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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

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Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. In cuisine, alla cacciatora refers to a type of stew prepared “hunter-style” with onions, herbs, bell peppers, and sometimes wine. It is named in honor of the hunter’s wife—who, all over northern Italy, might traditionally cook the dish on the eve of the hunt. In Italy hunter’s stew was made with rabbit or other wild game, not chicken, sometime during the Renaissance period. This stew dish was simple but delicious and was likely developed to satisfy the appetites of hunters who may have been on the track of a larger animal or herd of animals for several days, and who needed a tasty, filling stew that could easily be cooked outdoors to keep them going. The spices used, such as parsley and oregano, would have also been readily available. Contrary to popular belief, Cacciatore did not originally contain tomatoes or tomato sauce, as tomatoes were brought to Italy from the New World later than it would have been made for the first time. When the Italian immigrants came to America, they brought with them their traditional recipes but needed to adapt them to the ingredients available in America.

In true Italian fashion, there are probably more than a thousand recipes for this dish and here is mine.

Chicken Cacciatore

Ingredients

4 lbs chicken cut up or use all thighs, skin removed
8 oz Italian pork sausage, casings removed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
1 large onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cups)
1 large bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 (26-oz.) container finely chopped Italian tomatoes

Directions

Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or plate. Season with the salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.

Place a large Dutch oven over high heat for several minutes. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add a layer of chicken and brown on both sides. Remove to a large plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil and brown the remainder of the chicken. Remove and place with the first batch of chicken.

Add the sausage to the pan and brown completely, crumbling the meat as you stir.


Add the remaining oil and vegetables; reduce the heat to medium and sauté until the vegetables are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more, until fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and the chicken to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 1 ½ hours or until the chicken is very tender.

To prepare ahead.
Remove the pot from the heat and cool. Remove chicken to a large baking dish and pour the sauce from the Dutch Oven over the chicken. cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, heat the oven to 350 degrees F and reheat the chicken covered for one hour.

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Folklore tells us that what has come to be known as Italian Wedding Soup began as a dish traditionally served to the bride and groom at their wedding reception. However, that story is not exactly true. Italian Wedding Soup gained its name, not from the occasion that might bring it to the table but rather from the harmony of its ingredients. The name of the dish in English, “wedding soup”, actually means “married soup” (minestra maritata) in Italian. The modern Americanized version of wedding soup is a far lighter dish than the original, which was a rib-sticking dish intended as the main (and sometimes only) meal of the day. The Italian Wedding Soup history also has ties with America, where it was brought here by the Neapolitan immigrants. In Italy, the soup went out of fashion around the time the immigrants took their recipe with them to America. There are many, many versions of this soup. Below is my version of the dish and the one my family loves. This soup tastes better if made a day ahead.

Italian Wedding Soup

For the meatballs:

1 pound lean ground chicken
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 medium stalks celery with leaves, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
12 cups chicken broth
1 cup small pasta, such as ditalini
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
10 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with cooking spray.

For the meatballs:

Place the ground chicken, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Italian seasoning, Parmesan, cream, egg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork.
Form 1 inch balls (I use a small cookie scoop) and drop the meatballs onto the prepared pan They don’t have to be perfectly round. Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

For the soup:

Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the garlic, onions, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the pasta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the Italian seasoning and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and cook for 1 minute. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with grated Parmesan.


Have lots of leftovers from Thanksgiving? Here is a delicious recipe to use some of the leftovers in a new way. For the topping, I use a mixture of potatoes and cauliflower to reduce the number of carbs in the dish. If you are not a fan of cauliflower use all potatoes. Don’t forget the leftover cranberry sauce to add as a side.

Filling Ingredients

4 cups cubed leftover turkey
1 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, finely diced
Half a green bell pepper, diced
1 cup leftover green beans, diced
2 cups leftover turkey gravy

Topping

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
2 cups leftover mashed cauliflower
1 tablespoon melted butter.
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Choose either an 8×8-inch or a 9×14-inch oven-proof pan, depending on how much food you have. Oval gratin dishes or a casserole dish also work well, as do individual baking dishes. Butter the dish well.

To reheat the filling before putting the casserole in the oven.

Combine the filling ingredients in the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and heat in the microwave until warm (not hot), about 4 minutes on high.
If you don’t wish to use the microwave, reheat the mixture in a saucepan and pour into the baking dish.

To make the topping:

Thoroughly combine the mashed potatoes and cauliflower. Mix in the melted butter and cheddar cheese. Spread the topping over the filling in the baking dish, spreading it to the edges of the dish. Place the baking dish on a foil covered cookie sheet. The filling may bubble over.

Bake, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. You will know it is done when the pie filling is bubbling hot and the topping turns golden brown. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.


Sicilian Style Codfish Cakes

Makes 8-10 cakes

Ingredients

1 pound fresh cod fish fillets, poached (see directions below)
1 pound potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, grated
1 large egg
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Flour
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for coating the patties
1 cup breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Directions for making fish cakes:

Drain the poached fish and flake the fish with a fork. Be sure to remove all bones. Let cool.
Cook the potatoes in salted water and mash with the olive oil. Add the Parmesan cheese, chopped onion, garlic, 1 egg, the flaked codfish, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the fish mixture into eight equal portions, then, with floured hands form each into a flat cake, about 3-inch rounds; 1/2 inch thick.

Beat the egg with the water. Dip each fish cake into the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the fish cakes for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until crisp and golden
Drain on paper towels and serve with a remoulade or tzatziki sauce.

Poached Cod Fish

3 cups cold water
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 medium bay leaf
A large branch of fresh thyme
3 chive stalks
Salt and pepper
1 lb cod fillets
1/2 medium lemon, sliced paper-thin
3 fresh parsley sprigs, stems trimmed and coarsely chopped

Directions

Combine all the ingredients except the fish in a large, shallow-sided pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low until liquid is at a simmer. Add fish in a single layer, making sure it is completely covered with liquid. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper.
Poach until the cod flesh is opaque and flakes easily (the internal temperature should be 175ºF).

Low Carb Codfish Cakes

Makes 4 cakes

For this version, I made mashed cauliflower and mixed it with butter and sour cream for a previous dinner side. I reserved a ½ cup of the mixture for the codfish cakes.

Ingredients

Cakes

1 lb poached cod fillets
1/2 cup leftover mashed cauliflower mixed with sour cream
1/2 medium shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Coating

Arrowroot powder
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for coating the patties
1 cup store-bought Low Carb panko bread crumbs or homemade, recipe below
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Directions for making low carb fish cakes:

Drain the poached fish and flake the fish with a fork. Be sure to remove all bones. Let cool.
Add the leftover cauliflower, chopped shallots, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, flaked codfish, parsley, salt, and pepper.
Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours.

Divide the fish mixture into four equal portions, then, with arrowroot powder floured hands form each into a flat cake.

Dip each fish cake into the beaten egg mixture and then into the low carb breadcrumbs

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the fish cakes for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until crisp and golden.
Drain on paper towel and serve with the tzatziki sauce.

Low Carb Panko Crumbs

I buy low carb bread, such as Smart Buns, and turn them into homemade croutons or panko crumbs.
Slice the bread into cubes.
Place cubes on a sheet pan and toast, in a single layer in a 350 F degree oven. Store the croutons in a zip-top bag in the freezer.

To make breadcrumbs: Place the toasted cubes in a food processor and pulse to create course breadcrumbs.
Store the remainder in an air-tight, zip-seal bag in the freezer.

Tzatziki Topping (cucumber yogurt sauce)

Mix 1/2 cup plain whole milk Greek-style yogurt with ¼ of a cucumber (seeds removed, grated and squeezed to remove extra liquid), 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese and 1 tablespoon chopped dill.

Spiralized Carrot & Beet Salad

Servings 4-6 servings

Ingredients

2 carrots spiralized or one 12 oz package of frozen Green Giant carrot spirals, defrosted
2 beets spiralized or one 12 oz package of frozen Green Giant beet spirals, defrosted
1/2 of a shallot, minced
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
A generous handful of chopped parsley

Dressing
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
A couple of dashes of hot sauce

Directions

Peel and spiralize the carrots and beets or defrost the frozen spirals in a colander and dry on paper towels.


Cut the spirals into shorter strands for the salad and place in large salad bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the shallots, chives, parsley, and almonds.
In a separate small bowl whisk together lemon and olive oil with a couple dashes of hot sauce.
Pour dressing over veggies and mix well. Serve with the codfish cakes.


Simple Pot Roast

I served the pot roast with mashed potatoes and leftover spinach.

Ingredients

One (2-3-pound) prime boneless beef chuck roast, tied
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flour
Olive oil
4 carrots, each cut in 3 or 4 pieces
1 cup chopped yellow onions
1 cup chopped celery
2 large garlic cloves, grated
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat the beef dry with a paper towel. Season the roast all over with salt & pepper. Dredge the whole roast in flour, including the ends.
In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the roast and sear on all sides of the meat until browned. Remove the roast to a large plate.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and cook over medium heat until tender but not browned. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the stock and seasonings. Put the roast back into the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot and. place it in the oven for 60 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 250 degrees F, add the carrots to the pot and cook for an additional 2 hours.

Remove the roast to a cutting board and carrots to a serving plate. Use an immersion blender to puree the broth until smooth. Slice the meat. Serve warm with the sauce spooned over it.


Oven Baked Corned Beef Brisket

Servings 4 -6 servings

Ingredients

2-3 lb corned beef brisket
4 teaspoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard
4 teaspoons brown sugar or brown sugar substitute
1 large onion quartered
3 carrots each cut into 3 pieces on the diagonal

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Place the brisket, fat layer up, in the middle of aluminum foil big enough to cover the whole brisket.
Spread the whole brisket with Dijon mustard. Then, evenly sprinkle brown sugar over the top and gently pet it on. Pat some onto the sides as well.


Add the onions and carrots to the sides of the brisket.
Bring the aluminum foil together and close it, covering the brisket loosely, leaving a little space between the brisket and the foil. Place the covered brisket into a rimmed roasting pan.


Bake it for 4-5 hours until very tender. Remove the meat from the foil and let it rest for a few minutes on a cutting board.
Be sure to slice the meat against the grain. Serve with the cooked cabbage, onions and carrots.

Butter Cooked Green Cabbage

Ingredients

4 servings

1 medium head green cabbage
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Remove 8 large outer leaves from the cabbage head and reserve for stuffing or another recipe. Cut the remaining head in quarters and remove the core from each. Slice the quarters into thin strips.

Melt the butter in a deep frying pan.
Sauté the shredded cabbage on low heat for at least 15 minutes or until the cabbage becomes soft and tender.
Stir often and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the baked corned beef.


The idea for this tomato-based seafood stew comes from the fisherman from Genoa who immigrated to the US and settled in the Bay area of California. Cioppino was developed in San Francisco by these Italian immigrants who prepared a fish stew with what they had on their fishing boats from their daily catch.

Legend has it that requests were made as the boats came in for the day asking for any seafood to “CHIP IN ” to the pot; add Italian seasoning and hence the name: Cioppino (chip-EEN-o). Most food historians and cookbook authors don’t even try to fix the recipe in time, although all point to San Francisco as the place of origin. Cioppino wasn’t well-known beyond the Bay area (or at least outside of California) until after World War II. John Thorne…describes in the September/October 1996 issue of his newsletter, Simple Cooking, how he came upon a vintage (1921) cookbook that discusses cioppino in detail. That book, Fish Cookery, by Evelyn Spencer of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and John N. Cobb, director of the College of Fisheries at the University of Washington, offers a recipe for cioppino that had appeared three years earlier by H.B. Nidever in California Fish and Game. Thorne believes that it may be one of the first, if not the first, ever published.

In 1925 Nunzio Alioto, an Italian immigrant, set up a stall at #8 Fisherman’s Wharf to sell lunchtime provisions to the Italian laborers. His business grew and by 1932 he had constructed the first building at the corner of Taylor and Jefferson, by combining the fish stand with a seafood bar. After Nunzio passed away unexpectedly, his widow Nonna Rose and her three children took over the stall. In 1938 she installed a kitchen in the original structure and officially opened Alioto’s Restaurant. Their specialty was Cioppino.

Here is my version that I have developed over the years and one that suits my family’s taste.

Italian American Seafood Stew (Cioppino)

Serve with a green salad and some crusty Italian bread for dipping in the delicious sauce.

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 cups fish stock
2 cups chopped Italian tomatoes in juice, crushed
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
2 pounds firm, skinless fish fillets (such as red snapper, grouper, swordfish, tuna, mahi-mahi or halibut), cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb shrimp, deveined
1 lb sea scallops
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup white wine
2 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed and soaked to remove the sand

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Sauté 10 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes, bay leaf, Italian seasoning, fish stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes.

Add the wine to a large deep skillet and bring to a boil. Add the clams, turn the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Remove the clams as they open to a covered bowl. Discard any clams that do not open. Strain the juices in the skillet through a fine mesh colander. Set aside the clams and the strained cooking liquid.

Next add the fish pieces and shrimp to the tomato sauce, pushing them down into the liquid a little. Cover the pot and simmer for 4 minutes. Add the scallops and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the opened clams and strained wine and heat for a minute or two.

Immediately scoop the stew into large bowls, garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with Italian bread.



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