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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Herbs

The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. This series continues with the country of Greece.

Plagia, Ikaria Island, North-Eastern Aegean Islands

Before it became known as a “Blue Zone”—a region of the world where people tend to live unusually long and healthy lives—the island of Ikaria, Greece, was unknown to most Americans. Ikaria is where the majority of the people live to be well into their 90’s.

In the past few years, Ikaria has received considerable attention from scientists and journalists who want to learn the secrets of its long-living residents. Food clearly plays a large role in the Ikarians’ longevity: The Mediterranean diet they follow has been linked to lower rates of cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and—most recently—heart disease. Although, we, Americans, can’t adopt all aspects of the Greek-island lifestyle, we can incorporate some of the eating patterns and dietary traditions practiced there. And, the best part of “eating like a Greek” is  that the food is delicious.

Ikarians regularly dine on potatoes, greens, olives and seasonal vegetables. Vegetables are a big part of every meal and they are prepared in a healthy way—served raw in a salad or roasted with olive oil, rather than fried.

The majority of people in Greece eat a salad as an appetizer before the main course. This way, their appetite is significantly reduced by healthy ingredients.

Shellfish and fish are abundant in their cuisine, all of which tastes great over pasta with lemon and olive oil or in a souvlaki-style flatbread wrap with vegetables. Ikarians also eat smarter snacks—like raw vegetables and protein-rich dips made from Greek yogurt, beans or lentils.

Ikarians typically have a late morning breakfast comprised of goat’s milk, yogurt and or cheese, fruit, herbal tea or coffee, whole grain bread and local honey. At lunch, salads made of beans, legumes and potatoes, along with cooked fresh garden vegetables are standard fare and prepared with generous amounts of olive oil. Locally-caught fish may also be served and Ikarian red wine typically accompanies the meal. Meat is eaten just a few times per month. Ikarians eat a late lunch and it is usually followed by an afternoon nap, a practice that many Ikarians still follow and which results in a restful and stress free rest of the day. Quiet leisurely late afternoons and a heart-healthy routine greatly reduces the risk for heart disease. A light dinner of bread, olives, vegetables and wine is followed by evening visits with neighbors before bedtime.

Ikaria is the Mediterranean Diet in all its aspects, including the ways in which locally produced fresh, seasonal, home-cooked food and community are all integrated in ways that support physical, emotional/ mental health, relationships and the environment.

“Eat Like a Greek”

Greek Lentil Soup

Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients

  • 2 large red onions, coarsely chopped, about 2 cups (500 mL)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 pound (500 g) small brown lentils
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped or pureed tomatoes
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 sprigs dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 fresh or dried whole chile pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) red wine vinegar
  • Raw red or white onion for serving

Directions

Coarsely chop one of the onions. Place in a large, heavy pot, sprinkle with a little salt and cook, covered, over very low heat until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the minced garlic and stir.

Rinse the lentils in a colander. Add the lentils, tomatoes, sage, oregano, bay leaf and chile pepper to the pot, and toss all together for a few minutes over low heat.

Pour in enough water to cover the contents of the pot by 3 inches. Raise heat to medium, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for one hour, or until very tender.

Season to taste with salt. Pour in the olive oil and vinegar just before serving.

To serve: Remove the bay leaf, oregano and sage leaves and discard. Slice the remaining onion. Sprinkle a few onion slices over the top of each soup portion. Drizzle in additional olive oil and vinegar if desired.

Briam – Baked Vegetables in Olive Oil (Island of Ikaria-Greece)

FOODS OF CRETE COOKBOOK, recipe and photo by Chef Bill Bradley, R.D.

Briam is an oven baked dish of fresh vegetables, herbs, olive oil, and an optional feta cheese. It is one of the most classic dishes of Greece.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 small or 1 large eggplant, cut into large, thick strips
  • 4 small or 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 3-4 small zucchini, ends cut off and cut into large pieces
  • 2 onions, cut in half
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into large pieces
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cut into large pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch dill, stems removed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup feta, crumbled

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large Dutch oven or baking dish, mix together all the ingredients except the feta cheese. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil.

Bake for 1 hour and stir. Re-cover and bake for another hour. Remove the baking dish from the oven, stir in the feta cheese and serve immediately.

Rosemary and Olive Focaccia

FOODS OF CRETE COOKBOOK, recipe and photo by Koula Barydakis

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2/3 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons dried or fresh rosemary, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix flour, yeast, oregano, sugar, salt, olive oil and water in a bowl. Knead until the dough is soft (at least 5 minutes).

Cover with a warm, moist towel and put in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (about an hour).

Spread dough on a baking (cookie) tray, pressing lightly so that it is flat and even.

Oil the dough. Make little cavities throughout the top of the dough by pressing down with your fingers.

Place olives and rosemary in the cavities.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. Serve hot.

Chicken Salad Greek Style

Recipe and photo from GAEA.

Ingredients

  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup bite-sized broccoli florets
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange, segmented
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives

Directions

Using a rolling pin, glass jar or mallet, pound and flatten the chicken breasts to an even thickness. Season all sides with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once heated, sauté the chicken breasts until golden brown, about 1 minute each side.

Reduce heat to low and cover for 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the chicken rest, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

Slice thinly.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli florets and cook until slightly softened, about 1 minute.

Place the fennel, oranges, cherry tomatoes and avocado to a large salad bowl.

Mix all of the dressing ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken slices to the salad bowl. Drizzle dressing on top and gently toss all of the ingredients together. Serve.

Baked Seafood Orzo with Kalamata Olives

Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas

Serves 6

Orzo is one of the most popular Greek pasta shapes. In Greek, it’s called kritharaki.

Directions

  • Salt
  • 1 pound orzo
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes (good quality canned are also fine)
  • Pinch of hot sauce or hot pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup white wine, plus one cup if using whole, unshelled mussels
  • 2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 pounds mussels in their shell, or 2 ½ cups shelled, frozen mussels, defrosted
  • 2 cups cleaned, shelled small fresh or frozen and defrosted shrimp
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 chop chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F / 175C.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the orzo and simmer until al dente. It should be a little underdone.

Drain, transfer back to the hot pot and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

While the orzo is boiling start the sauce:

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide pot or deep skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until wilted and translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add 3 of the 4 chopped garlic cloves and stir.

Pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add the wine. Simmer until the alcohol has cooked off.

Add 1 cup of hot water, the star anise and hot sauce or hot pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the sauce over medium heat for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Add the olives to the sauce five minutes before removing the pan from the heat.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare the seafood:

If using mussels in the shell, make sure they are cleaned and well-washed.

Steam them in two inches of wine in a wide pot with the lid closed, over high heat, until they open.

You can add herbs or garlic if you want to the steaming liquid, before adding the mussels.

Remove and strain in a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the liquid.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same pot and add the shrimp and remaining garlic.

If you are using shelled mussels that have been defrosted, drain them and add them to the shrimp.

Stir over medium heat until the shrimp start to turn pink. Remove.

Toss the mussels and shrimp, the reserved steaming liquid, and the pan juices from lightly sautéeing the shrimp into the tomato sauce.

Stir in the oregano and parsley. Remove the star anise.

Oil a large baking dish, preferably ovenproof glass or ceramic. Place the orzo in the baking dish and mix in the sauce thoroughly.

Pour in any remaining olive oil.

Bake, covered, for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the orzo is fully cooked. Remove, cool slightly and serve.

Tahini-Walnut Phyllo Flutes

Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas

Serves 12

Ingredients

  • 2 cups tahini
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups water
  • 3 cups finely ground walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 pound phyllo dough, thawed and at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • Greek honey for serving

Directions

Whip together the tahini and sugar at high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy, about 5 minutes.

As you whip the mixture, drizzle in the water. It should end up being the consistency of peanut butter.

Using a wooden spoon or whisk, stir in the cinnamon and walnuts.

Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Lightly oil two sheet pans.

Open the phyllo and place horizontally in front of you.

Cut three stacks of three-inch strips and keep them covered with a kitchen towel and a damp towel on top.

Take the first strip, oil lightly. Place a second strip on top and oil that, too.

Place a tablespoon of the filling on the bottom center of the strip, fold in the sides, and then roll up to form a tight cylinder.

Place seam-side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining ingredients until everything is used up.

Bake the flutes for 8 – 12 minutes, until golden. Remove and cool slightly.

To serve: Drizzle with honey.

You can store the cooled pastries in tins in a cool dry place for up to 5 days.

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The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and in the countries of Portugal, Spain and France. This series continues with the country of Italy.

The Mediterranean Diet is more than just a way of eating. It is a way of thinking about food. It embraces the concept of eating together and sharing food with others. Modern populations are pressed for time, so food is often prepared and consumed in a hurry and in isolation. However, for the Mediterranean peoples, preparing food and eating together is very important and it is an important key in why the Mediterranean Diet is successful. For Italians, food is not simply sustenance and nutrition. It is community.

The Italian cuisine is typically Mediterranean which means eating a lot of vegetables, fruit, grains, fish and some chicken. In addition, the Italians use olive oil for cooking in large amounts instead of animal fat. Olive oil combined with a high volume of vegetables prevents disease. The Italians also follow nature and only eat what is in season. If you eat according to the seasons, you will be eating a variation of different colored vegetables. Each different color has a different antioxidant, which helps prevent disease, including cancer.

There are big differences between the Italian food in the North and in the South. Italy’s Alpine and sub-alpine regions in the North produce more livestock (cows) and fewer olives. That means more butter and lard and less olive oil. Corn (maize) and rice (such as arborio) are more popular in the northern regions than pasta. In the inland cities (Milan, Turin, Bologna), fish is more expensive than it is in the coastal cities (Genoa, Venice), and therefore consumed in lesser quantities. Fish and fresh fruit cost much less in Naples and Palermo than they do in Turin and Milan.

Southern Italians eat 40% more fruit and 80% more grains than Northern Europeans do. Southern Italians eat approximately 490 grams (17 ounces) of pasta and bread a day and research studies have found that eating a lot of grains was clearly NOT harmful to the Italians. The next largest proportion of their fiber comes from tomatoes, onions, artichokes eggplants, peas, lentils and chickpeas.

The Typical Italian Daily Menu:

Breakfast: Yogurt topped with berries and walnuts, coffee or tea
Lunch: Lentil soup with Swiss chard and bread on the side
Snack: cheese, bread
Dinner: Roasted cod paired with a wheat berry salad (cooked wheat berries with olive oil vinaigrette, feta, parsley, and tomatoes) and a glass of red wine
Dessert: Fresh fruit drizzled with honey

The Typical Italian Diet:

Snacks: In Italy, snacks are usually a very light: an espresso, a pizzetta, cheese and fresh fruit are popular options.

Lunch: In Italy lunch is usually a single dish, either pasta, frittata, fish with vegetables or salad.

Dinner: A soup with fish and vegetables is typical for a first course, followed by pasta with meat or fish and salad or vegetables. Fruit is usual for dessert.

Bring the Italian Mediterranean to your table with these recipes:

Saffron Orzo Pasta Salad

TN&M Magazine

Ingredients

  • 10 oz Orzo pasta
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup black oil-cured olives, sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, diced
  • One 8 oz can Italian chickpeas
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, under oil, drained and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring 6 cups of chicken stock to a boil.

In a small bowl combine 1 teaspoon of saffron and 2 tablespoons of the hot chicken stock and stir to dissolve.

Add the saffron to the chicken stock and stir.

Add the orzo to the boiling chicken stock and let it cook for 7 minutes.

Drain the orzo, transfer to a bowl, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.

Dice red bell pepper, red onion and mozzarella; set aside.

Slice the sun-dried tomatoes into 1/2-inch piece and set aside.

Slice the olives and drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.

In a medium bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Add the diced onion to the vinaigrette and let it marinate for 5 minutes.

Transfer all of the ingredients into the orzo and mix well, add the vinaigrette and toss well to coat.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh parsley just before serving.

Serve at room temperature or refrigerate for later use.

Warm Farro Salad

From TN&M Magazine

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces dried chickpeas
  • 10 ounces farro
  • Truffle oil to taste
  • 1 Garlic clove
  • Basil
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • 1 Tomato chopped fine
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chili flakes
  • Parsley

Directions

Soak the chickpeas in cold water for 12 hours, changing the water 3 times. (If you use canned chickpeas, rinse them thoroughly!)

Cook the chickpeas in water to cover for about 1 hour.

Cook the farro in lightly salted water until tender.

Finely chop the garlic, basil, sage, rosemary, chili flakes and oregano.

Lightly sauté the herbs in olive oil, then add the tomato.

Add the drained chickpeas and farro, drizzling with a bit of broth.

Off the flame, stir in truffle oil to taste.

Courgettes with Sultanas and Pine Nuts

From TN&M Magazine

Serves one, as a main course.

Ingredients

  • 1 210g tin of sardines, drained, oil reserved
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sultanas (raisins)
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1.5 courgettes (zucchini), julienned
  • ½ tablespoon chopped chives
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • Black pepper to serve

Direction

Tip a little of the oil drained from the sardines into a frying pan and sauté the garlic for a few minutes until softened.

Add the julienned courgettes to another pan, and sauté over low heat in a little of the sardine oil until softened – approximately 4 minutes.

Add the sardines to the garlic pan, and break them up with the back of your wooden spoon as you stir them around the pan. Next add the sultanas, pine nuts and capers and stir well. Cook for a few minutes until the sardines are warmed through.

When the courgettes are ready add them to the saucepan and toss all the ingredients together, distributing the sauce evenly through the courgettes. Scatter in the chives, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add a little extra salt if necessary, but likely not as the capers are salty.

Transfer to a serving dish and add liberal amounts of black pepper.

White Fish Fillets With Cherry Tomatoes

By Bon Appétit Test Kitchen

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes (about 12 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green olives
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • Four 6-ounce white fish fillets
  • 1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil

Directions

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the broiler. Combine the shallot, garlic, tomatoes, olives and oil in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Set aside.

Place the fish in a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the tomato mixture over the fish and broil until fish is opaque throughout and tomatoes have started to burst, 10–13 minutes. Serve with basil scattered over top.

Spaghetti With Clams

by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 1/2 pounds clams
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced, divided
  • 3 small dried chiles, crumbled, divided
  • 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Place clams in a sink filled with cold water. Scrub shells well with a coarse brush to remove any sand. Drain water and soak clams in clean water, repeating until the water remains clean.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot with a lid over medium heat. Add ¼ cup wine, 1 garlic clove, and 1 chile. Add half of the clams, cover, and cook over high heat, shaking pan frequently, until clams open (keep lid on pot so heat is not released, making cooking time longer).

As soon as the clams open, transfer the clams and their juices to a large bowl (discard any clams that do not open). Repeat the process with 2 tablespoons oil, remaining ¼ cup wine, 1 garlic clove, 1 chile, and remaining clams.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until tender but al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in pot with lid over medium heat. Add remaining 1 garlic clove and remaining 1 chile; stir until garlic is fragrant and light golden, 1–2 minutes. Return clams and their juices to the pot; toss to coat and remove from the heat.

Add pasta and toss to coat evenly with juices, adding pasta cooking liquid by ¼-cupfuls if pasta is dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle parsley over and serve.


I titled this post Summertime Cookies because the cookie recipes are quick and easy to make and they are filled with flavors that go well with summer ingredients. They are also perfect paired with ice cream desserts.

Basil Pistachio Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

Ingredients

2 cups self-rising flour
3/4 cup fresh sweet basil, chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup chopped pistachios

Directions

Using an electric mixer on low-speed, blend together the flour, basil, sugar and lemon zest and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix the olive oil, egg and vanilla. Add this wet mixture to the dry ingredients.

Beat with the mixer, gradually adding the lemon juice. The mixture will be crumbly and slightly moist. It should not be sticky, though.

Add the pistachios and mix well. Gather the mixture into a ball.

Roll the ball into a log about 1½ inches thick and 14 inches long. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Can also be overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Cut the chilled log into 1/2 inch thick slices. Place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and reshape, if necessary, so they keep their round shape.

Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the pans and bake for 10 minutes more or until they are slightly brown.

Cool on a rack.

Crunchy Biscotti

Ingredients

6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions

Place the first 4 ingredients in the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat at high-speed for 2 minutes until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour to the sugar mixture, stirring until blended. Stir in chips and pecans (dough will be sticky). Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. With floured hands, shape the dough into a 9 x 4 inch log; pat to 1/2-inch thickness. Place the log on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the log from the pan and cool 20 minutes on a wire rack.

Cut the log on the diagonal into 1/2 inch-thick slices. Place the slices, cut sides down, on the baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, turn the biscotti over and bake for 10 minutes more. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Oatmeal Date Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

Ingredients

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat germ, preferably toasted
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together applesauce and oil until completely blended.

Whisk in sugar, egg and vanilla; set aside.

In a second medium bowl, combine the oats, wheat germ and flour.

Add to the applesauce mixture and stir well to combine thoroughly. Fold in the dates and pecans.

Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon drop dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart, and bake until cooked through and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Carefully transfer to wire racks and set aside to let cool completely.


Of course with all this basil growing in my garden, I have to make pesto. After I have made about 10 containers of pesto for the freezer, I try to think about other ways to use this fantastic herb.

One of the best ways to preserve excess basil is to chop it fine. Place it in a food processor with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Then, simply pour the shredded basil oil into ice-cube trays and freeze. As you need a bit of fresh basil, it will be easy enough to pull out a cube of basil and add it to tomato sauce, stew or salad dressing. Much better than dried.

Pesto alla Genovese

Ingredients

4 cups tightly packed basil leaves (no stems)
1 large peeled garlic clove
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/ 2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions

In a blender of food processor, combine the garlic, pine nuts, salt, pepper and ½ cup of the olive oil.

With the machine running, add the leaves a few at a time. Add more olive oil until a smooth paste forms.

Pour the pesto into a storage container and pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface of the pesto to keep it from darkening.

If using that day, store at room temperature. If using later in the week, refrigerate the pesto and bring it to room temperature before using. Any longer than that store in the freezer.

Stir in the cheese just before serving.

Toss this sauce with your favorite pasta.

Pasta With Basil Pesto

Ingredients

12 oz short dried pasta
Half the of the prepared basil pesto recipe from above
Grated Parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper.

Directions

Cook the pasta al dente in boiling, salted water. Reserve a ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and place in a pasta serving bowl. Add the pesto and pasta cooking water. Stir well and top with grated cheese and black pepper before serving.

How To Use Pesto In Your Cooking

Stir a tablespoon of pesto into most vegetable soups just before serving.
Spoon a thin layer of pesto onto toasted bread slices, top with shaved Ricotta Salata or another firm grating cheese, and serve as an appetizer.
Whisk pesto into a risotto.
Beat equal parts of pesto and Ricotta cheese together and spoon into scooped out cherry tomatoes.
Toss grilled vegetables (peppers, zucchini, and eggplants) with a little pesto.
Spread on focaccia bread when making a Panini.
Add pesto to your favorite poultry stuffing.
Don’t forget to add it to your favorite spaghetti sauce recipe.

What Else Can You Do With Extra Basil?

Lemon Basil Garlic Butter 

This butter is a great addition to chicken, fish or steak. It is also good on grilled corn on the cob.

Makes 8 tablespoons

Ingredients

1/2 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Directions

Mix together all the ingredients until blended well.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a week.

Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese Sandwich

2 sandwiches

Ingredients

4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
8 large fresh basil leaves
2 plum tomatoes, sliced thin
4 slices sourdough bread
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

Layer the cheese, basil and tomatoes on two bread slices. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper. Top with remaining bread.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the sandwiches. Cook until the bottom is toasted, turn the sandwich over with a large spatula and cook until the second slide is toasted. Serve immediately.


Gnocchi are Italian dumplings and they should be light and fluffy when you serve them. Store bought gnocchi can be a little dense and heavy. How do you get the lightness in the dough? By not using too much flour and using flavor ingredients that are not heavy. I never just use just flour and potato in the dough. I like to add ricotta cheese and alternate the potato with other vegetables, such as butternut squash, pureed carrots, sweet potatoes or spinach. They are not difficult to make at home, so give gnocchi a try.

Potato Gnocchi

Ingredients

2 medium baking potatoes, cooked and peeled
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 cups 00 (Italian) flour or all-purpose flour

Directions

Dice the cooked potatoes and place them in an electric mixer bowl. With the paddle attachment mash the potatoes.

Add the salt and pepper.

Mix the egg and ricotta together in a small mixing bowl. Add to the potatoes in the mixer along with the flour.

Mix until thoroughly combined and the dough comes together.

Place the dough on a floured board and knead a few minutes until smooth.

Divide in half. This recipe usually comes out to weigh about 2 lbs.

Wrap one half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is time to cut the gnocchi.

Wrap the other half in plastic and place in a freezer zip-lock beg. Freeze the dough for another time.

This dough freezes well. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator when you want to use it.

To shape the gnocchi:

Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before making the gnocchi.

Spread some flour on a large work surface and cut the dough into four equal pieces.Take one piece and cut it in half.

Roll the piece of dough into a snake about 1/2 inch thick, then cut it into 1 inch pieces.

Dust the gnocchi with a little flour and push the tines of a fork into one side of the dumpling.

Place the gnocchi on a waxed paper tray dusted with flour and cover with a dry kitchen towel.

To cook the gnocchi

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add enough salt to it so that the water tastes salty.

Place a pasta bowl close to the stove.

Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook until they rise to the top of the boiling water.

You may have to do this in batches, so as not to crowd the pan.

Remove the gnocchi with a spider, allowing the water to drain and place the gnocchi in the bowl.

Continue until all the gnocchi are cooked.

Sauces for Gnocchi

Tomato and Fresh Basil

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 (28-ounce) cans whole, peeled, tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small bunch fresh basil, leaves chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, the herb sprigs and basil and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove and discard the herb sprigs. Stir in the salt and season with pepper, to taste.

Basil Pesto

Ingredients

2 cups fresh basil leaves (about 1 large bunch)
3 cloves garlic
½ cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
3/4 cup freshly grated hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese, or a combo of the two
½ cup olive oil
Kosher salt to taste

Directions

Combine all the ingredients except the oil and cheeses in a food processor. Pulse until the pesto is blended into a slightly coarse paste.​

Transfer to a bowl and stir in the oil and cheeses.​

To serve with pasta, you can toss the cooked pasta directly with the pesto. Or, if you want to thin out the pesto sauce a little, add a spoonful or two of the hot pasta water to the pesto, then toss with the cooked pasta and serve right away.

Mushroom Cream

Ingredients

1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 cup half & half
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese, grated (or Parmesan)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to desired taste
Directions

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and butter, swirl to coat the skillet.

Add the onion, mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper; sauté 20 minutes until mushrooms are browned and have released their liquid.

Add wine and thyme and cook for a few minutes until liquid has evaporated. Remove pan from heat.

Add hot cooked pasta another sprinkling of salt, half & half and Grana Padano to the skillet, tossing to combine.

Add cooking pasta cooking liquid until desired moistness and continue to toss. Sprinkle with parsley.

Gorgonzola Cheese

Ingredients

1 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
6 ounces dry miniature ravioli
3 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 apple, diced
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

Directions

Place a heavy skillet over medium heat. Pour cream into skillet, bring to a simmer, and cook cream until it reduces by half, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Season with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Pour dried ravioli into boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, 16 to 18 minutes.

Drain pasta, reserving a cup of pasta water.

Gently fold cooked ravioli into cream sauce and turn heat to low. Mix in Gorgonzola cheese, stirring gently until melted. If sauce is too thick, thin it with a little pasta cooking water.

Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley and Parmesan cheese. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with diced apple, walnuts, and 1 teaspoon parsley.

Primavera 

Ingredients

2 cups penne pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, cut into strips
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced, or more to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil; add penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender yet firm to the bite, about 11 minutes. Drain.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat-high heat; saute asparagus and carrots until tender yet firm to the bite, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic; saute until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir Parmesan cheese, cream, and black pepper into vegetable mixture until cheese melts and sauce is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add pasta to sauce and toss to coat.

And Our Favorite

Butter Sage

Ingredients

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Black pepper to taste
12 sage leaves, sliced

To make the sauce:

Heat the butter and sage together in a small skillet. Pour the melted butter over the cooked gnocchi, add the cheese and mix well. Garnish with black pepper and serve immediately.


Happy Mother’s Day To All.

Appetizer

Sliced Tomatoes, Burrata Cheese, Olives, Basil and Italian Breadsticks

Entrée

Chicken Pasta Primavera

Ingredients

For the Chicken

2 to 2 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
1 small lemon, sliced
1 carrot, cut into quarters
2 ribs celery, cut into quarters
2 large bay leaves
Small bundle of fresh herbs: parsley, thyme and rosemary

For the Sauce

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
1 small zucchini, trimmed and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
1 large leek, trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced into matchsticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and white pepper or finely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups chicken stock (poaching liquid)
1 cup frozen peas

For the Pasta

1 pound short pasta (penne, casarecce, gemelli)
A handful of fresh herbs: parsley, thyme leaves, sage and rosemary, very finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

To poach the chicken:

Place the chicken, onion, lemon, carrot, celery, bay leaves and herb bundle in a pot, cover the chicken with water and bring to boil.

Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer 45 minutes. Strain and reserve the poaching liquid.

Cool the chicken until it can be handled. Remove the skin and bones then pull meat into thin, bite-sized pieces.

To make the sauce:

Heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the carrots, zucchini, leeks and garlic, season with salt and white pepper, and sauté until tender, 6-7 minutes.

Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour and stir a minute more.

Deglaze the pan with the wine then stir in 2 cups of the reserved poaching liquid.

Cook until thickened, add in chicken and peas, and reduce heat to low.

To cook the pasta:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta. Add the pasta and cook to al dente.

Drain and toss with the chicken and sauce, adding an additional 1/2 cup poaching liquid if needed.

Combine the lemon zest with the finely chopped herbs.

Add the lemon juice to the pasta and serve in shallow bowls topped with gremolata and some Parmesan cheese.

Italian Mixed Greens Salad

Ingredients

1 cup Radicchio
1 cup Butter Lettuce
1 cup Romaine Lettuce
½ cup Sliced Red Onions
Italian Vinaigrette

Directions

Tear the lettuces into small pieces and place in a salad bowl. Add the red onion and Italian vinaigrette to taste.

Toss well and serve immediately.

Dessert

Blueberry Crumb Bars

Ingredients

For the crust

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup salted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the berry layer

4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, 3 cups flour and baking powder. Mix in salt and cinnamon.

Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter. Add the egg and vanilla. Dough will be crumbly.

Pat half of the dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Gently mix in the blueberries.

Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is slightly brown.

Cool completely before cutting into squares. Serve with ice cream, if desired.


The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the west and north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. I will be writing about the Mediterranean countries and their cuisines during the next year. I will start with Portugal on the west side and work around the map to include all the countries on the Mediterranean Sea.

This region is rich in a wide variety of ingredients and spices that give ordinary food lots of flavor. The food of the Mediterranean region is prepared with fresh, healthy ingredients that are actually good for you.

The concept of a Mediterranean diet was developed to reflect food patterns typical of Crete, Greece and southern Italy in the early 1960s. Although this diet was first publicized in 1975 by the American biologist, Ancel Keys and chemist Margaret Keys (his wife and collaborator), the Mediterranean diet failed to gain widespread recognition until the 1990s. Objective data, showing that the Mediterranean diet is healthy, originated from results of studies in Naples and Madrid and later confirmed by the Seven Countries Study, with its first publication in 1970.

Olive Trees

The essentials of the Mediterranean kitchen include extra virgin olive oil, several different kinds of beans, both dried and canned, long-grain and short-grain rice, cornmeal for polenta and flour for bread, pasta in a variety of shapes, canned tomatoes and condiments like dried mushrooms and herbs.

 

For me the best source on how to switch to a Mediterranean style of eating is Nancy Harmon Jenkins, in her well-known book,

THE NEW MEDITERRANEAN DIET COOKBOOK: A DELICIOUS ALTERNATIVE FOR LIFELONG HEALTH

Nancy advises:

Use olive oil as your go to fat for cooking. Use more whole grains. Even though Mediterranean cooks seldom use whole wheat pasta or brown rice, they still get plenty of whole grains through dishes like tabbouleh and bulgur pilaf. Also bread throughout the Mediterranean is often made with unrefined wheat and barley flours.

Begin each meal with a salad. Make it from crisp greens and whatever vegetables are in season—tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, scallions, carrots, fennel, celery, chicory and beans. Add dark green leaf lettuces like oak leaf and romaine. Make your own salad dressing made with olive oil.

Every day try to get in at least one serving each of cruciferous (cabbage family) vegetables—broccoli, broccoli rabe, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip and mustard greens—and bright-colored vegetables and fruits that are rich in antioxidants. Also carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and yellow squash, as well as fruits, like apricots and cantaloupe. Experiment with different vegetables, ones that may not be familiar—artichokes, leeks, fava beans, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), celery root and a variety of greens.

Vegetables don’t have to be served separately—vegetable combinations, vegetables cooked in a sauce for pasta, vegetables served cut up in a soup, are all ways to increase the quantity consumed.

Cut down on the amount of meat consumed. One easy way to cut meat consumption is with stews that feature meat as an incidental to lots and lots of vegetables. Or make a hearty soup the main course, with bread, a little cheese and salad to accompany it.

Here are some basic dishes that are found across the Mediterranean table. They are great for tapas dishes, or on an antipasto, as a condiment or side dish.

 

Marinated Olives

Ingredients

1½ cups mixed black and green olives, a combination of Sicilian green olives, Greek Kalamata olives and Spanish green olives
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 sprig fresh rosemary,
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 pinch crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic, sliced thin

Directions

Remove the needles from the rosemary sprig. Discard the stem and chop the needles.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove the olives from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving to allow them to come to room temperature. Store any leftover olives in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a week.

Red Pepper Hummus

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup water
15 oz canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)—rinsed and drained
½ cup tahini
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup jarred or homemade roasted red peppers, chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, scraping the sides occasionally. Pour into a serving bowl and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil.

Tzatziki

Ingredients

1 cucumber, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 cups Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill or mint
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Scrape the seeds out of the cucumber halves using the pointy end of a teaspoon and discard.

Grate the cucumber flesh into a bowl then squeeze out any excess moisture using your hands,(a small handful at a time.

Place the grated cucumber into a large bowl and add the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, dill, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.

Place the tzatziki in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (and preferably overnight) to let the flavors blend.

All-Purpose Dressing

Ingredients

2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
½ clove garlic, grated
¼ teaspoon each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Shake together all the ingredients in a jar until well combined.

Tapenade

Tapenade can be used to season grilled fish or chicken. It is also delicious spread on toasted baguette slices and topped with chopped tomatoes or simply serve it with crackers or crusty bread and vegetable crudités for dipping.

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup pitted black olives
1 tablespoon capers
2 anchovy fillets
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Serve at room temperature.

Peppers and Onions

Ingredients

6 bell peppers, a variety of colors
2 thinly sliced garlic cloves
1 thinly sliced medium onion
1 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

To blister the peppers, place them on a hot grill or under the broiler. Turn on all sides until the skins are completely blackened.

Immediately transfer to a large resealable plastic bag or place in a large bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap to seal. Let sit for 30 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

Working with one pepper at a time, transfer to a work surface. Remove the skin, stem, and seeds.

Cut the peppers into 2-inch strips.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan (over medium-high heat).

Add the sliced onions and sauté until the onions soften. Reduce heat to low heat and add the garlic and the sliced peppers. Add the salt and black pepper

Cover the pan and let the mixture stew together for about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a storage bowl.

Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours to allow the flavors to develop.

Toss with the olive oil, vinegar and parsley just before serving.

Sautéed Greens

Ingredients

3 lbs fresh greens, stems removed and washed in several changes of water
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
Sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice.

Directions

Place the greens with the washing water still clinging to the leaves in a large pot.Cook on low until completely wilted and tender, depending on the type of greens used.

Drain and cut the leaves into smaller pieces.

Place the olive oil, garlic and chili in the empty pot and heat over low until the garlic is tender but not brown.

Add the drained greens and cook just until hot. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in salt to taste and the lemon juice.



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