The Italian Easter table is an array of symbolic dishes of the season. Every province has its own unique specialties that represent resurrection, fertility and rebirth. The spectrum covers earthy foods, both savory and sweet. An ancient Italian saying, “Natale con i tuoi, la Pasqua con chi vuoi”, means “Christmas at home and Easter with whomever you wish.” But for the most part, Italians return to the family home to celebrate the holiday.
A traditional meal is usually roasted leg of lamb with fresh rosemary and crushed garlic. It is served with asparagus, homemade pasta and a large salad. Vegetables typically play an important part in Italian meals, especially spring vegetables because they are tender and delicate. These include early peas, baby artichokes, asparagus, spinach and Swiss chard side dishes. They are also an important ingredient in egg-rich savory tortes that are combined with hard-boiled eggs and different kinds of cured meats. These tortes are served as appetizers or main dishes throughout the holiday.
Torta Pasqualina (Easter Cheese and Spinach Pie)
You may substitute 2 sheets of puff pastry for the homemade dough. See directions below.
For the dough:
- 8 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
- 2 pounds fresh spinach or Swiss chard
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup of finely chopped onion
- 1 pound ricotta cheese, drained in a sieve for 30 minutes
- 1 cup milk
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 large eggs
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Egg Wash For Puff Pastry:
1 Large Egg
For the dough:
Mix the flour, oil and salt and gradually add enough water (about 1 cup) to make a stiff dough that leaves the sides of the bowl cleanly. (The dough will become sticky if too much water is used.) Knead the dough thoroughly and divide it into 10 equal-sized balls. Put on a lightly floured pastry board and cover with a damp cloth for 15 minutes.
For the filling:
Wash the spinach or chard well, drain thoroughly and cook in as little water as possible until soft. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the onion until soft but not brown. Drain the greens and chop finely. Add to the onions and cook for a few moments. Set it aside to cool.
Mix the ricotta with milk, add a pinch of salt and put aside.
Brush a large deep pie dish or 9 inch springform pan with olive oil.
Roll one ball of pastry into a wafer-thin sheet larege enough to fit in the pan, keeping the rest of the pastry balls under the damp cloth. Place the dough in the prepared pie dish, brush lightly with oil and trim off excess pastry. Repeat this with five more balls of pastry, brushing each layer with oil and layering one on top of the other.
Spread the cooked onion and greens on top of the sixth layer of pastry, and spread the ricotta mixture on top. Hollow 4 wells in the filling and crack an egg into each one. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Parmesan.
Roll out the remaining balls of pastry in precisely the same manner as teh bottom layers and place them, one by one, on top of the filling brushing each layer with oil.
Prick the top layer with a fork, brush it generously with oil and trim off any overlapping pastry.
If using puff pastry:
- Allow the pastry to come to room temperature.
- Roll out the two layers until fairly thin, making them large enough to cover the springform pan with a enough overhang to cover the filling.
- Lay one layer over the other to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.
- Put the filling into the pan, smoothing it evenly.
- Make four hollows evenly spaced around the filling and carefully crack the eggs into the hollows.
- Fold the overhanging edges of pastry over the top of the pie, folding to fit.
- Beat the egg with a teaspoon of water and brush over the top of the puff pastry.
Bake either pie in a 400-degree oven for about 40-50 minutes or until the pie is golden brown. It may be served hot or cold.
Eggs, the symbol of life, are an essential component of Easter foods. In nature, hens lay fewer eggs during the long winter and more in spring, as the days grow longer and temperatures get warmer. Aside from dyed and decorated eggs, Easter treats include egg-shaped cookies and marzipan and chocolate eggs.
Easter bread and pastry are found on every table. On the sweet side are round breads from Sicily and Abruzzo with colored hard-boiled eggs baked into the loaf. Also popular for Easter is Colomba, a sweet bread baked in the shape of a dove. The dough contains candied citrus and is topped with toasted almonds and sugar crystals.The dove is a universal symbol of peace.
PASQUA: FIRST COURSE
Easter feasts encourage an adventurous spirit in the kitchen. At Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Italians are likely to stick to traditional dishes, but at Easter, there is much more diversity. There is no typical antipasto or even primo piatto (first course) for Easter, but young cured meats and cheeses are usually served in some form.
Some popular first course dishes include: Fried Artichokes, Insalata di Polpo (Octopus Salad), swordfish or tuna seasoned with grapefruit and generous platters of young pecorino, fava beans and salumi.
Popular pasta dishes for Easter are Lasagna, in all its varieties and Baked Pasta, for which every household in Italy has a different recipe. Those who have the time and skill to prepare homemade pasta, might make their own local specialty (such as, orecchiette, cavatelli or pici), or stuffed pastas such as ravioli or tortelloni. An alternative to pasta is risotto made with fresh seafood and baby peas or asparagus.
PASQUA: THE MAIN COURSE
For secondo (the main course), roasted or grilled meat is usually served. For centuries, the most popular choice for Easter has been lamb—not just in Italy, but in many other Mediterranean and European countries too. In Rome lamb is marinated with lemon and rosemary and then roasted.
Another typical Roman recipe is Grilled Lamb Chops served with roasted potatoes and artichokes. In Tuscany, lamb is slowly braised with onions and carrots, then served with seasoned cannellini beans. In the Puglia region, boiled lamb is served with fresh herbs and vegetables. In Trentino, polpettine (little meatballs) are made with ground lamb, scallions, parsley and rosemary and served with tomato sauce as an entree.
PASQUA: DESSERT COURSE
Dolci (dessert) is an important part of the Easter feast. Chocolate eggs are among the favorite. In Italy and they contain a surprise inside for the children.
The Pastiera Napoletana is another authentic Easter tradition, originating in Naples, this cake is made with ricotta cheese, candied fruit and orange-blossom water.
The Pizza Pasqualina, a dessert made with cinnamon and chocolate, is a specialty of northern Lazio.
In Sicily, cassata and cannoli are the traditional desserts; and in Sardinia, Casadina, a puff pastry dessert stuffed with ricotta and raisins, is usually served.
Pane di Pasqua (Easter Bread) is a famous Easter treat made all over Italy. Sometimes it is prepared as a dessert and other times as a savory pastry.
In vegetarian households, the symbolism of the “sacrificial lamb” can be represented by small lamb-shaped cakes and pastries that are eaten for dessert.
Lemon Gnocchi with Peas and Spinach
Potato gnocchi are flavored with fresh citrus, sweet peas and baby spinach
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 8 ounces fat free half & half
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- Fine Sea Salt
- 3 cups packed baby spinach leaves
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 (1-pound) package Potato Gnocchi
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
In a large skillet, combine peas, half & half, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, until tender. Stir in spinach and cook uncovered until leaves are wilted. Remove pan from heat and mix in lemon zest and juice.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi and cook until they float to the top, about 4 minutes. Drain gnocchi, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water, if needed.
Mix hot gnocchi with the vegetable sauce in the saucepan. Add some of the reserved pasta water, if needed. Stir to coat. Top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
Roman Grilled Lamb Chops
Though this classic Easter recipe for lamb originated in Rome, it has long since become a national favorite.
- 8 to 12 lamb chops
- 3 fresh bay leaves, finely ground
- 3 sage leaves
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- A few juniper berries
- Coarse sea salt
- Black peppercorns
- 1/2 glass dry white wine
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lemons, cut into wedges
Layer the lamb chops in a large container.
With a mortar, a knife or an electric grinder, finely grind all of the herbs and spices—including the salt and pepper. (If you use a knife, use the flat side to first crush the juniper berries, peppercorns and salt.) Place them in a bowl, then mix with the wine and the olive oil, stirring with a fork. Pour this marinade into the container with the layered lamb chops. Marinate overnight.
Ideally, lamb chops are best grilled on an open coal fire or barbecue, but you can also cook them on the stove in a cast-iron grill or a heavy pan. They will be ready very quickly—lamb chops (unlike pork chops) can be served rare or medium-rare, according to your preference. Serve them hot with a couple of lemon wedges.
Roasted potatoes are usually served with this dish.
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
- 2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- Coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large sheet pan with aluminum foil.
Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; spread them evenly on the sheet pan, and bake, turning occasionally with a spatula, until golden brown on the outside and creamy inside, about 20 minutes.
While the potatoes are roasting, finely chop the rosemary and garlic together. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on top of the stove.
Drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil over the potatoes, sprinkle with sea salt and 2 tablespoons of the rosemary-garlic mixture. Mix well.
Return the pan to the oven to heat the seasonings through.
Serve as a side dish.
Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, thick stems removed and discarded, cut into 3 inch pieces
- Ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
In a large deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, 5-6 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and 1/2 cup water; season to taste with salt and pepper and toss gently.
Cover and cook until the broccoli rabe is softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated and the broccoli rabe is completely tender, 2 minutes longer. Stir 1/4 cup of the pecorino into the broccoli rabe. Sprinkle with remaining pecorino over the broccoli rabe and serve.
Springtime Lemon Cupcakes
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 12 ounces chilled mascarpone cheese
- 1 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 teaspoons lemon zest, plus extra for ganish
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl until combined.
In a separate bowl, combine milk, olive oil, lemon zest and vanilla. Set them both aside.
Beat butter and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well until mixture turns pale yellow. Turn the speed down to low and add the flour mixture and milk mixture, alternating both. Continue to beat until combined.
Fill muffin cups two-thirds of the way full with batter. Bake until golden and cooked through, about 17 minutes. Check with a toothpick to be sure. Allow cupcakes to cool before frosting.
Frosting: In a bowl, beat the mascarpone, vanilla, lemon zest and sugar at a medium speed until the frosting is light and fluffy. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle the top of each cupcake with a little lemon zest.
Makes 2 dozen cupcakes
- Easter recipe from Central Italy: La Pizza di Formaggio (stefanoberuschi.wordpress.com)
- Italian Easter Treats (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Italian Easter Breads (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Rustic Caramelised Onion & Ricotta Tarts (violetannie.wordpress.com)
- Easter Inspiration: Quails Eggs on a Feuillete of Mushrooms with Tarragon Mayonnaise (tastecafepretoria.wordpress.com)
For most Italians, the sea is never very far away. Though a relatively small country, Italy has 5000 miles of coastline—so it’s easy to understand why fish and “frutti di mare” (literally “the fruits of the sea”) have always had a special importance in Italian daily life and in regional culinary traditions. The love Italians have for fish begins early in life.
Some of the most succulent seafood dishes in the world can be found in Italy. Popular varieties of fish include tuna, anchovies, sardines, swordfish, cod, salmon, shrimp, crab, squid, clams and mussels. Such fish and shellfish are traditionally added to stews, pasta dishes and risotto. Cioppino was developed in San Francisco by Italian-American fishermen, who prepared what they had while on their fishing boats, so they must have used local fish and seasoning. Zuppa di Pesce or Brodetto are the Italian names for fish stews/soups from various Italian regions.
The interesting history behind Italian fish stews stretches back at least five hundred years, as it is believed that fish stew was first made in Livorno around the year 1500. As with many other Italian traditional recipes, there are various legends surrounding its creation, but two of these stories stand out from the rest.
The first legend tells of a fisherman from Livorno who lost his life at sea in a shipwreck. His children were so hungry with no one to provide for them after his death that they turned to all their neighbours for food. Everyone gave them different types of fish, with which their mother made a huge soup, adding tomatoes, garlic, oil and slices of bread – thus creating the first cacciucco (fish stew). The second is that a lighthouse keeper created the stew. The Florentine Republic had prohibited the use of olive oil which he always used to fry his fish and, so rather than having his favorite “fritto”, he made a fish soup instead. The most realistic explanation is that after having sold what they fished, fishermen’s families had to cook with whatever had remained unsold, thus starting the tradition of mixing all kinds of fish together. The traditional recipe calls for thirteen different kinds of fish as ingredients, but nowadays, most people use between six and eight varieties.
Entertaining at Home
I have always enjoyed entertaining and inviting friends and family over for a dinner party or informal pizza get-togethers. I learned quickly that it is a good idea to plan menu items that allow for advanced preparation, so that I could spend time with my guests instead of cooking in the kitchen. The menu below is an example of how most of the preparation for the menu items can be done ahead of time. The appetizer can be breaded ahead of time and placed in the baking dishes until close to serving time. Just before your guests arrive, you can drizzle the vegetables with oil and bake. Actually, this appetizer tastes good at room temperature. The lemon dip can be prepared well in advance. I like to offer an appetizer like this one because it allows guests to eat and talk for a while before the main course. The cook can do the same because the second course preparations were done ahead.
Much of the second course will have been completed by the time you are ready to serve. The garlic paste can be prepared ahead of time and smeared on the bread just before you put it in the oven. You can put the garlic bread in the oven (the oven will be hot and is the same temperature you used for the vegetables) while you cook the fish in the broth and dress the salad. Serve the stew in a soup terrine, if you have one. Just before placing the dishes on the table, I like to move the parfaits from the freezer to the refrigerator. Put the topping and chocolate on when you are ready to serve them. You will have enjoyed this dinner as much as your guests.
Dinner Party Menu For Four
- Oven Fried “Fritto Misto”
- Italian Fisherman’s Stew
- Ok For You Garlic Bread
- Salad of Baby Lettuces with Italian Dressing
- Almond Mocha Parfait
Oven Fried “Fritto Misto”
A favorite in Italy, fritto misto (mixed fry) is an assortment of bite-size pieces of vegetables or other foods that are dipped in batter, deep-fried and served as an appetizer. My version keeps it healthy by using the “oven fry” method.
2 cups vegetables (your pick)
- cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
- green beans, halved
- fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- zucchini, cut into ¼ “ slices
- frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
- asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into thirds
- 3 eggs, beaten or 3/4 cup egg substitute
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
- Lemon Mayonnaise Sauce, recipe below
Cut vegetables, rinse them off and drain on paper towels.
Spray 2 large 13×9 inch glass baking dishes with olive oil cooking spray
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Place the eggs in a shallow dish.
In a deep wide bowl place the flour mixed with the cheese and spices.
Dip each piece of vegetable first into the egg, and then into the flour mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.
Put the vegetables in the prepared baking dishes and drizzle the tops lightly with olive oil.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until browned, turning them over with a fork halfway through the cooking time. Serve with the lemon mayonnaise sauce.
Lemon Mayonnaise Sauce
- 1 cup low-fat olive oil mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about ½ lemon)
Whisk together and chill in a serving bowl. Garnish top with chopped parsley.
Italian Fisherman’s Stew
Halibut is a favorite fish in this dish, but you can use cod, snapper or grouper. You can substitute a cooked lobster or 1 cup of cooked crab meat or squid for any of the fish in the recipe.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 (28-32 ounce) container Italian chopped tomatoes
- 1 finely grated rind and juice of orange
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 2 cups bottled clam broth
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup chopped roasted red peppers
- 1 pounds firm white fish fillets, cut into 2” inch pieces
- 1 dozen clams or mussels
- 1 pound sea scallops, cut into halves
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Chopped parsley
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, orange rind and juice, sugar, chile flakes, wine, clam broth, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer over medium heat until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
The broth can be prepared several hours ahead. Cover and let sit on the stove until close to dinner time. You can also prepare the broth a day ahead . Cool and refrigerate. Bring the broth to a boil when you are ready to complete the dish and then add the fish as indicated in the recipe.
Add roasted red peppers and stir in the fish, scallops and shrimp and simmer for about 5 minutes. Next add clams, pushing them down into the soup a little. Cover the pot and simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the clams are steamed open and cooked through.
Discard any clams that do not open. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil.
Pasta bowls work well for serving this dish; garnish with a little chopped parsley. It’s best to have a side plate for each diner to hold empty shells.
Ok For You Garlic Bread
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 Italian bread baguette, cut in half lengthwise
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Place garlic in a small saucepan with enough cold water to cover and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook 3 minutes and drain.
Mash the cooked garlic, oil and salt in a small bowl with the back of a spoon until a smooth paste forms. Spread the mixture over the cut surfaces of the bread.
Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake until the bread begins to brown around the edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Slice and serve.
Salad of baby lettuces and sliced black olives with Italian dressing
Almond Mocha Parfait
- 3 cups low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen low-fat yogurt, softened
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso granules
- 8 teaspoons Amaretto
- 1/2 cup chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (8 cookies)
- 4 tablespoons reduced-calorie frozen whipped topping
- Grated chocolate
Combine ice cream and espresso granules; stir well.
Spoon 1/4 cup ice cream mixture into each of 4 (8-ounce) parfait glasses or pretty stemware.
Top mixture with 1 teaspoon amaretto and 1 tablespoon cookie crumbs.
Repeat layers, ending with ice cream mixture; freeze 1 hour.
Top each parfait with 1 tablespoon whipped topping and grated chocolate.
Serve immediately. Serves 4.
- Daring to Try Something New! (plotmamas.wordpress.com)
- My big sister Dina’s a much better cook than me – here’s her amazing fish stew recipe (mirror.co.uk)
Most of the chicken recipes we associate with Italian cuisine were really developed in the United States by the Italian immigrants. When chicken is eaten in Italy, it is a simple preparation ,usually browned in olive oil and flavored with olives or lemon and garlic. Additionally, the meat is probably pheasant, squab or rabbit and not chicken. Some of the most well know dishes in America are Chicken Parmigiana, Chicken Marsala, Chicken Cacciatore and Chicken Tetrazzini. These dishes have been on Italian restaurant menus for years and cooked in many homes across the world, but they are high calorie dishes.
Chicken (or Veal) Parmigiana or also known as Chicken Parmesan is made by dipping a chicken breast in a mixture of beaten eggs and bread crumbs, shallow-fried and topped with a tomato sauce and mozzarella. It is then usually baked until the cheese is melted.
Chicken Marsala is a traditional Italian dish that starts with boneless chicken breasts that are coated, usually with flour. The sauce is made of butter, olive oil, mushrooms, Marsala wine, and sherry. Salt, pepper and oregano season the dish. Some chicken Marsala recipes also include capers and lemon juice.
Chicken Cacciatore ( means “hunter’s style) and is a country-style dish where a whole chicken is cut up and browned in olive oil, then braised in a light tomato sauce with vegetables.
Chicken Tetrazzini is a dish made with mushrooms, cream, parmesan cheese, eggs, onion, pepper, salt, milk, sherry and cooked spaghetti. The dish is said to have been named for the Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1941), called “The Florentine Nightingale.” She was extremely popular in the United States and was a star of the San Francisco Opera. She also was a long-time resident of San Francisco. It was a culinary tradition to name new dishes after personalities of the day, and Chefs of the 19th century use to flatter great prima donnas, like Luisa Tetrazzini, making them the inspiration for their creative efforts and then naming dishes for them.
This dish is also a great example of a high calorie entree. Let me cite for you the recipe from the Italian Inn in Tulsa, Ok.
I should tell you that one serving equals 1664 calories and 92.7 g of fat, before you go ahead and make this dish.
- 3 1/2-4 1/2 lbs chicken, cooked
- 2 sweet red peppers, peeled
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup heavy cream
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 1 lb spaghetti
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- Remove the meat from the chicken, discard bones and skin and cut chicken into bite size pieces.
- Cut the peppers into dice.
- Make a veloute sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, then stir in the flour. When it is cooked and bubbling, stir in the chicken stock gradually, continuing to stir until the sauce is thickened.
- Add the cream, and season with the salt, pepper, Tabasco and wine.
- Put the chicken and diced peppers in the sauce, and hold over low heat while you cook and drain the spaghetti. Stir the cooked and drained spaghetti into the chicken mixture, and pour into a prepared greased baking dish.
- Cover the top with the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and almonds.
- Dot with butter and place in 475º oven for a few minutes until the topping is glazed and bubbling. Serves 4.
- 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
- 1 lb sausage, a combination of hot and sweet, cut into bite-size pieces
- 2- 2 ½ pound chickens, cut into 12 small pieces, bone in
- 2 large bell peppers, red, green or yellow, cored, seeded and cut, lengthwise into ¼ inch strips
- 1 large yellow onion, cut, lengthwise, into ¼ inch slices
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup vinegar hot cherry peppers
- ½ cup vinegar sweet bell peppers
- ½ cup of vinegar from vinegar sweet bell peppers
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- salt & pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté sausage for about 8 minutes until lightly browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from pan and set aside to drain. Reheat oil so that it is hot but not smoking, pat chicken dry, and sauté chicken for about 15 minutes or until it is almost cooked through.
Stir in bell peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes or until vegetables are soft and beginning to brown. Drain off all excess oil. Return sausage to pan.
Add wine and chicken broth to chicken, sausage, and vegetables and bring to a boil. Stir in hot and sweet vinegar peppers, vinegar, oregano, and salt and pepper. Again, bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer slowly for about 10 minutes or until flavors have combined and sauce has reduced. Remove from heat and serve.
Baked Chicken, Sausage, Potatoes and Peppers
I really didn’t care for the flavor of the vinegar peppers in the recipe above and the recipe calls for a lot of oil in its preparation. I did like the idea of roasting chicken, potatoes and peppers for an entree and I worked on making a healthy dish with these ingredients.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 whole 3 lb. organic chicken, cut into 10 pieces or 1 whole bone-in chicken breast, cut into 4 pieces and 6 bone-in thighs,skin removed
- 1 pound package Italian pork or chicken sausage each link diagonally cut into fourths
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Juice from 2 lemons (about 4 tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 4 medium baking potatoes, cut in fourths
- 2 green and 2 red bell peppers, cut into one inch strips
- 1 large sweet onion, cut into eighths
Turn chicken pieces and bake 15 minutes
Squeeze lemon over chicken, place the lemon skins in the roasting dish with the chicken and sprinkle chicken with minced garlic and oregano.
Cover pan with foil and bake 1 hour, turning the ingredients after 30 minutes.
Serves 6-8 and you do not need to add anything else to this menu.
- Chicken Tetrazzini Recipe for a Healthy Heart (moulsinc.com)
- Chicken Parmigiana (sylviacancook.wordpress.com)
- Crispy Lemony Chicken Roasted with Potatoes.. (oforchristsakes.wordpress.com)
- Eat2Gather “Meals 4 Sharing” Friday & The Pioneer Woman Cooks! (marysnest.com)
Bell Peppers, eggplants, zucchini, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes are the vegetables usually used for stuffing. As I looked through my cookbooks, every one of them has a different version of how to stuff a vegetable. I am sure that in any culture where there is an abundance of farm raised crops, home cooks try to figure out how to utilize the produce and make dishes that have variety, as well as appeal.
As a child, I remember my mother making stuffed green peppers, regularly, because my father liked them. I wasn’t fond of them and I don’t think my siblings were either. Since I am not overly fond of green bell peppers, that was strike one. They were always made with ground beef, rice and tomato sauce. As an adult my tastes for different vegetables improved and, because my husband would often ask for stuffed peppers, I began experimenting with recipes for different fillings and vegetables that we eventually liked.
I still have my mother’s recipe written down on a recipe file card. It is fading, but still readable. This was pretty much my mother’s way to make
Stuffed Green Peppers:
- 6 large green peppers
- 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1/2 of a small onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 15 oz can tomato sauce
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Cook peppers in enough boiling water to cover for 5 minutes and then drain.
Cook ground beef, onion, and garlic and then drain off fat.
Stir in rice, salt, and half the tomato sauce. Heat through.
Stuff each pepper with beef mixture and stand upright in an ungreased square baking dish.
Pour remaining tomato sauce over the tops.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees F. Remove from the oven and uncover dish.
Sprinkle with cheese and bake an additional 15 minutes.
Stuffed Red Peppers
As in the recipe above, many recipes for stuffed vegetables call for boiling the vegetable before stuffing. I don’t do this because this step makes the vegetables soggy and they will spend the better part of an hour in the oven. Also, I feel the vegetables lose nutrients when boiled.
The recipes for fillings I am including here can be used in any vegetable of your choice and there are both meat versions and vegetarian versions.
Preparations of the vegetables before stuffing will vary.
- 6 medium red peppers
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1-1/2 pounds lean ground turkey breast or lean ground beef
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1-8 oz package shredded Italian mixed blended cheeses
- 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
Cut peppers in half lengthwise and discard seeds.
In a large skillet, saute onion in oil until tender.
Add the turkey, Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper; cook and stir over medium heat until meat is no longer pink.
Transfer to a bowl; stir in half the cheese, the chopped tomatoes and bread crumbs. Spoon into pepper halves.
Place in a large baking pan coated with cooking spray.
Bake, uncovered, at 325° F for 40 minutes or until peppers are tender.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return to the oven and heat, uncovered, until cheese is melted.
Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
- 1 cup cooked couscous, farro or barley (This would also be a good place to use leftover risotto.)
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 cup prepared basil pesto
- 3 large yellow or orange peppers, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
- 2 cups homemade tomato sauce
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Fresh basil leaves for garnish
Stuffed Zucchini or Eggplant
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound ground lean turkey or beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, diced
- 4 ounces of mushrooms, chopped
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 seeded and diced plum tomatoes
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 egg, beaten or 1/4 cup egg substitute
- 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cut the zucchini or eggplant in half lengthwise. Using a melon baller or small spoon, scoop out the flesh from the inside of the zucchini or eggplant. The shells should be about 1/4 inch thick. Be careful not to pierce the shell. Reserve and dice the flesh that has been scooped out.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Vegetarian stuffed tomatoes or zucchini make excellent side dishes.
- 4 large tomatoes – a thin slice cut from the top and the insides scooped out and reserved
- 1 cup cooked farro or rice or barley
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped plus extra for garnish
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated plus 2 tablespoons for topping
Add cooked grain of choice and the 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Fill tomatoes with stuffing until overfilled and top with the additional grated cheese.
Place in an oiled baking dish, and bake until cheese begins to melt and the filling browns – about 20 minutes.
Garnish with basil leaves.
Spinach Stuffed Zucchini or Tomatoes
- 4 large summer squash or zucchini or 6 medium tomatoes with top cut off and the insides discarded
- 2 (10 oz) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 oz low-fat cream cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Cut squash lengthwise in half and remove some of the center flesh to make room for the filling and place in a greased 9 x 13 pan. If using tomatoes, cut off a thin layer from the top and scoop out the insides.
Bake the squash for 30 minutes and the tomatoes for 20 minutes. Larger squash may take an additional 10 minutes or more. Test the side with a knife to see if tender.
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With over 500 different types of pasta available, it is not only, one of the most popular foods in the world, but it can be served in hundreds of different ways. The drying process is also a key to the flavor of pasta. Slow drying at low temperatures helps to preserve the nutty flavor of the durum wheat. This method of slow drying pasta is an art as well as a science, since drying times vary depending on the shape of the pasta and outdoor relative humidity levels and temperatures. This subtle difference of a slow-dried pasta can be tasted best before you add the sauce.
There is archeological evidence that noodles existed in China about 4,000 years ago. Spanish colonists brought pasta to the U.S, but it wasn’t until the large immigration by Italians in the last half of the 19th century that pasta gained popularity. By the 1920’s, pasta was a comfort food throughout America.
Pasta is a healthy food. It is a source of complex carbohydrates, thiamin, folic acid, iron, riboflavin and niacin, and it contains only negligible amounts of fat, cholesterol, or sodium. Fettuccine Alfredo is high in calories from heavy cream, butter and Parmesan cheese. Make pasta healthier by serving it with a tomato-based sauce that contains clams, shrimp, peppers, mushrooms, chickpeas, or other low fat foods and flavorings.
A one cup serving of cooked pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates. And in the context of a balanced diet, 40 grams of carbohydrates is not over doing it. It is the same amount of carbs as in a cup of rice, for example. The problem is that, when it comes to pasta, we seem to think that a larger portion is the norm. For example, a one-cup serving of rice looks perfectly appropriate to us—actually generous, but put one cup of pasta in front of us and it doesn’t look right at all.
If you’re trying to figure out how much to cook, a serving of dried pasta is about two ounces. For long, thin shapes, that’s a bundle the size of a dime. For smaller shapes, it’s about a half cup. You can also mentally divide up the box. Each one pound box contains about eight servings. Once it’s cooked, a serving of pasta equals one measuring cup, or about the size of your fist.
Different Types of Pasta
You can vary the type of pasta you serve based on your nutritional needs or what other ingredients you are going to combine with the pasta.
Alternative Grain Pastas: This category includes Kamut® (a whole grain pasta), spelt pasta (made with 100% spelt flour) and quinoa (an ancient grain pasta similar to rice).
Durum Semolina Pasta: This is the best choice for wheat-based pasta. Durum wheat is a high-gluten, exceptionally hard wheat, while “semolina” refers to the milling texture (that of fine sand). If your pasta has a rich ivory color approaching yellow, you can be sure it is made with durum semolina.
Egg Noodles: They may be delicate, but egg noodles absorb sauces more readily than regular durum noodles. These are best eaten with light sauces.
Gluten-free Pasta: The primary ingredients used as flour in gluten-free pasta are brown rice, corn, a combination of corn and quinoa, potato and soybeans.
Whole Wheat Pasta: This pasta choice offers nutrition and a rich, nutty flavor that stands up to robust sauces. Since production varies, if your first experience with whole grain pasta doesn’t meet expectations, try another brand before giving up on this healthy pasta choice. Vegetable combinations are best used with this type of pasta.
How To Cook Pasta
The term “al dente” in Italian literally means “to the tooth” and can be best translated as “chewy” or pasta that is boiled just to the point of being cooked through, yet remains firm. Americans prefer their pasta to be cooked longer. This is unfortunate, because the length of time pasta is cooked can have quite substantially different effects on blood glucose and the softer the pasta, the higher the glycemic index. (The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale used to indicate how fast and how high a particular food can raise our blood glucose (blood sugar) level.)
For 1 pound of pasta, use a pot that’s at least 8 quarts. When the water has boiled, salt it generously—about 2 tablespoons.
- Add the pasta; stir it right away so it doesn’t stick. Push longer pasta down into the water with tongs or a spaghetti fork to make sure it’s totally submerged. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- When the pasta begins to soften, try tasting it. If you bite into a piece and see a thin, starchy line inside, keep boiling.
- To achieve the al dente texture, cook the pasta a minute or two under the recommended cooking time.
- Drain the pasta in a colander. Don’t rinse, the starch that remains on the pasta will help the sauce adhere.
Save a cup of the boiling water before you drain the pasta. The starch in the water will help thicken the sauce and help it coat the pasta.
My family certainly likes pasta with a tomato based sauce and we always have plenty of that on hand. In order to eat less meat and less fat, I have also accumulated a number of recipes that utilize vegetables, fish, citrus flavorings and low-fat sauces. Here are some recipes that are good for you:
Penne with Artichokes
- 1-9 oz package frozen artichokes, defrosted
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, in oil, drained and sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 12 ounces penne, cooked and drained ( or any short pasta of your choice)
Combine artichokes, water and lemon juice in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until tender. Cool artichokes, then cut into thick slices. Reserve the artichoke cooking liquid.
Cook and stir 3 tablespoons garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat until golden. Reduce heat to low. Add artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes; simmer 1 minute. Stir in artichoke liquid, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes.
Stir together the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Pour artichoke sauce over pasta in large bowl; toss gently to coat.
Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese mixture.
Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp in Lemon Sauce
This recipe can be adapted to whatever vegetables are in season and your protein or herbs of choice.
- 1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 lb large ( any size is fine) shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound short curly pasta, such as corkscrews, fusilli, chiocciole (small snails) or small shells
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated and the juice from the lemons (should be about 4 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Lemon slices for garnish
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the asparagus and cook until tender but firm. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon to a bowl and reserve.
- Bring the water back to a boil, drop in the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook about 1 minutes. Add the shrimp and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and cook until the shrimp are cooked through (just pink) and the asparagus are warmed, about 2 minutes more. Add the lemon juice and toss. Remove from heat.
- Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with 1/2 of the Parmesan, 1/2 of the parsley, lemon zest, remaining olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Season with salt and a generous sprinkling of coarsely ground fresh pepper. Pour into a serving bowl.
- Arrange the shrimp and asparagus on top and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley. Garnish with lemon slice.
This recipe is under 350 calories per serving.
- A Gluten Free Pasta Dish Loaded With “Cancer Fighting” Veggies! (beefitwithtracy.com)
- W is for Wheat – Semolina Can Get Chefs Talking Wheat (janiceperson.com)
- The Dish on Pasta: Maligned Food Actually a Healthy Carb (livescience.com)
The ancient ancestors of eggplant grew wild in India and were first cultivated in China in the 5th century B.C. Eggplant was introduced to Africa before the Middle Ages and then into Italy, the country with which it has long been associated, in the 14th century. The eggplant made its first appearance in Sicily, and then, in other Italian southern regions, such as Naples and Calabria.
Eggplant Parmesan was often seen on our dinner table and my mother was fond of making this dish. As a child, I always enjoyed Eggplant Parmesan and I would look forward to when my mother made this for us. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how fattening Eggplant Parmesan can be when made in the traditional way because it is breaded, fried and covered in melted cheese. I have worked out a recipe that is delicious and healthy, if not traditional. I will share that preparation with you in this post.
Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration or scars or bruises, which usually indicates that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.
The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
I am fortunate to participate in a CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) where I live and I am able to get wonderful eggplant all summer long. With so much eggplant at one time, I learned to prepare the eggplants for the freezer during the summer for future use.
Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in storing them. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold . Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for only a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay. Instead, place it on a shelf within the refrigerator.
If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible, since the plastic will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.
When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel knife, as carbon steel will react with the eggplant flesh and cause it to turn black. Wash the eggplant first and then cut off the ends before peeling.
Making Eggplant Parmesan
Eggplant Parmesan is not a dish that can be prepared quickly, but with some of my make ahead tips, you can enjoy this entrée for dinner and have several leftovers for future use without spending all day in the kitchen. Eggplant freezes very well in all stages of its preparation, which makes this an ideal vegetable to work with in your food preparation.
I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them, individually, for future use.
For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:
- 1 pound eggplant, peeled
- 1/2 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
- 1 cup Italian style Progresso bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.
Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker). You want them to be thin.
Place the egg substitute in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs in another.
Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute mixture, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and bake until crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.
If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place it in a zip lock freezer bag. Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.
To assemble the casserole, you will need:
Spray an 8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
- 2 ½ cups Marinara sauce (see earlier post for the recipe)
- 1-8 ounce package Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese (You certainly can use mozzarella cheese, if that is your preference.)
Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the package of cheese. Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Makes 6 servings and each serving is less than 200 calories.
Another Way to Use this Versatile Vegetable
One of my daughters-in-law is crazy about eggplant, so I try to come up with numerous dishes that fit different occasions for when she visits. The following recipe for Eggplant Rolls ( Eggplant Rollatini) is an excellent appetizer dish. Some chefs do not peel eggplant for this dish, but I prefer peeled eggplant because the dish will be more tender without the peel.
- 1 eggplant about 1 lb. Peeled and cut into 8 lengthwise slices. (Try to pick an eggplant that is more long than wide.)(See photo below.)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh oregano, thyme, and basil ( or ¼ teaspoon each of dried herbs)
- ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
- 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese
- 1 1/2 cups Marinara sauce
Combine the ricotta, Sargento cheese, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the eggplant.
Heat a grill pan or the broiler. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Grill or broil eggplant slices three minutes on each side or until lightly brown. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the filling on each eggplant slice. Roll up tightly, jelly roll style. Place the eggplant rolls in a greased baking dish and drizzle with marinara sauce.
Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Arrange on a serving plate with fresh herbs to decorate.
Makes 8 appetizer servings.
One of the seven original grains cited in the Bible, farro was popular for hundreds of years until modern baking techniques left it behind. Americans are finding it again and realizing that this savory and tasty grain has many modern uses. Italians not only like to use it in breads but also cakes, pizza and soups. Related to wheat but very different, this grain is friendly to the body, a great source of fiber and naturally contains high levels of nutrients, vitamins and protein.
Farro with Artichokes
Makes 6 servings, about 1 cup each
In this dish farro stands in for rice in a risotto-like dish, full of tomatoes, artichokes and fresh basil.
1 1/2 cups farro, rinsed
1 sprig fresh sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1-15-ounce can, no sodium added, diced tomatoes, drained well
1 9-ounce box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 1/2-2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1. Place farro in a large saucepan and cover with about 2 inches of water. Add sage and rosemary. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the farro is tender but still firm to the bite, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the herbs and drain.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the farro, tomatoes, artichokes, basil, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
3. Add 1/2 cup broth (or water), bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring, until most of the broth is absorbed. Repeat with the remaining broth (or water), adding it in 1/2-cup increments and stirring until it’s absorbed and the farro is creamy but still has a bit of bite, about 10 minutes total. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and lemon zest. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
Italy‘s Other National Dish-Polenta
Polenta, a coarsely or finely ground yellow or white cornmeal, has been called by some the “Italian grits” and there are similarities to the hominy grits that are so popular in the southern United States. The key to the popularity of Polenta is its versatility. It can be served with nearly anything and that is why it has spread to every corner of Italy, where Italians always make use of what is locally grown or raised. Soft polenta is often a replacement for bread during a meal, or instead of the pasta course, served with butter and cheese and possibly shaved truffles. Polenta can also be served as a contorno (side dish) to regional meat dishes such as Osso Bucco, chicken and fish. Polenta in cake form can be layered with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and baked.
Italian Style Braised Pork Chops With Polenta
- 4 boneless loin pork chops (about 1 inch thick) and trimmed of all fat
- 1/4 cup of flour
- 1 onion, sliced thin
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup of sliced white mushrooms
- 1-15 oz. can of diced tomatoes ( no salt added)
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. Dredge chops in flour.
Heat oil in large skillet with cover. Brown chops on both sides. Add onions, sweet peppers, garlic and mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano and cover and let simmer for about an hour until tender.
- 6 cups of water
- 2 cups of instant polenta
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Extra squares of Polenta can be frozen for future meals.
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Many vegetables have been assimilated into Italian cooking from other cultures. Some vegetables that we associate with the Italian cuisine, such as tomatoes and peppers, actually came from the Americas in the sixteenth century. However, it is what Italian cooks do with vegetables that have made them identifiable with Italian cuisine and what makes them taste so good. A classic example would be roasting red peppers. Red bell peppers are ripened green bell peppers.
Roasting brings out their sweetness and gives them a different, richer flavor that also doubles the amount of vitamin C. As the pepper turns from green to red on the vine, the amount of Vitamin A is also increased. Red peppers contain more folate and are rich in the phytochemicals that help protect us from many different chronic diseases. Red peppers rank among the top ten foods for beta-carotene, lutein and other important antioxidants.
Roasted red peppers can be used in a variety of dishes from pizza to salads. You can even puree them and put the puree in your pasta sauce. They are a staple on the antipasto tray and I like to use them for stuffing meat entrees and for sandwich fillings.
Home roasted peppers taste so much better than the store bought peppers in a jar and it really isn’t very difficult at all. I am including a link here for a video that demonstrates the technique for roasting red bell peppers.
Heat a broiler (or BBQ grill) to high. Rinse the peppers (I usually roast 6 at one time) and place them directly on the oven rack right underneath the flame or on the grill rack. The flame will cause the peppers to bubble and turn black. We want this to happen. Once the top side of the pepper turns black, rotate it. Repeat this process until the whole pepper has blackened.
Place the peppers in a bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. The peppers will continue to cook in its container. This also loosens the skin. After about 15 minutes, remove the peppers from the bowl and let them cool down a little bit. Save any liquid that collects in the bottom of the bowl if you are going to make marinated peppers. To cut the pepper, insert the knife on top and cut around the stem. Slice it in half and remove the seeds. With the knife, gently scrape off the skin. You can slice the pepper into strips as thick as you want them.
You can use roasted peppers in the following recipes.
4 roasted red bell peppers
Reserved liquid from the roasted peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2-3 fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Cut the flesh into broad strips or bite-size pieces and set them aside.
In a bowl add the olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Put the peppers back into the bowl with the sliced garlic, pepper liquid and carefully toss to combine. If you are planning on serving the peppers the same day, allow them to sit at room temperature. Otherwise, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
4 chicken cutlets (about 4 oz each) or chicken breast halves, trimmed and pounded thin into 4 cutlets
4 roasted red pepper halves
4 slices provolone cheese (deli style)
8 basil leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
Salt, Pepper and dried basil
Lay your chicken breasts out flat.
Place 1 slice of provolone cheese on top, then a pepper half and 2 basil leaves.
Roll the chicken breast up as tightly and evenly as possible and secure with toothpicks.
Season rolls with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add chicken and cook over medium heat, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with dried basil and add wine, cover, and cook over low heat, about 7 minutes. Uncover and transfer rolls to serving platter. Cover with foil to keep warm.
Boil juices in skillet until reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Diagonally slice rolls into thick pieces, drizzle with pan juices, and serve.
I like to serve this dish over a bed of sauteed swiss chard or spinach.
Video link on how to prepare a chicken breast for stuffing.
- Roasted Red Pepper Soup a big hit (ramblingprose.wordpress.com)
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Authentic Italian cooking is not just pasta, as many people think, here in the States. In Italy, portion sizes are much smaller and pasta is generally served as a first course, separate from the main entree. Family meals are important events and diners are encouraged to savor their food. Italian cuisine places emphasis on the quality and freshness of ingredients and most Italian cuisine originates from frugality. Locally grown and regional products are the basis for meals. Vegetables and fruits are used to enhance and accompany the flavors of the main course. Vegetables, such as, eggplant, asparagus, artichokes, peppers, fennel, spinach, beans and escarole are most commonly used.
The dish featured here, will demonstrate how vegetables flavor and support the main dish protein. This dish features fennel, which is a vegetable that is not well know, but is showing up more and more in food magazines and on cooking shows. Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a tall, wispy, frond top that looks rather like dill. The fronds can be used in salads or to dress a serving plate, but the main attraction of fennel is the bulb itself. It’s very firm and crunchy and it tastes a bit like anise. It has a fresh taste and is excellent for salads or slaws. It can also be grilled or braised until it becomes tender and sweet, mild and delicious.
Fish Braised With Fennel, Artichokes and Lemons
In this recipe you can use any firm white fish fillets that are found in your region, such as, halibut, cod, grouper or bass. I also prefer fresh or frozen artichoke hearts to bottled types because I think the frozen taste much fresher. This is a typical Italian preparation for fish fillets and includes many mediterranean flavors. Give this recipe a try for your next meal.
You will need:
- 2 lemons
- 1-9oz. package frozen artichokes, defrosted and cut in half
- 1/2 large onion, halved crosswise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, halved crosswise, core removed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Flour for dredging
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 fillets (each weighing about 6 ounces and 1 inch thick)
- Fennel fronds
Squeeze juice from 1 lemon; cut the remaining lemon into very thin slices.
Put onion, fennel, artichoke hearts, oregano, lemon juice and lemon slices, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large saute pan. Cover pan.
Bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove to a bowl. Set aside.
Season both sides of the fish fillets with salt, pepper and a light coating of flour.
In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add fillets. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook fillets, without moving them, until bottoms are golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully turn; cook until fish is opaque and flakes easily, 2 to 3 minutes more.
Return artichoke mixture to the pan and warm for a minute or two. Spoon 1/2 cup artichoke mixture over each fillet. Garnish with fennel fronds.