Lots of squash around these days. You may have an abundance in your garden and it is certainly available at the farmers’ markets. While they have many similarities, the different varieties do differ a bit in their texture, flavor and ideal use.
As a result, I like to try different ways of fixing these vegetables for my family. Stuffing them is certainly a delicious option.
The stuffing can contain any type of ground meat you like: pork, beef, turkey or a vegetarian meat substitute. Use lots of veggies and seasoning in the stuffing for flavor and not too much bread.
The filling in this recipe makes enough to fill all five of the squashes. I usually make the entire recipe and freeze some of the cooked squash for another meal. You can make this recipe with all zucchini, or all yellow squash or two large squashes.
I use the pork sausage seasoning from Penzey’s but if you do not have pork sausage seasoning available, you can use Italian seasoning and add a little crushed fennel seed to it.
2 medium zucchini
1 large Lebanese Squash
2 small yellow crookneck squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons pork sausage seasoning or Italian sausage seasoning
1 small onion, finely chopped
Half a bell pepper, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 lb lean ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Italian seasoned dried breadcrumbs
Grated Parmesan cheese
Note: If you want to make the filling vegetarian, then substitute 2 cups of cooked rice of other grains for the pork.
To prepare the squash:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the Lebanese Squash or a large zucchini squash in half.
For medium zucchini, cut a thin, lengthwise slice from the top of each zucchini.
For the yellow squash, cut the neck and stem ends off.
Using a melon ball scoop or a small serrated spoon, scoop out the insides of the squash. Leave the shells about 1/4 inch thick.
For the yellow squash, carefully remove the flesh from the ends of the squash with a small scoop (See photo for my little scoop that can be purchased at a kitchen gadget store.)
Place the hollowed out squash in a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle the insides lightly with salt and pepper.
Finely chop the squash flesh and set aside.
To prepare the filling:
In a large saute pan heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, celery, chopped squash flesh, tomatoes and pork seasoning.
Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the pork and cook until brown and the liquid in the pan evaporates, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the breadcrumbs and set the pan aside to let the mixture cool.
Mound the stuffing mixture into the squash shells and fill the small yellow squash from the ends.
The large halves use 1 cup of stuffing in each. The medium zucchini use ¾ cup stuffing in each and the small yellow squash each use ½ cup of stuffing.
Grate Parmesan cheese over the tops of the filled squash.
For the small yellow squash, add a tablespoon of grated cheese to the filling before stuffing them.
Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until the squash are tender and the stuffing is golden brown.
July is a month when everything seems to be in season. Even our young fig tree that we planted in April is producing some figs. Here is a photo of our very first fig. You will have to wait a bit until I can show you what I can make with them,
My CSA share and the farmers’ markets are filled with wonderful produce to choose from and turn into some delicious meals. I like to try new ideas for recipes with some of the vegetables that are not plentiful during the cooler months. So this month is a good time to cook with poblano peppers, fresh tomatoes, yellow squash, eggplant and okra. Looking for something different, give one of these recipes a try.
1 1/2 pound eggplant (1 large)
1 garlic clove, minced
Olive oil, plus extra for the baking pan
Half a medium onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
11/2 cups chopped Italian tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
8 chopped oil cured olives
1/4 cup minced jarred roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Basil leaves for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and score twice with a knife (not hitting the skin on the bottom.)
Roast face down on a foil lined baking sheet that has been brushed with olive oil, about 20 minutes or until tender.
Let drain on a paper towel for 10 minutes, cut side down.
Scoop the eggplant out of the skin and finely chop.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a medium, heavy saucepan.
Add the onion, celery, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the Italian tomatoes, vinegar and agave and cook for 5 minutes more.
Add the eggplant, capers, red peppers, olives and parsley and cook until thickened and all visible liquid has evaporated.
Cool to room temperature. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with basil leaves. Serve with toasted Italian bread slices.
Summer Squash and Potato Pie
Vegetable cooking spray
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 small sweet onions
4 medium red potatoes
2 medium zucchini
3 (yellow) summer squash
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water until barely tender. Drain, cool and peel.
Very thinly slice the onions, zucchini, squash and potatoes.
Preheat oven to 375°F
Coat a 10-inch quiche dish or pie pan with cooking spray.
Alternate, overlapping slightly, slices of onion, potato, zucchini and yellow squash in a single circular layer all around the dish (see photo),
Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper.
Drizzle with the melted butter. Cover with aluminum foil.
Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 45 minutes more or until golden brown.
Remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle with the shredded cheese. Return the pie to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted.
Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Pasta with Tomato and Zucchini Sauce
3 oz Prosciutto, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 1 tablespoon
1 lb short pasta (such as penne)
2 zucchini, diced
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Cook the prosciutto in the 1 tablespoon olive oil until crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate.
In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, zucchini, basil, parsley, garlic, salt, chili flakes and remaining olive oil.
Add this mixture to the skill and cook for 2-3 minutes, just enough time to heat the ingredients.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain well.
Add the pasta to the skillet vegetables along with the grated cheese and the crispy prosciutto, toss again and serve in individual pasta bowls.
Creamy Corn Stuffed Poblano Peppers
8 small poblano peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced scallions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground chili powder, divided
1 cup fresh corn kernels cut from cobs (about 2)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of a 1/2 lime, plus the juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Put the poblano peppers on a baking sheet and toss them with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Roast until they begin to soften, about 15 minutes.
Using a paring knife cut the top off each pepper—be careful not to puncture or rip the peppers.
Remove and discard any seeds and membranes from the opening in the top; set the peppers aside.
Remove the corn kernels from the cobs; add to a bowl along with the scallions.
Stir in the cream cheese, cilantro, ½ teaspoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon salt, cheddar cheese, the lime zest and lime juice.
Divide the stuffing mixture into 8 equal portions.
Stuff each pepper with the filling using your fingers to push the stuffing down into the peppers and place them in an oiled baking dish.
Reduce the oven temperature to 425°F and arrange a rack in the middle of the oven.
Bake the peppers until the filling is heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with salsa, if desired.
Oven Roasted Okra
I had never tried okra until this year, when my CSA farm included a bunch in my share. I did some research and found a way to make it tasty from the New York Times cooking section. The secret to good tasting, non-slimy okra is oven roasting. Use small, thin okra for the best taste.
1 pound small okra
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme leaves to taste optional
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Rinse the okra, drain and dry on a kitchen towel. The okra should be dry.
Trim away the stem ends and the tips and place the okra in a large bowl. Generously salt the okra and toss with the olive oil until coated.
Place the okra on a rimmed baking pan in one layer. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, shaking the pan every five minutes.
The okra should be lightly browned and tender. If you don’t want it too brown, roast at 400 degrees F.
Remove the pan from the oven, toss with fresh thyme and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to a platter. Serve hot.
You most likely have some favorite recipes that you like to cook with June’s wonderful produce. I certainly do but I also like to try out new ideas. My weekly CSA share began on Memorial Day weekend and so I have plenty of June produce to experiment with at this time. Here are a few of my ideas. Give them a try.
Shrimp and Bell Peppers in Orange Sauce
1 pound Gulf shrimp (wild caught), peeled and deveined
2 bell peppers, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large sweet onion, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the peppers and onions to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes or until tender. Remove the vegetables to a bowl.
Add the shrimp to the pan. Cook about 3 minutes. Turn the shrimp over when one side turns pink. Cook the second side. Push the shrimp to one side of the pan.
Whisk the cornstarch and orange juice together. Add the honey.
Pour the mixture into the pan. Turn the heat up slightly. Bring the liquid ingredients up to a boil. Turn the heat back down to medium-high and push the shrimp into the sauce.
Add the peppers and onions. The sauce should have thickened and the shrimp should be completely cooked.
Corn on the Cob
Fresh Corn and Ricotta Cakes
Makes 8 cakes
2 cups fresh corn kernels
½ cup ricotta cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/3 cup self-rising unbleached flour
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
In a medium bowl combine the corn, chives, ricotta, eggs, flour and a pinch of black pepper.
Cover the bottom of a large skillet with a thin layer of olive oil. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, drop the corn mixture into the skillet. Do not crowd the cakes in the pan.
Cook the cakes on both sides until golden brown. Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve with sour cream or a tomato salsa, if desired.
Pizza With Basil Pesto and Ricotta
1 lb pizza dough, at room temperature
1/2 cup prepared basil pesto
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 plum tomatoes, sliced thin
7 oz fresh mozzarella balls, sliced
Place the sliced tomatoes on paper towels to remove some of their moisture.
Oil a large pizza pan and stretch out the dough to fit the pan.
Spread the basil pesto over the dough.
Spread the ricotta over the pesto and layer the sliced tomatoes over the ricotta.
Place the pizza in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Take the pizza out of the oven and top with slices of fresh mozzarella. Return the pizza to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more or until the cheese melts and the crust is cooked.
Remove the pizza from the oven and let rest about 5 minutes before cutting into slices.
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups amaretto cookie crumbs or crush your favorite cookies
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 cups (Two 8 oz packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the topping:
In a small sauce pan combine the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and water. Place the pan over medium high heat. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the blueberry mixture for 20 minutes or until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
Let the blueberry sauce cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator until the cheese pie is ready.
To make the crust:
Select a pie pan whose inside top dimension is at least 9 inches and whose height is at least 11/4 inches. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the crust by stirring together the butter and cookie crumbs. Press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan, making a thicker layer on the bottom than on the sides.
To make the filling:
Beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.
Set the pie pan on a baking sheet and pour the filling into the crumb crust.
Place the cheesecake in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the crust 1 inch from the edge reads between 165°F and 170°F. The filling won’t look entirely set in the center.
Remove the cheesecake from the oven and set it on a rack to cool. Once the cake is cool, refrigerate it, covered, until completely chilled.
Just before serving, spoon a little of the blueberry topping over the cheesecake and cut into slices.
1 cup walnuts (4 ounces), chopped and toasted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Place the grated zucchini on a paper towel to drain while you prepare the other ingredients.
Butter and flour a 9 x 4 1/2-inch metal loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, mix the 3/4 cup sugar with the eggs, vegetable oil and yogurt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients along with the grated zucchini and toasted walnuts and stir until the batter is evenly moistened.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the 2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the loaf is risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the loaf cool on a rack for 30 minutes before unmolding and serving.
The zucchini loaf can be wrapped tightly in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to 4 days, or frozen in plastic and foil for up to 1 month.
Not only are there seasons for fruits and vegetables but fish and shellfish have seasons also. It is good to know that you can buy locally caught seafood that is in season near where you live or close to it. My local market is located right on the Gulf and the boats come in every day with fresh, seasonal fish. It is a pleasure to shop in such a fine market.
Here is a chart to help you buy in season fish locally.
In my area, the Gulf waters warm up in April. Along with the warm water, a host of fish appear with the temperature increase, such as Cobia, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Redfish, Scallops, Flounder, Speckled Trout, Tuna, Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo, Amberjack and Hard-Shell Crabs. Here are a few of our favorite fish dinners.
Spinach Pesto is delicious with this fish.
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 fresh redfish fillets (or any white fish fillets), ounces each
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Combine the flour, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a large shallow plate.
Pat the fish fillets dry with paper towels.
Heat the butter in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium heat until melted.
Dredge the fish fillets in the seasoned flour on both sides and place them in the hot butter.
Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 2 minutes.
Turn carefully with a metal spatula and cook for 2 minutes on the other side.
While the second side cooks, sprinkle the fish with the lemon juice and chopped parsley.
Carefully put the fish fillets on warm plates.
Serve the fish topped with Spinach Pesto, recipe below.
2 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves (about 2 ounces)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Combine the spinach, pine nuts, lemon juice and lemon peel in a processor. Lightly pulse.
With the machine running, gradually add the oil, blending until the mixture is creamy.
Stir in the Parmesan. Season the pesto with salt and pepper to taste. This sauce freezes well.
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh baby spinach
6 large sea scallops
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian Seasoning
1/4 cup heavy cream or half & half
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or thyme leaves
In medium skillet, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat.
Season the scallops with the Italian seasoning.
Sauté the scallops 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and keep warm by covering with a piece of foil.
Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in the skillet and add the garlic
When the garlic has softened, add the spinach.
Sauté the spinach until wilted.
Add the grated Parmesan, cream, salt and pepper, mix and heat until the cheese and cream are hot.
Divide the spinach mixture between two serving dishes and top each plate with 3 scallops.
Garnish the scallops with the chopped herbs.
I like to serve the kabobs over linguine dressed with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and chopped basil.
4 metal, bamboo or wooden skewers
1 lb fresh tuna fillet (1 inch thick)—cut into 16 even-sized cubes
1 small zucchini—cut into diagonal slices
Onion slices—cut into 16 even-sized squares
2 bell peppers—cut into 16 even-sized squares
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus lemon wedges for serving)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 cloves garlic—grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Place the tuna cubes, zucchini, onion and bell pepper in a glass baking dish.
Mix together the remaining ingredients in a small measuring cup until well combined.
Pour over the tuna and vegetables in the baking dish.
Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 hour, turning the mixture halfway through marinating.
Divide the mixture evenly among 4 skewers and reserve the marinade.
Cook the skewers on a hot grill for about 10 minutes until cooked through, turning and brushing regularly with the marinade.
Serve the skewers with lemon wedges.
This past week my market had a buy one – get one free for small peppers. I couldn’t pass that up. So, then came the planning – what to cook without getting sick of the peppers. Here are some dishes I came up with that include peppers.
Vegetable Quesadillas With Mango Salsa
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup diced jalapeños
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup shredded cheddar or Monterey cheese
Three 8-inch whole wheat flour tortillas
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
In a medium bowl, combine the bell pepper, onion, corn, jalapeños, chili powder,1/8 teaspoon salt and cheese.
Divide the mixture between the tortillas, scattering it over half of each and folding the tortillas in half.
Heat the oil in a heavy-duty 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the quesadillas and cook until browned and crisp on the bottom, about 1 minute.
Turn the tortillas over and continue to cook until browned and crisp on the other side, 1 minute more. Let cool slightly, cut into wedges, and serve with lime wedges and Mango Salsa.
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
Half a yellow bell pepper, finely diced
2 tablespoons red onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon agave syrup
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Pinch of cayenne
Salt to taste
In a mixing bowl, combine all the mango salsa ingredients and set aside. Let sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Toss before using.
Sautéed Sausage, Peppers and Onion Sandwiches
Reserve 4 pieces of sausage and ½ cup of the peppers and onions for the Stuffed Zucchini recipe.
1/2 pound each of hot and sweet Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 red bell pepper, sliced into long strips
2 yellow or orange bell pepper, sliced into long strips
2 garlic cloves, sliced into slivers
1 large sweet onion, sliced into 1/4-inch half-moons
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
Salt to taste
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet with a lid. When the oil is hot, add the sausages and brown them slowly. You want a gentle browning, not a quick sear.
Cook for several minutes, turning them occasionally so they brown on all sides. When the sausages are browned, remove them from the pan and set aside.
When cool enough to handle cut into two-inch lengths.
Increase the heat to high and add the onions and peppers. Toss so they get coated with the oil in the pan and cook, stirring often.
Once the onions and peppers soften, sprinkle some salt on them, add the garlic and Italian seasoning and cook for 1 more minute.
Add the sausages back in. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the peppers are soft and the sausages are cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Heat the rolls and fill them with the sausage mixture.
Sausage and Peppers Stuffed Zucchini
2 medium zucchini
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz cooked Italian sausage, chopped
¼ cup cooked peppers and onions, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 375 F. degrees.
Trim the stem end of the zucchini, cut a thin slice from the top and scoop out the zucchini flesh with a teaspoon. Finely chop the zucchini flesh and the slice from the top of the zucchini.
Place the zucchini shells in one layer in a baking dish. Generously brush the inside of the zucchini with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.
In a medium skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil and add the chopped zucchini.Cook until soft and tender. Add the chopped sausage and chopped onions and peppers. Cook until hot. Remove the pan from the heat.
Add the panko breadcrumbs to the filling and let cool until easy to touch. Stuff the zucchini boats with the filling.
Sprinkle the top of the filling in the zucchini with Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with a little oil.
Bake the zucchini for 30 minutes, until the topping is crispy and golden.
Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Use pork tenderloin — a tender, lean meat. Traditionally, fajitas are made with skirt beef steak, which has twice the fat and three times the amount of saturated fat.
Makes 8 fajitas
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound pork tenderloin, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 small onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 flour tortillas, about 8 inches in diameter, warmed in the microwave
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 plum tomatoes, diced
4 cups shredded lettuce
In a small bowl, stir together the chili powder, oregano, paprika, coriander and garlic powder. Dredge the pork pieces in the seasonings, coating completely.
Heat a large skillet and add the olive oil. Add the pork, peppers and onions and cook over medium-high heat, turning several times, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.
To serve, spread an equal amount of pork, peppers and onions on each tortilla. Top each with 1 tablespoon cheese, 2 tablespoons tomatoes and 1/2 cup shredded lettuce.
Fold in both sides of each tortilla up over the filling, then roll to close. Serve immediately.
2 cups leftover roasted turkey breast, diced
2 stalks celery
¼ cup finely diced sweet onion
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl with a cover. Add the diced turkey, celery, onion and bell pepper. Mix well.
Cover and chill in the refrigerator before serving.
My friend, Andy, recently gave me a cookbook titled, Adventures of an Italian Food Lover by Faith Heller Willinger. The author’s name was familiar to me because I have been cooking from her book, Red, White, and Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables, for a long time. You can also check out a column she wrote for The Atlantic Monthly by visiting this site: http://www.theatlantic.com/author/faith-willinger/
In the Adventures book, Faith takes readers to country markets and busy city shops, to wineries in rural villages, to kitchens in restaurants and into private homes where her friends share their recipes – real Italian recipes.
Additionally, Willinger introduces the reader to the people of Italy: the grocers who stock homemade artisan cheeses and salumi, winemakers, Tuscan bakers, butchers and chocolatiers. Each entry is followed by a recipe. The recipes include some classic Italian dishes that will be familiar, but most are as authentic and original as the people Ms. Willinger profiles in the book. Actually these profiles are one of the best features in the book.
Even if you’re practiced in making Italian food, there’s still much to learn from Ms. Willinger. She includes information on the most important ingredients, explaining such things as why certain dry pastas are superior to others, what goes into making Italy’s best cheeses, how to select the best olive oils and what distinguishes an artisanal ricotta from another more ordinary one.
The book can also function as a guidebook for travelers because she includes web sites, hours of operation and contact information that make arranging a personal visit easy.
Here are a few recipes from the book for you to try. The book is divided into three major areas of Italy: Northern and Central Italy; Tuscany and Southern Italy and the Islands.
From Chapter 1 – Northern and Central Italy
Willinger adapted this recipe from Walter Bolzonella’s recipe, a barman of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice.
For the peach puree:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 to 3/4 pound ripe white peaches
- 2 teaspoons sugar
For the drinks:
- A few raspberries, if desired, for color
- 1 bottle Prosecco sparkling wine
Put the water and lemon juice in a bowl. Peel, pit and slice the peaches. Immerse them in the acidulated water, so they don’t discolor and macerate for at least 10 minutes or up to 6 hours.
Drain the peaches, reserving 2 to 3 tablespoons of the liquid. In a food processor or blender, puree the peaches with the sugar and reserved liquid. Use more sugar if the peaches are very tart
but this is not a sweet drink. If the peaches don’t have pink veins (which lend a Bellini its rosy hue), add a few raspberries to the mixture before pureeing.
Transfer the mixture to a jar or bottle and chill thoroughly.
Pour cold peach puree into a pitcher. Add one bottle of chilled Prosecco sparkling wine and stir gently. Pour into glasses and drink at once.
- 3 egg yolks at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons Moscato d’Asti wine
- Butter or hazelnut cookies or fresh fruit or berries
Place the ingredients in a 1 ½-2 quart pot (use a copper or stainless steel bowl with a rounded bottom, holding the bowl with a pot holder)
Begin beating at high-speed with a mixer until foamy. Place the pot over medium heat and continue beating. Mixture will grow greatly in volume and thicken. Remove the pot from the heat when the mixture feels warm and continue beating.
Place back over the heat, beating the whole time, removing the pot from the heat when it seems to be heating up too much. Practice makes perfect.
The zabaione will be thick and foamy, warm but not hot to the touch. Serve in individual glass serving bowls with butter or hazelnut cookies on the side. Or over berries or sliced fresh soft ripe fruit like peaches or mango.
Chapter 2 – Tuscany
Ricotta-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
- 1 cup ricotta, fresh, if possible, or sheep’s milk ricotta
- 12-16 fresh zucchini flowers
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
If your ricotta is watery, drain it in a sieve to remove excess whey. Soak the zucchini flowers in cool water, then gently spin-dry in a salad spinner. Removing the stamens is unnecessary.
Pack the ricotta into a pastry bag — I use a disposable one and simply cut the tip off the end. Insert the end of the pastry bag into the zucchini flowers and pipe one or two spoonfuls of ricotta into each.
Drizzle one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Place the stuffed flowers in the skillet in a single layer and the place pan over the highest heat.
When the pan heats and the oil begins to sizzle, cover and cook for four to six minutes or until the flowers are hot, steamed by the moisture of the ricotta.
Transfer to a serving dish and top with pepper and salt, minced basil, and the remaining extra virgin olive oil.
Etruscan Grape Tart
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ teaspoons)
- ¾ cups warm water
- 3 tablespoons Chianti — drink the rest with dinner
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 ½ – 2 ¾ cups soft wheat flour (Italian “00” or White Lily flour)
- ¼ cup Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Around 1 ¾ pounds wine, Concord, or red Grace grapes
- 6 tablespoons sugar
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, wine and honey in a large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes or until bubbles form. Stir in ¾ cup flour — it doesn’t have to be smooth because lumps will dissolve. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
Add the olive oil, salt and 1 ½ cups flour. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. Add up to ½ cup additional flour if necessary so it isn’t sticky. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 ½ hours.
Punch the dough down and divide into two pieces. Roll each piece out to a rough 10 by 16-inch rectangle. Place one rectangle on parchment paper on a cookie sheet (or use a nonstick cookie sheet), scatter the dough with half the grapes and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar.
Use the second rectangle of dough to cover the bottom layer. Sprinkle the remaining grapes on the dough, gently press the grapes into the dough, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and a dishtowel and let rise for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until dark brown. Remove from the pan while still warm and spoon excess juice over the tart. Serve at room temperature.
From Chapter 3 – Southern Italy
Spaghetti with Walnuts and Anchovies
Serves 4 to 6
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 whole salt-cured anchovies, filleted, or 4–6 canned anchovy fillets
- 3–4 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts
- Chili pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- Coarse sea salt
- 14–16 ounces spaghetti
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the garlic over low heat until it barely begins to color. Add the anchovy fillets and, with a wooden spoon, mash them until they dissolve into the oil. Add the walnuts, chili pepper and parsley; stir to combine and remove from heat.
Bring 5 to 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add about 3 tablespoons of sea salt, then add the spaghetti and cook until it offers considerable resistance to the tooth, approximately three-quarters of the package-recommended cooking time. Drain the pasta, reserving 2 cups of the starchy pasta cooking water.
Add the spaghetti to the sauce in the skillet along with 1/2 cup reserved pasta-cooking water, and cook over high heat, stirring with a wooden fork, until the pasta is cooked al dente, adding a little more pasta water as the sauce dries.
Sweet & Sour Lemon Sauce
Use as a sauce for fish.
For the candied zest:
- 2 Meyer lemons
- 1 orange
- 6 tablespoons coarse sea salt
- 1/2 cup wildflower honey
- 1 cup sugar
Peel the zest from the lemons in strips, leaving 1/4-inch pulp attached to the zest. Peel the orange the same way.
Put the zests in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons salt; add 1 cup water and weight down with a small plate to keep zests submerged for 1 to 2 hours. Rinse and drain.
Bring 10 cups of water to a rolling boil, Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of salt and the zests and when the water returns to a rolling boil, remove from heat and let zests cool completely in the salted water. Drain zests.
Combine the honey, sugar and 2 1/4 cups of fresh water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Add the drained zest and cook over lowest heat, less than a simmer, for 40 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let zest cool in the syrup overnight. The next day, bring the syrup back to a simmer, lower the heat and cook for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Repeat the process one more time, cooking zest on the lowest heat for 30 minutes. Store zest in its syrup in a jar.
For the sauce:
- 3 1/2 Meyer lemons
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 1 tablespoon minced celery
- Fine sea salt
- White pepper
- 3 tablespoons chopped candied lemon zest
Trim three lemons with a knife, cutting the rind away down to the pulp. Section the lemon into wedges, cutting between the white connective membranes.
Squeeze the juice from the remains of the lemons into a measuring cup and add the wedges. You should have about 1/2 cup.
Squeeze the juice from the remaining 1/2 lemon and add it to the wedges. In a small saucepan, add the oil and saute the garlic and celery over medium heat until the celery barely begins to color.
Add the lemon wedges and juice and cook, mashing the mixture with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is pulpy. Remove the garlic. Season the lemon mixture with salt and white pepper.
If the sauce is too tart, add a spoonful or two of syrup from the candied zest. Transfer lemon mixture to a blender and add candied zest. Blend until smooth.
A new month as turned the corner and you will start to find less of the warm weather foods and more of the items that grow well in cooler weather at your market. The produce that seemed most abundant to me at the market this week were carrots, sweet potatoes, pears, leeks and broccoli. Here are a few ideas on how to serve them.
Purchase sweet potatoes that are a uniform in size so that they cook evenly.
Scrub them under water and dry them with a paper towel.
Spray or rub them with oil.
Use a metal fork to poke a few holes in each potato. (This keeps them from exploding when they cook. Don’t do this too far ahead of baking or the fork holes will oxidize and turn dark.)
Put them on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for 50-60 minutes, until soft.
Cheese: shredded cheddar/jack, crumbled feta, grated Parmesan, ricotta.
Fresh herbs and seasonings: chopped fresh basil, cilantro, oregano, chives or dill.
Meats: chili, taco meat, fajita chicken or beef, pulled pork, bacon, chopped ham, salami, mini meatballs.
Vegetables: chopped scallions or red onions; steamed broccoli, green beans, snow peas or asparagus; grilled corn; chili beans; chopped fresh tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes; sauteed spinach, mushrooms or onions; roasted red peppers; jalapenos; thawed frozen peas; chopped avocado or guacamole; coleslaw
Sauces & dressings: salsa; barbecue sauce; gravy; nacho sauce; ranch salad dressing; peanut sauce, marinara sauce; pesto.
Sweets: brown sugar, honey, maple syrup
Toasted Nuts: sunflower seeds, pepitas, pecans, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, peanuts.
Tuna, Pear and Gorgonzola Salad
- 1 small head Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
- 3 pears – cored and diced
- 6 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 12 ounces tuna, packed in water, drained
- ½ cup peeled, grated carrots
- 1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoons prepared mustard
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
For the dressing: blend the oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper.
In a large serving bowl, layer lettuce, pears, blue cheese, tuna, carrots and onions. Pour dressing over the salad and toss, Sprinkle with pecans and serve the salad with a slice of the carrot bread (recipe below).
Creamy Shrimp and Vegetable Pasta
I prefer to saute the vegetables separately, so that they do not overcook before adding them to the sauce.
- 8 oz short pasta, like rotini or penne
- 12 large shrimp (16-21 size)
- 1 large leek, white and light green parts, sliced thin
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 large tomato, seeded and diced
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 teaspoons butter, divided
- 1 cup cream
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
In a medium skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of butter, add the leeks and garlic and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the leeks and garlic to a bowl and set aside.
Add another teaspoon of butter to the skillet, add the diced zucchini and cook until tender, about 3-4
minutes. Remove the zucchini from the skillet and add it to the bowl with the leeks.
Add another teaspoon of butter to the skillet, add the tomatoes and cook about 2 minutes.
Remove the tomatoes from the skillet and add them to the bowl with the leeks and zucchini.
Add the remaining teaspoon of butter to the skillet, add the shrimp and saute them just until they turn pink, turning them over once, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and Italian seasoning.
Bring to a simmer. Add the cooked vegetables and heat gently.
When the water boils, cook the pasta al dente. Drain and add it to the skillet with the shrimp mixture.
Add the grated cheese and stir gently. Serve immediately
Carrot and Spice Quick Bread
Makes 1 loaf
- 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/3 cup butter softened to room temperature
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup milk or almond milk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
- 1/2 finely chopped walnuts
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar, beating well. Beat in the milk, egg, vanilla and orange extracts.
Stir in the carrots and walnuts.
Add the reserved dry ingredients. Mix well.
Spoon the batter into 2 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-8 1/2-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 50 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.
Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.