Tag: italian food

How to Make the Best Chicken Parmigiana (or eggplant, or beef, or veal)

(Above: Watch the video above to see the process of making this delicious Italian-American dish.)

This recipe works for chicken parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, beef parmigiana  or veal parmigiana.

 

Cat waits patiently near chicken cutlets.
Mookie, our kitchen helper, was very interested in the breading process.

 

If you want to make eggplant, beef or veal parmigiana , follow the recipe below, substituting eggplant, beef or veal for the chicken, and omit the sage.

 

Breaded chicken cutlets
I recommend using plain breadcrumbs but Italian-style are fine too.

 

Be sure to buy good quality chicken, eggplant, beef or veal. Good veal should be pink, not brown or gray. And a good eggplant should be dark purple and very firm, with few, if any scars, and no dents or soft spots. If you buy a good eggplant, there’s no need to salt it as it will not be bitter.

 

Chicken cutlets frying
Adjust the heat carefully, making sure the oil never starts smoking.

 

My mother often made the beef cutlets and this is her recipe. Every time she made it she’d forget if the cheese came first or the sauce when layering the dish and she’d say, “I forget, do I put the cheese on first or the sauce?” I’d answer, “The cheese. It’s just the opposite of making pizza.”

 

A platter of chicken parmigiana
This recipe makes enough for a family of four, or five or even six.

 

I highly suggest using my mother’s tomato sauce recipe too. It makes a huge difference in whether this dish is good or fantastic. Chicken Parmigiana is good as an entree or as a sandwich made with two slices of garlic toast.

Chicken Parmigiana (or eggplant, or beef, or veal)

March 24, 2019
: Easy-medium

This is pretty simple to make but takes some time and some work, breading the cutlets and then frying them. Once you do that, make the sauce, and grate the cheese, you just assemble, bake, and serve.

By:

Ingredients
  • Tomato Sauce (see link to sauce recipe, above)
  • Boneless chicken breasts, or chicken cutlets (6-10)
  • Parmigiano cheese, grated. The best is Parmigiano Reggiano and makes a difference. (About a cup)
  • Mozzarella cheese. I usually use low-moisture, regular mozzarella, along with some fresh mozzarella. (8 oz.)
  • Sage (enough to sprinkle over the chicken as it cooks)
  • Breadcrumbs (about 8 oz.)
  • Large eggs (2)
  • Milk (one splash per egg)
Directions
  • Step 1 If you buy chicken breasts, you have to beat them to make them thin. If you buy cutlets, you don’t have to do this. Separate the breasts and pound them flat on both sides. You can do this by putting a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper over the breasts and hitting them a few times with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer.
  • Step 2 Breading the chicken: Scramble a few eggs with a few splashes of milk in a bowl. Add salt and pepper. Spread breadcrumbs on a large dinner plate or platter. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture and then dredge through the breadcrumbs until covered.
  • Step 3 Fry the chicken in batches in about 1/2-inch to 1-inch of olive oil with garlic on medium heat. Watch the oil and turn down the heat if it starts to smoke. You can also add a thin slice of butter to the pan for flavor, but be careful it doesn’t burn. Sprinkle with a little sage and cook on both sides until done. Transfer the chicken to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain the oil. (If the pan gets dirty or burns from leftover breadcrumbs, wipe it clean with a paper towel and add fresh oil).
  • Step 4 Lay down one layer of chicken. Put thin slices of mozzarella over each chicken piece. Cover with sauce. Sprinkle Parmigiano cheese over the chicken. And repeat with each layer, ending with a layer of sauce and grated parmigiano cheese.
  • Step 5 Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, until cheese melts and is bubbly. Serve hot. You can serve this with rice. If you like mix a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce into the rice. Or serve it with mashed potatoes, green beans, whatever you like.

 

7 Super Apps For A Super Bowl Party

7 Super Apps For A Super Bowl Party

I’ve got nothing against chicken wings, but there’s more to eat on Super Bowl Sunday than just them.

I’m not sure how it happened but the most popular appetizer for Super Bowl Sunday is chicken wings. We have you covered (see number 3 below) in that department with a unique recipe that uses both Asian and Italian spices.

And here are some other things that are just as tasty or maybe even more delicious to go along with the big game. They’re all quick and easy to make, but some are easier than others.

For your convenience I put them in order of how easy I believe they are to make.

1.) EASIEST: 10-Minute Crostini
Crostini

This is by far the easiest and quickest recipe ever. Slice some bread, spread guacamole and salsa on top. That’s it.


 

2.) Pub Kettle Chips
Pub Kettle Chips

Melted cheese and bacon over some well done potato chips. Mmm!


3.) Asian Italian (AI) Chicken Wings
Chicken Wings

The quick marinade for these juicy wings includes soy sauce, garlic, and ginger.


4.) Guacamole 
Guacamole

Homemade guacamole is much better than store bought. The secret is the right balance of spices. You don’t want it to be bland.


5.) Tzatziki 
Tzatziki

I got this recipe from a cookbook I bought in Greece. It’s authentic.


6.) Hummus and Pita Chips
Hummus and pita chips

I started using this recipe a long time before hummus was available in supermarkets. It’s much better than store-bought.


7.) Antipasti Platter
Antipasti platter

This platter isn’t difficult to make but you do have to spend some time looking for the right ingredients.

Eggplant Parmesan Light (Low Calorie)

Eggplant Parmesan Light (Low Calorie)

(Above: One serving of about 4-6 slices of this eggplant dish is about 267 calories, according to my calculations. I suggest using some of the leftover carrot/tomato sauce to blend in with some rice for a side dish.)

I should weigh 1000 pounds.

After making, eating and writing about food for RootsLiving – with recipes such as Espresso Shot Pulled Pork Sandwiches,  Pasta Carbonara, and Marco’s Fuscilli — I need to start focusing on some low-cal dishes.

 

Chopped carrots in a bowl
It’s easier if you use a food processor to chop the carrots, onions and celery for the sauce.

 

I started creating low calorie meals several years ago when Trish joined Weight Watchers. My criteria for inventing these dishes was that they not only be low calorie — and low in Weight Watcher points — but they also be healthy and just as flavorful as the fattening stuff.

 

Eggplant parm light with a glass of wine
With only about 267 calories per serving, you can afford to have a glass of red wine with this meal.

 

This eggplant parmesan dish meets that criteria by using a red Italian sauce made with carrots that was one of my father’s favorites. He got the recipe from our cousins who live near the walled city of Lucca in Italy. And I can assure you that none of them used this sauce in their favorite dishes because they were watching their weight.

 

Eggplant peeled to make stripes
I peel the eggplant to make stripes before slicing it. I think this helps cut down on the bitterness and provides better texture too.

 

And oh, yeah, there’s one more thing: this eggplant parmesan contains no parmesan cheese. You could add some and boost the calorie (or points) up a bit. But with the wide-variety of intermingling flavors contained in this dish, I don’t think you’ll miss it.

 

Sliced eggplant with lemon.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe salting the eggplant makes it less bitter. I think choosing a good firm, eggplant without scarring is more important.

 

Here’s the recipe:

 

Eggplant Parmesan Light (Low Calorie)

January 13, 2019
: 6
: 1 hr 30 min
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • For the Italian Sauce Made With Carrots:
  • 1 garlic clove (lightly crushed but kept whole)
  • 1 onion (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 4 carrots (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 2 celery stalks (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • For the Eggplant Parmesan Light:
  • 1 medium to large eggplant (Pick an eggplant that is shiny with a deep, rich, purple color. It should also be firm all around, with no soft spots. This is key to having eggplant that is not bitter.)
  • 1 cup or so of the red carrot sauce (see recipe below)
  • Small thin slices of low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese (just enough to cover each eggplant slice)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil
  • Salt (I prefer Kosher salt for all cooking)
  • Fresh basil leaves (about 2-4)
Directions
  • Step 1 For Making the Italian Sauce Made With Carrots: Heat olive oil in a sauce pan. Add garlic and onion and cook until translucent.
  • Step 2 Add chopped carrots, celery, and parsley. Saute until soft, stirring often for about 15 minutes.
  • Step 3 Add tomato paste and enough water to turn sauce orange (about 3 cups). Cook until water is reduced and sauce becomes thick (about 15 minutes). Stir often.
  • Step 4 Add wine and cook for about another 10 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper to taste, and basil.
  • Step 5 For Making the Eggplant Parmesan Light: Brush a cookie sheet with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil so that eggplant slices won’t stick too much.
  • Step 6 Peel eggplant and cut into thin slices, no more than a 1/4-inch thick.
  • Step 7 Cut lemon into wedges and squeeze juice into small bowl. Brush each eggplant slice with the lemon juice and salt. Then place on cookie sheet.
  • Step 8 Bake eggplant slices in batches in a 450 degree oven. Turn slices over being careful not to burn.
  • Step 9 Lightly brush olive oil into small casserole dish or baking pan. Put down one layer of eggplant slices. Top each slice with a very thin slice of mozzarella cheese and then cover with carrot sauce.
  • Step 10 Repeat until all eggplant slices are used. Place a small piece of fresh basil on top of the top slices.
  • Step 11 Bake eggplant in a 350 degree oven until cheese melts (about 10 minutes).

 

 

Meal Plan: A Vegetarian Christmas Eve Dinner

(Above: Watch the video to see how to make stuffed swiss chard and then get the recipe below.)

We’ve been hosting Christmas Eve dinner for family and friends for many years. And because meat is usually featured prominently on Christmas Day, I try to stay away from serving any the night before.

This year’s menu would be considered vegetarian if it didn’t include the shrimp course. And it still can be if you elect to serve one of the alternate first courses listed below and refrained from serving the antipasti courses that contain meat.

Vegetarian does not necessarily mean light. And for better or worse, I guarantee you that Uncle Charlie won’t be able to leave the table after eating this without unbuckling his belt.

A few of these vegetarian recipes come from what was my favorite restaurant: La Zucca Magica in Nice, France: an Italian vegetarian restaurant that created rich dishes that didn’t shy away from butter, cream, and eggs.

My Plan: Meat is Over (if you want it)

Guests always have something to pick on as soon as they arrive at our home: something to nibble on with their cocktail or first glass of wine or beer.

PICKIES:

  1. Pub Kettle Chips (skip if you want to go completely vegetarian or just omit the bacon)
  2. Bread Sticks Wrapped in Prosciutto (substitute marinated olives if you want to go completely vegetarian)
  3. Stuffed Pappadew Peppers

After about an hour or so, tell your guests it’s time to take their place at the table:

FIRST COURSE:

Shrimp Sautée: This recipe, from Joshua’s Restaurant in Wells, Maineis quick and easy. Tip: Be sure to have all of the ingredients ready and measured out before you start cooking. This comes together quickly and should be served immediately.
If you want to keep the meal completely vegetarian, try serving one of these as the first course: Root SoupPatata Ball in Tomato Sauce; or Tomatoes Stuffed with Pasta Salad.

 

SECOND COURSE:

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella: This recipe comes from an Italian vegetarian restaurant in the south of France. Rich, healthy and delicious, it makes a good first or second course before the main course.

 

 

THIRD COURSE:

Vegetable Lasagna Masterpiece: This is the best vegetable lasagna recipe. It’s something I perfected over several years. A creamy spinach mixture is cradled between silky ribbons of pasta and topped with a porcini-flavored tomato sauce. You can make this the night before and heat it up or cook it the next day.

 

FOURTH COURSE:

Italian Christmas Pudding (aka: Pudding with the Red Stuff)This couldn’t be any easier to make. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and she served it at family dinners, including on Christmas Eve. It’s a quick and easy version of an Italian dessert called, “Zuppa Inglese.”

(Thanks for reading this far. To show our appreciation we’re offering this free eCookbook with “9 Recipes to Help you Relax and Enjoy the Holidays.” )

 

6 (Pretty) Easy Desserts to Make for the Holidays

(Above: Watch the video and see how super easy it is to make Italian Christmas Pudding.) 

Three of these holiday treats are quick and super easy to make and the other three are just easy. All make good after-dinner treats or sweet gifts.

Quick & Super Easy

1.) Italian Christmas Pudding (aka: Pudding with the Red Stuff):
This couldn’t be any easier to make. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and she served it at family dinners, including on Christmas Eve. It’s a quick and easy version of an Italian dessert called, “Zuppa Inglese.”

 

2.) Chocolate Kahlua Rum Balls:
 If you’re short on time but still want to make some homemade Christmas treats, try this one (but this is for adults-only). They require no baking and so the alcohol doesn’t burn off. They make a great gift too. Avoid heavy machinery and sleighs.

 

3.) Chocolate Bark with Walnuts and Orange AND White Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Cranberries:
The only thing easier than making this sweet treat would be going out and buying it. Takes only about 30 minutes to make too.

 

Just Easy

 4.) Christmas Befana Cookies:
This recipe from Northern Italy makes 100 cookies. They’ll keep for weeks and even months in an air-tight container.

 

5.) Amaretti Cookies:
Three main ingredients — almonds, confectioners sugar, egg whites — keeps this recipe simple. However, you have to pay attention to shaping and forming the cookies before baking.

 

6.) Chocolate Bread:
Treat yourself to Pane alla Cioccolata, an Italian bread that despite its name is not too sweet. This goes great with a morning cup of coffee or an after-dinner glass of red wine.

(Thanks for reading this far. To show our appreciation we’re offering this free eCookbook with “9 Recipes to Help you Relax and Enjoy the Holidays.” )

Amaretti Cookies (Macaroons)

Amaretti Cookies (Macaroons)

(Above: Italian Sugar Cookies. These almond cookies are brittle and crunchy and look great served in a Nora Fleming napkin holder/candy dish with a Nora Fleming hand-painted snowman charm.)

One of my favorite cookies are amaretti. I usually buy them once a year around the holidays. I never knew how easy they are to make — they only have three ingredients — until I stumbled upon the recipe in the Artusi.

 

Cookies on a floured board
These cookies only have three ingredients: almonds, egg whites and confectioners sugar. This recipe makes about 48 small cookies.

 

The Artusi is the classic Italian cookbook first published in 1891 by Pellegrino Artusi, a prosperous Italian silk merchant who collected recipes from homemakers he met during his travels all over Italy. If you want a truly authentic cookbook with recipes from the north and south of Italy that Italians still use today, get this one (the hardcover is available on Amazon).

 

Almonds, sugar, egg whites
It’s hard to believe that these cookies only require three simple ingredients.

 

Although the book is very popular in Italy — it has gone through 111 printings and most homes there have it — it wasn’t translated into English until 1996. (Full disclosure: My father and I had talked about working together to publish an English version but never got around to it.)

 

Dough rolled into the shape of a snake
Once you roll the dough into the shape of a snake, cut small pieces to make each cookie. Don’t worry that they’re too small. This dough rises in the oven creating a larger cookie.

 

The recipes are authentic and have probably been passed down through generations for hundreds and hundreds of years. Most are pretty easy and simple to make too, making them perfect for Rootsliving. However, they often refer to old techniques that I figured out could be performed quicker and easier using modern methods and in some cases, modern machines.

 

Cookies before being put in the oven
Be careful when forming these cookies. Any irregularities will be exaggerated as the cookies expand while cooking them.

 

Such is the case with this recipe that called for crushing the almonds with a mortar and pestle. I tried that the first time I made them but it was very labor intensive so the next time I made them, I used a food processor and there was no difference.

 

Cookie dough in food processor
Using a food processor, rather than a mortar and pestle is much easier and faster.

 

While making these a few times following the recipe in the Artusi, I found it necessary to make some other adjustments too:

  1. I floured a pastry board so the dough wouldn’t stick to the pastry board when I rolled it into a snake shape.
  2. And I greased (with Crisco shortening) and floured a cookie sheet before putting the cookies on it for baking. In fact, I recommend putting a good layer of grease on the cookie sheet before you flour it. One of my cookie sheets wasn’t greased enough. The cookies stuck to it and broke when I tried to remove them.

 

Cookies on a baking sheet
Be sure to grease the baking sheet well because these suckers like to stick.

 

The end result are amaretti cookies that are a little different than the ones you can get in Italian speciality stories in the U.S. The main difference is the consistency. They are even more brittle than the crunchy store-bought variety.

I liked them better but still thought they might be improved by adding an ounce or two of Amaretto liquor.  So the next time I made them I tried that and determined that just a little bit of Amaretto, about one or two tablespoons, gave them a little better, stronger, flavor.  The difference was small and so this is completely optional.

 

Cookies on a plate
The recipe in the Artusi called for making 30 cookies but I made them a little smaller and got 48. I find that most people today find it hard to commit to a larger cookie and are more apt to pick up and eat a small one (or two, or three).

 

The main thing to remember is to use only a small amount of the dough (about one teaspoon) to form each cookie. Roll the dough between your hands to form a small ball and then press down on it slightly, but don’t flatten it out. And be sure to give each cookie enough space to expand on the cookie sheet.

One batch I made, I used too much dough for each cookie, flattened them too much, and put them too close to one another on the cookie sheet. The result looked like one big cookie. Everything was stuck together. It tasted great but the presentation was awful. I also whipped the egg whites in that batch until they were stiff although I’m not sure if that caused some of this problem. What I am sure of is that you don’t need to whip the egg whites.

This is a simple recipe and my recommendation is don’t try to make it more complicated.

(Thanks for reading this far. To show our appreciation we’re offering this free eCookbook with “5 Recipes to Help you Stay Healthy and Lose Weight,”  along with free subscription to the Rootsliving newsletter.) 

Here’s the (slightly altered) recipe from the Artusi:

Amaretti (Macaroons) (From the Artusi)

December 7, 2018
: 48 cookies
: 1 hr 30 min
: Easy, but you need to be careful

By:

Ingredients
  • Almonds (1 1/2 cups, plus 1/8 cup)
  • Egg whites (2)
  • Confectioners sugar (3 cups)
  • (Optional: Amaretto liquor, 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Flour (for dusting)
  • Shortening (to grease cookie sheets)
  • (Optional equipment: Food processor)
Directions
  • Step 1 Put almonds in a food processor with one of the egg whites and process until fine (about 10-20 seconds).
  • Step 2 Dump mixture into a large bowl (add the optional Amaretto if you’re using it) and mix in half of the sugar with your hand.
  • Step 3 Add half an egg white and stir with your hands. Add the rest of the sugar and stir with your hands. Add the remaining egg white and mix with your hands.
  • Step 4 Grease two cookie sheets and flour them by sprinkling flour on them and dumping the flour out so that both sheets are completely covered in flour. Be sure to put a good layer of shortening on the cookie sheets before sprinkling the flour because these cookies like to stick.
  • Step 5 Roll dough into the shape of a snake on a lightly floured board. Cut the snake into small pieces. Roll those pieces into a ball in your hands and then press down on them slightly before putting them on a greased cookie sheet. (Note: Take care to round the cookie edges because any irregularities will be enhanced when the cookies rise and expand while cooking.)
  • Step 6 Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 325 degree oven.

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella

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Get a free Rootsliving eCookbook with “5 Recipes to Help you Stay Healthy
and Lose Weight.”  

Here’s a recipe from one of my favorite restaurants: La Zucca Magica, in Nice. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed a few years ago, but I have fond memories. It was an Italian vegetarian restaurant that got much acclaim from guide books and the New York Times.

 

 

Stuffed chard in a bowl
It’s best to serve these individually, surrounded by a little broth and topped with some lemon zest.

 

Don’t let the vegetarian label fool you into thinking the dishes were light there. La Zucca Magica served hearty meals laden with butter, oil, and tomato sauces. I can assure you no one left there hungry.

We didn’t have this dish at the restaurant but I made it when we got home using a recipe that was posted on the New York Times site that has since disappeared. And I was able to save the written recipe (see below).

 

 

Stuffed chard in a baking dish
Choose a baking pan where the chard just about fit and are close together.

 

There are multiple flavors and textures that work well together in this tasty delicacy. The fresh healthy green of the soft swiss chard leaves; the light mellow taste of saffron; the bite of the lemon zest; and the sweetness of the Parmesan and fresh mozzarella cheese all make your taste buds dance.

 

A hand-held lemon zester
This recipe calls for lemon zest. This hand-held lemon zester works great, catching the zest as you scrape. It works much better than using a cheese grater. I just got this tool as a gift and will now use nothing else.

 

I served this as the third course in a three course meal I created from recipes I got in Southern France. Although none of the courses contained meat, the three courses were very filling.  I’ve also served it in the Rootsliving dining room on Christmas Eve as a second course, before the main meal of Vegetable Lasagna Masterpiece.

(Thanks for reading this far. To show our appreciation we’re offering this free eCookbook with “5 Recipes to Help you Stay Healthy and Lose Weight,”  along with free subscription to the Rootsliving newsletter.)

 

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella

October 15, 2018
: 6
: 1 hr
: Medium

There are some skills required to making this dish, including making a good risotto.

By:

Ingredients
  • Vegetable broth (6 cups)
  • Arborio rice (1 cup)
  • Saffron (1 large pinch)
  • Lemon (1 small, zested)
  • Butter (2 tablespoons)
  • Parmesan Cheese (1/2 cup grated
  • I recommend using the best, Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Swiss chard leaves (6 large)
  • Mozzarella (1/2 pound cut into small cubes)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (enough to drizzle over the leaves)
Directions
  • Step 1 Make risotto by heating up 1 tbsp of butter and adding the rice. Stir and let the rice get warm (about a minute or two) before adding the first ladle full of hot vegetable broth. The secret to making good risotto is to use hot broth and only add about a ladle full at a time, just enough to cover the rice.
  • Step 2 Keep the heat on low to medium. When the first ladle full of hot broth is nearly absorbed (the liquid should still be covering the rice), add another ladle full and stir until all three cups are used. Stir just enough so that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Do not leave the pan unattended until you’re done making the risotto. The rice should end up being barely tender.
  • Step 3 Dissolve saffron in juice of one lemon. Add to rice, along with butter, Parmesan, zest of one lemon, salt and pepper to taste. Allow rice to cool a bit. Rice can be made in advance at this point (up to 1 day), but do not refrigerate it.
  • Step 4 Poach chard leaves in about 2 cups of the remaining broth for about 45 seconds. Take out, drain on a dishcloth, and cut out the hardest part of central stem. Reserve cooking broth.
  • Step 5 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With wet hands, form 6 balls of rice 2 to 3 inches across. Dig a hole in each ball and insert mozzarella. Wrap each ball in a chard leaf.
  • Step 6 Put the stuffed chard in a close-fitting oven pan, with enough reserved broth to come about a half-inch up the sides of the balls. Bake for 20 minutes.
  • Step 7 Serve balls topped with a little more broth, more lemon zest, Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella

October 15, 2018
: 6
: 1 hr
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Vegetable broth (6 cups)
  • Arborio rice (1 cup)
  • Saffron (1 large pinch)
  • Lemon (1 small, zested)
  • Butter (2 tablespoons)
  • Parmesan Cheese (1/2 cup grated
  • I recommend using the best, Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Swiss chard leaves (6 large)
  • Mozzarella (1/2 pound cut into small cubes)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (enough to drizzle over the leaves)
Directions
  • Step 1 Make risotto by heating up 1 tbsp of butter and adding the rice. Stir and then add one up of the vegetable broth. Keep heat on low to medium. When the liquid is absorbed add another cup and stir until all three cups are used. Rice should be barely tender.
  • Step 2 Dissolve saffron in juice of one lemon. Add to rice, along with butter, Parmesan, zest of one lemon and pepper to taste. Allow rice to cool a bit. Rice can be made in advance at this point (up to 1 day), but do not refrigerate it.
  • Step 3 Poach chard leaves in about 2 cups remaining broth for about 45 seconds. Take out, drain on a dishcloth, and cut out the hardest part of central stem. Reserve cooking broth.
  • Step 4 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With wet hands, form 6 balls of rice 2 to 3 inches across. Dig a hole in each ball and insert mozzarella. Wrap each ball in a chard leaf.
  • Step 5 Put balls in a close-fitting oven pan, with enough reserved broth to come about a half-inch up the sides of the balls. Bake 20 minutes.
  • Step 6 Serve balls topped with a little more broth, more lemon zest, Parmesan and olive oil.

Ma’s Stuffed Peppers

(Above: Watch the video to see how these are made. This is an easy recipe and the kids like them too.) (more…)

Recipe Videos From Boston’s Best Chefs

This is one of my favorite recipes from the weekly Dorm Room Chef series I produced for the Boston Globe. (more…)

Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto

Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto

It came to me in a dream: nepitella pesto. I thought that maybe I had invented the idea but a quick search online turned up one reference to it at a restaurant in New York called Osteria Morini.

There they team nepitella pesto with buffalo mozzarella on crostini or with fresh whipped ricotta topped with peas and asparagus. I’m sure that doesn’t taste bad, but what were they thinking? Everyone knows nepitella pairs perfectly with mushrooms and artichokes: everyone, in the small minority of people in this country who have heard of nepitella.

Nepitella plant

So let me let you in on the secret. Nepitella is an herb that grows wild in Tuscany (and in my driveway after I transplanted a small plant from my grandmother’s garden about 15 years ago). Some describe it as a cross between oregano and mint, but I believe it’s more like a cross between basil and mint. And I wouldn’t think of cooking mushrooms or artichokes without it.

So when I was inspired to try to make nepitella pesto the logical use for it was to stuff mushrooms with it. And the result was perfect.

Stuffed mushrooms

The pesto by itself, without any cooking, was much stronger than a basil pesto: more earthy and with a sharp bite, almost spicy flavor. But when it cooked inside the mushrooms, the taste mellowed into a more mild buttery flavor: still very earthy but without the sharpness of the raw nepitella pesto.

If you’d like to try this, finding nepitella will be a challenge, but a search online revealed a few places that sell the plant. Or just stop by my driveway: there this evasive plant grows wild in cracks and along narrow dirt patches along the fence.

Nepitella Pesto (And Stuffed Mushrooms)

September 4, 2013
: 45 min

Making the pesto probably takes about 15-20 minutes; add another 20-25 minutes to make the stuffed mushrooms.

By:

Ingredients
  • Nepitella leaves (washed, about a half a cup)
  • Pignoli nuts (about 1/4 cup)
  • Garlic (4-6 cloves)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/4- 1/2 cup
  • Imported, freshly grated. Don’t use the stuff they sell in a jar
  • Or use freshly grated Romano and/or Pecorino if you’d like to save some money.)
  • Kosher salt and pepper.
  • Mushrooms
Directions
  • Step 1 Put nuts and garlic in food processor with a steel blade and process for about 15 seconds.
  • Step 2 Add nepitella leaves, salt and pepper.
  • Step 3 With processor running slowly add the olive oil until it’s completely pureed.
  • Step 4 Add cheese and process for another minute.
  • Step 5 If you don’t use it right away, put in refrigerator with plastic wrap touching the top or with a film of olive oil on top. This will prevent discoloring.
  • Step 6 To stuff mushrooms:
  • Step 7 Pull off stems, clean caps with paper towel.
  • Step 8 Put clean caps in a baking dish that has been greased with a small amount of olive oil.
  • Step 9 Spoon in nepitella pesto and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. You can serve it as is or with a shaved piece of parmesan cheese on top and/or a pignoli nut.
Pumpkin Gnocchi in an Almond Cream Sauce

Pumpkin Gnocchi in an Almond Cream Sauce

(Above: This gnocchi dish 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.

Note: This will serve four as a main course. Gnocchi is very filling. You don’t need much for each serving.

Pumpkin Gnocchi in an Almond Cream Sauce

October 4, 2012
: 4

This doesn't take long to make, perfect for a weeknight supper. However, it will impress guests too.

By:

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)
Directions
  • Step 1 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. )
  • Step 2 Cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling water for about three minutes (just until they float). Don’t overcook.
  • Step 3 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!
  • Step 4 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.
  • Step 5 Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with a side salad.

Marco’s Fuscilli

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This is a quick, easy pasta dish I created several years ago (probably 10 or more). It’s an old favorite around the Rootsliving kitchen.

It’s great for an easy, weeknight meal and it’s quicker than ordering take-out. You can make this dish as fast as it takes you to boil a pot of water.

The first thing you do is put a good size pot of water on the stove. I use this pasta pot with built-in strainer.  It makes boiling and serving pasta hassle-free and safer. And you can even steam vegetables at the same time. It’s one of my favorite kitchen utensils.

While the water heats up, cut the grape tomatoes in half, put them in a bowl and add the other ingredients.

 

Tomatoes in a bowl
I use grape tomatoes because here in the Northeastern part of the U.S. you can’t get good tasting tomatoes year round. These are always sweet and good.

 

Once the water comes to a boil, put the fuscilli in and cook it until it’s al dente, which means “to the tooth” in Italian. That means cook it until it’s still a little firm when you bite into it. With dried fuscilli, this could take about 10 minutes. With fresh fuscilli, it will only take a minute or two.

 

Marinated mozzarella balls
I usually use a knotted bar of marinated mozzarella and cut it up but when I can’t find that, I use marinated mozzarella balls.

 

You then put the fuscilli in a bowl and while it’s still piping hot, add the mozzarella cheese and stir. The cheese should melt into the pasta as you stir. Once it does that, add the tomato mixture and you’re done. See detailed recipe below.

 

Pasta in a bowl with tomatoes and mozzarella
The colors in this dish make it perfect for a holiday meal.

 

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Marco's Fuscilli

September 21, 2012
: Super Easy

This takes minutes to make but tastes like it took a lot more care.

By:

Ingredients
  • Fuscilli (1 pound box)
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes (1 pint, chopped)
  • Fresh oregano (About 1 tablespoon
  • or 1/2 teaspoon if using dried oregano)
  • Dried basil (About 1/2 teaspoon)
  • Wine (A healthy splash, about 1/4 cup. I usually use red wine, but white would be fine too.)
  • Olive oil (About 1/4 cup)
  • Butter (About 1/4 – 1/2 stick)
  • Marinated mozzarella cheese (8 oz. It’s available at most supermarkets.
Directions
  • Step 1 Cook fuscilli in a large pot of salted water. Drain, put in a bowl and add butter, oil (about 1/8 cup), salt and pepper (to taste).
  • Step 2 Chop up tomatoes, put in a small bowl. Add olive oil (about 1/8 cup), salt, pepper, fresh oregano, and a healthy splash of wine. Mix it up.
  • Step 3 Add mozzarella pieces to pasta and stir, letting it melt evenly.
  • Step 4 Pour tomato mixture over fuscilli. Add dried basil and stir. Add salt and pepper if needed. Serve with a salad.

 

Vegetable Lasagna Masterpiece

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I’ve been perfecting this recipe for years.

It’s based on a simple spinach lasagna recipe I got from a restaurant in Boston’s North End neighborhood. I added some techniques I learned from America’s Test Kitchen and added some tricks of my own –the addition of tomato sauce to the béchamel sauce and the addition of pine nuts to the spinach mixture — to make the perfect lasagna masterpiece.

 

Tricia with lasagna
Tricia was very happy to come home and see this vegetable lasagna waiting for her in the Rootsliving kitchen.

 

The techniques from the test kitchen involve using “no-boil,” or “oven-ready” lasagna noodles. Instead of using them right out of the box, the technique calls for pouring hot water over them and letting them sit for about 5 minutes.

This makes the consistency of the noodles velvety, more like homemade noodles. It also prevents the lasagna from being soggy or too dry.

Another tip from the test kitchen that I use when assembling the lasagna is to make sure the sauces are not hot. Room temperature is best but warm works too.

 

Bowl of chopped carrots and onions
You can get porcini bullion cubes at Italian speciality stores and some supermarkets.

 

I created the tomato sauce for this recipe based on a family recipe from my cousins in Italy. The carrots make the sauce sweet and the porcini bullion cube gives it some savory depth.

 

A pot of tomato sauce
Adding the tomato sauce to the béchamel sauce turns it orange.

 

This recipe takes a little time and some cooking knowledge but don’t let that scare you. Watch the video above and read the recipe below and you’ll be fine.

 

A slice of lasagna
Textures and flavors mingle to create a masterpiece lasagna.

 

Using these techniques and tips, here’s how you can create your own masterpiece.

(Thanks for reading this far. To show our appreciation we’re offering this free eCookbook with “5 Recipes to Help you Stay Healthy and Lose Weight,”  along with free subscription to the Rootsliving newsletter.)

Vegetable Lasagna Masterpiece

February 22, 2010
: 6-8
: Medium

This recipe takes some time and some skill but don't be scared. Watch the video and then follow this recipe and you'll create your own masterpiece.

By:

Ingredients
  • For the white (bechamel) sauce:
  • Butter (3 tbsp.)
  • All-purpose flour (3 tbsp.)
  • Milk, heated (2 1/2 cups)
  • Nutmeg (1/8 tsp.)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • For Red Sauce and Spinach Mixture:
  • Onions (2 cups diced, about two large onions)
  • Carrots (2 cups diced)
  • Tomato paste (1/2 can)
  • Sun-dried tomato paste (Several squirts from a tube)
  • Porcini bullion cube (1)
  • Kitchen Ready Tomatoes, chunky-style (1 can)
  • Olive oil (2 tbsp.)
  • Frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out (2, 10 oz. packages)
  • Part-skim ricotta cheese (1 pound)
  • Parmesan cheese (8 tbsp.)
  • Dried basil (1 tsp.)
  • Dried Oregano (1 tsp.)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Pine (pignoli) nuts (2 oz.)
  • No-boil lasagna noodles, Barilla works well (12)
  • Part-skim, mozarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
Directions
  • Step 1 To make the red sauce: Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a pot and add 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the carrots.
  • Step 2 When onions and carrots are tender, add 1/2 can of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water. Add several squirts of the sun-dried tomato paste and the can of kitchen ready tomatoes.
  • Step 3 Crumble the porcini bullion cube into the sauce and stir. Add 1/2 tsp. of basil and 1/2 tsp. of oregano, salt and pepper and stir.
  • Step 4 Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and then take off the heat.
  • Step 5 To make the white sauce: Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium sauce pan.
  • Step 6 Add the flour and stir with a wire whisk for about 1 minute. Gradually stir in the hot milk.
  • Step 7 Increase the heat to medium-high, cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil. Lower the heat immediately and cook, whisking occasionally, for five minutes. Whisk in nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
  • Step 8 To make the spinach mixture: Heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Step 9 Add 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the carrots and cook until tender (about four or five minutes).
  • Step 10 In a large bowl, mix together the spinach, ricotta, onion/carrot mixture, 1/3 cup of the white sauce, four tbsp. of parmesan cheese, pine nuts, 1/2 tsp. of basil and 1/2 tsp. of oregano, salt and pepper.
  • Step 11 To Assemble and Bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Step 12 Place the no-boil lasagna noodles in the 13 x 9-inch pan and cover with hot tap water for five minutes (agitating the pan occasionally so they don’t stick). Place the noodles on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
  • Step 13 Empty water out of the 13 x 9-inch lasagna pan and dry the pan. Drizzle olive oil in the pan and grease the pan using a paper towel. Make sure to coat the sides and top of the pan so nothing will stick.
  • Step 14 Spread about 1/2 cup of the white sauce in a thin layer over the bottom of the pan.
  • Step 15 Add enough red sauce to the remaining white sauce to make the white sauce turn orange (I used all of the red sauce except for 1 1/3 cups. Put the 1 1/3 cups of red sauce in the refrigerator and save for another day.)
  • Step 16 Place three strips of lasagna noodles over the thin layer of white sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan. Cover with about 1/2 of the spinach mixture and three more of the lasagna noodles.
  • Step 17 Then cover the lasagna noodles with half of the remaining spinach mixture and enough of the white/red sauce mixture to cover completely. (Note: The white/red sauce will dribble over the sides.)
  • Step 18 Cover with three more lasagna noodles. Add remaining spinach mixture and enough of the white/red sauce mixture to cover.
  • Step 19 Top with remaining three lasagna noodles and remaining white/red sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and remaining four tbsp. of parmesan cheese.
  • Step 20 Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes.
  • Step 21 Remove foil and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the top starts to brown and the lasagna is bubbling hot.
  • Step 22 Let stand at least 5-10 minutes before serving.

 

Tomato Sauce (Basic Recipe)

Tomato Sauce (Basic Recipe)

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Here’s my standard tomato sauce recipe. I got this from my mother who was an excellent cook. I’ve changed a few things over the years, adding touches of my own and some embellishments from my cousins in Italy.

 

Tomato sauce over pasta
Italians never drown their pasta in tomato sauce. Instead, they coat it with a thin layer.

 

This sauce can be used on most anything that requires Italian tomato sauce. It’s great to use when making chicken, beef or veal parmesan (which I’ll write about later in another post). For pasta, I often choose to make a much lighter sauce without the meat. I’ll write about that another time. However, this works well on pasta too.

 

Vegetables and sausage
Some vegetables and a little sausage flavor this sauce.

 

Inside Tips: Something to Think About While Making a Good Tomato Sauce

Making a good tomato sauce is an art, not a science. You have to continuously taste it while it cooks and then decide if it needs a little more of this or little more of that. Sometimes it may need only a tsp. of basil, other times, it may need more than twice that. So what follows is a good guide, but follow your taste buds and have fun.

 

Sausage and vegetables cooking
Be sure to cook the sausages until they’re done and cook the vegetables until they’re tender before adding the tomatoes.

 

When I cook, I like to think about music. I often have music playing (and a glass of wine poured) but I’m not talking now about the music I’m listening to. Instead I like to think about bass notes and treble notes or low notes and high notes.

Different flavors elicit different types of notes. Example: salt would be a high note and black pepper would be a low note or bass note. When cooking a red sauce, I often strive to have the flavors balanced between high and low. And adding dried oregano pushes the sauce into the high-note territory and adding dried basil takes it down into the bass category.

 

Tomato sauce cooking
Adjust the heat beneath the pan and continuously stir the sauce so that it doesn’t splatter too much.

 

You also have to be careful about making it too bitter or too sweet. The red wine, depending on what type you use, can make the sauce a little bitter. And if you choose to use carrots, you won’t need to add the optional sugar, as the carrots usually make the sauce sweet enough.

 

A bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine
Nothing goes better with pasta than a glass of wine. Cheers!

 

So stir and taste and ask yourself, is it on the high-note side or the low-note side? And then adjust the seasonings as needed. Everyone has their own opinion on what the perfect red sauce is, so use your judgement, make it to your liking, and you can’t go wrong.

(Thanks for reading this far. To show our appreciation we’re offering this free eCookbook with “5 Recipes to Help you Lose Weight,”  along with free subscription to the Rootsliving newsletter.)

Tomato Sauce (Basic Recipe)

January 31, 2010
: 1 hr 30 min
: Medium

It's not difficult to make this sauce, but you do need to think about it and pay attention to the flavors by continuously tasting it.

By:

Ingredients
  • Large onion (1, chopped fine)
  • Carrots (2, chopped fine) (optional)
  • Celery (2 stalks, chopped fine) (optional)
  • Italian sausages (2, sweet, not hot)
  • Kitchen Ready Tomatoes (1 28 oz. can)
  • Tomato Paste (1/2 – 1 small can, plus 1 small can of cold water)
  • Olive oil (2-3 tbsp.)
  • Salt, pepper, basil, oregano to taste. A shot of tabasco (optional)
  • Splash of red wine (optional, about 1/4 cup)
  • Sugar (optional, about 1/2 tsp.)
  • Butter (1-2 tbsp)
  • Nutmeg (just a speck, about 1/8th of a teaspoon.)
Directions
  • Step 1 In a medium to large pot, cook the onions over medium-high heat in olive oil until translucent (not brown).
  • Step 2 If desired, add the carrots and celery and cook until tender.
  • Step 3 Crumble and add the sausages. Cook until brown.
  • Step 4 Add the can of tomatoes. Stir, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides.
  • Step 5 Add tomato paste and one can of water. Stir, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides.
  • Step 6 Add spices and tabasco (if desired). Stir, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides.
  • Step 7 Cook for about 20 minutes to 1/2 hour on low heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally.
  • Step 8 Taste periodically and add more spices if necessary, but remember, the longer you cook it, the stronger the flavor of the spices will be.
  • Step 9 Add the splash of red wine (optional) and stir. Cook for another 20 minutes to 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and if you like, you can add a 1/2 tsp. of sugar.
  • Step 10 Turn the heat off and add the butter. Add the nutmeg and gently stir until the butter melts. Cover the pot and let it sit until you’re ready to use it.

 

 

Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta

Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta

(Special thanks to professional food photographer Russell French for photographing this meal. His photos appear courtesy of Russell French Studio.)

This is one of my prized recipes. My grandmother, Bruna, used to make this and it was my favorite dish when I was a little boy.

I remember sitting at her kitchen table, with a glass of red wine mixed 50/50 with ginger ale (that’s what the kids got to drink). I’d pluck out the little black olives that were covered in a red sauce and stick them on all ten fingers, and then eat them one by one. My fingertips would be hot and then instantly cool as I ate each one.

Here’s the recipe from that memory:

Chicken with Polenta: The Chicken Recipe

July 27, 2009
: 6-8
: 30 min
: 45 min
: Medium

This is what you call peasant food, created in northern Italy where my grandmother learned to cook it.

By:

Ingredients
  • Chicken: I like to use a mixture of bone-in breasts and bone-in thighs. For this recipe, you could use four bone-in breasts
  • and four bone-in thighs to serve between 6 and eight people. You could also use a whole chicken, cut up, or even rabbit.
  • Two or three sweet Italian sausages
  • About 16 oz. of mushrooms
  • One can of pitted black olives
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cans of tomato paste (and about the same amount of water)
  • Two or three garlic cloves
  • A sprig of fresh sage or about a tablespoon of dried sage
  • A sprig of nepitella or about a tablespoon of dried nepitella. Can also substitute a combination of basil and mint. (Optional)
  • About four or five tablespoons of olive oil
  • About 1/3 to 1/2 cup of red table wine
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of nutmeg
Directions
  • Step 1 Clean fat from chicken and soak in salted water.
  • Step 2 Boil sausage for about three minutes.
  • Step 3 Fry sausage with chicken, one clove of garlic (crushed), sage, salt and nutmeg in about one tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Step 4 Fry mushrooms in about one or two tablespoons of olive oil, with garlic clove (crushed), and nepitella. And then add to chicken.
  • Step 5 Add red wine, pitted black olives, tomato paste and dissolve with water to make a sauce.
  • Step 6 Heat in oven. If heating in oven immediately after cooking, set at 350 and heat for only about 15 minutes or so. If you’re not going to serve it for a while, turn heat down to 250 or even 200 just to keep warm. (Don’t overcook chicken as it gets tough.)

Chicken and Polenta: The Polenta Recipe

July 27, 2009
: 6-8
: 15 min
: 15 min
: 30 min
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Three cups of corn meal
  • Seven cups of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions
  • Step 1 Bring seven cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Step 2 Gradually stir in three cups of corn meal in a slow and steady stream. Stir vigorously as you add the corn meal to avoid lumps. Continue to stir vigorously until polenta is a creamy, yet stiff, consistency. (Tip: Have boiling water on hand in case polenta gets too thick.)
  • Step 3 You can either spoon polenta onto plates in a small pile or you can dump the whole pot of polenta on a large wooden board and let it spread out and cool a bit before slicing into rectangles or squares.
  • Step 4 Spoon tomato sauce from chicken dish on top of polenta when serving.