Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Beef

The University of Oregon defeated Ohio State University 46–33 in 1939 to win the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Final Four, as the tournament became known, has grown in size and popularity since then. Today, the NCAA basketball tournament has become the most popular sporting event, after the Super Bowl.

For the first 12 years of the men’s tournament, only eight teams were invited to participate. Today, the tournament breaks into four regions of 16 teams. The winning teams from those regions comprise the Final Four, who meet in that year’s host city to decide the championship.

The NCAA held its first women’s basketball tournament in 1982. The women’s tournament started with 32 teams, but now the women’s format echoes the men’s, with play in four regions culminating in a Final Four held in a single location. The championship is played the day after the men’s, concluding the college basketball season.

Yesterday was Selection Sunday and the madness begins on Thursday. Here are some recipes to help you cheer.

Cheesesteak Sandwiches

4 large sandwiches

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
Half a green bell pepper, finely chopped
8 very thin sandwich steaks (usually sirloin)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 slices American cheese or your favorite cheese
4 long hoagie rolls, about 8 inches long (I like Martin’s for these sandwiches)

To make the toppings:

Heat a griddle or a large, heavy frying pan, over medium heat. Add oil to the pan and, when it begins to shimmer, add the garlic, onion and green peppers and stir to combine.

Cook, stirring every so often, until they begin to soften, approximately 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove to a bowl and set aside.

To make the steaks:

Place the steaks between pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet until uniformly thin.

Turn the heat to high until nearly smoking. Season the meat aggressively with salt and pepper.

Place the steaks on the griddle, working in batches if necessary, and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until well browned but very rare. Remove to a serving platter and allow to rest.

To make the sandwiches:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Place the sub rolls in the oven to warm.

Return sliced steaks to the griddle or frying pan, over medium heat, and place the onions and peppers on top of the steaks. Turn heat to low and cover each steak with sliced cheese.

To serve:

Remove the rolls from the oven and fill each sub with a mixture of 2 steaks, vegetables and cheese. I usually cut these sandwiches in half and arrange on a serving platter.

If serving to guests, keep them warm on a hot plate.

Deviled Eggs and Smoked Salmon

Ingredients

6 large eggs
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 oz smoked salmon slices
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Directions

Place the eggs in a saucepan just large enough to hold the six eggs. Cover with cold water and place the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the saucepan.

Let the eggs rest in the hot water for 12 minutes. Drain the water from the pot and add some ice cubes and cold water to cover the cooked eggs.

Let them cool until you can handle the eggs without burning your fingers.

Gently tap the eggs in several places and remove the shells. Place the peeled eggs on paper towels to dry.

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a mixing bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork. Add the onion, celery, mayonnaise, mustard and salt and pepper. Mix well.

With a spoon fill each egg where the yolk had been with some of the mixture.

Place the eggs on a platter and chill.

To serve:

Arrange the eggs and salmon on a serving platter. Sprinkle chives over both and serve.

Spanakopita Triangles

Let the package of fillo dough sit in the refrigerator overnight to defrost. Any remaining dough can be kept in the refrigerator well wrapped in plastic for four weeks or be refrozen, so don’t worry that you are not using the entire package.

Makes about 16 triangles

Ingredients

One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 scallions (green onions), minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
48 sheets Fillo Dough, thawed
Olive oil
Tzatziki, recipe below

Directions

In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach with the scallions, parsley, dill, cheeses, eggs, salt and pepper until smooth.

Keep the fillo dough not being used, covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying, while you work on the triangles.

Spread one sheet of the dough on a cutting board and brush with some olive oil. Place a second sheet of dough on top and brush with oil. Repeat with a third sheet.

Cut the layered fillo in half lengthwise. Place one tablespoon of filling about 1″ from the corner of each strip. Fold one corner of fillo diagonally across to the opposite edge to form a triangle.

Brush lightly with oil. Continue to fold the triangle onto itself. Brush the outside of the triangle with oil and place the triangles seam side down on parchment covered cookie sheets at least 1” apart.

Repeat until all the filling is used up.

Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Rolls can be made ahead and reheated just before party time.

Serve hot with Tzatziki Sauce.

Tzatziki

Ingredients

1 cup peeled and seeded cucumber, finely chopped
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place the chopped cucumber in a fine mesh colander and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt. Place the colander over a bowl and let the cucumbers drain for one hour.

Turn the cucumbers over on paper towels. Squeeze all the water out.

Combine the cucumber and remaining ingredients in a small bowl; cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Quick and Easy Almond Bark

Ingredients

16 ounces slivered almonds
16 ounces high quality baking milk or dark chocolate (such as Valrhona )

Directions

Toast the almonds in a 9″x 13″ baking pan at 350 degrees F for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove to a bowl and cool.

Line the same baking pan with a piece of parchment and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl with a cover in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Uncover and stir the chocolate with a spatula until smooth.

Stir in the nuts, a little at a time, until they are all incorporated and covered with chocolate.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Spread the mixture to the sides of the pan and press down with a spatula until smooth.

Cover with another piece of parchment and press down to flatten. Chill in the refrigerator until hardened.

Cut into serving pieces and store in a cool place.

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Just about every cuisine in the world has a cabbage roll dish. Meat fillings are traditional in Europe where beef, lamb or pork are used and seasoned with garlic, onion and spices. Grains, such as, rice and barley, eggs, mushrooms and vegetables are often included. Pickled cabbage leaves are used for wrapping, particularly in Southeastern Europe. In Asia, seafood, tofu and shiitake mushrooms may also be used. Chinese cabbage is often used as a wrapping.

Cabbage rolls are a favorite in Polish cuisine and are called, gołąbki, which literally means “little pigeons.” My mother-in-law was of Polish heritage and liked to make this dish in the traditional way.  I have tried many recipes for cabbage rolls but they have not always been to my liking. This recipe comes about with my adjusting and readjusting the ingredients until I got to this version. Now, my husband and I really like this dish. Hope you do, also.

Stuffed Cabbage

Ingredients

1 large head of cabbage

Braising Sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced
Half a sweet onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (chili) flakes
One 26 – 28 ounce container chopped Italian tomatoes
2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Meat Filling

1 garlic clove, minced
Half a sweet onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1 large egg, beaten to blend
½ cup dried breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the cabbage:

With a sharp knife remove some of the core and gently remove eight large leaves from the head. You may have to cut away some of the core in stages to remove the leaves without tearing them.

Reserve remaining cabbage for another use.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Place the cabbage leaves in the boiling water and cook until pliable, about 5 minutes. Drain and place on a kitchen towel.

Using a paring knife, cut a narrow V-shape into the base of each leaf on either side of the rib in order to remove the thickest part of rib (this will make the leaves easier to roll).

For the sauce

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and bay leaf and cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the red pepper, tomatoes, brown sugar and vinegar; season generously with salt and black pepper.

Reduce heat and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened slightly, about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and set aside.

For the meat filling

In a large bowl combine all the filling ingredients and season with black pepper. Mix gently with clean hands until incorporated; set filling aside.

To assemble the cabbage rolls:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Divide the meat filling into 8 equal portions.

Shape the filling into a log about 3″ long and 1″ wide. Starting at the base where you cut the V, place a portion of the filling meat and fold in the sides.

Roll like a burrito into a tight cylinder. Repeat until you’ve rolled the cabbage leaves.

Oil a 13 x 9″  baking pan. Place the cabbage rolls in the baking dish in rows side-by-side.

Top with the braising sauce; Cover with foil and bake the rolls until tender, about, 1½ hours.

Set aside the dish, covered, to rest while you cook the asparagus.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

This recipe is easily multiplied (each pound of uncooked potatoes yields about 2 cups mashed potatoes).

Ingredients

1 pound Yukon Gold or russet potatoes
Cold water, for cooking, enough to cover plus 1-inch
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cream
3 tablespoons butter
Salt to taste

Directions

Scrub the potatoes well and peel them. Cut potatoes into 1 inch pieces place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water, then stir in the salt.

Cover and bring to a boil on high, then reduce the heat to maintain a low boil until the potatoes are tender and a knife moves easily through the center, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes.

In a small pan, gently melt the butter, cream and salt to taste and mix together, keep warm.

Return the drained potatoes to the cooking pot, turn the heat to medium and let the excess water cook off for a minute or two, shaking the pan occasionally.

Mash the potatoes until smooth. With a spatula, slowly turn the hot cream-butter-salt mixture into the potatoes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve immediately.

Note: the potatoes can be prepared earlier and reheated in a casserole dish in the oven along with other dishes you are cooking.

Oven Roasted Asparagus

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup Panko breadcrumbs

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Break off the woody bottoms of the asparagus and wash in cold water.

Arrange trimmed asparagus in 13 X 9 inch dish and drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon zest.

Top with breadcrumbs and bake for 20 minutes.


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Where I grew up in the US, one could get authentic, great tasting Chinese food. Where I live now – not so much. So I have taken to making my own. Most of the time I can recreate the flavors I remember and make some delicious tasting Chinese food – like the dishes below. Yes, I know, it is not Italian but every once in a while change is good.

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Corn & Chicken Egg Drop Soup

Ingredients

4 cups chicken stock
One 5 oz boneless chicken breast
2 cups corn
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
2 eggs, whisked
Salt and white pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons chives, chopped
Sesame oil

Directions

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the chicken breast and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the chicken for about 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a plate to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into small pieces or shred it.

To the broth in the saucepan add the corn, soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, ginger, garlic and cornstarch mixture.

Bring to boil, then turn down the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.

Adjust the seasoning with salt, turn off the heat and slowly whisk in the eggs so it cooks in “ribbons” throughout the soup. This also helps to thicken the soup.

Add the chicken and chives and season with white pepper. Heat until hot throughout but do not boil. Drizzle with a little sesame oil before serving.

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Beef & Broccoli

Ingredients

½ pound beef tenderloin, sliced very thin
Salt and pepper to taste
10 -12 oz fresh broccoli florets
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cups fresh Chinese noodles
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Sauce

1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon chili paste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
1 ½ teaspoons regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions

Sprinkle the sliced beef with salt and pepper and set aside while you make the sauce.

Place the noodles in a medium bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover the noodles. Let sit while you prepare the stir fry.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk all the sauce ingredients together. Set aside.

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Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the garlic and ginger, stir and then add the beef slices. Stir fry for about a minute and then remove the beef from the pan and place on a plate.

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Add the broccoli florets to the skillet and stir fry for about three minutes. Pour in the sauce, mix into the broccoli and stir fry for another minute.

Drain the noodles and add them to the skillet. Add the browned beef and stir fry for about two minutes. Serve immediately.

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Chinese Almond Cookies

Makes 32, if you measure with a cookie scoop.

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups almond flour, lightly packed
1 cup of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
Pinch of kosher salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Thinly sliced almond

Directions

Place the almond flour, salt and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for three minutes.

Add one of the eggs, reserving the other for later, and the almond extract. Mix on low speed until just incorporated.

Sift together the flour, sugar and baking soda then add to the butter mixture at low speed. Mix until just combined.

Flatten the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours to chill.

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the second egg into a small bowl and beat it.

Divide the batter into 1 inch balls. This is very easy to do with a cookie scoop. Place cookies 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Flatten the balls of dough with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour.

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Brush the top of the cookies with the beaten egg and sprinkle almond slices on top of each cookie.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes or until the cookies begin to turn golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and allow to cook completely before storing in an airtight container.


img_0015No reservations needed for this dinner! Sometimes it is just nice to have a special dinner with your partner in your own home. I try to have this special kind of evening every once in a while. Come up with a menu that is elegant but easy to make and the evening will be memorable. The salad and main dish recipes below are easy and come together quickly. The dessert takes a bit longer but eclairs and cream puffs are not difficult to make. You can certainly make anything you like for dessert, as long as it is special to you. Keep romance alive.

Blue Cheese and Dried Cranberry Tossed Salad

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Ingredients

1 hearts of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 of a cucumber, sliced
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Dressing

3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

For the dressing: Whisk vinegar and honey in a small bowl until blended. Whisking continuously, slowly add oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Layer the romaine lettuce with the cucumber, onion, almonds, cranberries and bleu cheese on two individual salad plates. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette just before serving.

Filet Mignon with Leek Sauce

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Serves 2

Ingredients

2 Filet Mignon steaks, about 7 oz each and 2 inches thick
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, finely chopped white and light green sections of the leek
1/4 cup red wine (such as Cabernet)
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat the grill or broiler. Lightly oil the grill rack or broiler pan. Rub the steaks with the salt, then press the pepper into both sides of the steaks.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the leeks for 6 minutes, or until very soft. Add the wine, capers and tarragon.

Simmer for 3 minutes, or until well blended and heated through. Keep warm.

Grill or broil the steaks about 5-6 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 135°F for medium-rare. Place the steaks on individual serving plates.

Top with the leek sauce and sprinkle with parsley.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1/4 – 1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and place in a large bowl.

Mash the potatoes, adding the buttermilk until moist. Add the chives, cover and keep warm.

Chocolate Filled Eclairs

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Makes 12 medium-sized eclairs

Pastry

3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs

Directions

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F; line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use an eclair pan.

Put the butter in a saucepan with the salt and water; bring it to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until the butter is melted.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour; continue to cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from sides of the pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds.

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Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the eggs to the slightly cooled flour mixture one at a time, beating well with the wooden spoon after each addition — the batter will come apart after each egg is added but will reunite as you stir.

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Mound dough about 1 inch high and 1 to 2 inches in diameter on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch of space between each one. If using an eclair pan simply fill the indentations.

Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Remove the puffs from the oven and pierce the bottom of each puff once with a skewer, to keep them from getting soggy.

Return to the oven; prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and let the puffs crisp up for about 5 minutes. Cool on a rack.

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Chocolate Filling

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

Place cream, vanilla extract, sugar and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Stir to combine the ingredients. Cover and chill the bowl and the beaters for at least 30 minutes.

When chilled, beat until stiff peaks form.

Glaze

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

In a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water, combine the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup. Stir until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth; then add the vanilla.

To assemble the éclairs:

Cut the eclairs in half lengthwise. Pipe or spoon the filling into the pastries, then dip the tops of each one into the glaze.

For best results, serve immediately or refrigerate and serve within several hours.

Note: Puffs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days; freeze unfilled eclairs for longer storage. If the eclairs soften in storage, they can be crisped up in the oven before filling and serving. To re-crisp; bake uncovered in a 300°F for about 5 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before filling.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Abruzzo Food Map

Abruzzo Food Map

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.

Chitarra Pasta Maker

Chitarra Pasta Maker

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.

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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.

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Prosciutto and Fichi

The prosciutto from near L’Aquila is a bit saltier and less sweet than the prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele.

Ingredients

Slices of prosciutto crudo
Fresh, ripe figs
Large basil leaves
Balsamic vinegar

Directions

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..

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Swiss Chard with Borlotti Beans (Verdure con Fagioli)

6-8 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

 

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Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style meat sauce)

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

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Dolci: Pizzelle

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

Ingredients

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)

Directions

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.

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Looking for some ideas to make your veggie dishes more appealing? Try stuffing them. These recipes can serve as a main course or a side dish. I wanted to use vegetables that you do not see stuffed very often and that are in season at this time of year, instead of cooking the usual peppers and tomatoes. Try these recipes for an interesting change.

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Swiss Chard Rolls

5 servings

Ingredients

2 bunches Swiss chard, about 10 leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 cup quick cooking barley
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced Swiss chard stems
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/13 plus 2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Place the Swiss chard leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes to soften. Drain and place on paper towels.

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Remove the ribs/stems from each leaf and set the leaves aside. Chop enough of the stems to measure ¼ cup.

In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, bring the 1 ⅓ cups vegetable broth to a boil and add a pinch of salt.

Add the barley, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook the barley for ten minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the barley rest covered for five minutes.

In a small skillet heat the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and Swiss chard stems. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until they soften. Add salt, pepper and the Italian seasoning.

Add the chopped tomatoes, basil and cheese. Cook until the tomatoes soften. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Add this mixture to the cooked barley and stir well.

Set aside until the mixture is cool enough to handle.

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Divide the stuffing equally among the leaves, about 2-3 tablespoons for each leaf.

Bring the edges of the leaves, about 1/2 inch, toward the center and roll and tuck into a ball or a cigar shape.

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Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Arrange the Swiss chard rolls in a 13 x 9 inch baking dish and pour the 2 cups of stock over the rolls. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour.

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Spinach Stuffed Squash

2 servings

2 large yellow squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup panko crumbs
2.5 oz fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut a thin slice off the top of each squash. With a spoon carefully remove the flesh of the squash without cutting into the outer shell. I use a grapefruit spoon to remove the flesh.

Finely chop the squash flesh.

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and chopped squash; cook 5 minutes or until transparent. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the panko crumbs and cheese.

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Spoon mixture evenly into the squash shells. Place in a greased baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes; remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes more.

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Cheeseburger Stuffed Onions

If you would like to make this dish vegetarian, substitute a grain, such as quinoa or rice for the meat in the recipe.

2 servings

Ingredients

2 medium sweet onions
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons bell pepper, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon chili (red) pepper flakes
1/4 lb lean ground beef or turkey
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Topping: 2 slices of American cheese, each folded into quarters

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut a 1/4-inch-thick slice from the top of each onion and reserve. Trim just enough from the bottom of the onions so they can stand upright.

Remove the dry skin and the outermost layer of each onion. Use a spoon or an ice cream scoop to remove the inner layers of the onion, forming a bowl with about 3-4 layers thick.

Dice the removed inner section of one of the onions and set aside. Save remaining sections for another use.

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Prepare the stuffing:

Heat oil in a medium skillet. Add reserved diced onion and bell pepper and saute just until tender, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Add garlic, fennel seeds and chili flakes and saute for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add meat, stirring to crumble the meat and saute until browned, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Stir in the basil, salt and pepper.

Divide the stuffing evenly into each onion bowl, mounding it up. Wrap each onion in two layers of aluminum foil and bake in the oven about 45 minutes, or until tender.

Unwrap onions and top each with a slice of folded cheese. Return to the oven unwrapped and heat until the cheese begins to melt.

Transfer to a serving plate. Serve hot.


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During the holidays or for game events, I like to serve small plate foods. Guests can serve themselves and take what they like, when they want it. These plates look attractive and can often be prepared in advance. I set up a few hot plates and place the dishes on there so they stay warm for several hours. I often make Eggplant Parmesan and Greek spinach and Feta Pie and cut them into small squares as an option.

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For Christmas, I received a Himalayan Salt block for a gift. As the name suggests, a Himalayan Salt Block is a large block of pink salt and mine came with a tray with handles that holds the block securely. The block can be frozen to keep foods cold and it can also be used on the grill. I used mine for a get together of friends on New Year’s Day and served smoked salmon and whitefish on the block. It looked very attractive and gave the fish a little salt flavor.

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Other dishes that work well for small plates are Italian Sausage and Peppers, small sandwiches, celery stuffed with flavored cream cheese, shrimp salad and, of course, a cheese board.

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Here are some recipes for small plates that I like to serve.

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Mozzarella-Stuffed Arancini

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
16-20 small fresh mozzarella balls (about 6 ounces)
2-3 cups cold risotto
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups panko or traditional bread crumbs
Marinara Sauce, for serving

Directions

In a medium saute pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the shallots and cook for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add in the oregano and basil and stir until the herbs are wilted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the herb mixture to the mozzarella balls and stir to mix.

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Take approximately 2 tablespoons of cold risotto in your palm and flatten slightly. Add one mozzarella ball covered in the herb mix to the center. Cover the cheese with the rice and roll into a ball form. Dip the ball into flour, shaking lightly to remove any clumps, then into the beaten eggs, and finally, roll the ball in the bread crumbs. Place the coated balls on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto until all of the risotto and/or cheese balls are used.

Pour enough olive oil in a deep skillet to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil and add the arancini. Cook on all sides until lightly brown all over. Drain on paper towels.

Note: I usually make them in advance and then reheat before serving in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

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Sautéed Calamari

Ingredients

For the bread crumb topping:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

For the calamari:

1/2 pound cleaned squid cut into rings, dry on paper towels, air dry and then move to a plate
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon butter
1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

Make the bread crumb topping:

Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet and add the garlic and Italian seasoning. Saute for a minute. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until lightly brown. Set aside

For the calamari:

Heat a medium skillet and add the olive oil. Then garlic, butter and chili flakes. Add calamari, salt and pepper and parsley and cook 1-2 minutes Squeeze lemon over the fish and sprinkle lightly with the toasted bread crumbs.

Note: It is important not to overcook calamari or it will become tough. A minute or two is all it needs to cook.

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Roast Beef Rolls

Ingredients

½ lb deli sliced roast beef, cut very thin
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into squares
3 cups baby arugula
Italian salad dressing
Fresh ground black pepper

Directions

Pour a little salad dressing over the arugula and mix well. You just want the leaves moistened not drowning in dressing.

Place the roast beef slices on a work surface.

Place a piece of roasted pepper on top. Then add a spoonful of arugula salad.

Roll each slice up tightly and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

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Chicken Pesto Sliders

Ingredients

12 small dinner rolls or slider rolls
½ lb deli sliced roast chicken, sliced very thin
2-3 plum tomatoes sliced thin
8 oz.fresh mozzarella, sliced
Basil Pesto

Directions

Spread a little pesto on both sides of the rolls.

On each roll place 2 slices of chicken, a slice of tomato and a slice of mozzarella.

Close the rolls and place them on a baking sheet.

Heat in a 325 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes, just until the cheese starts to melt.

Remove the sliders from the oven and place on a serving tray.



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