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Chickplantasagna is born
Aug 10th, 2016 by

Layered like lasagna, with eggplant, chicken, and zucchini, chick-plant-sagna was born out of necessity.

Layered like lasagna, with eggplant, chicken, and zucchini, chick-plant-asagna was born out of necessity.

We were hungry.

I had eggplant, zucchini, some leftover cheddar cheese and a new block of Parmesan Reggiano in the refrigerator. All day long I thought of those ingredients and asked myself what I could make for dinner. Around 4 p.m., the answer came to me.

I just needed chicken cutlets so I stopped at the supermarket on my way home and found some chicken tenders that looked better than the other cuts of chicken there. I brought them home and flattened them between two pieces of aluminum foil (I had nothing else). And that’s where our story (recipe) begins.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken tenders (About 9 or 10, flattened by pounding them with a rolling pin between two pieces of wax paper, parchment paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.)
  • Eggplant (1 dark, purple — firm, but not bruised — beauty).
  • Zuchinni (1)
  • Red pepper (1)
  • Cheddar cheese (about 1/4 cup shredded)
  • Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup, grated)
  • Fresh salsa (about 1 cup)
  • Tomato Paste, imported and from a tube (about 3 or 4 good squirts)
  • Red wine (about 1/3 cup), and a little water too.
  • Garlic (1 clove, torn open with your fingers)
  • Olive oil, regular, not extra-virgin (about 1/2 cup)
  • Lemon pepper

Here's what the dish looks like before putting it in the oven.

Here's what the dish looks like before putting it in the oven.

The Process:

Take the skin off the eggplant by peeling off strips of it using a vegetable peeler. The eggplant will look like it has stripes as some of the skin remains.

Cut thin (about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick) slices of the eggplant. Brush olive oil on one side of each slice. Brush olive oil on a cookie sheet and put eggplant, dry side down. Cook in a 450 degree oven, turning over once, until both sides are brown.

Cut thin slices of zuchhini (about 1/4-inch to 1/2 inch thick). Put oil on both sides. Cut long strips of red pepper (about 1/2 inch thick) and put oil on both sides. Cook zuchhini and red pepper on a baking sheet in a 450 degree oven until done.

Fry chicken cutlets in a little olive oil and the clove of garlic. Sprinkle with lemon pepper.

When chicken is done, heat frying pan again. Add the tomato paste and the wine and water and stir. Add salt and pepper. Let the wine and water evaporate a little bit. Stir scraping the bottom of the pan. Add about 1 tablespoon of butter and stir some more. Turn off heat.

Assemble the dish by putting a little olive oil on the bottom of a ceramic baking dish, along with a few tablespoons of the fresh salsa. Add half of the chicken cutlets. Pour over half of the tomato paste sauce. Add half of the cheeses. Top with half of the zuchhini, red peppers, and eggplant slices. And then repeat this with the remaining ingredients, ending with the rest of the cheese and some fresh salsa.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until cheese melts.

The dish was delicious but it still needed a name. I posted a photo of it on Facebook and asked for suggestions. My friend Katie M. suggested Chickplantasagna. It was the perfect name for a perfect dish.

The End

Find more recipes in the Food Section.

Giant Peruvian Lima Bean Soup (From Taranta Restaurant in Boston’s North End)
Oct 19th, 2015 by

Here’s a recipe I got when I was shooting Dorm Room Chef videos for the Boston Globe and Boston.com. It’s delicious and very healthy, according to Taranta chef/owner Jose Duarte.

Duarte’s restaurant is unique in that it features both Italian and Peruvian dishes, two cultures that are part of his heritage. Watch the video above to get the recipe. It’s only 2 1/2 minutes long and the recipe is pretty easy to make. I also wrote the recipe below.

I’ve made it dozens of times and plan to make it again soon, now that the weather in this part of the country is getting colder.

Ingredients:

  • Giant Peruvian lima beans (About 1 1/2 cups). I couldn’t find anything labeled “Peruvian lima beans” at the supermarket so I just bought the largest ones there.
  • Water (About 1 1/2 cups)
  • Chicken stock (About 3 or 4 cups)
  • Garlic, chopped (A few cloves)
  • Celery, chopped (About 1/2 cup)
  • Carrots, chopped (About 1/2 cup)
  • Potato, diced (About 1/2 cup)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (3 or 4 tablespoons)
  • Egg (1 large egg per serving)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

Add the lima beans, the water, and enough chicken stock to completely cover the beans (about 1 1/2 cups) to a crockpot and cook for about 6 hours.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a ban over medium heat. Add the celery, garlic, carrots, and potatoes and cook until tender (about 3-5 minutes).

Add the lima beans and the remaining chicken stock to this pot and cook until nearly boiling.

Add one egg at a time and stir gently to cook the egg. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve each portion of soup with one egg. Pour a little olive oil over the top of each serving too.

Find More Recipes in the RootsLiving Recipe Index

Caponata, aka: Sweet and Sour Eggplant
Sep 20th, 2015 by

Spread a little of the caponata on Italian toast slices to make sweet and tart crostini.

Spread a little of the caponata on Italian toast slices to make sweet and tart crostini.

This recipe is one of the best I found in a very long time. It is a delicious blend of sweet and sour flavors with a mingling of soft and crunchy textures that melts in your mouth creating a desire for more and more. It is addictive.

The recipe, first printed in the 2005 edition of Gourmet Magazine, got the highest score on Epicurious.com: four forks, and the 18 people who reviewed it said they would make it again.

So what is caponata and what can you do with it? It’s a blend of bite-sized eggplant, tomatoes, celery, green olives, and red bell peppers that have been enhanced with some garlic, onion, parsley, basil, sugar and red wine vinegar.

It is delicious, by itself as a side dish, or when mixed with pasta. It also makes the best crostini when spread generously over toasted ciabatta slices. It’s very versatile and can be used imaginatively in a thousand different ways. I just put the last of it on some lavash bread, along with some goat cheese and arugula to create a roll-up sandwich. It was better than an eggplant (or chicken, or veal) parm sandwich on a braided roll.

This recipe takes a little work but it’s worth it. It makes a big batch that you can enjoy for several days or even a week.

Again, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!!

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Fall Treat: Pumpkin Gnocchi
Oct 4th, 2012 by

A small plate of gnocchi can be served as an appetizer or as a main course.

A small plate of gnocchi can be served as an appetizer or as a main course.

In most anything in life, you have to work with what you have. And in cooking, the seasons dictate what ingredients are best or available. On a recent trip to Calareso’s Farm Stand in Reading, Mass. I was intrigued by one pound packages of pumpkin gnocchi.

Now I’ve cooked gnocchi before, usually in a tomato sauce, but the savory pumpkin flavor needed something else. So I brainstormed. Pumpkin pie is good with whipped cream so I opted to go with a cream sauce and a little hint of nutmeg.

But this wasn’t going to be dessert. I had to keep it (dinner) real. Cheese would help keep the dish on the savory side and I decided the nutty taste of fontina, combined with some freshly grated imported parmesan cheese would do the trick.

I then imagined all of this gooey, sweet, savoriness melting in my mouth, but it was missing something: a healthy clean foil to the heavy richness. I decided it needed some greens. I had some broccoli rabe on hand and decided to give it a go.

The result was a sweet, savory, gooey piece of heaven, offset by the bitterness of a good healthy green vegetable. The icing on this savory cake? Thinly sliced almonds.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • Pumpkin gnocchi (1 pound)
  • Fontina Cheese (4 ounces, chopped up)
  • Imported parmesan cheese (1/3 cup or to taste)
  • Heavy cream (About 1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Scallions (About five or six, chopped)
  • Broccoli Rabe (1 small bunch, cleaned of leaves and stems. Keep only about an inch or two of stem after the floret. Cut florets in half length-wise.)
  • Almonds (About 1/8 cup, sliced thin)
  • Nutmeg (A small dash, just a few specks. Be careful.)
  • Salt, pepper (to taste)

What I did:

Steam broccoli rabe until done, but not soggy. Don’t overcook. It should have some bite. (I used a large pasta pot with a colander insert and steaming basket. It’s one of my favorite and most used cooking tools. )

Cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling water for about three minutes (just until they float). Don’t overcook.

In a saute pan cook the scallions until translucent and then add the cream, heating it up, but don’t let it boil. Add a small dash of nutmeg: we’re talking a few specks here. Nutmeg is very strong and can easily overpower a dish. Taste it. You just want a hint of nutmeg flavor. You can always add more if you like, but once you put it in, you can’t take it out. Be careful!

Add cream sauce, fontina cheese, parmesan cheese, sliced almonds, and broccoli rabe to the cooked gnocchi and stir until cheese melts and everything is well blended.

Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with a side salad.

Serves three to four people as a main course. Gnocchi is very filling. You don’t need much for each serving.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

It’s Time For Bolognese
Sep 3rd, 2011 by

Here a bolognese sauce is paired with pasta and meatballs (aka: polpette).

Here a bolognese sauce is paired with pasta and meatballs (aka: polpette).

I’ll admit I made bolognese sauce a couple of times over the summer. But this rich, thick, meaty sauce is usually more appropriate with cooler times.

One way to look forward to the cooler seasons approaching is to think of all the seasonal delicacies you can make. And bolognese should top the list.

Here’s a recipe I adopted from my “Biba’s Taste of Italy” cookbook. It takes a couple of hours to cook but it isn’t very difficult. I chop up the vegetables and the pancetta separately, using a food processor. And feel free to experiment with the meats you use. I always have plenty of ground veal on hand, but if you don’t, you can use just ground beef and ground pork.

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • Extra virgin olive oil (3 tbsp.)
  • Unsalted butter (2 tbsp.)
  • Yellow onions, finely minced (1/4 cup)
  • Carrots, finely minced  (1/4 cup)
  • Celery, finely minced (1/4 cup)
  • Pancetta, finely minced (2-3 ounces)
  • Ground beef (2/3 pound)
  • Ground veal (1/3 pound)
  • Ground pork (1/4 pound)
  • Red wine, medium body such as a Chianti (1/2 cup)
  • Tomato paste (3 tbsp.), diluted in meat broth (see next entry below)
  • Meat broth (3 cups. You can used canned meat broth or even canned chicken broth)
  • Whole milk (1/2 cup)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What I did:

Heat the oil and 1 tbsp. of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

When butter foams, add the minced vegetables and minced pancetta.

Cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture has a nice golden color (about 5 minutes).

Add the ground meat, raise heat to high, and break up the meat with a wooden spoon while stirring.

When the meat and vegetables have a rich brown color and the bottom of the pan is glazed (about 7-8 minutes) add the wine. Stir until most of the wine has evaporated.

Stir in the diluted tomato paste and season with salt and pepper.

When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 2 hours. Continue to stir and check the sauce every 10-20 minutes.

The sauce should end up being thick, with an appealing nutty brown color and just slightly liquid. Add a bit more broth or water if the sauce looks dry.

Add the milk, partially cover the pan, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Add the sauce to freshly cooked pasta. This goes wonderful with thick macaroni bands. I usually use the dry pasta made in italy that resemble small bird nests.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Make Biba’s Mother’s Fried Meatballs For Your Valentine
Feb 12th, 2011 by

These are great served anyway: in a sauce with or without a sub roll or just plain on a dish.

These are great served anyway: in a sauce with or without a sub roll or just plain on a dish.

These are so delicious they’re an act of love. Like all good things they take a little work but aren’t the loved ones in your life worth it?

Restaurant owner and cookbook author Biba Caggiano has the best recipe for meatballs or polpette (as the Italians call them).

What makes them truly great and different is that she uses a variety of meats, including mortadella, and each ball is dipped in egg and breadcrumbs before fried, giving them a tender crust.

They’re so delicious you can eat them plain, without tomato sauce. But I like them with a light sauce: one that isn’t overcooked and where you can taste the fresh tomatoes.

I also deviate a little from her recipe by adding some ground beef. Biba’s mother’s recipe just uses the following meats: ground veal, pork sausage, and mortadella.

Here’s my recipe based on her’s:

Ingredients:

  • White bread (4 slices or 2 large and thick slices of Italian bread)
  • Milk (1 cup)
  • Ground veal (1 pound)
  • Ground beef (1 pound)
  • Ground pork (1/2 pound)
  • Mortadella, chopped finely (1/2 pound)
  • Nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon)
  • Grated Imported Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano) (2 cups)
  • Large eggs, lightly beaten (6)
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste)
  • Dried bread crumbs (2-4 cups)
  • Olive oil (Enough for frying)

What I did:

Remove crusts from bread and soak in milk for about 5 minutes.

Drain the bread and squeeze out as much of the milk as possible. Add the veal, beef, pork, mortadella, nutmeg parmesan cheese, and 3 eggs. Season with salt and pepper and mix until combined well.

Take a small amount of the meat mixture and shape it between the palms of your hand into a ball about the size of small egg. Place on a plate and continue to do this until all of the meat mixture is used.

Lightly beat the remaining 3 eggs in a bowl. Dip the meatballs in the egg mixture and then roll them in the breadcrumbs. Flatten them slightly with the palms of your hand and put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or large platter. They can be refrigerated for several hours. Just be sure to tightly cover them with plastic wrap.

Heat an inch of oil in a medium heavy skillet over medium-high heat. As soon as the oil is hot, lower the meatballs in batches with a slotted spoon. Do not crowd the pan as this will cause them to cook unevenly and burn. When they’re golden on one side (about 1-2 minutes), turn them over and brown on the other side. Once they are cooked through, transfer them to a dish or platter lined with paper towels to drain.

You can serve them just like this. Or you can put them in a large pot of your favorite tomato sauce over low heat and cook them a little more.  You can use this tomato sauce recipe (adapted from my mother’s recipe) but I’d omit the sausage and possibly add a fresh tomato, chopped fine, or a can of diced tomatoes to give it a fresh taste.

Stir occasionally being careful not to break apart the meatballs. Serve this and it will strike a chord in the hearts of people you love, stronger than an arrow from Cupid’s bow.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

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