One of the seven original grains cited in the Bible, farro was popular for hundreds of years until modern baking techniques left it behind. Americans are finding it again and realizing that this savory and tasty grain has many modern uses. Italians not only like to use it in bread but also in cakes, pizza, and soups. Related to wheat but very different, this grain is friendly to the body, a great source of fiber, and naturally contains high levels of nutrients, vitamins, and protein.
Farro with Artichokes
Makes 6 servings, about 1 cup each
In this dish, farro stands in for rice in a risotto-like dish, full of tomatoes, artichokes, and fresh basil.
1 1/2 cups farro, rinsed
1 sprig of fresh sage
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1-15-ounce can no sodium added, diced tomatoes drained well
1 9-ounce box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 1/2-2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1. Place farro in a large saucepan and cover with about 2 inches of water. Add sage and rosemary. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the farro is tender but still firm to the bite, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the herbs and drain.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the farro, tomatoes, artichokes, basil, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.
3. Add 1/2 cup broth (or water), bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook, stirring, until most of the broth is absorbed. Repeat with the remaining broth (or water), adding it in 1/2-cup increments and stirring until it’s absorbed and the farro is creamy but still has a bit of bite, about 10 minutes total. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and lemon zest. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
Italy‘s Other National Dish-Polenta
Polenta, a coarsely or finely ground yellow or white cornmeal, has been called by some the “Italian grits” and there are similarities to the hominy grits that are so popular in the southern United States. The key to the popularity of Polenta is its versatility. It can be served with nearly anything and that is why it has spread to every corner of Italy, where Italians always make use of what is locally grown or raised. Soft polenta is often a replacement for bread during a meal, or instead of the pasta course, served with butter and cheese and possibly shaved truffles. Polenta can also be served as a side dish to regional meat dishes such as Osso Bucco, chicken, and fish. Polenta in cake form can be layered with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and baked.
Italian Style Braised Pork Chops With Polenta
- 4 boneless loin pork chops (about 1 inch thick) and trimmed of all fat
- 1/4 cup of flour
- 1 onion, sliced thin
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup of sliced white mushrooms
- 1-15 oz. can of diced tomatoes ( no salt added)
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. Dredge chops in flour.
Heat oil in a large skillet with a cover. Brown chops on both sides. Add onions, sweet peppers, garlic, and mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano and cover and let simmer for about an hour until tender.
- 6 cups of water
- 2 cups of instant polenta
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Extra squares of Polenta can be frozen for future meals.
For 2 servings
1/4 cup quick-cooking Italian farro (available at Whole Foods)
1 cup of water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 medium onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped Italian tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, divided
1/4 lb lean ground beef
1/4 lb Italian sausage, casing removed
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 large minced garlic clove
Salt & pepper to taste
1 large green bell peppers halved lengthwise and seeded
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese plus more for topping
Combine the farro, water, and salt in a microwave bowl. Microwave on high for 9 minutes. Set aside the bowl without draining the farro while you prepare the stuffing.
Mix the Italian tomatoes with the red pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning. Pour into a baking dish large enough to fit the peppers.
In a large skillet, cook the onion and olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add the beef and sausage. Cook until light brown. Let cool.
Drain the farro.
In a mixing bowl, combine the meat mixture with the farro, mozzarella cheese, ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning, parsley, garlic, salt, black pepper. Use your hands to mix everything together..Stuff the peppers with the meat mixture.
Place stuffed green bell pepper halves in the baking dish over the tomato sauce; cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes.
Remove the foil, top each pepper with additional shredded mozzarella cheese and return the dish to the oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Sauteed Tuscan Kale
2 bunches Tuscan Kale
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
Sea Salt & Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese
Wash the kale thoroughly. Remove the stems and cut the leaves into smaller pieces. Heat olive oil and red pepper flakes in a deep saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers, and the red pepper flakes start to sizzle. Add the garlic. Working quickly, so the garlic does not burn, add the kale. (Some splattering and crackling of oil may occur from the water on the kale.) Using tongs, toss the kale in the pan for 2-4 minutes until the kale has wilted and cooked to desired tenderness. Keep the kale moving to avoid scorching any pieces. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese just before serving.
Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass With Lemon Sauce
1 lemon halved, seeds removed
2 (6-7ounces each) Chilean Sea Bass fillets skin removed, each cut in half
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or oregano
Place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When very hot, add lemon cut-side down. Coat fish in flour that has been mixed with salt and pepper. When the lemon just begins to brown, about 3 minutes, push them to one side of the skillet and add oil and fish. Cook until fish is browned and just opaque in the center, about 4 minutes per side, lowering heat if lemons and fish brown too quickly. Transfer fish and lemon to a serving plate.
Place the skillet over low heat and add shallot. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook for 1 minute. Squeeze 2 lemon halves through a strainer into the skillet. Remove from heat and swirl in butter. Stir in thyme and pour the sauce over the fish.
1 cup pearled farro
1 cup fresh apple cider
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
Place the farro, apple cider, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, until the farro is tender. Drain the farro and transfer to a large serving bowl.
Discard the bay leaves.
Stir in the herbs and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Stir. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.
2-10 oz packages frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium and let the spinach cook slowly until tender and silky., about 15 minutes.
It is a gray and rainy day here – just perfect for a soup dinner. I also know I have a turkey carcass in the freezer that was leftover from the holidays and it is time to put it to good use.
I also save small amounts of leftover vegetables in the freezer in little ziplock bags. These little bags are perfect for adding to soup recipes and they don’t require additional cooking.
Of course, almost any ingredient that you like can go into a soup pot, but I usually try to vary them, so that it doesn’t seem like the same old soup. In this soup recipe, I used farro instead of rice or pasta. Farro is hulled wheat that has been used in the Mediterranean countries since ancient times. It is often used as a substitute for pasta or rice in Italian recipes.
Hearty Italian Turkey Soup
For the stock
1 roasted turkey carcass, broken in pieces, plus any additional bones
1 medium onion, cut in half
4 celery stalk tops
3 cloves garlic, cut in half
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Place the turkey carcass in a very large soup pot. Add the other ingredients and add enough water to just cover the turkey bones.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a bubbling simmer, partially cover the pot and let the stock cook for two hours.
Remove the pot from the heat. With tongs take the turkey bones out of the stock and place them in a wide bowl to cool. Strain the stock in a colander covered with cheesecloth.
This recipe makes about 12 cups of stock. I also had about 2 cups of meat from the bones that I chopped and set aside.
For the soup
12 cups turkey stock
4 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups chopped plum tomatoes or 2 cups canned
3 large carrots, diced
1 cup farro
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup pearl onions (frozen are great-no peeling)
1 cup cooked, diced asparagus
2 cups cooked, diced green beans
2 cups cooked baby lima beans
2 cups cooked peas
2 cups diced, cooked turkey meat
Rinse the soup pot out and pour the strained stock into the pot. Add the water, salt, carrots, tomatoes and farro.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook the ingredients for about 15 minutes or until the farro is tender. Taste one of the grains to be sure.
Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste the soup and add more salt, if needed.
Using a slow cooker is a great way to save time and still prepare a nutritious meal. Assemble the meal in the morning, put it in the slow cooker and at the end of the day, dinner is ready — without much mess or many dishes to clean. The device requires only a small amount of electricity to do its work — compared with a standard oven — and a slow cooker uses a lot less energy, so it won’t heat up an entire kitchen the way an oven does.
Cooking with a slow cooker can also be an economically smart choice, because you can use cheaper cuts of meat. Condensation acts as a self-baster, so tougher cuts of meat become tender in a slow cooker. Just because you’re saving time and money doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing taste. Vegetables cooked in a slow cooker can absorb stocks and spices, giving them fuller flavors.
The high and low settings on the device allow you to adjust the temperature for the length of time you want the meal to cook. Today, slow cookers come in all shapes and sizes. There are manual cookers, programmable cookers with digital timers and small cookers designed solely for heating dips. Slow cookers can be either round or oval to accommodate different types of food and they can range in size from one to seven quarts.
It is common knowledge that a slow cooker is good for making soups and stews, but did you know you can make lasagna in a slow cooker?
Mushroom Spinach Lasagna
LOW 5 hours 20 minutes
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 oz fresh sliced mushrooms
- 6 oz baby spinach leaves
- 1 can (14.5 oz) Italian diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 cups tomato or marinara sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (8 oz) part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 dried lasagna noodles, uncooked
- 1-½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
Spray the inside of a 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add spinach; cook 3 minutes more or until the mushrooms are tender and the spinach is wilted, stirring occasionally.
Stir in undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Combine ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and pepper in small bowl; set aside.
Spread 3/4 cup sauce mixture over the bottom of the slow cooker pan. Layer 3 lasagna noodles over the sauce mixture, breaking noodles to fit.
Top with 3/4 cup sauce mixture, ricotta cheese mixture and 1 cup mozzarella cheese.
Add 3/4 cup sauce mixture and the remaining 3 lasagna noodles, breaking to fit. Spoon remaining sauce mixture over the noodles.
Cover; cook on LOW 5 hours until the noodles are tender. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
Cover; let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Pork Shoulder Sugo
Called sugo, bolognese or ragu, depending on the region — or gravy among some Italian Americans — Italy’s long-simmering meat sauces are legendary. There is a practical side to a ragu, as well, because they get better a day or two after cooking, so they are ideal for dinner parties. They also freeze well for instant pasta meals during the week. Reheat the sauce, cook the pasta and make a salad. You have dinner all set.
LOW 8 hours or HIGH 4 hours
- Olive oil
- 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
- 3 carrots, coarsely chopped
- 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
- 1 whole bulb garlic, peeled
- 5 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
- 3 to 4 lbs boneless pork shoulder roast, trimmed of fat
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 28 oz container Italian crushed tomatoes, undrained
- 32 oz low sodium chicken stock
- 6 oil-packed anchovies
In large bowl, mix onions, carrots, celery, garlic, salt, oregano and red pepper flakes. Set aside.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Brown pork shoulder 4 minutes on the fattest side, then turn and cook 3 minutes each on the other 3 sides. Transfer to 6-quart slow cooker.
Add onion mixture to the skillet with the pork juices; cook 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown. Add red wine; cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until all the liquid is absorbed.
Stir in tomatoes; cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Pour mixture over the pork in the slow cooker. Add chicken stock and anchovies; stir liquid.
Cook on Low heat setting 8 hours or High heat setting 4 hours.
Transfer pork to a cutting board; cool slightly. Cool liquid 10 minutes, then carefully puree in a blender in batches (or use an immersion blender), and return the mixture to the slow cooker.
Set the slow cooker to the Warm heat setting. Shred pork, discarding any pieces of fat. Add pork to the liquid in the slow cooker and stir to combine.
Leave on warm until you cook the pasta. Dress the pasta with some of the sauce.
Tuscan Chicken and Beans
HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 can (15 oz) diced Italian tomatoes
- 1/2 cup pitted oil cured Italian olives
- 1 can (15 oz) Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves
- 3 cups cooked orzo pasta
- Lemon slices, for garnish
Coat the bowl of a slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Place onion and garlic in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Season chicken on both sides with Italian seasoning, thyme and black pepper and arrange the chicken in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Drizzle lemon juice over the chicken and evenly spoon tomatoes and olives on top.
Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours. During the last 30 minutes of cooking time, stir in the beans and oregano.
Serve chicken and sauce over cooked orzo. Garnish with lemon slices.
Italian Steak and Peppers
HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless round steak, cut into 4 equal pieces
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 Cubanelle peppers (Italian long peppers), seeds removed, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, sliced
- 1 sweet (Vidalia/Walla Walla) onion, sliced
- 8-10 oz white mushrooms, quartered
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- Fresh basil leaves
- Purchased polenta that comes in a tube shape, sliced into rounds and grilled or broiled
- Olive oil cooking spray
Coat bowl of slow cooker with cooking spray.
Season both sides of the steaks with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Place in the slow cooker. Scatter Cubanelle peppers, red pepper, onion and mushrooms over the top of the meat.
In a small bowl, combine broth, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. Pour over peppers, onions and mushrooms.
Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours.
Place grilled polenta rounds on the dinner plates. Add the steaks and some of the peppers, onions, mushrooms and spoon some of the sauce over the top of each steak. Garnish with basil leaves.
Italian Sausage and Farro Stuffed Peppers
LOW for 4 hours 40 minutes
- 4 large red, orange or yellow bell peppers (7 to 8 oz each)
- 12 oz sweet Italian pork or turkey sausage links, casings removed
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (chili) flakes
- 1 cup diced onion
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 small zucchini, grated (1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach
- ¾ cup uncooked pearled farro
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cut a 1/2 inch off the top stem end of each bell pepper. Remove the seeds and membranes; rinse the peppers. Remove the stems from the pepper tops and chop the pepper tops; set aside.
Combine the two cheeses and set aside.
In a 10-inch skillet, cook sausage and crushed red pepper over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink; drain. Remove to large bowl; set aside.
In same skillet over medium heat, add onion and garlic; cook and stir about 3 minutes. Add chopped bell pepper tops; cook 2 minutes. Add zucchini; cook and stir 2 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, pepper and salt. Stir in spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from the heat.
Add farro to the sausage in the bowl and mix to combine. Add onion mixture; mix well. Gently stir in 2 tablespoons of the basil, the oregano and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.
Divide this mixture evenly among the peppers.
Pour 1/3 cup water into a 5- to 6-quart oval slow cooker. Place stuffed peppers upright in the slow cooker, leaning against each other and the slow cooker sides to prevent them from falling over.
Cover; cook on Low heat setting 4 to 5 hours or until the peppers and farro are tender. Sprinkle remaining cheese evenly over the tops of the peppers.
Cover; let stand 3 to 4 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Using tongs and a slotted spoon, remove the peppers to serving plates and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon basil.
Whole grains generally are packed with nutrients and fiber, which aid in healthy digestion and weight management. These are the “good carbs” that help balance your diet and can fill you up.
Time-saving tip: cook extra grains and store portioned leftovers in the freezer — you’ll be ready when you need them for a recipe.
Farro And Chicken Chili
Farro is popular in Italy and, more recently, in North America and other European countries as well, for its roasted, nutty flavor and distinctive chewy texture. Farro’s tough husk makes it more difficult to process than other commercially produced grains, but that husk also helps protect the grain’s vital nutrients. With a higher fiber and protein content than common wheat, farro is also especially rich in magnesium and B vitamins. As a type of wheat, farro is unsuitable for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat sensitivity or allergy. As with all grains, pearled farro will take less time to cook.
- 1 cup semi-pearled farro
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups chopped onions (2 large)
- 2 cups chopped zucchini (2 small)
- 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
- 1 fresh jalapeno chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped*
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Two 14 1/2 – ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
- One 14 1/2 – ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
- One 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
Rinse farro. In a medium saucepan bring 2 cups of water to boiling. Stir in farro. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until farro is tender. Drain off any excess water and discard.
In a large skillet bring 2 cups water to boiling. Add chicken breasts. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 12 minutes or until no longer pink (165 degrees F). Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a cutting board. Cool slightly. Coarsely dice the chicken. Set aside. Retain the chicken cooking water.
In a 4-quart Dutch oven cook onions, zucchini, carrots and chili pepper in hot oil about 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in chili powder, cumin, crushed red pepper, broth, tomatoes, tomato paste and the chicken cooking water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 20 minutes.
Stir in cooked farro and diced chicken. Cook and stir until heated through. Ladle chili into serving bowls. Top each serving with cheddar cheese.
Note* Chili peppers contain volatile oils that can burn your skin and eyes. When working with chili peppers, wear plastic or rubber gloves. If your bare hands do touch the peppers, wash your hands and nails well with soap and warm water.
Beef Steaks With Kasha Pilaf
Buckwheat Groats are soft white seeds with a mild flavor, but when toasted they develop a more intense flavor. Groats can be steam-cooked like rice for salads and side dishes or ground into fresh flour. Buckwheat flour makes delicious pancakes. Buckwheat groats are gluten-free seeds from a plant related to rhubarb. The outer husk is pulled away and the grain-like fruit is harvested and eaten. First cultivated in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, kasha eventually took root in Eastern Europe, where it became a classic side dish. Buckwheat is very nutritious and provides a complete protein, including all the essential amino acids. Use buckwheat groats in any recipe that calls for whole grains. Be sure to purchase buckwheat groats that have been toasted.
- 2/3 cup buckwheat groats
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion (1 medium)
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup dried cherries
- 1/4 cup coarsely snipped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound beef tenderloin
- 1/4 teaspoon steak seasoning
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
In a medium saucepan bring 1-1/2 cups water to boiling. Stir in buckwheat groats; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender (you should have about 2 cups of cooked groats). Set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or just until the onion begins to soften.
Drain cooked groats, if necessary. Add onion mixture to the cooked groats. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the cherries, basil, vinegar and salt.
Let stand at room temperature while you prepare the beef.
Cut beef crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices. Evenly sprinkle beef pieces with the steak seasoning. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the same skillet; heat over medium heat.
Cook beef pieces in hot oil about 4 minutes or until medium (145 degrees F), turning once halfway through the cooking time.
Serve beef pieces over groats mixture. Sprinkle with toasted almonds.
Amaranth Biscuit Topped Stew
Amaranth is often popped like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a popular treat in Mexico called “alegría” (meaning “joy”). Although amaranth derives its name from the Greek for “never-fading flower,” it is its highly nutritious seeds, not its vibrant red blooms, that are its most valuable asset. Like buckwheat and quinoa, amaranth is an especially high-quality source of plant protein including two essential amino acids, lysine and methionine. Amaranth is packed with iron and calcium and its fiber content is triple that of wheat. Amaranth is completely gluten-free and suitable for those with celiac disease. It is an especially digestible grain, making it a good choice for people recovering from illness.
- 1/2 cup whole grain amaranth
- Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
- 1 1/2 pounds lean pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon dried sage, crushed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups cubed sweet potato
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup butter
Place amaranth in a small bowl. Stir in 1 cup boiling water. Cover and let stand for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a 3-quart rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.
Sprinkle pork with sage and toss to coat. In a large nonstick skillet brown pork in hot oil over medium-high heat. Transfer pork to the prepared baking dish.
Add mushrooms, onion and garlic to the same skillet. Cook and stir about 5 minutes or until the onion is tender. Stir in sweet potato cubes and 1 cup water. Bring to boiling.
In a small bowl stir together 1/4 cup cold water, the cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt; stir into the mixture in the skillet. Cook and stir until mixture thickens.
Pour the mixture over the pork in the baking dish. (Sweet potatoes will not be done yet.) Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.
For the biscuits:
In a large bowl combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, thyme, black pepper and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add soaked amaranth and any liquid remaining in the bowl. Stir until combined.
Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, drop about ¼ cup of the biscuit dough into eight mounds on top of the stew.
Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the biscuits are browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a biscuit comes out clean.
Quinoa Salmon Cakes
The quinoa plant is a relative of beets, spinach and Swiss chard, but we treat its seeds as we would a grain, preparing and eating them in much the same way. Available in light brown, red and even black varieties, quinoa is filling and has a mellow flavor. It is a good source of manganese, iron, copper, phosphorous, vitamin B2 and other essential minerals and has the highest protein content of any grain. It is especially high in lysine, an amino acid that is typically low in other grains. Quinoa’s protein is complete, containing all nine essential amino acids – a rarity in the plant kingdom. Quinoa is gluten-free and easy to digest.
While it’s best to rinse all grains before cooking, pre-washing is especially advisable for quinoa, in order to remove the bitter saponin coating on its outer hull that sometimes remains after processing. To do so, simply run cold water over quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer, rubbing the seeds with your fingers. (Avoid soaking quinoa, however, as saponins can leach into the seeds.)
After rinsing, combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes, or until the grains become translucent and the germ appears as a thin white ring around each grain. This recipe will yield 3 cups of cooked quinoa. Quinoa holds lots of water, so you have to make sure you drain it thoroughly after it’s cooked. Fluff with a fork.
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 12 ounces cooked salmon or two 6 ounce pouches pink chunk salmon, drained
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (1 medium)
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
- 3/4 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
- 6 cups arugula
- 1 lemon, cut into thin wedges
- One 6 ounce carton plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Dash freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl stir together cooked quinoa, salmon, onion, 2 tablespoons chives and the garlic.
In a medium bowl stir together panko and lemon pepper seasoning; then add milk, eggs, egg whites and oil, stirring until combined. Add the panko mixture to the salmon mixture; stir until well mixed.
Generously coat twelve 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with cooking spray. Divide salmon-panko mixture evenly among the prepared cups, using a heaping 1/3 cup in each cup.
Bake about 25 minutes or until tops are golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center of a cup registers 160 degrees F. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Divide arugula among six serving plates. Run a knife around the edges of each cup to loosen; remove cakes from muffin the cups. Arrange on top of the arugula. Serve with lemon wedges and the lemon mustard sauce.
For the lemon-mustard sauce:
Stir together yogurt, mustard, 1 tablespoon chives, the lemon juice and black pepper. Serve sauce with warm salmon cups.
Barley-Stuffed Red Bell Peppers
A staple of soups and stews, barley is the oldest known domesticated grain and comes in hulled and pearled varieties. Hulled barley is the true whole-grain form, with only the outermost hull removed, whereas pearled barley is polished to remove the bran layer and often the inner endosperm layer as well. Pearled barley is both easier to find and the type called for in most recipes. Barley is an excellent source of fiber (one cup cooked contains 13 grams); its insoluble fiber helps maintain large populations of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract. Additionally, barley has been shown to aid in regulating blood sugar after meals (more so than other grains) for up to 10 hours, Like wheat and rye, barley is a gluten grain and is therefore unsuitable for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
If you cannot find quick cooking barley then combine 1 cup pearled barley and 3 cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 45-60 minutes.
- 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
- 2/3 cup quick-cooking barley
- 2 large red bell peppers
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)
- 1/2 cup shredded zucchini
- 1/4 cup finely diced onion
- 1/3 cup soft bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- Several dashes of bottled hot pepper sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium saucepan combine mushrooms, broth and barley. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until barley is tender; drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Halve sweet peppers lengthwise; remove seeds and membranes.
In a medium bowl combine egg, tomato, 1/2 cup of the cheese, onion, zucchini, bread crumbs, basil, rosemary, onion salt and hot pepper sauce. Stir in cooked barley mixture.
Place peppers, cut sides up, in an ungreased 2-quart baking dish. Spoon barley mixture into peppers. Pour the barley cooking water around the peppers to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the dish with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes or until barley mixture is heated through and the peppers are tender. Sprinkle each pepper with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 2 minutes more or until the cheese is melted.
For relatively few calories, soup brings a feeling of fullness and makes it easier to eat less of other foods in a meal. Soup can benefit long-term health by serving as the basis to work more vegetables into meals.
Tomato soup provides a serving of vegetables by itself and then you can add even more vegetables to the soup.
Pureed squash is an excellent base for a soup that is packed with nutrients.
Broth-based soups can be the base for adding several servings of vegetables, also.
Even if you start with commercial soup that’s light on vegetables, you can add frozen, canned or leftover fresh veggies of your own to enhance the nutrition of this bowl of soup.
The key to making soup a healthy food option is to make sure it is concentrated in the plant foods that we need to increase in our diet and not loaded with what we need to reduce: sodium and saturated fat.
Soup can even be a complete meal. A soup full of vegetables that includes a small amount of meat or poultry can provide a satisfying and healthful meal. All you need to complete this meal is some great tasting bread. Easy weeknight dinner.
Sicilian Meatball Soup
- 1/2 pound lean ground beef
- 5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- 2 tablespoons raisins
- 2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
- 1 egg, beaten
- 5 cloves garlic, minced, divided
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 1/2 quarts canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
- 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 cup small pasta shells or other small macaroni
In a medium bowl, mix together the ground beef, 4 tablespoons of the parsley, the Parmesan, raisins, bread crumbs, egg, half of the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper until thoroughly combined. Shape the mixture into 24 meatballs.
In a large pot, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery and the remaining garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, rosemary and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
Add the remaining tablespoon parsley, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and the pasta to the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the meatballs and simmer gently until the meatballs and pasta are done, about 5 minutes longer. Serve with additional Parmesan.
Tuscan Tomato Bread Soup with Steamed Shellfish
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped fine
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil plus 2 tablespoons thinly-sliced basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (from one 28-ounce can)
- 1 1/4 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 4), cut into small dice
- 1 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Pinch of sugar
- One country loaf of bread, crust removed, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 2 pounds mussels or clams, scrubbed or shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
In a large saucepan, heat 4 tablespoons of the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, chopped basil and oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Add the canned and fresh tomatoes, the broth, salt and sugar; bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, until thick, about 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Put the bread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until crisp, about 25 minutes.
Add the bread and the black pepper to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring gently, until the bread absorbs all the liquid, about 5 minutes.
Put the wine, mussels or clams or shrimp and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large stainless-steel saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally, just until the mussels or clams open or the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. Discard any shellfish that do not open.
Mound the bread soup in shallow bowls and surround with the shellfish. Strain any broth from the shellfish pot over the top and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Sprinkle with the sliced basil.
Vegetable Farro Soup
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1 cup farro
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 quarts water
- One 15-ounce can borlotti, cannellini or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 large carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the celery, onion and leek and cook over moderately high heat, stirring a few times, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the farro and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the grains are coated and shiny, about 30 seconds.
Add 1 quart of the water and the beans and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the carrots and the remaining 1 quart of water. Cover and cook over low heat until the carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Add the peas, cover and cook until tender, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, top with the basil.
White Bean Soup With Mustard Greens
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1/2 bunch mustard greens or any greens you like, torn into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- One 15-ounce can white beans, such as cannellini
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Lemon wedges for serving
In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and fennel and cook, until softened, 7–8 minutes. Add garlic and mustard greens and season with salt and pepper.
Cook, stirring often, until the greens are wilted, about 5 minutes.
Add the beans and the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer gently, being careful not to break the beans, until flavors blend and the soup is thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
Add Parmesan and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with lemon wedges and additional cheese.
Squash and Corn Chowder
- 2 slices bacon
- 3/4 cup sliced green onions, divided
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 1 pound yellow or green summer squash, chopped
- 16 oz fresh or frozen corn kernels, thawed if frozen
- 2 1/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon from pan, reserving 2 teaspoons drippings in the pan. Crumble bacon and set aside.
Add 1/2 cup of the green onions, the celery and squash to the drippings in the pan; sauté about 8 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Reserve 1 cup of the corn and set aside. Place the remaining corn and 1 cup milk in a blender and process until smooth. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups milk, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper to the blender and process until combined.
Add pureed mixture and reserved 1 cup corn to the vegetables in the Dutch oven. Reduce heat to medium; cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Ladle soup into each of 4 bowls; top each serving with about 1 tablespoon bacon, 1 tablespoon remaining green onions and 1 tablespoon cheese.
In this series on Italian regional cooking, I have been working my way around the Italian peninsula. The series started with the northern regions and now it is moving into the central areas. Todays post is on Umbria, the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a border with another country. The region is mostly mountainous and hilly and presents a landscape rich in forests, water resources and valleys. Lake Trasimeno is located here.
In literature, Umbria is referred to as il cuore verde d’Italia (the green heart of Italy). The phrase is taken from the poem, Barbarian Odes, by Giosuè Carducci, an italian Nobel prize-winning poet. The poem is one most familiar to Italian school children and is entitled “Le fonti del Clitumno” (“The Head-waters of the Clitumnus”), a description of that spot in the hills of Umbria where the Clitunno River had its beginning. Carducci wrote the ode between July and October 1876. It is generally considered one of Carducci’s best poems combining pastoral beauty with nostalgia for the glories of ancient Italy.
The flocks still come down to you, o Clitumnus, from the far mountains that move with the murmur of breeze-swept ash groves and fresh scent of sage and thyme in the damps of evening.
The young Umbrian shepherd immerses his reluctant sheep in your waters.
By a farmhouse a barefoot mother sits and sings, nursing her child, who looks to the shepherd and smiles.
The pensive father with goatish hair, at his painted cart, turns on his hips like the beasts of old, with the strength of a young bull, like those square of breast, erect and crowned by crescent horns, sweet in their eyes and snow-white, much beloved by gentle Virgil.
The darkening clouds hang like smoke on the Apennines: grand, austere and green from the spreading mountains, Umbria watches. Hail, green Umbria, and you the fount of god Clitumnus.
I feel in my heart the ancient home, my fevered brow touched by the olden gods of Italy.
The region is named for the Umbri tribe, one of the many tribes who were absorbed by the expansion of the Romans. The Umbri probably sprang from neighboring tribes in northern and central Italy, at the beginning of the Bronze Age. The Etruscans were the chief enemies of the Umbri. The Etruscan invasion came from the western coast towards the north and east, eventually driving the Umbrians inland. Nevertheless, the Umbrian population does not seem to have been eradicated by the conquerors. After the downfall of the Etruscans, Umbrians aided the Samnites in their struggle against Rome (308 BC). However, the Romans defeated the Samnites and their allies. The Roman victory started a period of integration under the Roman rulers, who established colonies in the region.
The modern region of Umbria is different from the Umbria of Roman times. Roman Umbria extended through most of what is now the northern Marche region. After the collapse of the Roman empire, Ostrogoths and Byzantines struggled for supremacy in the region. The Lombards founded the duchy of Spoleto, covering much of today’s Umbria and when Charlemagne conquered the Lombard region, some Umbrian territories were given to the Pope. After the French Revolution and the French conquest of Italy, Umbria became part of the Roman Republic (1798–1799) and later, part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon’s defeat, the Pope regained Umbria and ruled it until 1860.
Following Italian unification in 1861, Umbria was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. The present borders of Umbria were fixed in 1927 and in 1946 Umbria became part of the Italian Republic.
The charm of Umbria derives from its fusion of art, nature, peacefulness and the inspirations behind its artistic masterpieces and small Medieval towns. Umbrians have a deep appreciation of art and, throughout history, the region has produced its share of talented artists. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Umbria was home to a well-respected art school (known as the “Umbrian School”) that taught venerated artists such as Raphael, della Francesca and Perugino. Old paintings and frescos can still be found all over Umbria, not just in famous museums (such as the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia) but on the walls of tiny churches in the quiet hilltop towns. Romanesque architecture thrived in this region at the beginning of the twelfth century and some beautiful examples that have survived the years are the Cathedrals of Spoleto and Assisi, St. Silvestro and St. Michele in Bevagna. The Gothic styles are also present in almost every city. The Renaissance movement can be seen in the region’s magnificent monuments.
When it comes to music, Umbria steps away from its traditions and embraces contemporary music. Each July, the region hosts the Umbria Jazz Festival, one of the most renowned international music festivals in the world. Famed musicians such as Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie have played at the festival and every year it attracts new talented artists.
The food industry in Umbria produces processed pork-meats, pasta, lentils, truffles and cheese. The other main industries are textiles, clothing, sportswear, iron and steel, chemicals and ornamental ceramics. Umbrian agriculture is noted for its tobacco, olive oil and vineyards that produce fine wines. Regional varietals include white Orvieto, Torgiano and Rosso di Montefalco. Another typical Umbrian product is the black truffle found in Valnerina, an area that produces 45% of this product for Italy.
The most renowned Umbrian pork comes from the black pigs of Norcia, an ancient town in southeast Umbria. Norcia has been the center of sausage-making and other pork dishes for so many centuries that pork butcher shops in Umbria are called “Norcineria.” Traditional Umbrian pork dishes include salame mazzafegati (a pork liver sausage made with orange peel, pine nuts and raisins) and porchetta, an herb-stuffed pork roast.
Greens are a very popular vegetable found across Umbria and commonly include rapini (broccoli rabe), bietola (swiss chard) and chicoria (chicory). Greens are usually blanched, drained and sautéed with olive oil, chili pepper and garlic. These sautéed greens are then enjoyed as a vegetable side dish or are used as fillings in sandwiches, to top pizza, stirred into eggs or tossed with pasta. Rustic tortas are made with blanched greens and eggs, flavored with onions, pancetta and garlic. The tiny lentils from the Umbrian town of Castelluccio are prized across Italy for their earthy, sweet taste and their ability to maintain their shape even after long simmering.
Umbrians are masters at grilling and it is not uncommon to find indoor grills in their kitchens. Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio. Pecorino or pork rind flavored breads are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough. Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves. A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit. Other desserts include torcolo, a sponge cake brimming with raisins and candied fruit, or ciaramicola. This meringue covered round cake is made with a rich egg batter flavored with lemon rind and a spicy liqueur called Alchermes.
Insalata Di Farro (Farro Salad)
- 2 medium shallots, minced or 1/4 clove garlic and 1/4 medium red onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or 1/2 teaspoon minced anchovy or both
- 1 tablespoon minced capers or finely chopped, pitted black olives
- 1 cup (total) chopped fresh parsley, chives, thyme or basil (or any combination)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 2 cups farro
- 1 bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 1/2 cup grated ricotta salata or other firm or semi-firm cheese
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cut into 1/4-inch dice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Squeeze of lemon juice
Combine shallots, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, capers and herbs in a bowl.
In a large saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil.
Add the farro to the stock, lower heat to a strong simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the farro is tender but somewhat chewy.
Drain and let cool until no more than warm.
Add cooked farro to the ingredients in the bowl and mix. Add vegetables, tomato and cheese and mix.
Salt and pepper to taste. Add more olive oil to taste. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and serve at room temperature.
White Lasagna with Besciamella (Lasagna in Bianco )
Makes 6 servings
- 3/4 cup minced shallots (about 6)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 3/4 cups whole milk
- 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 pound grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup), divided
- 12 (7 by 3 inch) no-boil lasagna sheets
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Cook shallots in butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add flour and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, 3 minutes. Add nutmeg, then slowly whisk in milk and stock. Bring to a boil, whisking, then simmer, stirring occasionally, just until sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to warm, stirring occasionally. Stir in eggs, Marsala, sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup cheese.
Spread about 1 1/4 cups sauce over the bottom of an 11 by 8 inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Repeat layering 3 more times, then top with remaining sauce and remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, until browned, 45 to 55 minutes.
Umbrian Mixed Grill
This dish is often served with the region’s classic lentils.
- 1 pound boneless pork loin
- 1 pound boneless beef loin
- 1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts
- 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut into chunks
- 4 thick slices pancetta or prosciutto, cut in 1-inch squares
- Coarse salt to taste
- Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium bell peppers, seeded and cut into 2-inch squares
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- Small bunch of fresh sage, leaves only
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Cut the meat, sausage and chicken into 1-inch cubes. Season the pork with coarse salt and pepper and rub with the garlic; season the beef with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the sage; season the chicken with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the rosemary. Set aside.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the peppers until just crisp-tender. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half.
Thread the skewers in this order: Pork, bell pepper, chicken, pancetta, sage leaf, beef, bell pepper and sausage. Do not crowd the pieces. Place the skewers in a nonmetal dish large enough to hold them in a single layer and drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil over them. Let them marinate for several hours in the refrigerator, basting and turning them often.
Heat the grill and lightly oil the grill rack. Remove the skewers from the marinade, place them on the grill, and baste with the marinade. Grill, turning and basting the skewers, until done to taste, about 8 to 12 minutes.
Apricots with Amaretto Syrup
- 10 firm-ripe large apricots
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
- 6 amaretti (Italian almond macaroons; if paper-wrapped, use 3 packets), crumbled (1/3 cup)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts for sprinkling
Peel apricots with a vegetable peeler, then halve and pit. Finely chop 2 halves and set aside.
Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook sugar, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Stir in Amaretto (be careful; syrup will spatter) and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes.
Working in 2 batches, poach apricot halves in syrup at a low simmer, turning, until almost tender, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apricots, hollow sides up, to a platter.
Add crumbled amaretti to syrup and cook over low heat, crushing cookies with back of a wooden spoon, until melted into a coarse purée.
Stir in reserved chopped apricot and gently simmer, stirring, until syrup is deep brown and slightly thickened. Cool syrup slightly.
Spoon syrup over apricots and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.
The traditional eating habits of the Mediterranean people are based on the agricultural products of their region, which has a long growing season and a rather mild climate. The traditional diets of the Greeks, French, Italians, Spaniards and Middle Easterners reflect distinct cuisines and culinary practices, but they also have a great deal in common.
Certain foods, such as beef and butter, were never very popular in the Mediterranean region because the region did not support the expansive grazing lands required to raise large quantities of buffalo and steer. Most cheeses are made from sheep’s milk and are lower in cholesterol than those made from cow’s milk. The region’s climate is favorable to growing olive trees, so olive oil is abundant and used in cooking instead of butter. With its monounsaturated fat, olive oil is much healthier than butter.
The Mediterranean peoples consume fish, poultry, game and lamb rather than beef. The meat of sheep, goats and chickens contains some fat, of course, but Mediterraneans usually consume far less meat than their northern European neighbors. Wine, which has certain health benefits, is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and regions like Italy and southern France have, historically, produced wine and wine is what is served with meals.
Research suggests that the benefits of following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern may be many: improved weight loss, better control of blood glucose (sugar) levels and reduced risk of depression, to name a few. Eating like a Mediterranean has also been associated with reduced levels of inflammation, a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Mediterranean Diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil and it features fish and poultry—lean sources of protein—over red meat, which contains more saturated fat. Red wine is consumed regularly but in moderate amounts. Here are a few recipes that can get you started on eating like a Mediterranean.
Eggplant Souvlaki with Yogurt Sauce
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
- 4 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for the grill
- Pinch each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 1 small eggplant, trimmed and cut into 20 1/2-inch-wide half-moon pieces
- 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
- 1 large yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1/2 cup pitted black olives
- 1/2 cup diced red onion
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 2 6-inch whole-grain pitas
- 2 cups lightly packed trimmed baby spinach leaves
- 1/3 cup plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
4 metal or wooden 12 inch skewers (soaked if using wooden) or 8 smaller skewers (6-8 inches)
In a large bowl, whisk together lemon zest, 1/4 cup lemon juice, garlic, oregano, olive oil, salt and black pepper. Transfer half of the dressing to a second large bowl. Add tomatoes and eggplant to the first large bowl, tossing to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes.
To prepare salad:
To the second large bowl, add cucumber, bell pepper, olives and onion; toss well with dressing and set aside.
Prepare the yogurt sauce:
In a small bowl, combine all yogurt sauce ingredients. Set aside in the refrigerator until serving.
Heat grill to medium-high and lightly oil the grate with cooking oil. If it is too cold to grill where you live, a stovetop grill or grill pan can be used.
On each skewer, thread tomatoes and eggplant, dividing ingredients evenly among the skewers. Mist skewers with cooking spray.
Place skewers on the grill; close lid and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice, until tender. On an indoor grill turn skewers often to cook evenly.
Mist pitas with cooking spray and grill, turning once, until lightly toasted and warm, about 1 minute. Cut into quarters and divide among 4 serving plates.
Add spinach to the salad and toss. Serve with souvlaki, yogurt sauce and pita bread.
Farro, Shrimp & Tomato Risotto
- 28 oz canned or boxed Italian diced tomatoes with juices
- 2 large leeks, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
- 1 large bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
- 2 cups farro, rinsed
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
In a large Dutch oven, add tomatoes, leeks, fennel, farro, broth, tomato paste and 1 1/2 cups water; stir to break up tomato paste. Cover, bring to boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes or until the farro is tender.
Remove lid, add shrimp and stir to combine. Replace lid and continue cooking until shrimp are pink and opaque throughout, about 2-3 minutes. Divide among soup bowls and garnish with parsley.
Swiss Chard with Olives
- 2 bunches (about 1 1/4 pounds) Swiss chard, trimmed and washed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup pitted and roughly chopped Kalamata olives (about 16)
- 1/2 cup water
Separate leaves from the stems of the Swiss chard. Roughly chop leaves and set aside. Cut stems into 1-inch pieces.
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and red pepper, and saute until onion is translucent about 6 minutes.
Add Swiss chard stems, olives and the water; cover and cook 3 minutes.
Stir in Swiss chard leaves; cover and continue cooking until stems and leaves are tender, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.
Lemon Chicken with Potatoes & Artichokes
- 6 small red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 6 – 5-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons arrowroot starch
- 12 oz package frozen artichokes, thawed
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus additional for garnish
Season chicken with salt and black pepper. In a large skillet with a cover over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add chicken and cook for about 1-2 minutes on each side to quickly brown. Remove chicken pieces to a plate.
Reduce skillet heat to medium-low and add the remaining oil and garlic; cook for 1 minute, until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the potatoes and peppers and cook for about 4 minutes, until the potatoes begin to brown.
In a small bowl combine the lemon juice, yogurt and arrowroot and whisk until smooth. Stir yogurt mixture into the skillet. Stir in artichokes and dill. Return chicken pieces to the skillet, nestling them on top of the vegetable mixture.
Cover the skillet and cook for 30 minutes, until the artichokesand potatoes are tender and the sauce is thickened.
Serve chicken and vegetables with the sauce and garnish with additional dill.
Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus and, subsequently, gained popularity throughout the Middle East region. The cheese is white, with a distinctive layered texture, similar to mozzarella and has a salty flavor.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for baking sheet
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound homemade or store bought whole-wheat pizza dough at room temperature, recipe below
- 1 cup (4 ounces) haloumi or feta or ricotta salata cheese
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 cups baby arugula
- 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Oil a pizza pan.
Place tomatoes, garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in a food processor; season with salt and pepper. Pulse 3 to 4 times until ingredients are incorporated but chunky.
Place the dough in the pizza pan. Using your hands stretch the dough until it covers the surface of the pan.
Spread tomato sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with cheese and pine nuts; season with salt and pepper.
Bake until the crust is golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
Toss arugula with vinegar and 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle arugula and olives over baked pizza. Cut into serving pieces.
Quick Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
Makes 2 one pound loaves.
- 1/2 cup warm (115 degrees) water
- 2 packets (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
Place water in a large bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Brush another large bowl with oil.
In the bowl with the yeast, whisk in the sugar, oil and salt. Stir in flours with a wooden spoon until a sticky dough forms. Transfer to the oiled bowl; brush top of dough with oil.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm spot until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. With floured hands, knead until smooth, about 15 seconds; divide into two balls.
Use one ball of dough for the pizza above and freeze the second dough for another time.