Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: April 2016

Delicate colors combined with soft leathers—a recipe for making your foot happy.

Fermo is a province in the Marche region of central Italy. The province stretches from the Sibillini Mountains to the Adriatic Sea and its main geographic features are the valley of the River Tenna and the River Aso that form the southern border of the province. The coastline consists of beach areas interlaced with shady pine trees that offer visitors a perfect combination of natural landscapes.

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The town of Fermo, the capital of the province, is an old town perched on a hill. It has a historic center, a large piazza and a cathedral with a Gothic facade dating from 1227. There are also traces of a Roman amphitheatre nearby. Underneath the town is an intricate system of well-preserved Roman cisterns dating back to around 40 AD. They were built to conserve and purify the water for the people of the town and are considered to be one of the finest examples of their kind in Italy.

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An 1861 report by Minister Minghetti justified merging the small and fragmented provinces of southern Marche into a single large province, a move to remove the historical border between the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Papal States. The residents of Abruzzo were opposed to this. Despite the opposition, 58% of the population of Fermo voted in favor of merging some smaller provinces. In 2000, supporters of forming a new province of Fermo were able to pass a law changing the boundaries and the province of Fermo was re-established in 2004.

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Shoe Industry

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Footwear and leather goods produced in the area, are a specialty of the region. The production of women’s shoes is a tedious, time-consuming craft. After the initial stages of leather cutting, stitching and fitting the body of the shoe, the next steps vary according to the shoe style. Each artisan is trained to specialize in one task. The leather must be stretched taut over the toe of every shoe. Another craftsman delicately brushes special glue onto the bottom of the shoe structure, allowing it to dry completely before heating it up again and applying the sole by hand, lining it up exactly and using a special machine to press it tight. At the end of the assembly line, another craftsman places each stiletto heel in just the right spot before securing it with a press machine and sending it on for the finishing touches. Then the shoes are polished, buffed, boxed and shipped. It’s an example of the care and handcrafting that give Italian shoes their reputation for durability and quality. With over 54 components needed for every pair of women’s shoes, shoemaking can be laborious work.

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Dino Bigioni manufactures 700 pairs of shoes a day. All employees come from shoemaking families that have educated their children in the craft. While many of the younger generation attend an area trade school to learn the craft, family tradition is the preferred training method. This factory is just one of hundreds of small yet established family shoe businesses in this area. The families say they are friends rather than foes and that they help one another in times of hardship. The Italian shoe industry is not just about footwear – it’s about preserving a tradition, a culture and a family name. Each family specializes in one part of the shoe – one family may make only stiletto heels; others only the soles for men’s loafers. With the exception of the leather (which comes from Tuscany and the Veneto), all shoe components are produced locally.

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The province’s main agricultural products are cereals, vegetables, grapes, olives and livestock. The pecorino grape takes its name from the sheep (pecore) who originated in the area. It is an early ripening variety and produces fine white wine. The red wine Offida Rosso DOCG and the white wine Offida Bianco DOCG are also produced in this province as well.

Cereals, olives and mustard are grown and produced and the fish and seafood along the coast of this province are excellent. Maccheroncini di Campofilone, a variety of pasta that has received the PGI, is made exclusively here. The pasta is very thin and only fresh eggs and flour are allowed to be used. No other liquid can be added to make this pasta dough.

Roveja Soup

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The Roveja bean is an ancient legume also known as a wild pea. Flour is made from the bean and used to prepare a kind of porridge, called “Farecchiata”. The bean grows wild in the area of Sibillini. The Greeks, Romans, shepherds and farmers considered it a delicious legume. Today, it is produced in small quantities in Umbria and in the Sibillini mountains. The roveja bean is the size of a pea and varies in color from orange to brown. The flavor is similar to chickpeas and lentils.

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 250 g of dry roveja beans
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large potato
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 3 leaves of sage
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt, pepper and extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

After soaking the roveja beans in water to cover for 10-12 hours, boil them for about an hour until soft.

Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan and saute the garlic, onion, celery, carrot and potato Add the roveja beans with its cooking water.

Season with salt and pepper, add the rosemary, sage and bay leaf and simmer until thick and creamy.

Maccheroncini di Campofilone al ragù

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di La Cucina Italiana

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • ½ pound maccheroncini (very thin egg pasta)
  • ¼ pound beef stew bones (optional)
  • ¼ pound chopped veal
  • ½ pound chopped sirloin
  • ¼ pound chicken giblets (optional)
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • ½ cup of white wine
  • 2 cups peeled tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for the pan
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • 3 sprigs of fresh basil

Directions

Salt and pepper all the meat. Heat a large sauce pan and add enough oil to lightly cover the bottom. Add the stew bones and brown them; then add the veal and sirloin and saute until brown.

Remove the bones and chopped meat to a plate and place to the side. Lower the heat and place the giblets in the saucepan with the diced celery, onion and carrots and allow them to gently cook.

After the vegetables soften, add the wine to deglaze pan, stirring to bring the juices from the bottom of the pan into the mixture.

Return the meat and bones to the mixture and add the tomatoes and olive oil and cover the pot. Simmer over very low heat for two hours, stirring often.

Boil maccheroncini in a generous amount of salted water for 1-2 minutes (pasta should be firm to the bite) and drain. Place in a serving bowl and add a large spoonful of sauce.

Garnish with cheese and fresh basil leaf and serve.

Peposo (Peppered Lamb Stew)

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From La Tavola Marche Cooking School

Ingredients

  • 2 kg/4.5 lb leg of lamb, cut into thick steaks with bone-in
  • 20 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 heaping tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt
  • 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 juniper berries, crushed
  • Drizzle of olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 225 F/105 C  degrees.

In a heavy pot (just big enough to hold all the ingredients), drizzle with olive oil and place a layer of the sliced meat at the bottom of the pan.

Cover with a few cloves of garlic, sprinkle with pepper, salt and rosemary. Repeat, starting with the meat, and keep layering until all the ingredients are used and the pot is almost full.

Pour the wine over the top and add the bay leaves and juniper berries. Add water, if necessary, so that all the ingredients are covered with liquid.

Slowly bring to a boil, cover tightly with a lid and place in the preheated oven for about 8 hours or until tender and falling apart.

([If you want to cook the stew faster, raise the temp to about 300 degrees and cook for 4-6 hours. However it will be richer, the slower you cook it.)

Once the stew is done, skim off the fat from the surface and remove the bones, the bay leaves and rosemary twigs.  The meat should be very soft and juicy with a rich flavor.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Break up the pieces of meat. Serve a ladle of stew on toasted bruschetta with a drizzle of olive oil or serve with polenta or mashed potatoes.

Rustic Tart with Strawberries (Crostata di Fragole)

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From La Tavola Marche Cooking School

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups, 250g butter
  • 4 cups, 500 g of flour
  • 1 1/4 cups + extra for dusting, 250g  sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon, 5g baking powder
  • 2 full eggs + 3 yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon grappa, rum or brandy
  • 1 pint of fresh strawberries per tart, sliced

Directions

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla and  liqueur and beat until combined.

Sift together all the dry ingredients.

Incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter and egg mixture with a few strokes of a wooden spoon to form a dough.

Roll 2/3 of the dough out slightly larger than your tart pan. Crimp the edges of the dough to create the crust.

Arrange the strawberries slightly overlapping to cover the pastry. Sprinkle a little sugar over the strawberries.

To make the latticework top:

Pull off a pinch of dough and roll into a long snake. If it breaks, just pinch it back together. This is a rustic tart. Moist hands will help if the dough is sticky.

Continue until you have enough strips to make a lattice top.

Bake in a preheated 350 F/175 C degree oven for about an hour or until the top is brown and the bottom is cooked. The dough should shrink away from the pan a bit. Cool.

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You really don’t have to eat boring chicken. Try new ways of preparing chicken and serve it with new and different garnishing ingredients.

Dry chicken isn’t appealing.  To avoid this:

  • Don’t overcook chicken – 155 to 160 degrees F on an instant read meat thermometer is perfectly safe.
  • Cooking chicken for most of its grilling time over indirect heat keeps it tender and juicy and it does not burn.

When I grill chicken, I always make extra because it is so delicious and there are so many other dishes you can make with the leftovers.

I also add vegetables to the grill, if I am grilling the main dish. Saves lots of time and clean up.

Ingredients

  • 2-4 bone-in chicken breasts or 2-4 boneless breasts or/and 2-4 bone-in thighs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions

Turn all burners to high and heat the grill with the lid down until very hot, about 15 minutes. Scrape the grate clean with a grill brush.

Dip a wad of paper towels in oil; holding the wad with tongs, wipe the cooking grate. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burner(s).

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Grilling bone-in breasts:

Cook the chicken on all sides over the hot part of the grill until lightly browned and the meat has faint grill marks, 4 to 6 minutes. Move the chicken to the cooler side of the grill, with the thicker side of the breast facing the hot side of the grill.

Cover with a large piece of aluminum foil, close the grill and continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of the breast registers 145 degrees, about 20 minutes longer.

Move the chicken, bone-side down, to the hot side of the grill and cook until browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn the chicken over and continue to cook until browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 – 160 degrees F, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a plate and tent with foil, for 5 minutes.

Grilling bone-in chicken thighs:

Cook the chicken on all sides over the hot part of grill until lightly browned and the meat has faint grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes. Move the chicken to the cooler side of the grill. Cover with a large piece of aluminum foil, close the grill and continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 145 degrees, about 20 minutes longer.

Move the chicken, bone-side down, to the hot side of the grill and cook until browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn chicken over and continue to cook until browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 155 – 160 degrees F, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a plate and tent with foil, for 5 minutes.

Grilling boneless breasts:

Place chicken on the cooler side of the grill, smooth-side down, with the thicker side of the breasts facing the direct heat. Cover with a large piece of aluminum foil, close the grill and cook until the bottom of the chicken just begins to develop light grill marks about 6 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, turn the chicken and rotate it so that the thinner side faces the hot side of the grill. Cover with the foil and continue to cook until the chicken is opaque and firm to touch and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 140 degrees, 6 to 8 minutes longer.

Move the chicken to the hot side of the grill and cook, without the foil, until dark grill marks appear, 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs, turn the chicken over and cook until dark grill marks appear and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 155 – 160 degrees F, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let rest, tented with foil, 5 minutes.

With just a change of a sauce, you can create a totally different taste every time. Serve the grilled chicken topped with one of the sauces below.

Spinach Pesto

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I made this sauce last week and it was on my blog for Earth Day. (see recipe here)

Creamy Herb Vinaigrette

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs that are in season
  • 1/2 small shallot, minced

Directions

Add the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, tarragon and shallots to a small bowl and whisk until smooth and emulsified.

Easy Homemade BBQ Sauce

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Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons all natural hickory liquid smoke
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed

Directions

In a large saucepan combine all the ingredients and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes stirring occasionally. Let it cool and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Seasonal Fruit Sauce

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I used raspberries because that is what is in season and I had them in my refrigerator. Come summer, peaches would be very good in this sauce. Don’t be afraid to try this sauce, it was delicious on the chicken.

Ingredients

  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated
  • 1 small hot pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries, or any fruit in season (peaches, berries, kiwi, pineapple, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the fruit is soft. Serve warm over grilled chicken or pork chops.

Stuffed Grilled Zucchini

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped celery
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise; scoop out the pulp, leaving 1/4 inch shells. Brush with 2 teaspoons oil; set aside. Chop pulp.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining teaspoon of oil and saute the zucchini pulp, celery, bell pepper, garlic and onion until the vegetables are soft.

Add bread crumbs; cook and stir.Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the mozzarella cheese, seasoning and salt.

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Spoon the filling into the zucchini shells. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Place the zucchini on the cool side of the grill while the chicken is cooking on the hot side.

Grill, covered, over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until the zucchini are tender and the tops are crispy.

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Adding more vegetables to our meals has been a goal. Pasta is a great base for doing this. Vegetables add healthy ingredients while stretching the amount of pasta included in each serving. Also, if you have vegetables leftover from dinner, they make an excellent addition to pasta and save you work.

In the stuffed shells recipe below, I added sautéed chard to the cheese filling, thus stretching the amount of cheese in each serving. Likewise, in the second recipe I added green beans to the pasta to make each serving healthier.

Swiss Chard Stuffed Shells

3-4 stuffed shells make 1 serving.

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces jumbo pasta shells (21 shells)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 leek, white and light green portion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more for salting the water
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 pound (2 bunches) Swiss chard, stems removed
  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese (about 16 ounces)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups Marinara or Basic Tomato Sauce

Directions

Wash the chard well, drain and spin in a salad spinner to remove most of the water. Cut the chard leaves into thin strips.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the leek and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the leek is softened.  Add the chard, oregano, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Cook, tossing with tongs, until completely wilted. Cover the pan and simmer until the chard is very tender, about ten minutes. Turn the chard into a mixing bowl to cool to room temperature.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta shells, stir, and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Place a colander in the sink and drain the shells. Transfer the shells to a kitchen towels on the counter and set aside to cool.

Add the ricotta, mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, the egg, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of black pepper to the chard.in the mixing bowl.

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Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Evenly spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of an oiled 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Fill the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture and place in a single layer, open side up, in the baking dish.

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Pour the remaining tomato sauce  evenly over the shells and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

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Cover the dish with foil. Tip: I always spray the side of the foil that will touch the food with cooking spray to keep the food from sticking to the foil during baking.

Bake the shells until the sauce just starts to bubble around the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the sauce is bubbling vigorously and the edges of the pan have started to brown, about 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Pasta with Green Beans and Ricotta

Casarecce is a short, wide pasta loosely rolled into a scroll shape. It is a traditional pasta from Sicily.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 12 oz Casarecce or short pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 oz pancetta, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lb parboiled green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths (2 cups)
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt, plus extra for boiling the pasta
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese, warmed
  • 1 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta.

Warm the ricotta cheese in the microwave.

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In a large, heavy skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the pancetta until crispy.

Add the shallot, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and saute for 1 minute. Add the green beans and pasta cooking liquid and continue cooking until hot, about 2 more minutes.

Add the cooked pasta and lemon zest toss to combine. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mix well.

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Drop tablespoons of ricotta cheese on top of the pasta. Serve immediately.

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Lemon tree we planted for Earth Day 2015.

Lemon tree we planted for Earth Day 2015.

Maple tree we planted for Earth Day 2016

Maple tree we planted for Earth Day 2016

The Earth Day movement, that was started in the 1970′s by John McConnell, has since seen billions take part in planting trees, cleaning up local neighborhoods and pushing government officials to enact more progressive environmental laws. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was instrumental in raising awareness about protecting the environment. On April 22, 1970, rallies were held in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, DC and Los Angeles, as well as, on numerous college campuses across the country.

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The mission of Earth Day was formally established by the Earth Society Foundation in 1976. Its mission was:

“Conduct educational programs and seminars and promote research and investigation throughout the world for the purpose of providing data to all individuals and institutions who are joining in the movement to promote and implement the Earth care ethic: namely, that the stewardship and care of earth requires action to produce and use materials and services that help nurture, conserve and recycle, without destructive pollution, the organisms and nutrients of Earth’s web of life. Coordinate or assist the work of like-minded organizations for the purposes of minimizing unnecessary duplication of energies and maximizing the impact and effectiveness of the earth care movement.”

Triggered by Earth Day awareness, the United States government has enacted many environmental programs, such as the Clean Air Act, Water Quality Improvement Act, Endangered Species Act, Toxic Substance Control and the Surface Mine and Reclamation Act.

Botanic gardens are natural resources for Earth Day events and their focus varies from being educational to just enjoying nature. Master gardening and children’s programs are a wonderful way to get families involved in gardening. There are bird watching and identification programs at gardens, since the birds are naturally attracted to the large variety of plants and flowers. Zoos also offer educational programs for patrons as a way to connect with nature through the animal world.

Earth Day is the perfect time to reflect on our food footprint (the environmental impact related to the production of food). The less processing your food sees the better. Eat locally and fill your market basket with in season produce. Eat local, sustainable fish. Eat less meat but, when you do, eat locally raised, grass-fed meat. Don’t waste food. Look for products that have minimal packaging or packaging and are made from recycled materials or with materials that can be recycled after use.

Eco-Friendly Menu

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Grilled Redfish with Spinach Pesto

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 oz redfish fillet, cut in half or any fish fillets available in your area
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Spinach Pesto, recipe below

Directions

Prepare an outdoor grill for medium-high heat, lighting fresh coals if you are using a charcoal grill. If you are using a gas grill, preheat the grill by turning all burners on to high for about 10 to 15 minutes, then reduce one burner to a medium-high temperature. You may also cook the fish on a greased indoor grill.

Brush the redfish fillets with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.

Cut a sheet of heavy duty foil large enough to hold the fish and poke a few holes in it. Spray the foil with cooking spray and place the fish on top of the foil. Place the foil on a tray or plate to carry it out to the grill.

Slide the redfish fillets on the foil onto the grill and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes. Top the fish, while on the grill, with Spinach Pesto after 4 minutes of cooking time and continue to grill until the fish is cooked to your liking. My redfish fillets only took 6 minutes to cook, so watch the cooking time carefully.

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Spinach Pesto

This sauce is also delicious over grilled chicken.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves (about 2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1’2 teaspoon salt and
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions

Combine the spinach leaves, pine nuts, lemon juice and lemon peel in a processor. Lightly pulse.

With the machine running, gradually add the oil, blending until the mixture is creamy. Add the salt and pepper. Pulse.

Pour into a serving bowl and stir in the Parmesan. Adjust the seasoning according to your taste.

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Green Beans with Toasted Pecans

Pecans are locally grown in my area and fresh thin green beans are now in season where I live.

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces blanched green beans, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the pecans and toast them. Set aside on a plate.

Heat the oil in the same pan and add the red onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is tender.

Add the green beans and salt and pepper to taste. Saute the beans until hot. Add the pecans and serve.

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Fennel and Potato Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs new or red potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed
  • 1 cup firmly packed fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible and put them in a large bowl of cold water to keep them from browning.

Cut the fennel in half lengthwise. Slice the fennel crosswise as thinly as possible.

In a mixing bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, parsley and garlic.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF. Lightly oil the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Without draining the potatoes, use your hands to lift out about one-third of the slices and arrange them in the bottom of the baking dish, overlapping them slightly. (The water clinging to them will generate steam as they bake.)

Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Sprinkle the potatoes evenly with 1/4 cup of the breadcrumb mixture. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Top the potatoes with half of the sliced fennel, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle the fennel with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup of the breadcrumb mixture and 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Repeat this layering process, ending with a top layer of potatoes. Season the top layer with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and some more pepper.

Top with the remaining breadcrumb mixture and the final 2 tablespoons oil.

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Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.

Uncover and continue baking until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork and the top is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Let rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

Earth Day - No Year


Synagogue in Rome’s Jewish Neighborhood, Trastevere

Synagogue in Rome’s Jewish Neighborhood – Trastevere

Passover is a celebration of freedom that is appreciated not only by Jews, but by people all over the world. The Jewish community has long been a significant part of the Italian heritage and culture, as has been their celebration of this important holiday. Since the 2nd century BC, Passover festivities, in Italy, include religious rituals, family gatherings and, of course, food. Through the years, the Italian Jewish community, has developed an Italian style in preparing Passover dishes.

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Even though the basic tradition of a Passover Seder remains the same, such as drinking four cups of wine and eating matzo, etc., the Italian influence can be recognized on the Seder table in Italy, as follows:

Maror and chazeret – bitter herbs are used to symbolize the bitterness of slavery.

Haroset all’Italiana – a paste-like mixture of ground dates, oranges, raisins and figs, which are substitutes for the traditional Charoset, a brown compound that stands for the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build pyramids.

Antipasto of bresaola, air dried beef with arugula and lemon.

Stracciatella – an egg-drop soup, is a substitute for the hard-boiled egg that is a mourning food in the Jewish faith, but also signifies the cycle or circle of life.

Carciofi alla Giudia – Jewish style artichokes are fried and are a specialty of the Roman Jewish community.

passoverRoman-Fried-Artichoke

Marzoh Lasagna (Mazzagne) is prepared with vegetables, matzot and lamb meat.

Lamb is part of the meal because it represents the sacrifice before the destruction of the Temple. Many of Rome’s Jews arrived there just after the time of the destruction of the second Temple and brought (and kept) many of the ancient traditions.

Insalata Sefardita – a salad of romaine, dill and green onions with red wine vinaigrette.

Zucchini Tomato “Lasagne”

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Servings: 6

Ingredients

Lemon-Pignoli Filling

  • 2 cups raw pignoli nuts, soaked in water for at least 1 hour
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 cups good-quality sun-dried tomatoes (dry-packed), soaked in water for at least 2 hours
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, diced
  • 1/4 of a small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • Pinch hot-pepper flakes

Basil-Pistachio Pesto

  • 2 cups packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup raw pistachios
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Lasagne

  • 3 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Garnish: whole basil leaves

Directions

Lemon-Pignoli Filling

Place the pignoli nuts, lemon juice and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times, until thoroughly combined.

Gradually add 6 tablespoons water and pulse until the texture becomes fluffy, like ricotta. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Tomato Sauce

Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Basil-Pistachio Pesto

Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Lasagne

Using a mandoline slicer or vegetable peeler, shave zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices, then cut in half crosswise.

Cut the tomatoes in half and each half into thin slices.

Line the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with two layers of zucchini slices.

Brush the zucchini lightly with olive oil, spread 1⁄3 of the tomato sauce over it, and top with small teaspoons of pignoli filling and pesto, using 1⁄3 of each.

Add 1⁄3 of the tomato slices and sprinkle with 1⁄3 of the oregano and thyme.

Add another double layer of zucchini and repeat twice more with the tomato sauce, pesto, filling, tomato slices and herbs.

Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for a few hours before serving. Garnish with basil.

Passover Spring Lamb

passoverlamb

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds (1.5 k) kid or spring lamb chops
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3-4 stems Italian parsley, leaves removed
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • The juice of one lemon

Directions

Tie the parsley stems together. Place the chops in a skillet with the olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley and water over low heat.

Simmer for about an hour, or until the meat is fork-tender, then remove and discard the parsley.

Whisk the yolks with the lemon juice, turn the burner off and pour the egg mixture over the meat. Give the skillet a brisk shake to mix in the sauce and heat for a minute or two. Serve at once.

Puréed Carrots

passover carrots

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄2″ slices
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey⁄
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine the carrots, broth, sugar and salt in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat; bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the carrots are very tender, 20 minutes.

Drain the carrots, reserving the 1⁄4 cup of cooking liquid.

Heat the olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and fragrant, about 2–3 minutes.

Remove from the heat and place in a food processor along with the carrots and orange juice; purée until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add 1–2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid to make a smooth purée. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Italian Passover Cake

passovercake

Ingredients

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • Garnishes: Powdered sugar and chopped almonds

Directions

Grease a 10 inch springform pan or round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk the egg yolks until light in color.

Beat in the rest of the ingredients, except the egg whites, ending with the almond meal. It will be very stiff at this point.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Fold one third of the egg whites into the almond mixture.

Fold the rest of the egg whites into the mixture and pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely in the pan.

Remove from the pan and sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar and chopped almonds.


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Last week my fish market received its first seasonal shipment of Copper River salmon. It was gorgeous. Copper River salmon is bright orange or red with a firm texture and an excellent taste. It is also excellent cooked on a grill.

I purchased an 8 oz fillet and for dinner that night. I had also shopped for some seasonal vegetables to use for the week and thought a creamy spinach would make a perfect bed for the salmon. I wanted to flavor the salmon but not overwhelm it, and since I would be cooking it on the grill, I wanted to keep it moist. I like citrus flavors with fish, so I added citrus zest, chives (which are thriving in my garden right now), some truffle oil and wrapped the fillets in prosciutto. This turned out really well. I had leftover Pea Salad from last week, so that was a good side dish.

For dinner two, I made pork chops since I wanted to try a tip I had just picked up about soaking pork chops in buttermilk before cooking them to keep them tender. This works very well. The pork chops were delicious. I had leftover warm potato salad from earlier in the week to go with it and cooked fresh broccoli florets, also in season and on sale in my market, for a second side.

Hopefully you will like these recipes for two and, if you have a larger family, the recipes are easily doubled.

Dinner One

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Prosciutto-Wrapped Salmon

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
  • 8 oz skinless salmon fillet, cut in half
  • 4 thin slices prosciutto
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Zest from 1/2 lemon
  • Zest from 1/2 lime
  • Zest from 1/2 orange
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil or olive oil

Directions

Cut a piece of heavy-duty foil large enough to fit the salmon. Coat lightly with cooking spray and pierce a few holes in the foil with a fork. Place the foil on a tray.

(I like to place fish fillets on the grill with foil underneath, so that the fish doesn’t fall apart.)

In a small bowl, combine the garlic, parsley, chives and citrus zest and mix thoroughly.

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Lay the salmon fillets flat on the foil and drizzle with the truffle oil. Season with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the citrus mixture. Wrap each filet in prosciutto. Place the salmon in the refrigerator until ready to grill.

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Heat an outdoor grill to medium-high.

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Slide the foil with the fish on it, onto the grill; close the lid and grill until the fish is cooked through, about 10  minutes.

Serve the salmon over creamy spinach.

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Easy Creamed Spinach

Ingredients

  • 10 oz package fresh baby spinach
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons 1/3 less fat cream cheese, plain or with chives
  • 2 tablespoons reduced fat milk
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat oil in a deep skillet and add the garlic; cook 1 minute.

Add spinach in batches, pushing it down with a wooden spoon or spatula to help it wilt.

Keep adding more spinach until all the spinach is wilted. Cook the spinach until it is dry, then lower the heat.

Make a well in center of the spinach and add the milk and then the cream cheese.

Heat and stir until the mixture is dissolved. Mix throughout the spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

peasalad

Spring Pea Salad

You can find the recipe here.

Dinner Two

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Oven Fried Pork Chops

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 bone-in pork chops
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Place the pork chops between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet to an even 1/2-inch thickness.

Combine the buttermilk and hot sauce; add the pork chops and marinate for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

Mix the flour with the slat and pepper. Dredge the pork chops in the flour, dip in the buttermilk again and then coat in the panko crumbs.

Heat the butter and oil in an ovenproof skillet add the pork chops to skillet and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.

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Transfer the skillet with the pork to the oven. Bake until the pork chops are crisp on the outside and a meat thermometer inserted into the pork registers 150°F, about 15 minutes.

Transfer the pork chops to serving plates. Garnish with lemon wedges

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Warm Potato Salad

You can find the recipe here.

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Broccoli Sauté with Orange Zest and Almonds

Serves:  2

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon toasted, slivered almonds

Directions

Heat a medium skillet and add the almonds. Toast to a light brown. Remove and set aside.

Add the olive oil to the skillet and heat.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add the broccoli, salt, pepper, orange zest and sauté with the olive oil and garlic mixture until the broccoli turns bright green and becomes tender.

Remove the skillet from the heat, sprinkle with toasted almonds and mix well.


Palermo by Alexey Petrovich Bogolyubov, 1850

Palermo by Alexey Petrovich Bogolyubov, 1850

Palermo’s history has been anything but stable as the area passed from one dominating power to another with frequency. Its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean brought invaders including the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Saracen Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the French and the Spanish Bourbons, just to name a few. The result of this history is evident in the vast range of architectural styles, the names of places in the region that are obviously not Italian and the fusion of ingredients used in many local dishes.

Palermo,_Sicily

Human settlement in the Palermo area goes back to prehistoric times. It is one of the most ancient sites in Sicily. Interesting graffiti and prehistoric paintings were discovered in the Addaura grottoes in 1953 by archaeologist Jole Bovio Marconi. They portray dancing figures performing a rite with shamans. In 734 BC Phoenicians from Tyre (Lebanon) established a flourishing merchant colony in the Palermo area. The relationship of the new colony with the Siculi, the people living in the Eastern part of the Island, involved both commerce and war.

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Piazza Pretoria

Between the 8th and the 7th centuries BC, the Greeks colonized Sicily. They called the area Panormus (“All port”) and traded with the Carthaginians, Phoenician descendants who were from what is now Tunisia. The two civilizations lived together in Sicily until the Roman conquest.

Streets-of-Palermo-Sicily-Italy

Situated on one of the most beautiful promontories of the Mediterranean, Palermo is an important trading and business center and the seat of a university. Palermo is connected to the mainland by an international airport and an increasing number of maritime links. The city of Palermo is vibrant and modern and its large harbor and international airport makes it a popular tourist destination. There are many events and festivals that take place throughout the year in Palermo, the most important of which is the feast day of the city’s patron saint, Saint Rosalia. There is a sanctuary dedicated to her at the top of Monte Pellegrino, just outside the city, and the mountain dominates the backdrop to the city. The surrounding area is a green and pleasant nature park and is a favorite picnic area for locals. Also in Palermo are the Catacombs of the Capuchins, a tourist attraction.

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Palermo Cuisine

In the Sicilian food culture there is no such thing as a “main course”, but rather a series of courses of varying number, depending on the occasion, usually a (primo) first course of pasta, soup, rice, etc. and a (secondo) second course of meat, fish or vegetable, often served with a (contorno) side dish of vegetables. Fresh fruit is usually served as dessert. For a more formal occasion an (antipasto) appetizer comes before the primo.

A number of popular foods are typically served as side dishes or “starters.” Arancini are rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese encrusted in a crispy coating. Caponata is a mixture made with eggplant, olives, capers and celery, and served as an appetizer. Sfincione is a thick form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and anchovies, usually made in bakeries rather than pizzerias. Panella is a thin paste made of crushed or powdered ceci (garbanzo) beans and served fried. Maccu is a creamy soup made from the same bean, usually served in winter. Crocché (croquet) are fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs. Fritedda is a springtime vegetable dish or pasta sauce made with fresh green fava beans, peas and artichoke hearts.

Ricotta is a soft cheese made from sheep’s milk and Ricotta Salata is an aged, salty version. Caciocavallo is aged cow’s cheese used for cooking. Canestrato is similar but made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. Tuma and Primo Sale are sweeter and softer, aged only briefly. Gattò is similar to quiche and made with potatoes, ham and cheese.

Sicily is renowned for its seafood. Grilled swordfish (pesce spada) is popular. Smaller fish, especially triglie (red snapper), are sometimes prepared in a vinegar and sugar sauce. Seppia (cuttlefish) is served in its own black sauce with pasta. Another Sicilian seafood dish made with pasta is finocchio con sarde (fennel with herring). Ricci (urchins) are popular in spring. Beccafico are stuffed roasted sardines.

Meat dishes are traditionally made with lamb or goat.  Chicken is usually served on skewers and spiedini are small meat rolls (involtini), also, on a skewer similar to shish kebab. Salsiccia alla pizzaiola is a port sausage filled with onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. Couscous is usually served with meat or seafood.

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Sicilian desserts are outstanding and popular. Cannoli are tubular crusts filled with creamy sheep’s milk ricotta. Cassata is a rich cake filled with the same ricotta filling. Frutta di Martorana are almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit. Sicilian gelato (ice cream) is popular with flavors ranging from pistachio and hazelnut (nocciola) to jasmine (gelsomino) to mulberry (gelsi) to strawberry (fragala) and rum (zuppa inglese).

palermocake

Not many people outside of Sicily are familiar with Torta Setteveli. The cake of the seven veils, named after the dance of Salome. The Torta Setteveli is the typical birthday cake in Palermo. It’s a combination of alternating chocolate and hazelnut layers, with a crunchy layer that combines both those flavors. There are many stories about who actually created the cake. You can find the cake throughout Sicily, but it is in every pasticceria in Palermo. The Palermitani see it as the ultimate dessert to enjoy on special occasions, especially for birthdays.

Primo Course

ANEL-4T

Baked Anelletti

This dish is a popular “pasta bake” in Palermo and it is made with a very specific pasta shape called anelletti (little rings). In Sicily it is often sold in cafés as timbaletti, which are single portions that are shaped like a cone. When eaten at home, however, it is often made like a “pasta cake” to be portioned and shared by the whole family.

palermopasta

Ingredients

  • 1 lb anelletti pasta
  • 2 large, long eggplants
  • 1/2 lb mortadella, cubed
  • 1 lb mozzarella, cubed
  • Grated pecorino cheese

For the Ragu

  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 lb peas
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 2 basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Wash the eggplant, peel and slice them lengthwise about 1/4″ thick.

Coat each slice with olive oil, put them on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Set them aside. Turn the oven to 375 degrees F.

Make the ragu:

In a saucepan, add a 1 tablespoon of olive oil and brown the ground pork and beef.  Discard any fat that is produced. Set aside in a separate bowl.

In the saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onion. Once the onion is translucent add the browned ground meat.

Saute the meat and onion for a few minutes and add the peas followed by the crushed tomatoes and the basil. Add salt to taste.

Cover and let the ragu cook for 20 minutes over medium heat.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta al dente and drain well. Place in a mixing bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the sauce to the pasta so that it does not stick together and set aside.

In a 10″ x 5″ bundt, tube or springform pan line the bottom and sides with the slices of baked eggplant so that part of the slices hang outside the top of the pan. Add a layer of pasta followed by a layer of the meat sauce, some grated cheese, a layer of mortadella and then a layer of mozzarella.

Repeat the layering process again.

Once finished, turn the eggplant slices hanging from the pan onto the top of the pasta.

Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes. Let rest before cutting. Garnish with grated cheese and parsley or basil.

Second Course

palermocod

Merluzzo alla Siciliana (Cod Sicilian Style)

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs (800 g) cod fillets
  • 2 ½ cups (500 g) chopped fresh tomato pulp (seeds removed)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoon capers
  • 15 pitted green olives
  • 2 pinches of dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup of white wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

Directions

Heat a skillet and add the olive oil and crushed garlic.

When the garlic is browned, add the tomato, salt and pepper.

Add the wine and bring the sauce to boil, add the cod fillets and cook for 6-7 minutes, turning them over once.

Add some more salt and pepper (if needed), the olives and capers.

Sprinkle with oregano and continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes.

Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley on top.

palermofennel

Pisci di Terra – Sicilian Fried Fennel

Ingredients

  • 6 fennel bulbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 g) flour
  • 1/2 cup fine, dry homemade breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Clean the fennel bulbs and cut them in half. Boil them until al dente (fork tender) in lightly salted water. Drain them well and quarter the halves.

Mix the breadcrumbs together with the cheese. Lightly beat the eggs with salt and pepper. Dredge the fennel slices in the flour to coat well, then dip the slices in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.

Fry them in abundant hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

palermocassata-siciliana

Cassata alla Siciliana

This is a classic Sicilian cake. The word Cassata derives from the Latin Caseus, which means cheese. Cassata is one of the world’s first cheesecakes. It comes as no surprise that there are a great many variations throughout Sicily.

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 1/3 cups (280 g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 g) flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Half a lemon, zested
  • Butter and flour for the cake pan
  • Marsala wine
  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) fresh sheep’s milk ricotta (you can use cow’s milk ricotta)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces (50 g) finely diced candied fruit
  • 2 ounces (50 g) bitter chocolate, shaved
  • 9 ounces (250 g) blanched peeled almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract diluted in ¼ cup of water
  • Green food coloring
  • Potato starch
  • 5 cups (500 g) powdered sugar, divided
  • 2 egg whites
  • Strips of candied fruit

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Whip 6 egg whites to firm peaks with a pinch of salt. In another bowl, beat the 6 yolks with 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar until the mixture is frothy and pale yellow.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and slowly add it to the beaten yolks, together with a couple of tablespoons of whipped egg whites and the lemon zest and then fold in the remaining beaten egg whites

Turn the batter into a buttered and floured pan (9 inch square) and bake it for a half hour; remove the cake from the oven and let it cool before removing it from the pan.

To make the almond paste:

Grind the almonds in a food processor, using short bursts until finely ground. Add 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and the almond water; blend until the mixture is homogenous.

Dust a work surface with the potato starch before turning the paste out onto it (you can also turn it out onto a sheet of wax paper) and incorporate a few drops of green food coloring diluted in a few drops of water. Work the paste until the color is uniform and then wrap the paste in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator.

Press the ricotta through a fairly fine wire mesh strainer and combine it with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, the vanilla, the shaved chocolate and the diced candied fruit.

To make the cassata:

Line a 10-inch (25 cm) diameter springform pan with plastic wrap,

Roll the almond paste out to 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick and wide enough to cover the cake pan bottom and sides. Fit the almond paste into the pan.

Next, line the bottom and sides of the pan with half-inch thick pieces of the baked cake.

Make a syrup by diluting some Marsala with a little water and a little sugar, and sprinkle it over the cake. Fill the empty space with the ricotta mixture and cover it with more of the cake, sprinkling again with the Marsala syrup.

Lay a dish on the cassata, press down gently, and chill the cassata for several hours in the refrigerator. Turn the cassata over onto the serving dish and remove the pan and the plastic wrap.

Beat the remaining two egg whites and sift the remaining powdered sugar into them, beating continuously until thick. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and spread it over the cassata. Let the glaze set for a few minutes, then decorate the cassata with candied fruit. Chill the cake for several more hours before serving.

palermomap


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Pining for a great steak dinner or celebrating a special occasion? A trip to s premium steakhouse will cost you the following:

Morton’s 3 course steak dinner for one is $150-160.

Ruth’s Chris price for just the cowboy rib eye is $50.

Gibson’s Steakhouse in Chicago – premium steaks average $40 to $60 per steak.

Dinner at less prestigious steak restaurants will be at least $90 per person.

If you make this special dinner at home, and I did, this is what it cost me:

Cost of a quality steakhouse dinner at home for 2 is less than $30 plus whatever your wine cost. These are prices for my area and the vegetables are in season and often on sale here

1 1/2 lb organic, grass fed French cut rib eye steak cost $22.50

Prices at the market this week:

$1.99 per lb for asparagus = $2.98 for 1 ½ lbs

5 lb bag of red potatoes on sale for $3.49 = $1.40 for 2 lbs needed for the recipe.

1 lb mushrooms were $2.49

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Grilled French Cut Rib Eye Steak

This steak has several names, such as cowboy or tomahawk. The steak can be grilled over indirect heat or it can be baked in the oven,

It is a large steak and we will only eat part of it. However, I like having leftovers that I can use for a salad or a quesadilla later in the week.

Ingredients

  • One 22 – 24 oz French Cut Rib Eye Steak
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

One hour before grilling, remove the steak from the refrigerator. Season it liberally with the salt and pepper. Let it rest at room temperature until it is time to grill.

Set the grill up for direct and indirect heat.

Put the steak on the grill over indirect heat. Close the lid, and cook the steak, turning a few times during cooking. The steak is ready for searing when it reaches 115°F  in the thickest part of the steak, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Brush the steak with some of the melted butter, then slide it to the direct heat side of the grill. Sear the steak until a brown crust forms on the steak. This should take about two minutes on each side, at which point the steak should reach 125°F for medium rare.

Remove the steak to a platter and baste i,t one last time, with the butter. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Oven Baked Method

Melt 2 tablespoons butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add the steak to the skillet. Cook until seared and golden brown, 2 minutes per side. Transfer the skillet to the oven..

Roast steak in the oven, turning halfway through cooking and basting frequently with the butter in the pan, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into steak registers 125° for medium-rare, about 15 minutes, or to your desired temperature.

Transfer the steak to a cutting board and and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

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Balsamic Sautéed Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • Pinch Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Combine the vinegar and the brown sugar in a small cup and set aside.

Heat the oil and butter in a medium skillet and saute the mushrooms until all the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the garlic, thyme, salt and black pepper.

Turn the heat to low and add the vinegar mixture. Cook, stirring, until the liquid reduces to a glaze consistency that coats the mushrooms, 15 to 20 seconds.

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Grilled Asparagus

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus spears, ends trimmed
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Heavy duty foil

Directions

Lay the asparagus on a large sheet of heavy duty foil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then with the garlic and lemon zest. Pour the melted butter over the asparagus.

Enclose the asparagus in the foil and seal the edges tightly. Place the package on the direct heat side of the grill while the steak is cooking.

Cook the asparagus for 8 minutes, turn the package over and cook another 8 minutes. Be careful opening the package because the steam will be very hot.

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Warm Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds red potatoes, ppelled and quartered
  • 1/2 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Place potatoes in a medium-sized saucepan covered 2 inches by salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

In the same saucepan, combine the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, capers, vinegar and red onion. Bring to a simmer and remove from the heat.

Add the drained potatoes and toss with the warm dressing, celery and parsley. Salt to taste and serve warm.


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Pizza isn’t just for winter. Spring is full of amazing ingredients coming into the market that are perfect to top your pizza crust. So before you put away your pizza stone, try pizza with some of spring’s seasonal vegetables. Fennel, artichoke hearts, asparagus, spring greens, onions and broccoli are all delicious on pizza. Fresh herbs are available in spring and they add a lot of flavor to pizza.

Sauteing the vegetables in olive oil with flavored salts, garlic and onion also adds flavor to vegetables before they go on a pizza. Pre-cooking them also eliminates the water in vegetables that can make a pizza soggy. Use a thin layer of vegetables and cheese so that the crust cooks through and gets crispy. Sauces do not always have to be tomato to make a good pizza. Basil Pesto  or a layer of ricotta cheese make an excellent base for veggies on a pizza.

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Pizza Dough

See the link below for my Easy No Knead Pizza Dough recipe.

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Spinach Feta Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pizza dough at room temperature: Easy No Knead Pizza Dough recipe here.
  • 1 lb. spinach, stems trimmed
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 oz mozzarella, sliced
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Directions

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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the lowest position in the oven.

Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the onion until soft. Add the garlic and spinach leaves.Cook until the spinach wilts. Add the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the pizza dough to the edges in a greased pizza pan.

Top the dough with the mozzarella slices.

Spread the spinach onion mixture over the cheese. Sprinkle with feta cheese and then with the oregano.

Place the pizza on the bottom oven rack and bake 15-20 minutes.

Red Onion Tomato Salad

This salad is so delicious with the Spinach Feta Pizza.

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Serves 2

  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 pound small tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives

Directions

Finely slice the red onion and put the slices in a bowl of cold water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Quarter the tomatoes. Drain the onion and pat dry.

Place the garlic, a pinch of salt, and the vinegar into a serving bowl. Drizzle in the olive oil while whisking.

Add the red onion and thyme and let marinate for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and toss gently to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.

 


modena5

Modena is a province in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and it has been inhabited since the prehistoric era by various ethnic groups, whose traces are in the archaeological finds. According to some Roman historians and to archaeological finds, the area was once occupied by the Etruscans and the Celts. It was the period of the great Roman expansion and in 187 BC, the route, via Emilia, from Rimini to Piacenza, was built. Four years later, in 183 BC, the Roman colony of Mutina was founded. Like all the Roman towns of the period, it was square, with two perpendicular main streets. In 78 BC, Modena was besieged during the civil wars and just six years later, in 72 BC, Spartacus won a battle against Cassio Longino there. However, the most important historical event that occurred in Roman Modena was the battle of Modena. After Caesar’s assassination, Brutus decided to take refuge in the city but he could do nothing against the army sent from Rome.

A really dark age began for Modena in the centuries after Christ’s birth, suffering like many other Italian cities after the fall of the Roman Empire. At the end of the IV century, the bishop and Patron Saint of Milan, Ambrogio, passing through the area near Modena, could not help noticing the decay of the previous thriving community. In the VIII century conditions improved by the foundation of Nonantola Abbey and the building of city walls around the cathedral.

modena4

The Renaissance was for Modena, as for the rest of Italy, a period of great cultural development. Modena became a European capital and the center for the Emilia region. For this reason, when after the French Revolution Napoleon conquered Italy, he chose Modena as his headquarters. It was also a period of great upheaval and the Congress of the Cispadane Republic was held in Modena, followed by the approval of the Constitution and by elections. Also, at this time, the Italian flag as we know it today (green, white and red) was raised.

When this Republic fell, in 1799, Modena was conquered by the Austrians and then re-occupied by the French. Napoleon returned in the city as Emperor in 1805. When the Napoleonic era ended, in 1814 the Austro Duke Francesco IV entered Modena to govern during the period called the Restoration. Those years were a good time for Modena, though the conservatism of the Duke repressed cultural life. During that era, many edifices were built that are still standing in Modena today.

Province of Modena - road to the Italian farmer household

Following the Unification of Italy, Modena was downgraded to a city and a less interesting period began for the area. Modena, Italy, is a study in contrasts. The inner city is a perfectly preserved medieval town with cobblestone streets and one of Italy’s most striking cathedrals, while the outer city is a modern industrial business park of factories and industry.

Modena is also one of northern Italy’s culinary capitals and is famous for not only its high quality balsamic vinegar, which is exported all over the world, but for its Vignola cherries, Modenese Ham and Nocino, a bitter liqueur made from the husks of walnuts.

Modena is known for its stuffed pastas, like cannelloni and tortellini, which are usually stuffed with pork and Parmesan cheese, and for its heavily spiced pork sausages. The local Lambrusco red wine is inexpensive and goes with most Modenese dishes.

modena2

Balsamic Vinegar has been made and used in Modena for centuries. While no one seems to know quite how many, the first documentation about this product can be found in 1046. It appears to have been used for just about everything, from a disinfectant to an aid for digestion. In the archives of Modena, on public view, is a wine list from a secret Ducal cellar dated 1747 and balsamic vinegar is listed alongside the wine. There are writings from 1508, recalling balsamic vinegar and talking about it in the court of the Duke of Modena, who was Lucrezia Borgia’s husband. Small casks were given to new brides in Modena and the tradition continues today.

modena3

Balsamic vinegar is not made from wine, like regular vinegar, but from the must (cooked liquid from grapes) of the Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes. The grapes are slowly cooked to create a concentrate, which is then aged for a minimum of 12 years in wooden barrels. The barrels vary in size and are made from different woods, from the largest to the smallest usually oak, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, ash and juniper. The newly reduced must is placed in the largest barrel and as the evaporation process each year reduces the content in the barrels, each is topped off with content from the next largest one. It is a long and laborious process that yields a syrupy product, whose taste is a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Only balsamic vinegar that has gone through this process can be labeled” tradizionale”.

To find the best product, look closely at the ingredient list. The first ingredient should be the must of grapes and not vinegar. Caramel should not be listed as an ingredient, nor should there be added flavorings either natural or artificial. Also, look for a bottle that says that it has been aged in wooden barrels, as sometimes “aged in wood” simply means that wooden chips were added as the vinegar ages. The price tag will be revealing: aceto balsamico tradizionale is sold for many hundred dollars per liter. Some traditional producers will put on the market a diluted version of balsamic for a much more reasonable price tag that will not carry the word tradizionale on the label.

Meat dishes are delicious with aceto balsamico, but one of the best pairings for it is with slices of Parmigiano Reggiano- as well as other aged cheeses. It is also good drizzled over strawberries or ice cream.

Cannelloni Modena Style

modenapasta

4 servings

For the pasta

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs

For the sauce

  • 3/4 lb lean ground pork
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion, small
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 2 oz prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 oz all-purpose flour
  • Nutmeg to taste
  • 3 oz butter, plus extra for the baking dish
  • ½ cup tomato (pasta) sauce
  • 3 ½ oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl of warm water. Let soak for 20 minutes

To make the cannelloni pasta 

Place the flour on a flat work surface and shape it into a well. Add the eggs in the center and incorporate the flour into the eggs by hand. Alternatively, you can use a food processor. Work the dough until it is smooth and even, then let it rest for 20 minutes covered with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap.

Use a rolling-pin or pasta machine to roll out the dough into very thin sheets. Cut them into 4-inch squares. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add 2 or 3 pasta squares at a time and cook for about 30 seconds.

Once the squares have been cooked, remove them from the water and place them on a damp cloth to cool. Repeat with all the squares.

To make the sauce

Finely chop the carrot, onion and celery. Place a pan over medium heat and add the butter to the pan. Once the butter has melted, add the chopped vegetables and chopped parsley. Cook until the onion becomes translucent. Next add the ground pork to the pan. Stir and let brown for a couple of minutes, then add the chopped prosciutto and previously soaked mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the wine and cook for 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. Stir the sauce while adding the flour. Also add chopped tomatoes and the tomato sauce. Cook for over medium heat for an additional 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Place a tablespoon of the sauce in the center of each pasta square. Roll the squares (jelly roll style to make the cannelloni.

Place the cannelloni in a single layer in a baking dish greased with butter. Cover the cannelloni with the remaining sauce, top with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and small pieces of butter.

Bake the cannelloni in a 350°F for about 20 minutes or until they are brown and the filling is hot.

Pollo di Modena

for white29 - photo by Evan Sung. Pollo al lambrusco

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, shredded
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

In a large, non-reactive bowl, mix together the chicken, vinegar, garlic and sage. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Pat the chicken dry and season with the salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken in batches until browned on all sides.

Reduce heat to medium-low and return all the chicken to the pot. Pour in the reserved marinade and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally. Add a little water if necessary to keep the marinade from drying out.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce and pour it over chicken. Serve with good crusty bread and a salad.

Asparagi alla Parmigiana

modenaasparagus

Asparagi alla parmigiana is a springtime favorite in northern Italy.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • Asparagus, trimmed — 2 pounds
  • Butter, cut into pieces —  3 tablespoons
  • Parmesan cheese, grated — 2/3 cup
  • Salt and pepper — to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter a shallow gratin or baking dish that is just large enough to hold the asparagus. Place a layer of asparagus in the dish, with the tips all facing the same direction. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and some of the cheese. Keep adding layers until all asparagus and all cheese is used, finishing with the cheese.

Dot the top of the dish with the pieces of butter and place the dish on the top rack of the oven. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the asparagus is cooked through and beginning to brown and the cheese is melted.

 

Torta Barozzi

modenacake

Serve with cherries, as they do in Modena.

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted on a cookie sheet for 4 minutes in a 350 degree F oven
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (not commercial balsamic vinegar used for salads, but the much more expensive, artisanal version.)
  • 1/4 cup coffee
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat a 9 x 2-inch springform pan with butter, or cooking spray, dust with cocoa, tapping out the excess, and fit a sheet of parchment paper in the base of the pan. Butter the paper. Set the pan aside.

Grind the almonds to a powder in a food processor. Set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl set over hot water.

Beat the yolks and sugar until lemon colored and very fluffy; stir in the almonds, chocolate mixture, rum and coffee. Set aside.

Beat the whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Fold into the chocolate mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center is slightly damp. Do not over bake the cake. It should remain moist.

Remove the pan from the oven and set on a cooling rack. Cool completely. Carefully run a butter knife along the inside edges of the pan and release the spring. Remove the pan sides.

Place the cake on a serving dish. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a small sieve and dust the top of the cake.

Cut into thin wedges to serve.

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