Italian · Mediterranean

Bolognese Sauce

You need a lot of time to make a proper Bolognese sauce, as it is best left to simmer for around 3-4 hours. As a result, this is a perfect Sunday sauce – leaving it to simmer all day and fill the house with good aroma:) What sets a Bolognese apart from other meat sauces is the sofritto (onion, celery and carrot) and the addition of milk or cream. You can use wine here two ways – deglaze the vegetables before you add the meat, or deglaze the meat before you add tomato. I have done it both ways, but this recipe will be incorporating the wine with the meat. This portion should make a double batch for a family of 5-6. We use half, and then freeze the other for a day we don’t feel like cooking. Always serve with a great loaf of bread and pasta.

You will need:

  • 3-4 Tbs olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • Salt, 3-4 tsp (divided)
  • Black pepper, 1 tsp
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Fresh basil (7-8 leaves)
  • 1 pounds ground beef (85 or 90% lean)
  • 1 lb ground sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 quart or large can (28 oz) peeled tomatoes (I prefer Cento San Marzano)
  • 1 quart or large can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup milk or cream
  • 1 pound wide pasta – Pappardelle or Tagliatelle
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

Steps:

  1. In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic for 5 minutes until softened. Add celery and carrot, sprinkle 1 tsp of salt and saute for an additional 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add meat and break up with a wooden spoon, stir and mix the sofritto (onion, celery, carrots) until browned. Season with another tsp of salt. Add red wine and cooked until it is reduced and the liquid is mostly evaporated (around 7 -8 minutes).
  3. Add tomatoes, breaking them up and incorporating them into the mixture. Add remaining salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Fill one of the tomato cans with water (getting all of the tomato juice mixed in) and add to the pot. Fill the other tomato can with water and set aside, in case you need to add more liquid to the pot later on.
  4. Reduce and simmer the sauce for 3 and 1/2 hours. The goal is that the water should be almost evaporated and the sauce should be thick* (use extra water if needed as it simmers) or if it is too liquid, add some tomato paste to thicken it up. After 3 and 1/2 hours, add the fresh basil on top and stir into the sauce.
  5. In another pot, heat salted water and cook your pasta until al dente. Before you strain it, reserve one cup of pasta water and set aside.
  6. After four hours, your sauce should be thick enough that when you move the wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot, you should see it the bottom. Taste the sauce and add more salt, if needed.
  7. To finish, add 1/2 cup of milk or cream, and cook for several more minutes.
  8. Using a clean large sauce pan, heat it over medium-high heat. Add half of the portion of Bolognese sauce and cooked pasta and incorporate. Add 1/2 cup pasta reserve water and work it through – add more if needed. Incorporate the Pecorino Romano cheese and serve.
Baking · Dessert · Mediterranean

Pistachio Cardamom Cake

This recipe is recipe based off one from Martha Stewart, although I strongly doubt she was intrinsically versed in Middle-Eastern baking. Pistachio is ever-present in Southern Italian baking, and rosewater to a certain degree, but most likely those are due to the influence of the Moors and Middle-Eastern traders.

The more I learn and read about baking and cooking, the more I believe it is important to be aware of ingredients and their origins and give credit where it is due. i.e. I can’t pretend I just “discovered” cardamom or these flavor combinations. Rather, I am already a pistachio lover and come by it honestly, but have really been enjoying baking new recipes and exploring cardamom in my desserts.

You will need:

  • 1 cup unsalted pistachios
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • Topping
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp rose water

Steps:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a bundt pan. In a food processor, grind pistachios until finely ground.
  • Prepare dry ingredients: Whisk pistachos, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cardamom in a bowl and set aside.
  • Prepare wet ingredients: Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well.
  • Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour in two batches, alternating with buttermilk. Pour batter into pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.
  • Cool cake pan on a a wire rack set over parchment paper. After 30 minutes, turn cake out onto rack and cool completely. While the cake is cooling, whisk confectioner’s sugar,milk and and rose water until smooth. Use milk to adjust desired consistency. Pour over the top of the cake.

Dessert · Mediterranean · Spanish

Almond Cake (Tarta de Santiago)

This is a flourless almond cake that we love with coffee or tea, or in the evening after a rich meal. The appeal is how very easy it is to make, and how it is so simple and yet so decadent at the same time. The recipe was given to us by a dear friend of the family, and we have been enjoying it ever since.

Tarta de Santiago has origins in the middle ages in Spain, where it was often topped with a cross in powdered sugar for St. James.

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 eggs, separated.
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 small orange
  • For the topping:
  • dusting of confectioners sugar
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, slivered or sliced.
  1. Roast slivered almonds for 4-6 minutes at 200 degrees in a pan, and then set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. You can use either a greased springform pan or a greased 9 inch cake pan. Dust with flour.
  3. Whisk vigorously or use a mixer to blend sugar and eggs yolks until creamy. Beat in zest and extracts. Add almond flour and salt and mix well. With a clean whisk or mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Gently fold egg white mixture into the almond flour mixture until well-combined. Pour batter into the pan and bake.
  4. Bake until deeply brown (40-45 minutes). Let it cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes on a rack. After, turn the cake out and let it cool completely on the plate before serving. Top with confectioner’s sugar and roasted almonds.

Italian · Mediterranean

Chicken stuffed with Feta & Sundried Tomatoes

I have been seeing various versions of this pop on my feed and thought it looked rather comforting and easy to make. I tried it out (putting my own spin on it) and was delighted with how easy it was to make and how delicious it was. If you are a feta or sundried tomato lover like myself you will love this. Also, it is a very healthy dish if you are conscientious about diet.

Level: easy. Time: 45 minutes total (15 prep)

You will need:

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 6-8 Sundried tomatoes, drained
  • Feta, 4-6 oz.
  • Fresh spinach, 1-2 cups
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil
  • toothpicks

Step one:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop spinach and sundried tomatoes loosely into bite size pieces. Blend spinach, sundried tomatoes, and feta in a small bowl and set aside.

Step two:

Clean and pat dry chicken breasts. Slice a small pocket in each breast, to hold stuffing. Season chicken with salt, pepper, garlic, and basil. Stuff each chicken breast with the feta mix and hold together with 1-2 toothpicks.

Step three:

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and when ready add the chicken. Brown on each side for 6-7 minutes. Finish the chicken off in the oven for 15 minutes until fully cooked. Serve.

Mediterranean · Side dish

Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash

A classic for the grill.

  • 4 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 4 medium summer squash, sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup good quality basalmic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

Heat grill to medium. Toss zucchini, squahs, oil, vinegar and oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Grill covered, until tender around 6-8 minutes. Reserve remaining marinade to drizzle over the vegetables.

Central American · Dessert · Mediterranean

Simple & Refreshing Summer Desserts

While I have a fair amount of baking recipes on this site, in truth, I don’t bake much in the summer. Instead, I prefer quick and easy cool treats for us to enjoy that take advantage of the fresh fruit available. Also, I don’t eat much dairy – only bits of parmesan and feta – so this rules out a lot of ice cream. I favor granitas (italian ices), batidos or agua frescas (fruit drinks) and desserts made with coconut milk. I realized many people out there might be like me and might want some refreshing ideas. What follows are some of my own recipes, as well as recipes I’ve collected from others that we often make for summer evenings. The beauty is no oven, ice-cream machines or molds are required. Simple and refreshing.

Most flavors are grounded in Italian and Latin American flavors reflecting our home and preferences, but some such as the Chai tea latte popsicle are from other cultures that we truly enjoy. A few ideas are from cookbooks that I love: Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet and Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian.

Granitas:

What I love about granitas is that they are relatively easy to make – you blend them and then leave them in the freezer until you are ready to enjoy. They are very healthy, as well, as it is simply fruit and water. If you add sugar, you can sub out stevia for those who are sugar conscious. Honey is also a tasty substitue. I take advantage of using very naturally sweet fruits (i.e. pineapple, watermelon), fresh mint from the garden and limes to make most of my combos. My basic recipe is as follows:

  • 6-8 cups of fresh fruit, chopped
  • 2 tbs lime juice (or 1 lime)
  • 2 tbs honey or 1/4 cup sugar
  • fresh mint (2-4 tbs)

When you blend it together, spread it into a 9×13 baking pan and freeze for an hour and 1/2. Scrape the ice and then put back in the freezer. Set the pan out for 15-20 minutes before serving, so it thaws to the best texture.

Granita ideas:

  • Watermelon Mint Granita – if you have a bunch of leftover watermelon, this is is fast and easy to put together. It is my favorite of all time.
  • Pineapple Mint Granita – simply use canned or fresh pineapple.
  • Lemon & Rosemary Granita – Omit the lime juice and honey. Instead use: 3 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tbs lemon zest. Three sprigs rosemary.
  • Strawberry Mint Granita– 1.5 lbs of hulled strawberries. 1/2 cup sugar (to taste). 2 tbs lemon juice, instead of lime.
  • Melon & Mint Granita – Use cantalope and increase the honey/sugar to desired sweetness.
  • Coconut Granita- I literally use a can of coconut milk, lime juice, and sugar. It’s ridiculously easy.

Quick Coconut Milk “icecream”

This is a great substitute for those who are dairy free, lactose intolerant or don’t have an ice-cream maker. Like granitas, I utilize a 9 x13 baking dish and the freezer. Generally, this freezes within an hour, and better than granitas, no scraping necessary:). The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups of frozen fruit
  • sugar to taste, if desired. I would begin with a 1/3 of a cup and build to desired level of sweetness.

Coconut Milk Icecream ideas:

  • Mango & Cardamom – add three crushed pods of cardamom seed.
  • Pineapple & Cardamom – add three crushed pods of cardamom seed.
  • Papaya & Pineapple – use a combination of these frozen fruits and a dash of lime juice.

Ice Pops or Popsicles

What I love about these is that they can be as simple as pouring some fruit juice in to a mold, or you can make it more elaborate or alcoholic for a summer evening refresher. I like silicone molds, which you can find online for around 8 dollars, but of course, the molds from dollar tree will work just as well in a pinch.

Popsicle ideas

Icy Popsicles: The basic recipe is 2 cups whole fruit (frozen or fresh), 1/4 cup honey or sugar, and coconut water/orange juice/lime juice water as needed for blending.

  • Strawberry-Watermelon – 1 cup strawberries, 1 cup watermelon, 1/4 cup sugar or honey. Lime juice as needed.
  • Mango-Papaya – 1 cup mango, 1 cup papaya, 1/4 cup sugar or honey, orange juice as needed.
  • Any fruit juice – simply add to the molds and freeze.
  • Strawberry Rose – 1 lb stawberries, mint leaves, splash of rosewater, honey & 1 bottle of rose’ wine (source: Bottom of the Pot)*

Creamy Popsicles:

  • Orange Mango Coconut Yogurt – 4 cups frozen mango, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1 can coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • Peach Yogurt – 2 ripe peaches, 1 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • Pineapple Chia Seed – 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 cup pineapple juice, 1/2 cup crushed pineapple, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • Chai tea latte – use a commercial concentrate base of chai tea latte and combine with almond milk, regular milk or coconut milk to desired taste.

Batidos or Agua Frescas

Fruit drinks are a refreshing treat for anytime, and of course, you can add a little alcohol in the evening for some fun. In Costa Rica, they are known as batidos, but in much of Latin America – agua frescas. I love watermelon batidos when I am dehydrated or tamarind when I am constipated or sluggish. They are better than juice because you still have the fiber and vitamins from the cut fruit.

Regardless when you get them in restaurants they are usually made with pulpy syrup base. The old school way is a machete and blender. They can come made with water or with milk. The basic recipe for a batido is essentially 1 cup fruit, 1 cup water OR can evaporated milk (or coconut milk if dairy free), 1/4 sugar or honey. From there, you can add other layers.

Here are some ideas.

  • Tamarind & Orange Blossom – 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup tamarind paste, 1 tsp orange blossom water. You make this over the stove and store in the fridge as a syrup. When ready, combine with five cups of water. Alcohol: tequila. (Source: Bottom of the Pot)*
  • Pina Colada – Pineapple juice, 1 can crema de coco (coconut cream), ice and blend. Alcohol: rum
  • Papaya: 1 cup papaya, 1 can evaporated milk (or coconut milk if dairy free), 1/4 sugar or honey.
  • Peach Lassi – 2 ripe peaches, 3 tbs honey, lime juice (1 lime), 1 cup yogurt (Source: Everyone’s Table)*
  • Limonada de coco – 1 cup cream of coconut, 2 1/2 cups crushed ice, juice of 3 limes, 2 tbs sugar Alcohol: rum
  • Cucumber Limeade – blend cucumbers and strain with lime juice and sugar. So refreshing.
  • Other great fruits – watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberry, pineapple, strawberry, mango – or any combination.

*If you haven’t please check out these amazing cookbooks: Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet and Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian.

Appetizer · Mediterranean · Side dish · Spanish

Easy Romesco Sauce

For those of you that don’t know, Romesco is a rich, multi-purpose sauce made of roasted red peppers & tomatoes that goes amazingly well with fish, vegetables, and spread on a great quality bread. It is traditionally thickened with almonds and bread, and the result is a garlicky, smoky masterpiece that you will find pairs with everything, especially eggs.

To make this traditionally, you would roast and char the tomatoes & peppers, however, what follows is a quick and easy cheat, where I let others do the work for me. Also, I skip thickening it with bread so those in my family avoiding gluten can eat without thought. Regardless of how you make it, make sure to give the sauce time to rest before serving.

It’s okay to cheat. I promise.

You will need:

  • 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
  • roma tomatoes
  • 1 cup almonds, roasted*
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar

Steps:

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange almonds on baking sheet and lightly roast for 6-8 minutes. *If you are busy, you can skip roasting the almonds, although roasting them brings out their flavor more.
  2. In a food processor, chop almonds until they are fine. Then, blend garlic, almonds and tomatoes until it is a paste
  3. Add in red peppers, parsley, paprika, salt & pepper. Add in vinegar, then olive oil, a little at a time until smooth and the desired consistency. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and allow to fall to room temperature when serving.
Store in the fridge. Anyone else keep their fresh herbs in a glass of water in the fridge?

Serving ideas: This is great with fish, eggs, steak, and grilled vegetables such as eggplant. Personally, I love it smeared on a crusty baguette or ciabatta with a little olive oil. Often, we use it at breakfast. A common breakfast I make in the morning is chicken sausage (usually sundried tomato) with some tomato and sweet potato topped with romesco. This is great for those who are watching their intake of carbs or fat, or looking for a healthy start to the day.

Italian · Mediterranean · Side dish

Ciambotta (Italian Ratatouille)

This was a favorite of my mom’s to make during the summer with her garden zucchini and squash, and it is one of our favorite vegetable dishes now.

In the summer, we have several go to recipes for eating our vegetables, such as pisto Manchego, Caponata or Ciambotta. All involve fresh vegetables, and differ in the spicing and process. Here, rather than roasting, everything is simplified and cooked in one pan, because I am, at heart, a lazy homecook.

My children love this, and often ate this during phases when they wouldn’t eat much other vegetables. They thought it tasted like pizza, which I suppose makes some sense. It is fairly easy to throw together, and very satisfying. Feel free to sub out diced tomatoes for fresh, if you are busy. But of course, it is best with fresh tomatoes and a good quality parmesan.

I have had several versions of this, but this remains my favorite. Ciambotta is best in the summer with fresh vegetables and basil. You can dress this up a bit by adding a little red wine (during the cooking of the garlic & onions), or a bay leaf to add depth, or my personal favorite – adding an old parmesan rind to mixture for extra flavor. Adding potatoes is also a traditional way this is made. Personally, I am often very lazy and don’t add potatoes or eggplant, as they make the preparation longer.

Another idea is to blend this up and make it a sofrito or base for future dishes and sauces. It is surprisingly versatile. If I have fresh basil, I prefer to use it. However, if I have dried herbs, I like this with oregano. Serve this with fish, or some Italian sausage for an excellent meal.

You will need:

  • 2 zucchinis, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 summer squash, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 small onion or 2 small shallots (I prefer these), sliced thin
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lb of campari or roma tomatoes cut into bite size pieces OR 1 can of diced tomatoes.
  • 3 tbs Olive oil
  • fresh basil or oregano (2 tsp of dried herbs if you do not have fresh)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Good quality parmesan (the older the better)
  • Optional ideas
  • splash of red wine* (optional)
  • 1 small eggplant, chopped* (optional)
  • 3 small scrubbed potatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces (optional)
  • parmesan rind (optional)

Steps:

  1. * Only if using eggplant or potatoes. You will need an extra half an hour to prepare these ingredients, so if you want to include them, begin your prep here. Slice the eggplants and arrange them on a tray. Sprinkle them with salt and leave them for about half an hour to release their liquid. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Chop into bite-sized pieces. Chop potatoes into small pieces and cook for 15 minutes before adding it to the stew, this will prevent the rest of the vegetables from becomming too soggy while waiting for them to cook down.
  2. Coat a skillet with olive oil and heat on medium. Saute onions in olive oil several minutes until they soften. Add garlic and saute for two more minutes. Grind or add a little salt to the onions and garlic to release moisture. Deglaze with a little splash of wine if you have some on hand.
  3. Add zucchini and squash (and potatoes and eggplant, if using) and mix it well with the onion and garlic. Add red pepper flakes, basil/oregano and a little more salt to taste. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Add in tomatoes (and parmesan rind, if using) and cook down for about ten minutes to fifteen minutes until everything is reduced and soft. You don’t want to overcook the squash or zucchini, so there should still be firmness.
  4. Top with fresh grated parmesan.
Appetizer · Mediterranean · Spanish

Pisto Manchego

Pisto Manchego is a typical ratatouille found in Spain. Like Caponata, it is meant to be spread onto bread. Often, it is served with egg, almost like a shakshuka.

You will need:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion whole
  • 5 cloves of garlic with skin on
  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 eggplant
  • 4-5 tomatoes
  • 1  tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine*
  • Salt and black pepper

Steps:

  1. Grill/roast the all the vegetables under the broiler until charred. This can take from 20-25 minutes. You will need to check frequently, and rotate the veggies.
  2. While they cool, you can remove the charred skin off the vegetables. Core and seed the peppers and cut into bite-sized pieces. Halve the eggplant and cut into bite-size pieces. Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Chop the zucchini and tomatoes.
  3. Preferably in a cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic, red pepper, oregano and cumin. Saute for 2 minutes. Deglaze with white wine. Add the remaining vegetables.
  4. Cook – Bring to a boil then simmer until the vegetables are all tender and the sauce has thickened. Season with additional salt and black pepper.
Appetizer · Mediterranean · Spanish

Eggplant Fritters with Honey (Berenjenas con miel)

This recipe is typical of Southern Spain. It is best served fresh and hot. It serves 4 people for a Tapas/Appetizer portion. This would be delicious served with a white wine with some minerality such as pinot grigio or an albariño.

This is great during the summer, and is meant to be eaten immediately. However, you do need to have the eggplants soaking for an hour before you intend to fry them up and serve.

You will need:

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch discs
  • Flour
  • Honey
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt

Step one:

Peel the eggplant and cut it into circular slices about 1/3 inch thick. Put them in a bowl, add enough milk to cover, and put a small plate on top to hold them down. Let soak for 1 to 2 hours; drain. The purpose of the milk is to draw out any bitterness.

Step two:

Cover a plate with plenty of flour mixed with a sprinkling of salt. Working in batches, turn the eggplant slices in this so that they are entirely covered with flour, then shake them to remove the excess. Deep-fry in sizzling but not too hot oil, turning the slices over as soon as the first side is brown. Drain on paper towels.

Serve hot with a drizzle of honey.