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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Italian American Sunday Dinner

Italian American cuisine is a popular and delicious cuisine. It is a style of cooking adopted throughout the United States that was shaped by Italian immigrants and their descendants. However, what is known in America as Italian food is often not found on the table in Italy.
No one in Italy knows what marinara sauce is. There may be different variants of such a sauce that depend on regional or family traditions (with or without garlic, with or without onions, with or without carrots, with or without a pinch of sugar to counter acidity, etc.) but tomato sauce is simply called “salsa” or “sugo” depending on whether you’re from northern or southern Italy. What’s commonly called marinara sauce in America is tomato sauce in Italy that is the base for pizza, pasta, etc., but without garlic or onion or herbs that are not fresh basil.

Parmigiana in Italy is made with eggplant, tomato, caciocavallo cheese, and basil. No chicken or veal. At best, in some parts of Italy, they alternate the layers of eggplant with prosciutto or beaten eggs for added flavor.

Below is a classic recipe for chicken that I grew up on and it is still a big favorite in my family.

Chicken Parmigiana

2 servings

Ingredients

1 cup plain breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten lightly
2 chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Homemade Marinara, see recipe
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 slices of mozzarella cheese
4 oz thin Spaghetti, cooked al dente

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375˚F.

Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, 1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Place bread crumb mixture, flour, and egg in three separate dishes.

First, dredge the chicken breast halves in flour, making sure to shake off any excess. Dip in beaten eggs and, like the flour, make sure to let any excess drip off. Finally, dredge in the breadcrumb mixture to coat well. Allow breaded cutlets to rest for a few minutes on a plate before frying.

Heat olive oil in an ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat. Fry chicken until golden. Be sure to turn for even cooking, about 4-5 minutes per side.
Top each breast with Marinara, covering each piece, place the skillet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until bubbling.

Place two slices of mozzarella on each piece of chicken and bake for another 5 minutes or until the cheese melts.
Serve with the cooked spaghetti mixed with the remaining marinara sauce.

Marinara Sauce

Pasta alla marinara (“mariner style” pasta) does exist in Italy, but it’s usually prepared with shellfish and olives. In the United States, the term “marinara” refers to the simple tomato-based “red” sauce that’s a standard in Italian-American cooking.

Ingredients

3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 large onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
1 celery stalk, chopped fine
1 tablespoon olive oil
One 6 oz can tomato paste
Four 28 oz containers Italian chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon each dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper, and dried thyme.
Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven and saute the vegetables and garlic. Add the tomato paste. Fill the empty can with water and add it to the pot.

Add tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon each black pepper and the dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper, and dried thyme.

Simmer, uncovered, for another hour or until the sauce thickens.

Italian Leaf Salad

Ingredients

1 small head of lettuce, washed and dried
1 small red onion, cut into ring
Italian black olives to taste

Italian Dressing

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Tear the lettuce leaves into small pieces.
Place the greens, olives, and onion in a medium salad bowl.
In a jar, combine the dressing ingredients. Shake well and pour over the greens. Toss and serve.

 

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Breakfast Becomes Dinner

Leftovers in my house always get reinvented into new dishes. In these recipes, they also change from breakfast meals to dinner meals.

Corned Beef Hash

Serve with Roasted Asparagus, recipe below.

3-4 Servings

Ingredients

2 cups leftover corned beef, cubed (recipe on how to make the corned beef)
1 cup diced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups cooked Yukon gold potatoes (or rutabaga for a lower carb option)
3-4 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

Heat the butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and cook a few minutes, until soft.

Mix in the chopped corned beef and potatoes. Spread out evenly over the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and press down on the mixture with a metal spatula.

Cook until browned, then turn the mixture over. Do not stir the potatoes and corned beef but let them brown. If you hear them sizzling, this is good. (Use a metal spatula to peek underneath and see if they are browning. If nicely browned, use the spatula to turn sections over in the pan so that they brown on the other side. Press down again with the spatula.)

If there is too much sticking, you can add a little more butter to the pan. Continue to cook in this manner until the potatoes and the corned beef are crispy and brown.

Sprinkle with parsley and black pepper and remove the pan from the heat.

Fry the eggs in a separate skillet and top each portion of hash with an egg.

Oven-Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients

1 bunch thin asparagus spears, trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

Place the asparagus into a mixing bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat the spears, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange the asparagus onto a baking sheet covered with foil in a single layer.

Bake in the preheated oven until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes depending on thickness. Sprinkle with lemon juice just before serving.

Spinach Cheddar Omelet

2 servings

Ingredients

(spinach recipe)

Ingredients

2 cups leftover cooked spinach
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 large eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Minced fresh parsley, for garnish
Additional black pepper, for garnish

Directions

Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the mushrooms and onions; cook until and soft and tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the leftover spinach and heat until hot.

Beat the eggs in a small mixing bowl and pour over the vegetable mixture. Stir the eggs around the pan with a rubber spatula, pulling the sides in towards the middle, swirling the pan slightly so the runny egg mixture on top hits the pan and cooks. Cook about 2 minutes, until the eggs are just slightly shiny on top. Sprinkle the cheddar over the top.

Carefully lift up the edge of the omelet and check to see if the eggs are lightly golden on the bottom. Once they are, gently fold it over the filling and let cook another minute over low heat.

Slide omelet out of skillet and divide in half. Serve garnished with minced parsley and extra black pepper.

Baked Parmesan Tomatoes

2 servings

Ingredients

2 large tomatoes
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F.
Cut a thin slice off the top and the bottom of each tomato. Cut them in half, horizontally.


Place tomatoes on a baking sheet. Top with Parmesan, oregano, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with oil. Bake until the tomatoes until warm, about 10 minutes. Serve alongside the spinach omelet.

 

Pizza Burgers For Dinner

Pizza Burgers

Add a salad or green vegetable if you have a hearty appetite.

2 servings

Ingredients

2 mozzarella string cheese sticks
12 oz lean ground beef
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Marinara or Pizza sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Form the burgers earlier in the day if possible. Mix the beef with the Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Form into 4 thin patties. Cut each cheese stick into 4 equal pieces. Place 4 cheese pieces on 2 of the burgers. Place a plain burger on top of the cheese and form into a large burger patty. You should have 2 cheese stuffed burgers. Refrigerate until serving time.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat the oil in a medium ovenproof skillet and brown the burgers on one side. Turn the burgers over and top with 1/4 cup of marinara sauce Move the skillet to the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Take the pan carefully out of the oven and top each burger with shredded mozzarella cheese. Return the pan to the oven and bake the burgers for 5 more minutes. Serve the burgers with cooked spaghetti squash and extra marinara sauce on the side.

Spaghetti Squash

Ingredients

1 small spaghetti squash about 2 pounds
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic finely minced
1/4 cup finely minced parsley or basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Pierce the squash a few times with a sharp paring knife (to let steam escape). Bake the spaghetti squash for 60 minutes, or until a paring knife pierces easily through the skin with little resistance. Let squash cool for 10 minutes.
Cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Use a fork to remove and discard the seeds. Continue using the fork to scrape the squash to get long, spaghetti-like strands.
To serve: use about 1 cup of the spaghetti squash strands per person. Heat a large saute pan with the butter and the garlic over medium-low heat. Then add the parsley, salt, pepper and spaghetti squash strands. Toss well, sprinkle in the parmesan cheese and serve.

Deep Dish Pizza

Italians started coming to Chicago from Italy during the 1850s and by the 1940’s there was a significant Italian population of Italian immigrants and their descendants in the city. There are some stories about U.S. soldiers of Italian descent returning from Europe after World War II and experimenting with different pizza recipes, and eventually creating a deep dish pizza. The only problem with these stories is that deep dish pizza was being sold in Chicago in the early 1940’s, before the end of the war. The one story that is probably true is about a man named Sewell who created the deep dish pizza in 1943 at his bar and grill, Pizzeria Uno. It was so popular that he soon opened another place called Pizzeria Due. Soon other restaurants were serving deep dish pizza and the dish became popular. Soon Chicago became known for creating it and everyone, not just Italians, adopted it as a ‘Chicago’ food. (source FoodReference.com)

Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza

Ingredients

1 lb of your favorite pizza dough, at room temperature
16 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced
8 oz cooked Italian sausage, sliced thin
12 oz jar Mancini Fried Peppers with sweet onions or equivalent amount of cooked onions and peppers
2 cups marinara sauce
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a deep dish pizza pan. (My pan is 10 ½ inches in diameter)
Turn the pizza dough out into the prepared pan and use the heel of your hand and your fingertips to press it into an even layer across the bottom of the pan, then about halfway up the sides of the pan.
Bake the crust for 10 minutes.

When the crust is done baking, remove the pan from the oven and keep the oven temperature on 350 degrees F.
Add the toppings in the following order:
On the bottom of the crust place an even layer of cheese slices. Then add the sausage slices in an even layer. Top it with another layer of cheese slices. Then add the cooked peppers and onions. Top with a final layer of cheese slices. Pour the sauce over the top and spread it into an even layer, making sure it is covering all of the cheese. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until the edges are golden and the filling is firm. Allow the pizza to cool for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Oven Baked Corned Beef Dinner

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.

Italian American Seafood Stew (Cioppino)

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.

Italian Braised Steak Dinner

Italian Braised Sirloin Steak

Ingredients

4 top sirloin or round steaks, about 1 lb and 1- inch thick, trimmed of visible fat
Salt and Pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup beef broth
One 26-28 ounce container Italian diced tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil
1 teaspoon snipped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cut each steak in half horizontally into 8 steaks. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Heat the butter and oil in a Dutch Oven or a deep skillet with a cover. Add half the beef pieces to the pan; brown both sides of each piece. Remove meat from skillet. Repeat the browning with the remaining beef.

Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic to the skillet. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Then, stir in the broth and undrained tomatoes, bay leaves, herbs, and red pepper. Add the meat to the skillet, spooning the vegetable mixture over the meat.

Cover and simmer about 2 -21/2 hours or until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally.
Transfer meat to a serving platter. Spoon vegetable mixture over meat and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Rice Saute

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
3 cups cooked rice or riced cauliflower (one 10 oz pkg frozen riced cauliflower, defrosted)
4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Directions

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the garlic to the pan. Cook for 30 seconds. Add the rice and sprinkle with a little sea salt and black pepper.
Continue sautéing until all the rice or cauliflower rice is hot. Add parsley and serve.

Garlic Spinach

Ingredients

2 pounds tender fresh spinach leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic (6 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Lemon

Directions

Rinse the spinach well in cold water to make sure it’s very clean. Spin it dry in a salad spinner and then chop into smaller pieces.

In a very large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and saute the garlic over medium heat for about 1 minute, but not until it’s browned.

Add all the spinach, the salt, and pepper to the pot, toss it with the garlic and oil, cover the pot, and cook it for 2 minutes.

Uncover the pot, turn the heat on high, and cook the spinach for another minute, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all the spinach is wilted and most of the liquid has evaporated. Using a slotted spoon, lift the spinach into a serving bowl and top with a squeeze of lemon. Serve hot.


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