10 minutes more. Remove cheesecake from oven; while hot, run a thin knife around the edges. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Chill for at least 8 hours or up to 5 days before serving.

To serve, loosen cheesecake from sides of pan; remove sides of pan. If desired, garnish cheesecake with candied walnuts.

Apple Cider

flavors8

Apple Cider Sweet Potatoes

flavors7

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • Parsley for garnish

Directions

Put the potatoes, apple cider and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer, stirring once, until the potatoes are tender (25-30 minutes) Mash the potatoes with the cider until it is smooth. Add the butter and the pepper and heat just until the butter has melted. Garnish with parsley.

Cinnamon

flavors11

Apple-Cinnamon Custard Pie

flavors5

8 servings

Ingredients

  • Pastry for a Single-Crust Pie, recipe below
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 cup whipping (heavy) cream
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for the topping
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare Pastry for a Single-Crust Pie. On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten pastry. Roll pastry from center to edges into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Wrap pastry circle around the rolling-pin. Unroll into a 9-inch pie plate. Ease pastry into pie plate without stretching it. Trim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold under extra pastry even with the edge of pie plate. Crimp edge high. Generously prick bottom and sides of pastry with a fork. Line pastry with a double thickness of foil. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes more or until golden. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar. Cook and stir until sugar starts to melt and turn golden. Stir in apples. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until apples are tender and liquid is mostly evaporated, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

In a small heavy saucepan heat whipping cream and milk over medium-low heat just until bubbly. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl combine eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Gradually stir in hot cream mixture until combined.

Place pastry shell on oven rack. Spoon apple mixture into pastry shell. Carefully pour egg mixture over apple mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover edge of pie loosely with foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil. Bake about 20 minutes more or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack about 1 hour to serve warm, or cool completely. Cover and chill within 2 hours.

Pastry for a Single-Crust Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut up, or shortening
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Directions

In a medium bowl stir together flour and salt. Using pastry blender, cut in shortening and butter until pieces are pea size.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the water over part of the flour mixture; toss with a fork. Push moistened pastry to side of bowl. Repeat moistening flour mixture, using 1 tablespoon of the water at a time, until flour mixture is moistened. Gather flour mixture into a ball, kneading gently until it holds together.

Caramel

flavors4

Caramel Pots de Creme

flavors3

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups whipping (heavy) cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 6 egg yolks

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place eight 4-ounce pots de creme pots, ramekins, or 6-ounce custard cups in a large roasting pan; set aside.

In a medium saucepan combine sugar, the water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Using a soft pastry brush dipped in water, brush down any sugar crystals on sides of pan. Bring mixture to boiling over medium-high heat. Boil gently, without stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes or until mixture turns an amber color. Remove from heat.

Whisking constantly, carefully add whipping cream and milk to sugar mixture in a slow stream (mixture will steam and sugar will harden). Return to heat. Cook and whisk about 2 minutes more or until sugar is dissolved.

In a large bowl whisk egg yolks until light and foamy. Slowly whisk cream mixture into beaten egg yolks. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a 4-cup glass measuring cup with a pouring spout. Divide mixture among pots de creme pots.

Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come halfway up sides of pots de creme pots. Carefully place pan on oven rack. Bake about 40 minutes or until edges of custards are set but centers jiggle slightly when shaken. Transfer pots de creme pots to wire racks; cool for 30 minutes. Cover and chill for 4 hours.

Pumpkin

Large pumpkin on a white back ground

Pumpkin Butter

flavors9

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Pumpkin Puree, recipe below
  • 1 ¼ cups pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

In 5-quart Dutch oven combine all ingredients. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, 25 minutes or until thick. (If mixture spatters, reduce heat to medium-low). Remove from heat; cool.

Ladle into jars or freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Cover; store in refrigerator up to 1 week or freezer up to 6 months.

Pumpkin Puree

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ pounds sugar pie pumpkins

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut pumpkins into 5 x 5 inch pieces. Remove and discard seeds and strings. Arrange pieces in a single layer, skin sides up, in a foil-lined baking pan. Cover with foil. Bake about 1 hour or until tender. When cool enough to handle, scoop pulp from rind. Place pulp in food processor or blender. Cover and process or blend until smooth. Transfer puree to airtight storage containers. Store for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw frozen puree in the refrigerator.


ennacoverenna2

Enna is a province in Sicily, Italy. It is located in the center of the island and is the only province in Sicily without a seacoast,yet it possesses the greatest number of ponds and lakes.. The capital city sits on a high elevation giving a gorgeous view of the region.There are many castles, cathedrals, churches and interesting archeological areas, 8 lakes, many nature reserves and forests within the province.

Some of the interesting sites in Enna are:

  • Villa Romana del Casale, a huge ancient Roman “villa”, where there are many well-preserved Roman mosaics.
  • Morgantina, an ancient town in the province, whose  important archeological discoveries are housed in many large museums around the world.
  • Torre Pisana, a very large tower that provides an extensive panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
  • Lake Pergusa has a forest inside a wildlife reserve, where thousands of rare birds can be found.
  • The Autodromo di Pergusa is the most important racing circuit of Southern Italy. It hosts international competitions, such as Formula One, Formula 3000, and the Ferrari Party with Michael.
  • Schumacher and other champions.
  • Built in 2009, Regalbuto is a popular theme park in the area.

Enna’s cuisine is characterized by simple dishes that reflect an agricultural and sheep farming community. Vegetables, oranges, lemons, eggs and cheese are used in many local recipes.

Pastas with mashed beans, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplants or tomatoes are common. Wild asparagus are a great local favorite and so are bitter chicory and wild fennel. Black Lentils from Leonforte, near Enna are well-known and used quite often in Sicilian cooking.

Baked or grilled pork, lamb or goat meat and strong cheeses complete the typical menu.

Cookies stuffed with dried figs, honey, fruit candy and roasted almonds along with a glass of limoncello, fare typical holiday celebrations.

enna3

enna4Quite famous is Piacentinu, a cooked, semi-hard cheese. It is round in shape and available in various ages. Traditionally, it is made in the province of Enna, Sicily, using whole sheep’s milk, pepper and saffron. Since the 1100s, piacentino has been known for its saffron color. Ruggero the Norman (1095-1154), the king of Sicily, asked local cheese-makers to make this cheese with saffron because he believed that spice caused an uplifting, anti-depressing effect. Pepper, a rare and precious spice at the time, was also added to the cheese because it was a popular ingredient in the Sicilian Court. Today, this cheese is still made using whole, raw milk from sheep that graze primarily on veccia, a leguminous weed found in and around Enna. The plant gives the cheese its distinct flavor.

ennacheese

The milk, together with sheep or goat rennet, is heated to 140 degrees F and then whole black peppercorns and saffron are added. Once a mass has formed, the cheese is left to cool in its whey. The cheese is ready after a week. A wheel of piacentino is usually 14 to 16 inches in diameter and weighs between 13 to 26 lbs. The cheese has a soft rind, a yellow color and a delicate, savory flavor.

Source: (D. PAOLINI, Guida agli itinerari dei formaggi d’Italia, Bologna, Edagricole, 2003)

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Specialties of the Enna Cuisine

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Black Lentils Enna Style

This lentil dish is often served with fish.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 of a large onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup black lentils, washed and drained
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place lentils in a saucepan with 2 cups of cold water, cover, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to simmer. Cook gently for 15 minutes. Mix in the vegetables, cover the pan and continue cooking gently until lentils are tender, about 35-40 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

enna9

Stuffed Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 4 large artichokes, cleaned
  • 2 lemons, one cut in half and the other cut into thin slices
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions

Place cleaned artichokes in bowl with lemon halves and water.

While the artichokes are soaking, prepare the stuffing by heating the butter with 3 tablespoons of oil in 8-inch skillet. Add minced garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add bread crumbs and dried Italian seasoning. Stir for 1 minute while the bread crumbs brown slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.

Spread the leaves of the artichokes open by hitting the chokes upside down on a work surface to spread the leaves open. Fill each with about 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture.

Place each artichoke in a deep pot with water 1/4 of the way up the side of the pot. Add 1 teaspoon salt to water and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over artichokes and place lemon slices on top.  Cover: bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook on low for 45 minutes or until tender. (the size of the artichoke will vary the cooking time). Remove from the heat and serve room temperature.

enna 7

Enna’s Ground Pork Ragu

Adapted from “The Southern Italian Table” by Arthur Schwartz

Makes 7 cups

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • One 12-oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Grated cheese for serving

Directions

In a 4 quart saucepan saute the onion in olive oil until wilted.

Add the pork and break up over medium heat until its raw color disappears.

Add the wine and simmer for a few minutes over slightly higher heat.

Add tomato paste and water; stir and bring to a simmer.

Add salt, pepper, cinnamon, chocolate and sugar. Stir until chocolate melts, reduce heat and simmer for around 30 minutes.

Serve over pasta with grated cheese.

enna10

Salmoriglio Sauce

Salmoriglio is a Sicilian marinade and sauce that is easy to make and add a great deal of flavor to poultry and fish. Use the recipe below to marinate chicken for up to two days in the refrigerator, shrimp for up to 30 minutes or to pour over grilled fish.

Salmoriglio:

  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3 to 5 smashed and chopped garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine lemon juice, garlic and seasonings and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in olive oil for a creamy semi-emulsified sauce for already cooked fish.

For a marinade, combine all the ingredients in a gallon sized plastic zippered bag and shake with chicken or shrimp to combine. Double the recipe to marinate a whole chicken. For a change of flavor, use three tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley instead of or in addition to the oregano.

For Swordfish:

  • 3 to 4 swordfish steaks
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea Salt and freshly ground Pepper to taste

Try to get swordfish with the skin on if grilling outdoors; this will help keep the fish from drying out. Rub or brush olive oil on the fish. Oil the grill (use a grill pan or fish basket) or non-stick pan.

Over medium heat, cook the steaks for 3 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the pieces. Salt and pepper after each side is cooked, not before. When the fish is done, it will be opaque and a knife will slide into it easily.

If the fish had skin, remove it after cooking. Drizzle Salmoriglio over the fish; garnish with lemon wedges and flat-leaf parsley if desired.

enna7

enna8

Fruit and Animal Shaped Marzipan

This authentic Italian recipe is at least 5 centuries old and originates in Enna, Sicily.

During the Easter season every year, shops sell marzipan figures and fruit decorated in festive colors. They are garnished with colored sweets, foil covered chocolates and red and gold processional flags.

The origins of these elaborate sweets are in the Sicilian convents. Impoverished families enrolled daughters, whom they could not afford to feed or marry, into convents where they knew their daughters would be fed and safe. The nuns produced traditional Easter and Christmas cakes along with brightly decorated fruits. Small wheels were built into the entrance gates to the convents and money was exchanged for the ornately decorated little cakes. The money earned from the bakery supported the nuns and the upkeep of the convents.

2 1/4 pounds shelled almonds, blanched in boiling water
2 1/4 pounds sugar
Water
Cornstarch
Assorted food coloring (paste recommended)

Dry the blanched almonds well in a hot oven if you blanch them yourself. Grind using a mortar and pestle; if you use a food processor, pulse rather than blend so that the almonds are ground but not so fine that they give off their oils.

Dissolve the sugar in a little hot water. Add the ground almonds and simmer over very low heat, stirring constantly until a paste-like mixture comes away easily from the sides of the pan. If you want to color the marzipan, divide it into bowls and color as desired. Paste colors are recommended rather than liquids for strong, true colors. Allow the marzipan to cool enough to handle easily.

Either roll or pat the marzipan onto a cornstarch-dusted surface and cut into shapes or pat into molds that have been dusted with cornstarch. Allow to dry at room temperature until firm.

Source:  2009 All Things Sicilian.


coffeecakecover

Favorite Family Coffee Cake

This is my all-purpose coffee cake that the family loves. I can vary the filling and shape to create a different cake each time. The basic procedures are the same for whatever filling you choose.

Dough

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each) instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Fruit Filling

  • 1 ½ cups peeled and chopped apricots, peaches; apples, pineapple; or blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Almond Filling

  • 2/3 cup almond paste
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup finely ground almonds

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 1 package (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg

Glaze 

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract

For the dough:

Combine all of the dough ingredients in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Switch to the dough hook and knead until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 5 minutes. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s puffy (though not necessarily doubled in bulk).

For the fruit filling:

In a medium saucepan combine fruit and water. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer,  covered, about 5 minutes or until the fruit is tender. Combine the 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl; stir into fruit. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more; set filling aside.

For the almond filling:

Beat the almond paste, butter, sugar and salt until creamy with an electric mixer. Add the egg and extract and beat until well incorporated. Mix in the flour and almonds. Set aside.

For the cheese filling:

Beat all of the ingredients together in an electric mixer until smooth. Chill till ready to use.

To shape the dough:

Cover two rimmed baking pans with parchment paper.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Roll each half into a 15 x 10-inch rectangle.

Spread half of the filling on each rolled dough, leaving a half-inch border all around the dough.Starting with the long side, roll up jelly roll style. Seal the ends and the long seam. Place the roll, seam side down on the prepared pan, and shape into a horseshoe. Repeat with the second dough. Cut slits with kitchen scissors through the top of the dough at two-inch intervals.

This dough can also be shaped into a wreath, a braid or a long log.

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

Bake in a preheated oven set to 375 degrees F for 20-25 minutes until golden, switching the pans halfway through the baking time. Cool cakes on a wire rack.

Combine glaze ingredients, divide in half and drizzle over the cooled cakes. Decorate with toasted almonds, if desired.

One cake can be frozen unglazed until needed.

Wreath Shape
Wreath Shape
Braid Shape

Braid Shape

Braid Shape

Log Shape



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