The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. This series continues with the country of Egypt.
The Arab Republic of Egypt is located in the northeastern region of the African continent, bordering both the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The climate is arid and dry and most of the country receives less than one inch of rainfall each year. However, Egypt’s northern coastline can get up to eight inches of rainfall each year and the year-round temperatures are cooler here than inland. Egypt has no forests and only 2 percent of the land is arable (land that can be farmed).
The well-known Nile River, the longest river in the world, runs north and south through eastern Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile River Valley, which includes the capital city of Cairo, is the most fertile land in Egypt. Approximately 95 percent of the country’s population lives alongside the Nile River.
Egyptian cuisine is characterized by dishes such as stewed fava beans; lentils and pasta and okra stew. Egyptian cuisine shares similarities with other Mediterranean countries, such as rice-stuffed vegetables, grape leaves, shawarma, kebabs and kofta. The cuisine most often utilizes legumes, vegetables and fruits from Egypt’s rich Nile valley and delta. Although entrees in Alexandria and the coast of Egypt tend to use a great deal of fish and other seafood, the Egyptian cuisine is based on foods that grow in the ground. Meat has been very expensive for most Egyptians throughout history, so a great number of vegetarian dishes have been developed.
Easy access to various spices due to Egypt’s many seaports has, throughout the years, left its mark on Egyptian cuisine. Cumin is the most commonly used spice. Other common spices include coriander, cardamom, chili, aniseed, bay leaves, dill, parsley, ginger, cinnamon, mint and cloves.
Egyptians are known to use lots of garlic and onions in their everyday dishes. Fresh garlic mashed with other herbs is used in a spicy tomato salad and also in stuffed eggplant. Garlic fried with coriander is added to soup and sometimes to chicken or rabbit. Fried onions can also be a popular addition.
When meats are on the Egyptian table, they are usually rabbit, pigeon, chicken or duck. These are often boiled to make a broth for stews and soups and the meat is served separately. Lamb and beef are the most common meats used for grilling.
The local bread is a form of hearty, thick, gluten-rich pita bread called eish baladi. This bread is made from a simple recipe that forms the backbone of the Egyptian cuisine. It is consumed at almost all Egyptian meals; a working-class or rural Egyptian meal might consist of little more than bread and beans.
Although many rural people still make their own cheese, notably the fermented mish, mass-produced cheeses are becoming more common. Cheese is often served with breakfast, it is included in several traditional dishes, and even in some desserts.
Despite the country’s dry climate, Egypt grows a variety of fresh fruits. Mohz (bananas), balah (dates), burtu’aan (oranges), battiikh (melon), khukh (peaches), berkuk (plums) and ‘anub (grapes) are grown.
Tea is the national drink in Egypt, followed only distantly by coffee, prepared using the Turkish method. Egyptian tea is uniformly black and sour and is generally served in a glass, sometimes with milk. Tea packed and sold in Egypt is almost exclusively imported from Kenya and Sri Lanka. Egyptian tea comes in two varieties, kushari and sa‘idi. Vendors also sell a variety of asiir (fresh-squeezed juices) made from fruits like banana, guava, mango, pomegranate, strawberry, from sugar cane, and even hibiscus flowers.
Egyptian desserts resemble other Eastern Mediterranean desserts. Basbousa is a dessert made from semolina and soaked in syrup. It is usually topped with almonds and cut vertically into pieces, so that each piece has a diamond shape. Baqlawa is a sweet dish made from many layers of phyllo pastry with an assortment of nuts and soaked in a sweet syrup. Ghuriyiba is a sweet biscuit made with sugar, flour and liberal quantities of butter, similar to shortbread. It can be topped with roasted almonds or black cardamom pods.
Dining customs vary throughout the country and between different religions. When invited to be a guest in an Egyptian household, it is polite for guests to bring a small gift to the host, such as flowers or chocolate, to show their appreciation for the meal. Before dinner, cocktails (usually nonalcoholic) are frequently served. This is a time for socializing and becoming acquainted. Mezze (salads and dips) would also be served at this time. When dinner is ready, usually between 9 P.M. and 10 P.M. , guests seat themselves and food is placed in the middle of the table. Bread will almost always accompany meals, which may include vegetables, rice dishes, soups and meat dishes. Following dinner, guests will move into another room and enjoy coffee or mint tea. Guests should always compliment the cook.
Although Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims in Egypt, it is usually a time when Egyptians pay a lot of attention to food variety and richness, since breaking the fast is a family affair, often with the entire extended families meeting at the table just after sunset. There are several special desserts that are served almost exclusively during Ramadan, such as kunafa and atayef. during the Ramadan month, many Egyptians prepare a special table for the poor or passers-by, usually in a tent in the street, called Ma’edet Rahman which literally translates to “Table of the Merciful”. Observant Christians in Egypt adhere to fasting periods according to the Coptic calendar; these days may extend to more than two-thirds of the year for the most observant. The more secular Coptic population fasts only for Easter and Christmas. The Coptic diet for fasting is essentially vegan. During this fasting, only vegetables and legumes are eaten and all meat and dairy products are avoided.
Egyptian Recipes To Make At Home
Gebna Makleyah (Oven-Fried Cheese)
Serves 4 to 6.
1 cup firm feta cheese, crumbled or traditional Egyptian cheese, such as labna or gebna
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges and pita bread cut into triangles, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place the cheese, flour, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well.
Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls.
If the mixture seems too loose to hold the ball shape, add a little more flour.
If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit of lemon juice, vinegar or water.
Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil onto a cookie sheet to grease.
Arrange the cheese balls on the cookie sheet, rolling them around to coat thoroughly with the oil.
Bake 5 minutes.
Wearing an oven mitt, open the oven door and shake the cookie sheet to prevent the cheese balls from sticking, then turn them over.
Bake 5 more minutes, until golden brown.
Remove with a spatula and drain on absorbent paper.
Serve warm with lemon wedges and triangles of pita bread.
Ful Mudammas (Broad Beans in Sauce)
Serves 4 to 6.
2 cans (15-ounces each) cooked fava beans
6 cloves garlic, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
¼ cup olive oil
1½ tablespoons parsley, minced
Garnish, such as radishes, hard-boiled eggs, chopped scallions, pita bread (toasted and cut into wedges)
Press the garlic cloves through a garlic press into a medium bowl.
Mash the garlic and salt together.
Next, add the lemon juice, olive oil and parsley to the garlic mixture and combine thoroughly.
Drain the beans well, rinse and put the beans into a large pot over low heat.
Add the garlic mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine thoroughly.
Serve warm with the garnishes arranged on a platter.
Each person is served a plateful of Ful Mudammas and adds the garnishes of his or her choice.
Koushari (Lentils, Macaroni, Rice, and Chickpeas)
Serves 4 to 6.
1 cup lentils
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup elbow macaroni
1 cup rice
1 can (15-ounces) chickpeas (also called ceci beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup canned tomato puree
¼ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, or to taste
To prepare the lentils:
Place the lentils in a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Place them in a large saucepan with 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt.
Heat until the water begins to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 1 hour or until the lentils are tender. Drain and set the lentils aside.
To prepare the macaroni:
Fill the same saucepan with water (add salt). Heat until the water begins to boil.
Add the macaroni and boil about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the macaroni is tender. Drain and set the macaroni aside.
To prepare the rice:
Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same saucepan. Add the rice and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, thoroughly coating the rice with oil.
Add 2 cups of water and heat until the water begins to boil. Cover the saucepan and simmer until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
To assemble the koushari:
Drain the chickpeas and rinse them in a colander. Add chickpeas, lentil, and macaroni to the cooked rice and toss very gently with a fork.
To make the sauce:
Peel the onions and cut them in half lengthwise. Slice each half crosswise into thin slices.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon until the onions are golden brown.
Add garlic clove and cook 1 or 2 more minutes. Stir in the tomato puree and heat until bubbly.
Pour the sauce over the lentil mixture and heat over very low heat for about 5 minutes, until completely warm.
Serve with pita bread.
1 cup dried prunes
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried small figs, halved
1½ cups raisins
1 cup sugar, or to taste
2½ cups boiling water
Nuts for garnish
Place all the fruits in a bowl and mix together gently.
Sprinkle the sugar on top of the dried fruits.
Carefully pour the boiling water into the bowl, cover and allow to cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate for several hours or overnight if possible. ( Khoshaf is best when allowed to marinate overnight or for several hours before serving.) Garnish with nuts and serve.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Syria. This series continues with the country of Lebanon.
Stretching along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon’s length is almost three times its width. As it stretches from north to south, the width of its terrain becomes narrower. Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate characterized by a long, semi-hot, and dry summer, and a cold, rainy and snowy winter.
The country’s role in the region was shaped by trade. Lebanon is named “the pearl of the middle east.” It serves as a link between the Mediterranean world and India and East Asia. The merchants of the region exported oil, grain, textiles, metalwork, and pottery through the port cities to Western markets.
Lebanon was heavily forested in ancient and medieval times, and its timber, especially cedar, was exported for building and shipbuilding. Although Lebanon’s diverse and abundant plant and animal life suffered a heavy toll during the country’s lengthy civil war, the post-civil war period was marked by the rise of fledgling environmental groups and movements that worked toward the creation of protected areas and parks in Lebanon’s ecological areas.
Lebanon has a heterogeneous society composed of numerous ethnic and religious groups. Ethnically, the Lebanese compose a mixture Phoenicians, Greeks, Armenians and Arabs.
The cuisine of Lebanon is the epitome of the Mediterranean diet. It includes an abundance of grains, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood; animal fats are consumed sparingly. Poultry is eaten more often than red meat, and when red meat is eaten, it is usually lamb.
Many dishes in the Lebanese cuisine can be traced back thousands of years to eras of Roman and Phoenician rule. More recently, Lebanese cuisine was influenced by the different foreign civilizations that held power. From 1516 to 1918, the Ottoman Turks controlled Lebanon and introduced a variety of foods that have become staples in the Lebanese diet, such as cooking with lamb. After the Ottomans were defeated in World War I (1914–1918), France took control of Lebanon until 1943, when the country achieved its independence. The French introduced foods such as flan, a caramel custard dessert dating back to the 16th century AD, and croissants.
Most often foods are grilled, baked or sautéed in olive oil and vegetables are often eaten raw, pickled, or cooked. Herbs and spices are used in large quantities. Like most Mediterranean countries, much of what the Lebanese eat is dictated by the seasons and what is available. In Lebanon, very rarely are drinks served without being accompanied by food. Similar to the tapas of Spain and aperitivo of Italy, mezze is an array of small dishes placed before the guests. Mezze may be as simple as raw or pickled vegetables, hummus, baba ghanouj and bread, or it may become an entire meal consisting of grilled marinated seafood, skewered meats, a variety of cooked and raw salads and an arrangement of desserts.
Salads may include tabbouleh, fattoush and kebbeh. Patties such as the Sambusac and stuffed grape leaves are often included. Family cuisine offers also a range of dishes, such as stews, which can be cooked in many forms depending on the ingredients used and are usually served with meat and rice vermicelli. Lebanese flat bread, called pita, is a staple at every Lebanese meal and can be used in place of a fork. Although simple fresh fruits are often served towards the end of a Lebanese meal, there are also desserts, such as baklava. Although baklava is the most internationally known dessert, there is a great variety of Lebanese desserts.
Lebanese Dishes To Make At Home
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups bread flour, plus more for kneading/forming
2 teaspoons salt
1⁄4 cup and 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for greasing
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1⁄2 cup of warm water. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve the salt in 1 cup of warm water. Add the flour and turn the mixer on.
Slowly add the yeast mixture and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix until the dough combines (it will be sticky), about 2 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and place on a lightly greased sheet pan. Coat lightly with oil.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough down and knead for 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 6 (5 oz.) pieces and roll each piece into a ball.
Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Cover the balls with plastic wrap, being careful not to let the plastic wrap stick to the balls (you can do this by placing coffee mugs or short glasses on the sheet pan). Let the balls proof for 15 minutes.
Lightly dust one piece of dough at a time on both sides with flour.
Push the dough out with your fingers in a circular motion to create a disk that is approximately 5″ in diameter and 1⁄2″ thick.
Using a lightly floured rolling-pin, roll the dough in a clockwise motion to get it to 7″ in diameter and 1⁄8″ thick.
Transfer the dough to an inverted lightly floured sheet pan. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 3 minutes.
Flip the bread over and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven, transfer to a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
Place a second piece of parchment paper on top of the bread and cover with a damp towel. Let the bread sit for 10 minutes, or until cooled.
Repeat with the remaining dough.
When ready to serve, lightly brush the pitas with the remaining olive oil and grill for 1-1 1⁄2 minutes on each side.
It should be warm but still pliable. Cut the bread into wedges and serve.
Thick, tart, and creamy yogurt-like cheese, is eaten with olive oil, pita bread and za’atar.
8 cups whole milk
1 cup plain yogurt
Kosher salt, to taste
Olive oil, for serving
Bring milk to a boil in a 4-quart nonreactive saucepan fitted with a deep-fry thermometer.
Remove the pan from the heat and let cool until the thermometer reads 118°F.
Transfer 1 cup of the milk to a bowl; whisk in yogurt until combined.
Add yogurt mixture to the saucepan and whisk until smooth; cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place (ideally 70°F-75°F) until thickened, 6-8 hours.
Line a fine-mesh strainer with 3 layers of cheesecloth; set over a bowl. Transfer yogurt to the strainer; let drain at least 8 hours or overnight.
Transfer to a serving dish. Season with salt and drizzle with oil. Add olives and za’atar, if desired.
Spiced Chicken And Tomato Kebabs
1 cup plain yogurt
1⁄2 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons crushed saffron
1 teaspoon ground coriander
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, sliced
2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 plum tomatoes, cored
Ground sumac, to garnish
2 limes, halved
Pita, for serving
Stir together the yogurt, juice, oil, zest, cumin, salt, pepper, saffron, coriander, garlic and onions in a large bowl; add chicken and toss to coat.
Chill for 4 hours.
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, heat a gas grill to medium-high or a heat broiler to high.
Skewer chicken on 4 metal skewers and skewer tomatoes lengthwise on another skewer.
Grill chicken and tomatoes, turning often, until the tomatoes are soft and charred, about 7 minutes, and the chicken is cooked through and slightly charred, about 10 minutes.
Sprinkle skewers with sumac; serve with limes and pita.
Garlicky Lentil Salad
1 cup green lentils, rinsed
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
12 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring lentils and 3 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan.
Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until the lentils are tender, about 35 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in an 8” skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until soft, 7–8 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the remaining oil, lemon juice, cumin and allspice. Pour the garlic mixture over the lentils.
Add parsley. mint and season the lentils with salt and pepper; toss to combine. Serve lentils at room temperature.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. This series continues with the country of Greece.
Before it became known as a “Blue Zone”—a region of the world where people tend to live unusually long and healthy lives—the island of Ikaria, Greece, was unknown to most Americans. Ikaria is where the majority of the people live to be well into their 90’s.
In the past few years, Ikaria has received considerable attention from scientists and journalists who want to learn the secrets of its long-living residents. Food clearly plays a large role in the Ikarians’ longevity: The Mediterranean diet they follow has been linked to lower rates of cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and—most recently—heart disease. Although, we, Americans, can’t adopt all aspects of the Greek-island lifestyle, we can incorporate some of the eating patterns and dietary traditions practiced there. And, the best part of “eating like a Greek” is that the food is delicious.
Ikarians regularly dine on potatoes, greens, olives and seasonal vegetables. Vegetables are a big part of every meal and they are prepared in a healthy way—served raw in a salad or roasted with olive oil, rather than fried.
The majority of people in Greece eat a salad as an appetizer before the main course. This way, their appetite is significantly reduced by healthy ingredients.
Shellfish and fish are abundant in their cuisine, all of which tastes great over pasta with lemon and olive oil or in a souvlaki-style flatbread wrap with vegetables. Ikarians also eat smarter snacks—like raw vegetables and protein-rich dips made from Greek yogurt, beans or lentils.
Ikarians typically have a late morning breakfast comprised of goat’s milk, yogurt and or cheese, fruit, herbal tea or coffee, whole grain bread and local honey. At lunch, salads made of beans, legumes and potatoes, along with cooked fresh garden vegetables are standard fare and prepared with generous amounts of olive oil. Locally-caught fish may also be served and Ikarian red wine typically accompanies the meal. Meat is eaten just a few times per month. Ikarians eat a late lunch and it is usually followed by an afternoon nap, a practice that many Ikarians still follow and which results in a restful and stress free rest of the day. Quiet leisurely late afternoons and a heart-healthy routine greatly reduces the risk for heart disease. A light dinner of bread, olives, vegetables and wine is followed by evening visits with neighbors before bedtime.
Ikaria is the Mediterranean Diet in all its aspects, including the ways in which locally produced fresh, seasonal, home-cooked food and community are all integrated in ways that support physical, emotional/ mental health, relationships and the environment.
“Eat Like a Greek”
Greek Lentil Soup
Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas
- 2 large red onions, coarsely chopped, about 2 cups (500 mL)
- Salt, to taste
- 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 pound (500 g) small brown lentils
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped or pureed tomatoes
- 4 fresh sage leaves
- 2 sprigs dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 fresh or dried whole chile pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to taste
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra virgin Greek olive oil
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) red wine vinegar
- Raw red or white onion for serving
Coarsely chop one of the onions. Place in a large, heavy pot, sprinkle with a little salt and cook, covered, over very low heat until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the minced garlic and stir.
Rinse the lentils in a colander. Add the lentils, tomatoes, sage, oregano, bay leaf and chile pepper to the pot, and toss all together for a few minutes over low heat.
Pour in enough water to cover the contents of the pot by 3 inches. Raise heat to medium, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for one hour, or until very tender.
Season to taste with salt. Pour in the olive oil and vinegar just before serving.
To serve: Remove the bay leaf, oregano and sage leaves and discard. Slice the remaining onion. Sprinkle a few onion slices over the top of each soup portion. Drizzle in additional olive oil and vinegar if desired.
Briam – Baked Vegetables in Olive Oil (Island of Ikaria-Greece)
FOODS OF CRETE COOKBOOK, recipe and photo by Chef Bill Bradley, R.D.
Briam is an oven baked dish of fresh vegetables, herbs, olive oil, and an optional feta cheese. It is one of the most classic dishes of Greece.
- 2 small or 1 large eggplant, cut into large, thick strips
- 4 small or 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 3-4 small zucchini, ends cut off and cut into large pieces
- 2 onions, cut in half
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into large pieces
- 1 orange bell pepper, cut into large pieces
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 bunch dill, stems removed and chopped
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup feta, crumbled
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large Dutch oven or baking dish, mix together all the ingredients except the feta cheese. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil.
Bake for 1 hour and stir. Re-cover and bake for another hour. Remove the baking dish from the oven, stir in the feta cheese and serve immediately.
Rosemary and Olive Focaccia
FOODS OF CRETE COOKBOOK, recipe and photo by Koula Barydakis
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups warm water
- 2/3 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
- 2 tablespoons dried or fresh rosemary, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix flour, yeast, oregano, sugar, salt, olive oil and water in a bowl. Knead until the dough is soft (at least 5 minutes).
Cover with a warm, moist towel and put in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (about an hour).
Spread dough on a baking (cookie) tray, pressing lightly so that it is flat and even.
Oil the dough. Make little cavities throughout the top of the dough by pressing down with your fingers.
Place olives and rosemary in the cavities.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. Serve hot.
Chicken Salad Greek Style
Recipe and photo from GAEA.
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup bite-sized broccoli ﬂorets
- 2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
- 1 orange, segmented
- 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
Using a rolling pin, glass jar or mallet, pound and ﬂatten the chicken breasts to an even thickness. Season all sides with salt and pepper.
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once heated, sauté the chicken breasts until golden brown, about 1 minute each side.
Reduce heat to low and cover for 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the chicken rest, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli ﬂorets and cook until slightly softened, about 1 minute.
Place the fennel, oranges, cherry tomatoes and avocado to a large salad bowl.
Mix all of the dressing ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken slices to the salad bowl. Drizzle dressing on top and gently toss all of the ingredients together. Serve.
Baked Seafood Orzo with Kalamata Olives
Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas
Orzo is one of the most popular Greek pasta shapes. In Greek, it’s called kritharaki.
- 1 pound orzo
- 1/2 cup extra virgin Greek olive oil
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups chopped tomatoes (good quality canned are also fine)
- Pinch of hot sauce or hot pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup white wine, plus one cup if using whole, unshelled mussels
- 2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- 2 pounds mussels in their shell, or 2 ½ cups shelled, frozen mussels, defrosted
- 2 cups cleaned, shelled small fresh or frozen and defrosted shrimp
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 chop chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 350F / 175C.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the orzo and simmer until al dente. It should be a little underdone.
Drain, transfer back to the hot pot and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
While the orzo is boiling start the sauce:
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide pot or deep skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until wilted and translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Add 3 of the 4 chopped garlic cloves and stir.
Pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add the wine. Simmer until the alcohol has cooked off.
Add 1 cup of hot water, the star anise and hot sauce or hot pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.
Cook the sauce over medium heat for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Add the olives to the sauce five minutes before removing the pan from the heat.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare the seafood:
If using mussels in the shell, make sure they are cleaned and well-washed.
Steam them in two inches of wine in a wide pot with the lid closed, over high heat, until they open.
You can add herbs or garlic if you want to the steaming liquid, before adding the mussels.
Remove and strain in a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the liquid.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same pot and add the shrimp and remaining garlic.
If you are using shelled mussels that have been defrosted, drain them and add them to the shrimp.
Stir over medium heat until the shrimp start to turn pink. Remove.
Toss the mussels and shrimp, the reserved steaming liquid, and the pan juices from lightly sautéeing the shrimp into the tomato sauce.
Stir in the oregano and parsley. Remove the star anise.
Oil a large baking dish, preferably ovenproof glass or ceramic. Place the orzo in the baking dish and mix in the sauce thoroughly.
Pour in any remaining olive oil.
Bake, covered, for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the orzo is fully cooked. Remove, cool slightly and serve.
Tahini-Walnut Phyllo Flutes
Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas
- 2 cups tahini
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 to 1 ½ cups water
- 3 cups finely ground walnuts
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 pound phyllo dough, thawed and at room temperature
- 1/2 cup extra virgin Greek olive oil
- Greek honey for serving
Whip together the tahini and sugar at high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy, about 5 minutes.
As you whip the mixture, drizzle in the water. It should end up being the consistency of peanut butter.
Using a wooden spoon or whisk, stir in the cinnamon and walnuts.
Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Lightly oil two sheet pans.
Open the phyllo and place horizontally in front of you.
Cut three stacks of three-inch strips and keep them covered with a kitchen towel and a damp towel on top.
Take the first strip, oil lightly. Place a second strip on top and oil that, too.
Place a tablespoon of the filling on the bottom center of the strip, fold in the sides, and then roll up to form a tight cylinder.
Place seam-side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining ingredients until everything is used up.
Bake the flutes for 8 – 12 minutes, until golden. Remove and cool slightly.
To serve: Drizzle with honey.
You can store the cooled pastries in tins in a cool dry place for up to 5 days.
The Province of L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of southern Italy. The outstanding feature of the Abruzzo region, one that distinguishes it from Tuscany, is its three national parks and 30 nature reserves. It is why the area is known as the “green heart of Italy”. However, the province has been badly affected over the years by earthquakes, particularly the capital city of L’Aquila and its surrounding areas.
The province is also known for its many castles, fortresses and medieval hill towns. The province’s two major cities, L’Aquila and Avezzano, have had rapid economic expansion since the late 20th century, with growth in the areas of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and the computer industry.
Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s agricultural economy, as people moved to cities for work. Since the founding of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga and Majella national parks and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, tourists have been attracted to the mountainous landscapes. Tourism and associated services have boosted the economy and begun to reverse its decline.
The province of L’Aquila is dotted with ruins of ancient pagan temples and Roman settlements. A well-known city landmark (below) is the Fontana Luminosa (“Luminous Fountain”), a sculpture of two women bearing large jars, that was built in the 1930s.
L’Aquila is a good base for skiing in the Apennines. The two most popular resorts are Campo Felice and Campo Imperator. Both resorts offer routes for downhill skiing, as well as for cross country. Ski season usually lasts from December to April.
The Province of L’Aquila often organizes open-air celebrations and folk festivals that recall the old traditions and offer the chance to taste traditional local products. Abruzzi’s cuisine is rich in local specialties, such as red garlic, sugar-coated almonds, goat cheese, lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, mortadella from Campotosto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines.
The famous “Maccheroni all chitarra” is amongst the best known in the Abruzzi cuisine. The pasta dough, made of eggs and durum wheat, is cut into strips using a “chitarra” (translated literally as “guitar”). This equipment is made up of a wooden frame, strung with parallel steel strands, and by pushing the sheets of pasta dough through with a rolling-pin, the characteristic shape of chitarra is obtained. Chitarra is served with various Abruzzo sauces that include: pork, goose or lamb ragout.
Abruzzo side dishes include, “sagne e faggioli”, bean soup with traditional thin pasta noodles made from flour and water, flavored with a thin sauce made from fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and spicy peppers. Other well-known Abruzzo dishes, include “gnocchi carrati”, flavored with bacon, egg and ewes-milk cheese. “Scripelli” crepes are served in a soup or used to form a soufflé dish and are served with a little ragout or stuffed with chicken liver, meat balls, hard-boiled eggs or a fresh ewe’s-milk cheese.
Ravioli can also be stuffed with sugar and cinnamon and served with a thick pork ragout. The “Pastuccia” is a stew of polenta that is served with sausage, egg and grated ewe’s-milk cheese and “pappicci” are thin pasta noodles in a tomato sauce.
Roast lamb has several variations, such as “arrosticini”, thin wooden skewers with pieces of lamb, cooked over an open fire and often served with bruschetta – which is roasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil. Pecora al cotturo is lamb stuffed with herbs and cooked in a copper pot and “agnello cacio e oro” is a rustic fricassee.
Pizzas, from the Easter Pizza, above, (a cake with cheese and pepper) to “fiadoni” that is often enriched by a casing of pastry and filled with everything imaginable: eggs, fresh cheeses, ricotta and vegetables with all the flavorings and spices that the mind can only imagine.
The spreadable sausage from Teramano flavored with nutmeg, liver sausage from the mountains, ewe’s-milk cheeses and mozzarella cheese are all local favorites.
Traditional homemade desserts include “Ferrarelle”, aniseed wafers, “cicerchiata”, balls of fried dough joined into ring shapes with heated honey, “croccante” a type of nougat made with almonds and caramelized sugar, flavored with lemon, “mostaccioli” biscuits sweetened with cooked must; “pepatelli” biscuits of ground almonds and honey; macarons and the airy “Sise delle monache”, triangular pieces of sponge cake filled with confectioners cream; almonds and chocolate.
Prosciutto and Fichi
The prosciutto from near L’Aquila is a bit saltier and less sweet than the prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele.
Slices of prosciutto crudo
Fresh, ripe figs
Large basil leaves
Slice the figs in half (if they are the smaller ones or in quarters if they are the larger variety). Wrap the ham and basil around the figs. Arrange on a serving platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar..
Swiss Chard with Borlotti Beans (Verdure con Fagioli)
2 cups dried borlotti or cranberry beans, soaked overnight and drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
7 lbs Swiss chard, trimmed, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon. crushed red chili flakes
12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
3 carrots, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
2 cups chicken stock
Boil beans and 6 cups water in a 6-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Drain beans; set aside.
Fill a saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the chard and cook until wilted and the stems are tender, 4–6 minutes; drain and squeeze dry.
Add 1⁄4 cup oil and the chili flakes to the same saucepan and heat over medium. Cook garlic, celery, carrots and onion until golden, 8–10 minutes.
Add the reserved beans and chard, the stock, salt and pepper and simmer until the stock is slightly reduced, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with the remaining oil.
Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style meat sauce)
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1/2 lb boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds chopped canned tomatoes, with their juices (about 7 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Warm the cooking oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Season the pieces of meat with a little salt and pepper and add them to the pot.
Brown for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the pieces over to brown the other side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pieces to a deep plate or bowl.
Press the tomatoes through a food mill. Discard the solids. Set the tomatoes aside.
Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Stir in the onion and garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is shiny and beginning to soften.
Pour in the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer.
Return the meat to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer.
Cover partially and let the sauce cook, stirring it from time to time, for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thickened.
Add a splash or two of water, if the sauce thickens too much before the meat is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Turn off the heat. Remove the meat from the pot, shred it and return it to the sauce.
Note: The ragu may be stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.
This sauce is traditionally served over pappardelle or chitarra pasta.
Italian waffle cookies, or pizzelle (which literally means small pizzas), are quite popular in the Abruzzo region of Italy. You can add cocoa with the sugar and make a chocolate version, or spread some hazelnut cream on one and top with another.
Makes about 36 pizzelle
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons anise (or other extract)
Preheat the pizzelle maker. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, combine the butter and sugar and mix until smooth. Add the anise and then the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix well.
Lightly spray the pizzelle maker with vegetable oil (unless you have a non-stick version).
Drop the batter by the tablespoon onto the hot pizzelle iron and cook, gauging the timing (usually less than a minute) according to the manufacturer’s instructions or until golden.
Serve with your favorite toppings.
L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy. It comprises about half the landmass of Abruzzo and occupies the western part of the region. The Province of L’Aquila includes the highest mountains of the Apennines (Gran Sasso, Maiella and Velino-Sirente).
The province is known for its many castles, fortresses and medieval hill towns. The province’s two major cities, L’Aquila and Avezzano, have had rapid economic expansion since the late 20th century, with the growth of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and computer industries.
The province’s major rivers are the Aterno-Pescara, Sangro, Liri, Salto and the Turano; its major lakes are Lago Scanno and Lago Barrea. It once included the largest lake on the Italian peninsula, Lago Fucino, which was drained in one of the 19th century’s largest engineering projects. The lake basin is today a flourishing agricultural area and an important technological district.
The Romans knew the lake as Fusinus Lacus and founded settlements on its banks. While the lake provided fertile soil and a large quantity of fish, it was known to harbor malaria and, having no natural outflow, repeatedly flooded the surrounding land. The Emperor Claudius attempted to control the lake’s maximum level by digging a 5.6 km (3.5 mi) tunnel through Monte Salviano, requiring 30,000 workers and eleven years of work. They eventually dug 32 wells and 6 tunnels. The lake was drained but with the fall of the Roman Empire the tunnels were obstructed and the water returned to previous levels. Many centuries later, Prince Alessandro Torlonia completed the work of the final draining of Lake Fucino expanding the original project of the emperor Claudius, by turning the Fucino in a fertile plain. In 1977, the tunnels were inaugurated as an archaeological park.
Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s pastoral agricultural economy, as people moved to cities for work. Since the founding of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga and Majella national parks, and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, tourists have been attracted to the mountainous landscapes. Tourism and associated services have boosted the economy of rural L’Aquila and begun to reverse its population decline.
Many of the small villages, locked away in the mountains for centuries, have always depended on local products for their cuisine, especially cheeses, pastas and spices. While many of the dishes bear similarities to recipes one might find throughout Italy, the locals usually provide a regional variation. For example, chili pepper and saffron can be found added to many dishes in L’Aquila. The best-known pasta for the area is “chitarra” (guitar) pasta, which derives its musical name not from its shape, but from the wire-stringed instrument on which it is made.
Much of the region’s cuisine revolves around fresh seasonal produce, roasted meats and cured pork. Santo Stefano di Sessanio Lentils are grown exclusively here. Typical Abruzzo main courses are broadly divided according to geography: lamb in the highlands and seafood on the coast.
Another local specialty is soppressata, which is pork salami whose typical flat section is obtained, after the initial curing period, by placing the sausage between two wooden planks or thick metal sheets. A product uniquely native to Abruzzo in Italy is saffron from the Navelli Plane in the Province of L’Aquila. Zafferano–its Italian name–are the dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower and it is the most expensive spice in the world. Why? Because the extraction process is labor-intensive. You can’t harvest the crocus flowers with machinery, only the human hand will do.
Lower costs and a longer shelf life made Pane con le Patate (bread made with potatoes) a staple. By adding potatoes to the bread dough, the leavening agents combined with the potato’s yeasts, yield a type of bread capable of keeping fresh for twice as long as any other type of bread.
Among Abruzzo’s sweet endings, Parrozzo is the most remarkable. In ancient times, Abruzzo peasants made cornmeal bread in the shape of a dome and baked it in a wood-fired oven. They called this “pan rozzo” meaning ‘unrefined bread,’ as opposed to the regular and more expensive white flour bread. At the turn of the 19th century, pastry chef Luigi D’Amico re-invented the recipe, using eggs instead of cornmeal to obtain the golden color, typical of the ancient unrefined bread. He kept the dome shape,\ and topped it with a dark chocolate coating to reproduce the bread’s charred crust.
Involtini di Prosciutto con Arugula e Pecorino
(Prosciutto Rolled with Arugula and Pecorino Cheese)
A local prosciutto from Abruzzo is used and it differs from Parma ham because it is a little more salty.
- 8 to 10 thin slices of prosciutto
- 8 to 10 shavings of pecorino cheese
- 2 bunches of arugula (washed with hard stems removed)
- 1/4 cup (60 ml.) of olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon (strained)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Cured black olives, pits removed
On parchment paper, arrange the prosciutto in a single layer.
Pour the strained lemon juice in a non-reactive bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly. Drop in the arugula, add salt and pepper and toss thoroughly.
Starting at one end of the slice of prosciutto place a small bunch of arugula. Add 1 shaving of cheese. Roll into a roulade, making sure it remains intact.
Continue with the remaining slices of prosciutto. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper to taste. Garnish with the black olives.
Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentils)
- 11/2 cups dry lentils (or canned, drained, and rinsed)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces pancetta (cut in 1/4-inch pieces)
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 pound spaghetti (or egg noodles)
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
In a medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.
Drain and set aside. (If you are using canned lentils, you can add them directly to the frying pan after you sauté the pancetta.)
Using a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until it is al dente.
Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, onions, and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is golden, about 7 minutes.
Combine with the lentils and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta, but reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss the lentils and gradually add water until creamy.
Sprinkle with Parmigiano and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
- 4 cups lean lamb, cut into ½ inch cubes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
Skewer the cubes neatly on well-oiled metal skewers or tiny disposable wooden kebab sticks (pre-soaked briefly in water, so the heat won’t burn the wood).
Marinate the arrosticini in olive oil, salt and pepper. Dribble the skewered meat with lemon juice and roast on the barbecue quickly, 2-3 minutes, turning a couple of times for even cooking.
Serve with slices of oiled bruschetta.
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- A pinch of anise
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Work together the eggs, flour, sugar and olive oil to obtain a firm dough. Add the vanilla and a pinch of anise for the aroma.
Heat the waffle pan thoroughly. Grease it with butter and spoon small dollops of dough onto the waffle pan. Close the waffle pan and cook for 20-30 seconds.
Lift the top and use a fork to work the waffle loose. As you bake the ferratelle, be sure to keep the pan heated and well-greased throughout the baking time. Serve with jam.
Longing for a salad even though it is cold outside? By using seasonal produce, you can make salads even with snow on the ground. This time of year switch to dark leafy greens, cold-weather vegetables like broccoli, beets and squash and seasonal fruits like pears and citrus. Add flavorful dressings to balance the heartier tastes and textures. For a full-meal salad, finish the salad with cooked beans, meat or seafood and a bit of your favorite cheese or toasted nuts. Winter vegetables also make delicious salads, especially after they have been roasted.
Winter Salad with Spinach, Pears and Walnuts
Serves 4 to 6
- 3 Anjou, Bosc or Comice pears
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon German Dusseldorf mustard or yellow prepared mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 3/4 pound spinach, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Chop 1 pear and slice the remaining two.
Put the chopped pear, oil, vinegar, mustard and honey into a blender and purée. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons water, more if needed, to make a thin, pourable dressing.
Put spinach, onion, walnuts, feta cheese, sliced pears and dressing into a large bowl and toss gently to coat. Serve immediately.
Chickpea Salad with White Wine Vinaigrette
- ¼ cup finely minced shallot
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp stone-ground mustard
- ½ teaspoon honey or maple syrup
- ¼ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large avocado
- 1 lemon
- 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
- ¾ cup cooked black lentils (rinsed and drained)
- ¼ cup sliced Kalamata olives
- 4 oz goat cheese
- 3 handfuls Italian kale
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
Place all dressing ingredients in a jar. Seal and shake vigorously until well combined. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preferences.
Cut the avocado in half and discard the pit. Chop the flesh into a small bowl and toss with a squeeze or two of lemon juice to help prevent browning.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all salad ingredients together.
Pour about half the dressing over the top and toss with salad tongs or a large fork and spoon to thoroughly blend the ingredients and coat lightly with the dressing.
Top with a big squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Add more dressing, if needed. Serve immediately.
Winter Citrus Salad
- 3 tablespoons pistachio, almond or any nut flavored oil
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon white or golden balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
- Pinch salt
- 2 oranges (segmented)
- 2 pink grapefruits (segmented)
- 2 tangerines or satsumas (peeled)
- 3 oz mixed baby salad greens (about 3-1/2 cups, lightly packed)
- 4 cups frisée or curly endive, oak leaf or red leaf lettuce, lightly packed
- 1/3 cup shelled, roasted pistachios
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Remove the peel and white pith from the fruit with a small, sharp knife. Working over a shallow bowl, slice down either side of each membrane, releasing the citrus segments into the bowl.
Remove any seeds from the fruit. Drain and reserve the accumulated juices for the dressing.
Place the oil, orange juice, vinegar, agave and salt in a small glass jar and seal the lid. Shake vigorously to combine. (The dressing can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 5 days. For best flavor, bring to room temperature before using.)
Place the segmented citrus in a large salad bowl. Drizzle some of the dressing over the fruit and toss to coat. Add the greens and toss to combine, adding more dressing to lightly coat the greens as well.
Transfer the salad to a platter and sprinkle with the pistachios. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.
Italian Barley Salad
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup uncooked, quick-cooking barley
- 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts (chilled) or one package of frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
- 12 pitted kalamata olives
- 1 medium yellow bell pepper
- 1/2 cup grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
- 4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried basil, crumbled
- 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the barley. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until the barley is just tender but firm. Transfer the barley to a colander. Drain well. Place in a medium bowl to cool.
Dry artichokes on paper towels. Coarsely chop the artichokes and olives, dice the bell pepper, quarter the tomatoes and cut the cheese into one-quarter inch cubes.
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, dried basil, salt and pepper. Whisk in oil.
Combine the cooked and cooled barley with the vegetables and cheese. Drizzle the dressing over the salad ingredients and toss to blend. serve immediately of refrigerate until serving time.
Red Grapefruit and Beet Salad
- 3 medium beets, greens removed
- 2 red grapefruits
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Wrap beets individually in aluminum foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until beets are tender when pressed through the foil and a knife slides easily into them when unwrapped, 50 to 60 minutes.
When cool enough to handle, unwrap beets and rub each with a paper towel to remove skins. Halve and slice beets.
Cut thin slices off the top and bottom of a grapefruit and set on a cutting board. Slice down along the curve of the fruit, removing all skin and white pith and cutting all the way to the flesh.
Working over a bowl, cut along each side of the membranes to release the sections, allowing them to fall into the bowl along with any juice. Repeat with remaining grapefruit.
Gently stir in honey and salt. Add beets and toss. Garnish with mint. Serve or chill until serving time.
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.
Quite 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.
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)
Specialties of the Enna Cuisine
Black Lentils Enna Style
This lentil dish is often served with fish.
- 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
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.
- 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
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’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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.