Appetizer · Central American · Italian · Mediterranean · Side dish

How to Eat Your Vegetables

I’ve been thinking a lot about food and improving health, in general. This is a great pastime when I am procrastinating and avoiding my day job, which if I am honest is pretty often. I am sure you are well versed in the benefits of vegetables, so I will spare you. But do consider adding more into your life, because they will make you feel better, and I think returning to basics has been really helpful this year for me, mentally and physically.

I was born in the early 1970’s – a time where convenience and heavily processed food was the norm. This really clashed with how my great grandmothers and grandmothers cooked. Now, we understand the wisdom of eating fresh produce, and food that is in season. But for decades, the idea of microwave or canned food persisted. Do you remember the weird, sadistic trend of disguising vegetables in foods that kids would eat, like brownies?

When I was a kid, I would go to my other friend’s houses, and would always be shocked by the lack of vegetables, or the ones at the table were drowning in velveeta, boiled within an inch of their life, or was simply canned corn thrown in a bowl, like a sad afterthought. The only exception was my neighbors from Taiwan, where beautifully cooked vegetables took center stage. I was fortunate to eat there on a regular basis, because their daughters were close in age to me.

While I don’t want to pass too much judgement (people were busy, it was a different time), I was very lucky to have good practices and habits set in place by family. My rule of thumb when kids were young and I was very busy was to always make sure at least a salad was on the table. Now, I try to have multiple servings and options, especially in spring and summer when vegetables are very fresh. But I do believe that many people aren’t quite sure what to make, or need some inspiration. So I thought it might do some good to list out favorite vegetables side-dishes for you to enjoy and get inspired by. Most of these derive from Italian and Spanish cooking, but the winter vegetables, I picked up from neighbors whose dishes I admired.

Quick and Easy:

  1. Tomatoes & Feta – Heat oven to 350 degrees. Take campari tomatoes or slice a larger fresh tomato and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil & top with feta. Top with a little salt and ground pepper. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
  2. Cucumbers & Feta – peel, deseed and slice two cucumbers. Slice 1/2 small red onion thinly. Add a little salt and pepper. Mix 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil and some fresh mint leaves. Blend to emusify and drizzle over cucumbers and onions. Add feta or goat cheese. *If you don’t have mint, this is also lovely with fresh basil or oregano.
  3. Quick Caprese – slice tomatoes and top with drizzle of a good olive oil and some basalmic vinegar. Grind a little salt and pepper on top. Add a slice of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil. Top with basalmic glaze, if you have it.
  4. Sliced cucumbers – Peel & Slice 3 peeled cucumbers wafer thin on a mandolin and thin put them in a strainer. Add salt and let it sit in the strainer for 10-20 minutes. Squeeze all moisture out of the cucumbers and place in a bowl with 2 minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 tbs of white vinegar and salt to taste. Dilute with a little water if needed. This is best served chilled.
  5. Curtido This is mostly as a side for pupusas, but we love to use it as an all purpose slaw for barbecue, hot dogs, or crabcakes. I often serve it with fish for some crunch and dimension. We also add chiles, but that is optional.
  6. Grilled zucchini & summer squash – if you have time for the grill, this is fast and easy to put together.

Vegetable Spreads:

  1. Caponata – this is best made ahead and chilled. This is salty, sour, sweet, and decadent, all at the same time.
  2. Pisto Manchego – like Caponata, this is great spread onto a bread. Has roasted flavors & cumin notes.
  3. Roasted Red pepper Dip – this is great with pita and one I used to always bring to the break room.
  4. Romesco – this is probably my favorite staple, and is often in fridge and ready to go for eggs, bread, or fish.

Takes a little time, but worth it:

  1. Greek salad – this is a favorite in our family, and we make it on a weekly basis in summer. We always bring it to cookouts.
  2. Ciambottathis is favorite of our children. They used to call it pizza vegetables, and had no idea they were eating so many vegetables.
  3. Eggplants and honey – you have to soak the eggplants for an hour, but once they are ready. these are quick and easy to make.
  4. Grilled chile-lime corn – Preheat your grill. Partially shuck your corn and remove the corn silk. Put the husks back and dunk in cold water for ten minutes. Shake water off, and rub corn with butter and if you want some spice i.e. chili-lime seasoning or elote seasoning. Place husks back over the cobs, and grill for ten minutes. If you don’t want spice, salt, pepper and paprika will do.

In the winter:

  1. Maple sweet potatoes – this is so delicious in the dead of winter.
  2. Roasted potatoes, brusell sprouts and asparagus I often make this in fall in a large baking sheet.

Appetizer · Italian · Mediterranean

Caponata

Caponata is an awesome summer dish native to Sicily and Southern Italy. It is a prime example of something that does not look very appealing, but tastes like gold. Ideally, you make a large batch and then keep in the fridge, to chill. It is far better chilled on a hot summer day. Spread it on your bread while you socialize with family and friends and wait for dinner. Although recipes vary, as all good ones do, I love it with a lot of capers.

This is a recipe that I have enjoyed over the years, but didn’t have family knowledge to know exactly how to make. Years ago, I tried out a few, and found this one was close to what I was looking for.

  • 1 ½ pounds eggplant (1 large), roasted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  •  Salt to taste
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, (preferably romas), or 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (in puree)
  • 3 heaped tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted green olives
  • 2 tablespoons plus a pinch of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (more to taste)
  •  freshly ground pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Roast the eggplant in the oven, allow to cool and chop coarsely.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic. Cook together for a minute, until the garlic begins to smell fragrant, and add the peppers and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, until just about tender, about 8 minutes. Add another tablespoon of oil and the eggplant, and stir together for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. The eggplant will fall apart, which is fine. Season to taste.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the pan with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and they smell fragrant. Add the capers, olives, remaining sugar, and vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are thoroughly tender and the mixture is quite thick, sweet, and fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature. If possible, cover and chill overnight. Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016445-caponata

Italian · Mediterranean · Recipes

Asiago & Spinach Steak

This is a great recipe for those who love steak and spinach. With the exception of tying the meat, the recipe is very quick to throw together and to cook overall.

Although I prefer Asiago cheese for this recipe, you can certainly substitute Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan if you prefer.

You will need:

  • 2 packages frozen, chopped spinach – thawed and drained (10 oz each).
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Asiago cheese
  • 2 Tbs capers, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 small flank steak (1 lb)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • twine

Step one:

Line baking sheet with aluminum foil. Heat broiler with rack set 4 inches from heat source. Place spinach in a kitchen towel and squeeze out excess moisture.

Step two:

In a medium boil, mix spinach, capers, garlic, cheese, parsley, balsamic vinegar, and red pepper. Season with salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Step three:

Cut open steak. Rub with olive oil.

Cut several pieces of kitchen twine. Spread spinach mixture down the center of the meat. Roll steak over mixture and press firmly to compact the filling. Tie twine to secure the roll. Cut roll in half crosswise, seam side down. Rub outer part with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Step four:

Broil until browned, 8-10 minutes for medium rare. Let rest for 10 minutes. Remove string and slice steak into 1/2 inc pieces.

Italian · Recipes

Classic Lasagna

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I love lasagna, whether it is your typical Italian-American affair or something a little more experimental. This version is one of my favorites – the fresh ingredients give it a lighter, more delicate quality that you would not normally expect with lasagna. Of course, you can switch out the herbs and cheese for the dried or shredded variety, but the taste will be lost in translation.

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Fresh Parmesan makes all of the difference

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup chopped yellow or white onion (1 small)
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage (casings removed)
  • 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • ½ pound lasagna noodles (oven ready)
  • 1 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Step one:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

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Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork until no longer pink.

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Step two:

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tbs of the parsley, all of the basil, 1 ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, until thickened.

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Step three:

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup parmesan, and the remaining parsley, ½ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp pepper.

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Step four: The Layering!

Spoon 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 x 13 pan and spread it over the bottom. Add ½ of the noodles, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta mixture and 1/3 of the sauce.

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First layer, before adding the ricotta

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After the ricotta

Next – add the rest of the noodles, mozzarella, ricotta and finally the sauce. Top with bout ¼ of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling.

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Before I put it in the oven

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The end result:)

Notes:

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I like to press the garlic clove with the flat end of my knife, then cut and mince.

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 The herbs can be chopped with a knife or cut/ribboned with kitchen scissors.

Italian · Recipes

Meatballs with fresh oregano

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Meatballs aren’t very glamorous, but they sure are comforting. Making them from scratch with fresh ingredients makes a huge difference in taste and really brings out the flavor – because so many people are used to greasy, store bought versions, they will think you have legendary skills when you share them.

I like the versatility – you can make it with poultry, use it in a garlic roll ( for maximum comfort food), serve it as a stand alone dish or top it over a steaming bowl of pasta. For busy folks like me, you can make extra and freeze ( they keep well), or take short cuts and still have a good dish.

My mom, who is my favorite cook, points out that it’s all in the technique- something I am glad to share with you. You can use lean beef, but closer to 85% is preferred. As you know, fat = lots of flavor. Sausage is also optional, however I always blend it. The recipe I grew up with combined beef, sausage and veal.

The Ingredients

  • 1lb of ground chuck
  • 1 lb Italian sausage, mild
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh oregano & parsley (* you can use dried)
  • olive oil
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can whole peeled tomatoes
  • I roll (*you can use breadcrumbs)

Tear the bread into pieces and process until fine. Assemble the beef, sausage egg, bread, 1 tsp garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, oregano, parsley and blend well. The consistency should be sticky. If the mixture is too slimy, add more bread.

The texture should be easy to roll between your two hands. Shape 12 meatballs. Make sure they are well-rolled to avoid them falling apart, but make sure not to be too rough as you want them to be juicy.

Add 1 tsp of olive oil to the pan and swirl it around. Remember the oil here is for flavor only, so you don’t want to go overboard. The meat will create enough juice in the pan. You can use a non-stick like I did or use a regular pan if you prefer the meatballs to have a crunchier crust. Often, I will add a tiny bit of garlic here, as well.

Brown the meatballs for about 7 minutes. I turn them gently with a fork or spoon. A common mistake is to squeeze the meatballs in order to get them to cook faster, but this destroys the juiciness and makes them tough. You barely want to touch them.

Add the tomatoes (breaking them up with your spoon if desired), a little more oregano (1/4 tsp), 1 tsp garlic and salt & pepper to taste. You can add a pinch of sugar if you want to the sauce. Then, bring the sauce to a rapid boil and then reduce to a rolling simmer for 15 minutes or until the meatballs are done.

I like to add fresh grated parmesan to the sauce. Voila. Steam not included:)

*If you want to make a meatball sub, I would heat up the oven to 400 degrees. Split a few hoagie rolls and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with minced garlic, salt and pepper. Bake ten minutes and then add the meatballs and sauce.

Baking · Italian

Rosemary Ciabatta Bread

I have been stress baking lately, and looking to truly get more knowledgeable with my baking. I have always considered myself a much stronger cook than baker, although I have some solid basic skills, thanks to my mother). My mother’s family used to own a bakery, and had the ability to hand make (and slice) dobos tortes and other delicacies. I have, like so many of us, warm memories playing in dough and creating joy for others. So, getting more skilled at baking, in many ways, is a return to my roots.

This recipe is adapted from Paul Hollywood (The Great British Bake Off). It uses a free-standing mixture. Ciabatta is normally very wet, so using the freestanding mixer simplifies the process. This recipe calls for a long, steady rise. Resist the temptation to add more flour or rush things along.

I added in rosemary, because it is my favorite herb to add to bread. It has so many healing properties (anti-inflammatory, soothing your stomach, relief from cramps) that I can’t help but use it for my foccaccia, ciabatta and rustic breads. I have two large bushes that grow in my yard, so the rosemary I use is organic and fresh.

You will need:

  • 4 cups white bread flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • A freestanding mixer
  • A square plastic tupperware (with lid) lightly oiled with olive oil. The square helps shape the loaf.
  • Semolina (for dusting)
Italian · Recipes

Pasta y Fagioli soup

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This version of Pasta y Fagioli is simple and hearty. My secret weapon was my cousin’s Italian herb mix (she grows her own herbs and dries them for Christmas presents). Instead of using spicy Italian sausage, you can opt for pancetta (if you want to live it up), mild italian sausage, or even chicken sausage. I like it best with a combination of spicy and mild sausage. I serve it with warm Italian bread for dipping in the soup. You can also assemble the soup and cooked it in a crockpot for 4-6 hours. I often do this during the work week, so I have a great meal to come home to.

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound mild or spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth (I used reduced sodium. If you use regular, adjust your salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, to taste. I also add 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper if I am using mild sausage.
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • Cooked pasta to add to the soup (i.e. macaroni, ruffles, fusilli)

Slow cooker Instructions:

  • On the stovetop, Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water; drain well and set aside.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add Italian sausage to the skillet and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the sausage as it cooks; drain excess fat and put in the slow cooker.
  • Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the stockpot. Stir in garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add to the slow cooker.
  • In the slow cooker, add chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, beans, 1/2 cup water; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook for 4 hours.
  • Top with parmesan cheese and serve over a cup of pasta.

Stove top Instructions:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stockpot or over medium heat. Add Italian sausage to the skillet and cook until browned, about 5 minutes, making sure to crumble the sausage as it cooks; drain excess fat and set aside.
  • Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the stockpot. Stir in garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Add chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, drained Italian sausage and 1/2 cup water; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Allow the soup to simmer for longer, so the flavor will deepen and improve – around an hour.
  • On the stovetop, Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water; drain well and set aside.
  • Top with parmesan cheese and serve over a cup of pasta.
Italian · Recipes

Classic Risotto with Chicken

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Risotto is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. For a long time I was scared to make it homemade because I heard it wasvery labor intensive. But I find if you prepare correctly, it’s really not that bad and very much worth it. The recipe below makes enough for 6 people. I served it with some crusty French bread because we love our carbs and it’s perfect for sopping up extra grains.

You can make this vegetarian or throw in a variety of protein.

You will need:

  • Arborio rice – 2 cups
  • 1/2 cup minced white onion
  • Olive oil, 2-3 tbs
  • Unsalted butter , 5-6 tbs
  • Garlic – 1-2 cloves, minced
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup Dry white wine or vermouth
  • 6 cups Chicken broth
  • Sea salt and pepper – to taste
  • Chicken breast, cut into small pieces
  • Shrimp
  • One link – Italian chicken sausage (regular Italian sausage or pancetta will do)
  • Frozen peas – handful
  • Fresh grated Parmesan-about a 1/4 cup
  • *fresh herbs, if available
  • Large pan (I prefer my cast iron skillet)
  • Saucepan for broth
  • Pan for cooking the protein

Mincing the onions

Steps:

  1. Important! Heat chicken broth in a saucepan and have a ladle ready. As you cook the risotto, you will need to spoon hot chicken broth into the rice. Keep it on low to maintain the heat
  2. heat 1-2 tsp of oil in a pan. Add the proteins of your choice and season with garlic, pepper and salt. Add the peas during the last few minutes of cooking. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large pan, Melt 2-tbs of butter and 2 tbs of olive oil.
  4. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes until they are translucent.
  5. Add the rice and coat the grains with oil for about one minute or so until they are clear.
  6. Add the wine, stirring the grains around until the liquid disappears.
  7. For about 15 to 20 minutes, add one ladle full of broth at a time stirring the grains around until the liquid evaporates. The rice will become starchy and creamy. Season with salt and pepper
  8. Use a taste test to determine the doneness. Most Italians prefer to have a tiny bit of bite.
  9. In the end, add the Parmesan and several tablespoons of butter to the Risotto without stirring it in. Put a lid on the pan and let it sit for 3 to 4 minutes. Then lift the lid and stir in the melted butter and cheese. Add in the proteins that you want at this time. You can also sprinkle in a little bit of fresh parsley or another herb of your choice for color. Enjoy!

Italian

Chicken with Sun Dried Tomatoes

You will need:

  • 8 boneless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more, to taste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup julienned sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves,
  1. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and sear both sides until golden brown, about 5-8 minutes per side; set aside.

4. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in the skillet. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, heavy cream, sun dried tomatoes, Parmesan, thyme, oregano and basil.

5. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to the skillet. Cook for 15 minutes or so until cooked through and sauce is slightly reduced.

7. Serve immediately, garnished with basil, if desired. I chose to serve this dish with pasta, and it worked out very well. Enjoy:)

Source: damndelicious.net (adapted with some modifications)

Italian · Recipes

Meatball Sandwiches

This is the ultimate comfort meal. Seriously. Eat this when you have had an absolutely miserable day and it is cold and wretched outside. No regrets.

You will need:

  • 1 pound ground beef, 1 pound italian sausage (mild)
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • Slices of provolone cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 6 hoagies buns
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Step one: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap 2 cloves of garlic in aluminum foil and roast for 15 minutes.

Step two: mix beef, sausage (squeezed out of its casing), minced garlic, breadcrumbs, oregano and egg and form into meatballs.


Step three: cook meatballs in a large nonstick pan at medium heat – be sure to not overcook. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer for an additional ten minutes.  Top with fresh grated Parmesan.


Step four: while meatballs are simmering, split hoagies and brush the insides with olive oil and the roasted garlic. Heat in the oven for about 7-8 minutes until desired texture.

Step five: place three meatballs in the hoagie and top with provolone. Put subs back in the oven to melt the cheese for an additional five minutes. Enjoy!