Sicilian Couscous Salad

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Buon giorno!

Couscous – Italian?? Really? Yes and yes! In Sicily, it is called Cuscusu. This SICILIAN COUSCOUS SALAD  is certainly something you may find in Sicily. You will definitely find it on the Northern coast in Trapani where they often serve it with assorted fish. How does this happen? In my cooking classes, we talk quite a bit about the influences of history and conquerors of old putting their stamp on ingredients and recipes. Take a little trip back in time with me.

The island of Sicily had the fortune or misfortune, depending on your point of view, of being the “main dish” on the table of battle for centuries dating back to ancient times for many of its surrounding land hungry neighbors. These included the Greeks – evidenced in Agrigento in the Valley of the Temples, with the remains of “Acropolis-like” structures, built and left by ancient conquering hordes.

Valley of the Temples

The Romans put in their two cents as well. Then along came the Arabs of North Africa from 827-1061. With them came a tremendous influence in food and ingredients. The Arabs brought berries, apricots, almonds, spices, pistachios, rice, and sugar among other food items which became staples on the island. One of the dishes that became a part of the cuisine of Sicily under the occupation of the Arab conquerors was couscous. It is a popular ingredient even today – from the tiny kernel type to the larger pearl variety.

Ingredients: This SICILIAN COUSCOUS SALAD is a beautiful reflection of the Sicilian adoption of the ingredient, couscous. It is a lovely representation of the healthy recipes of the Mediterranean Diet.The large pearl or Israeli couscous is perfect for it. In Sicily, it is sometimes called “fregola”. It cooks quickly and is easy to work with.

Pearl Couscous

The greens used are “mache” or “mache rosettes – also referenced as “lamb’s lettuce”. This is a beautiful sweet and somewhat nutty lettuce. You may fall in love with it, as I have. Guests always ask what it is and love its tender sweetness. Another reason to love it is that it is beautiful to serve. The rosettes look like flowers on the plate. OK – so it’s French! In fact, it has been used and grown in France since the 17th century. No matter where it is from – it is a lovely lettuce. You must try it!

Mache rosettes

I like a touch of sweetness in the ingredients for this salad – thus the mango and some insanely good ginger honey beets. You can find the baby ones already prepared at Whole Foods sold in packages. If you don’t have access to these – Make your own! Peel some small beets and drizzle them with olive oil, honey and throw in some candied ginger pieces or slices of fresh ginger. Close them up in a foil packet and roast them for about 50 minutes in a 450 oven. Let them sit a few minutes and then open the packet. You can make them ahead and refrigerate them.

Goat cheese provides some savory and the toasted pignoli are such a Sicilian delight and add a nutty crunch. Just before serving, you will add a drizzle of a Balsamic reduction or glaze. If you have Saba – a wonderful reduced form of Balsamico – this would be just perfect!

This is simply a gorgeous salad to serve in warmer months – sooo fresh tasting. It reminds me of the Mediterranean breezes present on the island of Sicily during this time of year.

SICILIAN COUSCOUS SALAD

Serves: about 4

Prep: 30 minutes

Ingredients’’

1 Cup uncooked Pearl or Israeli Couscous

1 Cup Chopped Fresh Mango

1/4 C. Basil

Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Drizzle of Wine Vinegar

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/2 C. toasted pignoli (pine nuts)

Large handful of Mache or Mache Rosettes (or other tender sweet greens)

3 oz. Goat Cheese

Small Ginger Honey Beets – if using tiny ones – about 2 per person (See instructions above for making your own!)

Balsamic Vinegar or Balsamic Reduction or Balsamic Glaze – if you have Saba – this is the time to use it!

Fresh cut chives and/or Chive Flowers

Instructions

Cook the couscous – usually 1 C. couscous to 1 /4 C. Water – Bring to Boil – Cover and Simmer about 10 minutes. Strain if needed when done.

Chop the Mango and Basil and add to the couscous along with the Oil and Vinegar, Salt and pepper.

Add the pignoli and gently mix together.

Couscous Salad

Set aside or refrigerate. You can make this early in the day.

When ready to serve – Place some mache on each plate. Spoon some of the couscous mixture on top .

Just before serving, add some goat cheese and beet pieces to each plate.

Drizzle lightly with a little Balsamic glaze or Saba for a touch of added sweetness.  Sprinkle with chives – Serve!

Try this SICILIAN COUSCOUS SALAD as a side, a first course, or a simple salad. A guaranteed hit out of the park! (Ahhh the baseball references!)

PARLA COME MANGI!

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February: Cannellini Bean Salad with Rosemary Focaccia Croutons

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Buon giorno!

I often tout the qualities of beans in my posts. I also like to mention the importance of beans in Italian cooking. The simplicity of ingredients in Italian cooking makes it the perfect cuisine for beans to shine. In fact, I can’t even imagine Italian cuisine without frequent use of them. Often you’ll see them front and center as the main course rather than as a side dish. Here you see them as the main ingredient in a seemingly simple and rustic CANNELLINI BEAN SALAD WITH FOCACCIA CROUTONS. One bite of this amazing dish and you’ll see why I have given it Recipe of the Month status. The flavor in the dish is complex with the herbs giving it an earthy essence. The Lemon Dressing adds another level of flavor without overpowering the ingredients cooked into the beans.

This salad is so hearty and tasty that you can serve it as your main course as well as a side or salad. It calls for some prosciutto, but vegetarians would be just as happy with this beautiful salad by omitting the meat.  You are welcome to use dried beans which require a long cooking time, but this dish makes up well using the canned cannellini beans requiring much less time. You can make it ahead and refrigerate, but the croutons should NOT be added until you serve so that they won’t get soft.

This post is kind of a “twofer” in that you also get Focaccia and an interesting use for it in the croutons. The ROSEMARY FOCACCIA fills your kitchen with a lovely aroma. You’ll make your croutons and be happy for the leftover to eat with your meal or fried with eggs the next morning. Oh – what could be better than this?!

As an Italian, I love using all kinds of beans in cooking. However, when you make this salad, you’ll see why it is a BIG FAVORITE for me.

Bean Salad Finish 2 with script

CANNELLINI BEAN SALAD WITH ROSEMARY FOCACCIA CROUTONS

THE FOCACCIA

Makes: 1  9 x 13 loaf

Prep: 3 hours

Cook: 12-15 minutes

Ingredients

1 C. lukewarm water

1 package Active Dry Yeast

1 1/2 Tsp. Honey

2 1/2 C. All Purpose Flour divided 1 C. and 1 1/2 C.

1/4 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tsp. Kosher Salt

3 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary Leaves + a little more for top

Coarse Salt for top of bread

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling

Instructions

Mix the cup of water with the yeast and honey. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then add 1 cup of flour and the 1/4 C. oil. Mix together with a spoon and let it sit another 5 minutes.

Now add the 1 1/2 C. Flour, salt, and Rosemary.

Mix together with clean hands and knead just a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Sprinkle with a little flour if sticky.

Rosemary Focaccia dough

Set the ball in an oiled bowl and rub the outside of the dough with the oil on your hands.

Cover and let rise in a warm place about an hour and a half.

Place the dough in an oiled pan 13 x 9 and stretch it to fit the inside of the pan. Push on it with your fingers and just keep working it into the rectangular shape to fill it. Put a little flour on your fingers if sticky. Then dimple the dough with a floured finger (making dents with your fingers)

Put it aside, covered loosely with a warm towel, in a warm place to rise again in the pan for about another 30 minutes. The 2nd rise will not be as great as the first.

Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and some Rosemary.

Bake in a 450 oven for about 12-15 minutes until the top is golden.

Rosemary Focaccia finish with script

Drizzle again with Extra Virgin Olive Oil as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let the focaccia cool – then cut into the amount of croutons you’d like to use. Slice the rest to eat or freeze. The croutons freeze well also.

Focaccia Croutons

THE BEAN SALAD

Prep: 1 hour

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Garlic Clove – chopped finely

1/2 Onion – chopped

1 C. Chopped Prosciutto

Pinch Red Pepper Flakes

1/2 Tsp. Dried Oregano

2 Cans Cannellini Beans, rinsed and drained

2 Tbsp. Fresh Sage – chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary – chopped

1 Bay Leaf

1 1/2 C. Chicken Broth

2 C. Fresh Arugula

Lemon Dressing (see recipe below)

Shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago Cheese

Focaccia Croutons

Instructions

Cook the onion, garlic, prosciutto, red pepper, and oregano in the oil on Medium High for a couple of minutes.

Bean Salad 1

Add the beans, sage, rosemary, bay leaf, and chicken broth to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.

Bean Salad 3

Drain and discard liquid along with the Bay Leaf.

Add the arugula to the beans, and toss gently.

Bean Salad 5

Add the lemon dressing to the arugula and beans, and toss again gently.

Garnish with Focaccia Croutons and Cheese shavings.

(Note: if you make the salad ahead, do not add the croutons until serving time – so they won’t soften.)

LEMON DRESSING

Ingredients

1/2 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Use a nice one for this

1 Tbsp. Wine Vinegar

1/4 C. Fresh Lemon Juice

Kosher Salt and Fresh Black Pepper to taste – use enough salt to bring out the flavors!

Instructions

Mix the ingredients for the dressing together and set aside for the salad.

Bean Salad 4

This CANNELLINI BEAN SALAD WITH ROSEMARY FOCACCIA CROUTONS is so lovely, it will be a favorite year round. It has so much flavor and interest and is a perfect choice for lent, summer dining on the patio, or anytime! Taste it, and you will see why it is the Recipe of the Month!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Orange and Ginger Vegetables

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Buon giorno!

Most people assume “giardiniera” when they think of Italian pickled vegetables. Of course, they would be right! This would be the traditional style of Italian pickled veggies – in the jar, lots of vinegar, cauliflower and a little “heat”. ORANGE AND GINGER VEGETABLES are much different – no canning, no jar, no intense vinegar that makes your nose itch.

Obviously, this is not a long term traditional “pickle” we are talking about here, the kind that uses only vinegar to preserve vegetables for canning or the long term. However, these vegetables do keep for several days in the refrigerator and you can make them ahead! YAY!

The veggies in this “pickle” are simply gorgeous in their jewel tones. This is easy to make and is the perfect partner to almost any meat or fish dish. They offer that much needed acid that you long for when looking for balance in your entrée.

Marcona Almonds are suggested as they are meaty, salty and really add some savory to the sweet dressing. A Spanish almond, they are rounded, plump, flatter than the almonds you know and are fantastic! They can be found in your specialty cheese area or sometimes with produce. Ask your grocer! If you can’t access them, use regular whole almonds, roasted a little with some olive oil and salt.

Serve them on the side – Serve them as a bed for grilled or roasted meat or fish, or on top of your favorite greens. Serve them as part of your antipasti. Any way you do it – these veggies will be unique and beautiful on your plate.

The vinaigrette for these vegetables is citrus based. You can use the leftover for your salads or as a marinade for chicken. How can you lose here?

Think of this as your new favorite side dish! You know how the usual suspects get kind of “old” – the cheesy veggies, the green beans. Yawn…  Well then, pickle THIS!

pickled veggies finish 3 with script

Let’s get to the pickle…

ORANGE AND GINGER VEGETABLES 

Serves: 4-6

Prep: 1 hour

Ingredients

2 Large or 3 Medium Fresh Peeled Beets (can be yellow or red beets)

1 Bunch Fresh Asparagus – stalks chopped into thirds

1 Large Purple Onion – very coarsely chopped

1/2 lb. Wild Mushrooms sliced (I like wild – you can use what you like!)

2 Tbsp. Fresh Parsley – chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Basil – chopped

Drizzle of Olive Oil

1/2 Cup Marcona Almonds

Sliced Figs or Plums

Watercress or Arugula

ORANGE GINGER VINAIGRETTE – THE ‘’PICKLE”

1/3 C. Olive Oil

1/4 C. Balsamic Vinegar

1/8 C. Orange Juice

1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard

1/2 Tsp. Powdered Ginger

1 Tbsp. Honey

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Instructions

Roast the peeled beets first separately. You can do this a day ahead if you like. Place them in foil, drizzled with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Seal up the foil and Bake at 450 degrees for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and keep sealed another 15 minutes. Open foil carefully to release steam. Refrigerate until ready to use then slice or chop into 1-1  1/2 inch pieces.

In a bowl, mix the asparagus, onion, mushrooms, and herbs.

Drizzle with  a little olive oil and lay the mixture out in a single layer on a foil lined pan. Roast at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.

pickled veggies 1

When cool, add the beets, figs or plums, and almonds. Toss gently with some of the vinaigrette. DO NOT DROWN the veggies. A little goes a long way.

Serve them cold or at room temperature.

Just before serving – add a handful of watercress or arugula – or garnish with fresh parsley.

Simple?? Definitely! But Orange and Ginger Vegetables are just dynamite!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Marsala Cream Sauce

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Buon giorno!

You all may be familiar with the well known Veal Marsala or Chicken Marsala. The sauce for these dishes is basically a reduced Marsala with butter, stock and mushrooms. Let’s look at a similar sauce with cream added – MARSALA CREAM SAUCE. It requires just a few different ingredients but remains a simple sauce. The beauty of this one is that it can be used over pasta, gnocchi (as shown), or with veal or chicken. Some apple is recommended for a little added interest and sweetness. This addition is optional.

Marsala is a wonderful sweet wine that is “fortified”, as they say, because of the addition of something additional like brandy. Because of the addition, it keeps longer in the refrigerator than most other wines. It is similar in that respect to Sherry, Port, Madeira, and even the French Lillet. This makes it easier for those of us who like to cook with it, as we can use some and keep it for a while for the next time we crave it.

Dry or Sweet?? You will find Marsala designated as dry or sweet. There IS a difference! Generally, the rule is that when you are preparing savory dishes like pastas, chicken etc. you should use the dry Marsala. The sweet is most often recommended for desserts and dessert sauces.

It is produced in Sicily in the city of the same name, Marsala. It is a little on the sweet side and its color ranges from a rich amber hue – to gold – to ruby. The aroma is divine! The sweet Marsala is often served at the end of a meal as a digestivo with cheeses, nuts etc.

MARSALA CREAM SAUCE

(WITH MUSHROOMS)

Serves: 4

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil

2 Tbsp. Butter

1 Whole Large Shallot chopped finely

1 lb. Mushrooms Sliced (preferably wild ones!)

2 Tbsp. Fresh Sage – chopped

(1 Apple – peeled and chopped – an optional twist!)

1 Cup Marsala Wine

1 Cup Heavy Cream

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

Grated Asiago Cheese to serve with it.

1 Cup Chopped Pancetta – cooked crisp for topping – optional

Instructions

Melt butter with the olive oil in a pan.

Add the chopped shallot. Cook 1 minute.

Marsala Sauce 1

Add the mushrooms and apple if using. Stir and cook about 5 minutes.

Marsala Sauce 3

Add the sage and wine.

Marsala Sauce 4

Stir and simmer rapidly for about 5 more minutes. The wine will cook down.

Turn off the heat. Let sit a minute. Then add the cream, stirring in.

Marsala Sauce 5

Add the Kosher Salt and black pepper.

Put back on a low heat and allow to heat through.

Remove from heat and cover until ready to use.

When ready to serve – provide grated Asiago and crispy chopped Pancetta for topping.

This is so easy! You can make the sauce early in the day or even a day ahead if you like. If it needs thinning, add a little pasta water.

This MARSALA CREAM SAUCE WITH MUSHROOMS  is delicious over gnocchi as you see here, pasta fresca, chicken or veal.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Pasta Salad Alla Norma

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Buon giorno!

One of the classic Sicilian pasta dishes is the famous Pasta Alla Norma. There are many variations of this dish mainly consisting of eggplant, tomatoes, and Ricotta Salata Cheese along with some hot pepper flakes.  It is a personal favorite of mine which made me curious about how it might be if one were to serve it as a pasta salad at room temperature with a few additional touches – and thus we have PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA.

Before we dive into the recipe, it is probably a good idea to answer a question first: Who exactly is Norma and why does she get a pasta dish named for her? Norma was the tragic heroine of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera of the same name. This opera and character was so revered in the 19th century by the Sicilian people that they named a pasta dish for her. The opera is heavy on the melodrama including much about fire and funeral pyres – thus the inclusion of hot pepper flakes in the dish.

This rendition is more of a room temperature pasta salad including all of the classically required ingredients and the addition of a couple of extras like the famous Sicilian olive called Castelvetrano after a Sicilian town in the province of Trapani. You might know these olives by their absolutely brilliant and vivid green color – almost a blue green. They are gorgeous, mild, and fruity. I just love them and include them in cooking because of their mildness and extraordinary color. They contribute to giving this dish its gorgeous presentation.

Add in some red wine vinegar and pignoli nuts – and you end up with some “wow”!

This is a really flavorful dish. My husband who likes meat in everything makes a couple of exceptions and this is one of them. He just loves it!

Traditionally Pasta Alla Norma calls for shaved Ricotta Salata – a solid salty ricotta cheese which I suggest here. However, if you can’t find it, a nice Pecorino will fill the bill.

Let’s get on with it, as I can hear Norma wailing at the pyre now – and it is hard on the ears!!

 

PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA

Serves: 4

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 25-30 minutes

Ingredients

1 lb. Cooked Pasta (I like a chunky pasta for this like Ziti, Mezza Rigatoni, Strozzapreti, Fusilli Pugliese, Penne etc.)

2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes, Early Girl Tomatoes, or Campari Tomatoes – cut

4 Cups Sliced and Cut Eggplant as shown in photo (peeled or unpeeled)

1 Cup Olive Oil

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic chopped finely

1/3 Cup Chopped Italian Parsley

1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar

1/4 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/3 Cup Pignoli Nuts (pine nuts)

1 1/2 Cups Pitted Castelvetrano Olives

Shaved Ricotta Salata Cheese ( you can substitute Pecorino if needed)

Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Instructions

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

You can press your eggplant a couple of hours ahead if you like to rid it of any bitterness. Do this by slicing it and layering between paper towels. Then put some heavy weight on top. After a couple of hours, discard the paper towels and proceed with the eggplant as suggested.

Norma 1

Choose some gorgeous ripe sweet tomatoes for this. These are “Early Girls”.

Norma 2

Mix the tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes together in a bowl.

Pour olive oil and vinegar over the top of the above, add salt and pepper, and mix gently.

Pour onto a baking pan and roast at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes or until the eggplant is fork tender and to your liking.

Norma 3

Add the olives and the pignoli and gently toss.

Pour all of this over the cooked pasta immediately along with any juices in the pan. Mix together.

Top with shaved Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Cheese.

Add a drizzle of a nice peppery extra virgin olive oil.

Serve your PASTA SALAD ALLA NORMA at room temperature or cold, if you like, as your main course or as a beautiful side dish with a nice bottle of Sicilian red – like a Nero D’Avola.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad

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Buon giorno!

When I was little, I hated beets – the very thought of beets. How times change! Sometimes growing up is a good thing – a very good thing! This is one of those times. Beets are now a big favorite for me – especially golden or yellow beets, and the only way to prepare them in my view is to roast them. Because of the caramelizing that takes place during roasting – the beets are just tastier. Check out this ROASTED BEET AND WALNUT SALAD. This is one salad – perfect for outdoor dining that will please everyone.

My mother, Loretta, used to fix her beets with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley. She used the red beets as that was all that was usually available back then in any supply. I just couldn’t get into them.

Then came adulthood and a much more “seasoned” palate! Oh – and also golden beets appeared more frequently in markets! I just love them  – but I learned to like the red ones as well. This salad can be made with either one or both. Have fun with it. Just remember to ROAST the beets first. Do not boil them…EVER!

Let’s make this thing and head for the patio!

ROASTED BEET AND WALNUT SALAD

Serves: 2

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 50 minutes

Ingredients

3-4 Golden (yellow) Beets – or Red Beets- or both – peeled

Olive Oil

Balsamic Vinegar – about a capful for each beet

Honey drizzle

Salt and Pepper

Pinch of Powdered Ginger

1/4 C. Toasted Walnuts

1 1/2-2 oz. Goat Cheese – or Honey Goat Cheese

1 Tbsp. Shallots – chopped finely

Lots of Fresh Basil – chopped for garnish

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A Balsamic glaze drizzle is fine if you want – optional

Instructions

Place the whole beets on a sheet of foil to be used to make a packet.

If you choose to use both red and golden beets – roast them separately!! The juices from the red ones will take over otherwise.

1 Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad

Drizzle the beets with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and a pinch of powdered ginger. Fold up the foil to make a packet or pouch and place it on a sheet pan.

2 Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad

Roast the beets at 450 degrees for about 50 minutes. Remove the packet from the oven and let it sit unopened for about 15 minutes. Open carefully to let out steam. Set aside to cool. At this point you can refrigerate them if you like – even a day ahead!

When ready to serve – slice the beets thinly and arrange them on a plate.

Top with crumbled goat cheese, shallots, and the toasted walnuts. Sprinkle the basil on the top.

Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil – also Balsamic Glaze if you decide to use it.

ROASTED BEET AND WALNUT SALAD is a healthy dish. But.. the best thing about it?? It is a salad I love so much that I could eat it every day!

PARLA COME MANGI!

 

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Roasted Vegetable and Tortellini Salad

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Buon giorno!

Roasted and toasted this beautiful ROASTED VEGETABLE AND TORTELLINI SALAD is my favorite among pasta salads. The flavor in this one far surpasses any others that I have had.

Why? The roasting of the vegetables and the use of the marinade in dressing the salad itself are the keys to the kingdom on this one. Instead, of dressing the salad with a fresh mixture of ingredients, you use the marinade in which the veggies were roasted. This packs a double whammy of flavor – not only with the dressing  but also the flavors of the roasting process. The flavor in this is amazing! It is so fresh, light, and healthy tasting.

Shrimp: I like to add shrimp to the salad – although sometimes I don’t, so this is an optional thing and up to you.

Salad or side: Of course, the obvious choice is to serve the dish as a salad or side dish along with your grilled meats. However, you can also make this a main course for a luncheon or light supper, especially if you decide to add the shrimp.

Appetizer: Not only does this make a great side or salad – but it is also a really great appetizer. I serve it with small plates and forks.It is an especially lovely appetizer when served on the patio or for any outdoor dining event. The summer light at the end of the day lends itself well to the colors in the dish. Nothing else is needed once you offer this with your cocktails or wine. OH THE COLOR! This little dish does it all!

So let’s head for the patio!

ROASTED VEGETABLE AND TORTELLINI SALAD

Serves: 6-8 as an appetizer or 4-6 as a side

Prep: 45 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Ingredients

8 oz. Tortellini – cooked

1 Head of Broccoli – cut into florets

1 Red or Yellow Pepper – cut in pieces

1 Sweet Onion – cut coarsely

1 C. Grape Tomatoes – sliced in 1/2

3/4 C. Olive Oil

1/4 C. Balsamic Vinegar

2 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary – chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Parsley – chopped

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/2 c. Fresh Basil – chopped

1 lb. Shrimp (optional) – Grilled or Roasted after tossing in: 1/3 c. olive oil, juice of a lemon, 3 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, splash of white wine, salt & pepper to taste.

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Grated or shaved Asiago Cheese

Instructions

Mix the broccoli, pepper, onion, and tomatoes together in a bowl.

Make a marinade of the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and herbs.

2 marinade

Lay them out on a large sheet pan and Roast at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes or until tender. Test with a fork at about 20 minutes.

3 roasting vegetables

After roasting, allow the roasted vegetables to cool a bit – just a few minutes. Add them to the cooked tortellini along with ALL of the juices from the roasting pan.Then add the chopped fresh basil and the shrimp, if using it.

1 Roasted Tortellini Salad

Toss gently together, mixing all the juices in.

4 Tossing

Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and add the cheese.

Finish 2

Without a doubt – this ROASTED VEGETABLE TORTELLINI SALAD is my favorite of all pasta salads. It is something about those roasted vegetables and the marinade and roasting juices that become the salad dressing that make ALL the difference.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Mango Salad with Goat Cheese Souffle

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Buon giorno!

Summer and patio season just make me think – fresh fresh fresh. Heavy foods and sauces make way for  lighter foods and with the farmers’ markets in high gear, the freshest farm to table ingredients are in abundant supply. Light does not mean, however, that we have to sacrifice flavor and good eating. MANGO SALAD WITH GOAT CHEESE SOUFFLE  is full of the fresh ingredients we long for on these warm days – and especially for outdoor dining. It is one salad that is so memorable in flavor and color that you might consider making a light meal out of it. I have actually done this!

This salad contains one of my favorite gifts of the garden—chives! They are lovely growing among the other herbs and vegetables and even grace our garden with lavender flowers.

New chives

These flowers are very special as they are edible as well as lovely and add subtle chive flavor to your dishes. Growing chives is easy even if you don’t have in ground growing space. They grow very well in pots. When the flowers are in bloom, I try to include them in almost every salad I prepare.

Chives and chive flowers

About the salad: Arugula is just the way to go with this salad. It’s peppery flavor is a great addition to the mixture of items which make this one work. BUT not too much arugula please. This salad is more about the mango than the leafy greens. So heap on the mango and add the arugula as almost a binder.

About the souffle: OK – I hear the whispers “why doesn’t she just add chunk of goat cheese and call it a day?” Well, sure – you can do that, and it will be very nice. But then, you miss out on the creamy and unique little molded item that makes this thing go. These little cold souffles are easy to make and can be made the day before serving. You will also miss out on the accolades you will receive when your guests see and enjoy these little numbers. You can make them in regular size ramekins, tiny ramekins, little molds, cupcake tins or mini cupcake tins.  You can also serve the little souffles as appetizers on a small plate with a couple of pieces of mango and some finely chopped pistachios. Have fun with this.

MANGO SALAD WITH GOAT CHEESE SOUFFLE

Makes: 4 regular size ramekins, 12 tiny ramekins, 8 small fluted molds (for souffles)

Prep: 30 minutes

Bake: 30-35 minutes

Ingredients

SALAD FOR FOUR

Arugula

1/2 Purple Onion Sliced very thinly

Fresh Mango Slices

Pistachios

Fresh Chives

Fresh Chive Flowers for garnish

Lemon Zest for garnish

DRESSING

Whisk together:

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice

1/2 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 Tsp. Kosher Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

dressing

SOUFFLES

2 Eggs

6 oz. Goat Cheese

3 oz. Mascarpone Cheese (Italian creamy cheese sold in containers)

1/4 C. Whole Milk

1/2 C. Heavy Cream

1/4 Tsp. Kosher Salt

2 Tbsp. Fresh Chives – chopped

1 Tsp. Lemon Zest

Instructions

Whisk together the eggs.

Goat Cheese Souffles 1

Using a mixer, combine goat cheese and mascarpone.

Goat Cheese Souffles 2

Slowly add the milk and cream down the side of the bowl while mixer is running.

Add eggs and salt.

Stir in chives and lemon zest.

Goat Cheese Souffles 3

Press the lumps with a spatula against the sides of the bowl until smooth.

Spray ramekins or molds with Pam

Pour mixture into ramekins or molds and place in a water bath (a baking pan filled with water about 1/2 way up sides of ramekins) and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Goat Cheese Souffles 4

Cool the souffles and then unmold them onto a plate – Refrigerate until ready to serve. They are easier to unmold on the day you make them. You will want these to be cold when served.

Toss the greens, mango and onion slices with dressing. Add some extra chopped chives, and make a little bed of salad mixture on each individual plate. Sprinkle some pistachios around. Place a little cold souffle on top of each and garnish with chopped fresh chives and chive flower petals, if you have them, along with some lemon zest.

Serving ideas for Mango Salad with Goat Cheese Souffle: Serve cold souffle on salad. Also try serving a little souffle on an appetizer plate with some chopped mango. Another idea – Puree your fresh ripe mango slices and spoon some onto a plate, placing a souffle on the pureed fruit. Garnish with chives.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Caprese Salads–Everything Caprese

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Insalata Caprese – 

Caprese Stacks 2

Buon giorno!

It’s Caprese this and Caprese that.. CAPRESE SALAD – EVERYTHING CAPRESE!  Really? Everything? That’s what you’d think if you look at today’s restaurant and catering menus. Everyone is going “Caprese”. It is in that spirit that we will attempt to dissect this popular Italian dish and see what’s really going on here – perhaps even offer some alternative ideas for it .

So let’s take a look at what a Caprese salad is and is not and check out some variations. These salads are found and enjoyed most often in the summer for the obvious reason that the required vegetables, especially tomatoes, are found in abundance in the summer months. It only makes sense. It is rather pathetic to try to create one of them with a winter tomato bearing no flavor. It is during the summer months, that we need to go no further than to tiptoe barefoot in our own gardens to reap the jewels of the season. For those without gardens – que peccato – but there are always the wonderful farmer’s markets!

So what is Caprese really?? Caprese means in the style of Capri – an island on the southern edge of the Gulf of Naples and home to the famous Blue Grotto.  It is said the salad originated there, but in its simplistic and true form with tomatoes, basil or oregano, and olive oil – one would think they might have been making this in other areas in Italy. In fact, they did and do – with some slight changes. In Sorrento, they tend to use only fresh oregano. Even in Capri, you’ll find the salad served often with arugula. Almost always, the fior di latte (made with cow’s milk  – not buffalo) is in the Capri version. When I was growing up in a Neapolitan household, we ate this salad all summer long with the freshest pick of the tomatoes from my father, Attilio’s garden. Here he is hard at work, looking for the ripe ones!

Dad in the garden 2

My mother always prepared her Caprese Salad the same way (although she never called it by that name) with fresh ripe tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper, and olive oil. That was IT! In fact, using only olive oil – is the traditional way to prepare it. We sometimes had it with mozzarella, but  in the true Caprese style – NO VINEGAR!

The Vinegar thing: In more recent times, you see vinegar – wine or balsamic used on the Caprese Salad. This is the “revisionist” method and not in the original. I like to think that adding vinegar evolved from the American need for more complicated flavors and, perhaps, the absence of a more sophisticated appreciation for the pure taste of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Since it is fun to change things up a little – and in honor of the theme Everything Caprese, we’ll try some different twists on this rustic garden delight. We’ll look at three different versions: Stacked Caprese, Caprese Salad with Roasted Beets,  and Peach Caprese.  The Stacked version is fairly true to the original. The Peach deviates a little by adding a touch of Balsamic Vinegar because it compliments the sweet peaches, and it just seems right. The Caprese with the Roasted Beets offers its own form with the exchange of Goat Cheese for the Mozzarella. Choosing which one to make first is like choosing a favorite from one of your children – impossible. We’ll close our eyes and throw a dart…

The Stacked Caprese Salad

(see photo above)

Makes: about 2 Stacks – Serves 2

Ingredients

3 Large Heirloom Tomatoes (approx.) – in assorted colors e.g. red, yellow, and dark red if you can get them

4 Slices Fresh Mozzarella

Several Large fresh Basil Leaves

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Instructions

Slice the tomatoes and the Mozzarella. You should have enough for at least 2 stacks.

Begin stacking with a slice of tomato – sprinkle with Salt and Pepper and add a small drizzle of Extra Virgin. Then put a couple of basil leaves.

Place a mozzarella slice on top – repeat the salt, pepper, oil, and basil leaves.

Building a Caprese Stack

Repeat these steps until you have a stack with 3 slices of tomato – preferably in different colors, 2 mozzarella slices, and basil leaves between each layer.

Top with salt, pepper, a drizzle of oil and a basil leaf. Finito!

CAPRESE STYLE PEACH SALAD

Peach Caprese with Balsamic Glaze

Serves: 4

Ingredients

2 C. Baby Heirloom tomatoes (pretty with the different colors)

2 Fresh Peeled Peaches – especially good if you grill them first! – cut into pieces

1 Avocado – cut up

4 oz. Fresh Mozzarella – cut up

1 Tbsp. Grated Parmigiano- Reggiano or Montasio Cheese (lovely and sweet)

Several Basil Leaves

Fresh Blueberries – optional – if you like

Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A little Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic Glaze – optional

Instructions

Slice the baby tomatoes into halves.

Peach Caprese 1

Cut up the peaches – grill them first for an extra treat!

Peach Caprese 2

Place the tomatoes, peaches, and avocado in a bowl and mix gently.

Peach Caprese 3

Chop the mozzarella and add.

Peach Caprese 4

Add some blueberries, if you like!

Peach Caprese with Blueberries - another

Add the salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic, and grated cheese and gently fold together. The amount of olive oil and vinegar is up to you. I like a good drizzle of the oil and just small touch of the vinegar.

If using the Balsamic Glaze which is just a finish on this – drizzle it JUST BEFORE you serve. It really delivers an added slightly bolder sweetness to the salad – lovely.

Caprese Salad with Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese

Heirloom tomato salad with roast beet 1

Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 Large Heirloom Tomato or 2 Medium

2 Medium Yellow or Golden Beets

Honey for roasting the beets

4 oz. Goat cheese

Several Fresh Basil Leaves

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Instructions

Peel the beets and roast them. Do this ahead and chill them after roasting. For easy instructions on roasting beets see: THIS POST

Slice the tomatoes and arrange flat on a plate.

Heirloom tomato

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with Extra Virgin.

Slice the roasted chilled beets  and lay them in a layer over the tomatoes – sprinkle some salt and pepper if desired.

Add crumbled goat cheese and basil leaves.

Drizzle with Extra Virgin. Serve!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Roasted Caponata Salad –

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A Veggie Cornucopia!

Caponata_042413_0049-2-2

Buon giorno!

So often, especially in the warmer months, we look for lighter fare, but still want satisfying flavors with a beautiful visual. Look no further! The Sicilians (sorry Mom and Dad) nailed it with their caponata – a melange of vegetables, featuring the eggplant, which offer so much flavor you almost don’t need another thing on your dish. Take it one step further with ROASTED CAPONATA SALAD and you’ve got a winner.

Caponata in its classic form in Italy, is Sicilian in origin, though many believe it really started in Spain with their caponada. It is usually made on top of the stove with the veggies cut smaller. It is a little saucy – both in texture and in measure of spice – kind of a spread, often found in antipasto, containing a little heat. With this roasted version used for salad, I keep the vegetables a little larger – chunky and less saucy. The Sicilians, inhabited by Arab conquerors over history, adopted many of their dishes, ingredients and methods. You’ll see them more in Sicily than elsewhere in Italy. One of these methods is the roasting of vegetables and the addition of sweet flavors with the savory. It was originally thought of as a sea-faring dish – great for long voyages –  because it lasted so long without spoiling.

You’ll see all kinds of vegetables and ingredients that some add to the dish. I like the simpler variety for use in the salad. It is lovely and not over-complicated.

I, personally, think this is one of the most brilliant dishes to come from the Italian kitchen. It is easy, with great flavor, and is so versatile. It can be used as a starter, in a salad, over rice, couscous or pasta – more ways too many to list!

This is soooo easy. You actually make the roasted caponata using one bowl and one baking dish – drizzle, pour, sprinkle, toss – and roast! Does it get any simpler? After roasting the veggies, bring them to room temperature or refrigerate. You can even make it ahead or freeze it if you want. You’ll like this one so much, you’ll want to keep a good supply in your refrigerator for use at a moment’s notice.

When you are ready to serve – give the caponata a toss with some fresh greens and serve immediately. FINITO!

There have been many summer nights on the patio that we have dined on this salad alone. So light – it just seemed like enough. If you want more – you’ll find that this salad pairs well with any meat or fish – grilled if you like. You can even add a crusty bread! All this chatter is making me very hungry. Andiamo!

ROASTED CAPONATA SALAD

Serves: about 6

Prep: 15-20 minutes

Cook: about 20 minutes

Ingredients

DRESSING:

1/3 C. Olive Oil

1/8 C. Balsamic Vinegar

1/2 Tbsp. Sugar

Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste

VEGETABLES:

4 Baby Eggplants or a 1 Medium sized Eggplant – chopped in good size pieces (about an inch) skins left on

1 Clove Fresh Garlic – chopped

1 Purple (Red) Onion cut up

1 Fresh Red Pepper – cut up coarsely

About 2 C. baby tomatoes – like cherry tomatoes – a combination of yellow and red – cut in half

Several Fresh Lemon slices

1/8-1/4 tsp.Red Pepper Flakes – amount will depend on how much heat you like

Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste

ADD AFTER BAKING:

Several slices of Roasted Red Pepper – from the jar or make your own using the easy method described HERE.

1/2 C. Castelvetrano Olives (the bright green ones!) – cut in half

3 Tbsp. Capers, rinsed and drained

1/4 c. Fresh Italian Parsley – chopped coarsely

Field greens or Baby Romaine or Green leafy lettuce – whatever you like!

Instructions

Combine ingredients above designated for dressing. Mix well. Set aside.

Chop your vegetables and lemon slices very coarsely as suggested and place them in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and mix.

Next add the dressing and toss.

Caponata Salad 1

Pour all ingredients mixed in the bowl onto a baking pan lined with foil. (it’s just easier to clean that way.)

Roast at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes or until tender.

Caponata Salad 2

Remove from oven and mix in the roasted red peppers, olives, capers and parsley.

Cool to room temp and serve mixed with your favorite salad greens or as mentioned above or refrigerate and serve later.

ROASTED CAPONATA SALAD is soon to be your summer go-to salad. It’s healthy and full of flavor both from the roasted veggies and the dressing. You can even grill the veggies if you like.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Arugula Salad

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Insalata di Arugula – 

Salad

Buon giorno!

Great salads can be such simple things. When my mother, Loretta, told me “eat your greens”, I don’t think she intended something quite so interesting, delicious, or complex in flavors. But… she would have like this one: ARUGULA SALAD or INSALATA DI ARUGULA.

This is one of my “default salads”. Can’t tell you how many times this salad makes it to the table for guests or.. just me. It is appropriate for almost any meal, and depending on size can be a meal in itself.

What’s in it? Of course, the first and most important ingredient is arugula – that peppery green, common to Italian cooking. Arugula is a highly nutritious choice for salad as it is rich in Vitamin A, Iron, Magnesium, Calcium and a lot of other good things. Suffice it to say, it’s good for you. It also provides an aromatic and subtle backdrop for other ingredients with vibrant flavors.

arugula

In this case, taking center stage with these flavors are oranges, candied baby beets, candied pecans, goat cheese, and Fig Balsamic Vinegar.

The “cutie pie” in all this is Bunapi Mushrooms.

Bunapi Mushrooms

Bunapi mushrooms 2

These are tiny Japanese snow white mushrooms that grow together on what looks like a white tuft or powder puff. Their flavor is slightly nutty and stay nice and firm until they pop in mouth.They are very much like Enoki Mushrooms but ever so slightly larger. They are not bursting with flavor, but you know they are there – and besides I just like them! They are fun to eat in their tininess and blend well with everything. (If you can’t find them, Enoki Mushrooms are a nice visual substitute, and yes, if you must—use sliced white button mushrooms..sigh.

The candied baby beets are sold ready to eat in many grocers and in several flavors – my favorite being honey ginger. If you can’t find them, roasting your own is a great alternative, and I give instructions below.

Baby beets

Ah, the candied pecans – easy and addictive. You’ll want to make extra and just keep them around for lots of reasons, not the least of which is munching!

The Fig Balsamic (I use Lucini) is sweeter than regular balsamic and has a distinctive sweet figgy flavor. If you use regular Balsamic, reduce it by cooking it down a little first in a pan. This will help it to caramelize a little, become more concentrated and make it sweeter and more special.

What makes it so special? It is the combination of ingredients that culminate in a minor “happy explosion” in your mouth. It makes you WANT to keep eating it. (Not at all a bad thing, really!) This is the salad that renders the plates empty when they return to the kitchen. It’s all good, baby!

ARUGULA SALAD

(Insalata di Arugula)

Makes: 6-8 small salads or 1 large

Prep: 20 minutes (including making pecans)

Ingredients

1 Box Cleaned Baby Arugula (About 5 oz) – I like organic.

1 Package Candied Baby Beets (or make your own – see below)

Small orange sections (or canned drained mandarins)

1 1/2 C. Candied Pecans (See below)

1 Package Bunapi Mushrooms (or Enokis or sliced white button mushrooms)

A few tiny yellow tomatoes or red ones ( can be grape tomatoes, heirloom, whatever) sliced in half for each plate

4 oz. Goat Cheese

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fig Balsamic Vinegar (Lucini is a good brand – or any good balsamic if you can’t find fig)

Instructions

Make your Candied Pecans. You can make them ahead and store them in a sealed container.

Toss the following ingredients together and spread on foil on a pan or cookie sheet

1 c. Pecan Halves

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil

3 Tbsp. Brown Sugar

Pinch Cayenne Pepper

1/4 Tsp. Salt

candied pecans 1

Bake at 350 degrees for about 5-6 minutes or until lightly toasted and sugar melts.

candied pecans 2

For the beets – If you can’t find Candied or Sweet Baby Beets – you can roast your own easily by peeling a a couple of fresh beets and setting them in a foil pouch. Drizzle with olive oil, brown sugar and a little balsamic vinegar. Seal up the pouch and bake at 400 degrees about 60 minutes. Leave the package sealed for about 15 minutes after. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use. If you find prepackaged baby beets that are unseasoned, you can sweeten them by following the same procedure as I just described – but roast them for only about 20 minutes. You can always add a little fresh ginger to your roasting packages.

To build your salad: On each plate, begin with your arugula, and add the beets, oranges, pecans, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Follow with the Goat Cheese.  Then drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a little of the Fig Balsamic Vinegar or the regular Balsamic.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Lentil Salad

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Insalata di Lenticchie-

Lentil salad06

Buon giorno!

Italians love their legumes – i.e. peas, beans, and the like. They are, in fact, an important part of the healthy Mediterranean Diet. They particularly fond of lentils and use them all sorts of ways, such as in soups, stews, and side dishes. One of my favorite ways to use lentils is in salad – particularly LENTIL SALAD or Insalata di Lenticchie.  This is a great side dish for any menu, and also it makes a delicious meal on its own. It can be a great lunch item or just a nutritious and delicious snack.

Unfortunately, lentils are often like Sherlock Holmes’ “the dog that wouldn’t bark” in your pantry. They sit there, obvious, but unnoticed and unused for months on end, right under your nose, when they are the perfect choice in so many ways. Let’s get those lentils out and see what they’ll do for us aside from floating in our soup!

LENTIL SALAD is a healthy way to get some quick protein and also some healthy vegetables all in one shot. It is fresh tasting, and in the case of this recipe, it also packs a serving of fruit.  You can make it ahead and enjoy it for days. That is what we usually do around our house. In fact, in any given week, you can almost count on finding a bowl of it in my refrigerator just waiting to offer a quick jump start or fast meal.

There are all kinds of lentils: red, green, brown, yellow, confetti, etc. Try all of them. They’re great and equally good and interchangeable.

Lentils are one of those rare foods that are delicious and easy to eat and also are sooo healthy for you. They help lower cholesterol, help control blood sugar, are low in calories, are low in fat, and rich in protein, B-vitamins and dietary fiber.

This salad is easy to make and really tasty. What’s not to love?

LENTIL SALAD

(Insalata di Lenticchie)

Serves: about 6

Ingredients

1 lb. cooked lentils

Handful of baby carrots – chopped

1 Stalk Celery – chopped

1 Yellow Pepper – chopped

3 Tbsp. Purple Onion  – chopped or Fresh Chopped Chives

1 Tbsp. Orange Zest

1 Fresh Orange – cut up OR 1 can drained Mandarin Oranges

Salt and Pepper to taste

Fresh Basil Leaves for garnish

Dressing: 1/4 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 1/8 C. White Balsamic Vinegar – Mix well.

Instructions

Rinse your lentils.

Lentils

Cook your lentils according to package directions.

Chop your vegetables and add them to the lentils along with the orange zest.

Lentil salad01

Lentil salad02

Chop your fresh orange and add it to the mixture or if using Mandarin Oranges, drain and add them.

Lentil salad04

OR

Lentil salad03

Add salt and pepper.

Mix your dressing ingredients and add to the salad.

Chill!

Lentil salad05

LENTIL SALAD will be your new best friend – easy to make – easy to eat – a quick snack – goes with almost any meal – and SOOOO HEALTHY! Make some!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Sicilian Blood Orange Salad with Shrimp

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Insalata di Aranci Pattuali e Gamberi

Blood Orange - Shrimp_01

Buon giorno!

It’s funny how sometimes the simplest of dishes can really pack a whallop! SICILIAN BLOOD ORANGE SALAD WITH SHRIMP is one of those. Whether you make this beautiful salad with or without the shrimp, it is a visual paradise as well as a temptress for the palate.

Tradition: This gorgeous salad has its roots in Sicily, specifically Palermo, among the HUGE oranges grown there. Everything in Sicily seems bigger, brighter, bolder.  The Orange Salad, using any type of orange, is almost a staple for the Sicilian table. It is very common to find oranges of any variety at the table at Easter in many Italian homes. We always had them in our Easter Antipasto, sliced as an accompaniment to the Basket Cheese, Mozzarella, and spring onions. When Blood Oranges are out of reach, any wonderful orange can step in as an “under study”. Navel Oranges are nice and sweet and offer a great alternative to the Blood Oranges if you can’t find them.

However,  when you can get them, Blood Oranges with their remarkable color and distinctive taste are a perfect choice, I think, to make the Orange Salad a little brighter, somewhat different, and definitely more special. These oranges fall somewhere between a pomelo and a tangerine and can be a little tart. Some say they even taste a little on the raspberry side rather than orange. If you are unfamiliar with this variety, take a look at this:

Blood Orange Martini_03

Now you understand why they call them “Blood Oranges”. The meat of the orange is red. Like much of Sicilian cuisine, the Arab influence is present in these oranges, as most agree that they brought them along for the ride during the “conquering years”. These succulent crimson delights, with their antioxidant properties, have been grown in Sicilian groves since the 18th century and are the numero uno of oranges in all of Italy.They happen to be seasonal right now, and it is a perfect time to think about serving them in all sorts of ways.

Unconventional: The traditional version of this recipe is made without shrimp and is served as a side dish. It pairs especially well with almost any grilled meat or fish.  As for the addition of the shrimp – I just like ‘em! This salad is a winner in my book either way. When using the shrimp, note that I like to grill or roast them for much better flavor. For today, let’s choose a different path and use the shrimp which kind of dress up the salad and make it a meal, if you wish. YES, it’s one of those dishes that just begs to be served On the Patio!! You must know how I love those!

What’s the big deal? OK – so why make such a big hoo-ha out of oranges on a plate? Let me clue you in on a little secret: the Sicilians knew what they were doing with these oranges. It isn’t only the oranges that knock this one out of the park – although they help. Once again, it is the combination of select fresh and wonderful ingredients, simple and basic on their own, that come together and to pack a major punch for your taste buds. Something happens when the oranges mingle with the red onions, capers, pignolis, fennel, basil, olives and that most brilliant of ingredients – a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is the time to get out the best Extra Virgin you can afford.

Make this dish fresh, just prior to serving. Offered as a colorful antipasto, a salad, or the main event, this SICILIAN BLOOD ORANGE SALAD WITH SHRIMP  or Insalata di Aranci Pattuali e Gamberi is one amazing dish!

SICILIAN BLOOD ORANGE SALAD WITH SHRIMP

Blood Orange - Shrimp_03

Serves: 4

Prep: 35 minutes

Ingredients

1 lb. Large or Extra Large Shrimp, peeled, cleaned (optional)

5 1/2 Blood Oranges (or Navel Oranges if you can’t find Blood Oranges) – peeled and sliced

1 Fresh Fennel Bulb sliced (See the post: Makes Me Want to Cluck for the “how to” in slicing fennel)

1 Red Onion Sliced thinly

Handful of Black Olives, Kalamatas, Cerignola Blacks, or Gaetas

2-3 Tbsp. Capers – rinsed and drained

1/4 c. Toasted Pignolis (pine nuts)

Coarse Salt and Pepper to taste

Fresh Basil – Chopped

The best Extra Virgin Olive Oil you can afford – time for the good one!

Instructions

Toss the shrimp in some olive oil, add salt and pepper. You can even save 1/2 orange and squeeze the juice over the shrimp if you like! Then grill or roast the shrimp – a couple of minutes each side. Shrimp should be crunchy not dry. Don’t overcook. Set aside to cool. You can do this part ahead, if you want.

Arrange the sliced oranges on the plate.

Follow with the sliced fresh fennel and sliced red onion.

Next – scatter the olives and the capers on the top.

Sprinkle the toasted pignolis over.

Add salt and pepper.

Garnish the top with chopped fresh basil.

Drizzle with that beautiful Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

For a beautiful pairing: Try a Langhe Arneis with this! My new favorite out there is: Donna Anita Langhe Arneis DOC 2010 from the Piedmont. A Sauvignon Blanc would be nice as well.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Panzanella Salad

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LET THEM EAT…BREAD?

Panzanella_6

Buon giorno!

Marie Antoinette had no clue about Panzanella Salad when she sarcastically suggested that the commoners should eat cake when times got tough. If she had – French history might have been quite different, and she would still have her head. The ordinary folk would surely have been more than satisfied with such a recommendation. In fact, they would have been thrilled with this Tuscan favorite.

Panzanella, also called Panmolle, is the quintessential summer salad, and there is no better time to talk about it than right now while the local markets and our gardens are brilliant with fresh, vividly colorful vegetables. This is delicious, easy to make, very healthy, very economical, and lasts for days. Where’s the problem here?  This is guaranteed to get your motor runnin’ ! (not a bad choice for the waistline either)

A little history: Panzanella Salad dates back to the 16th century when the Italian poet, Bronzino, not to be confused with the fish, waxed of onions and cucumbers with oil and vinegar and toast in his writing. As late as the 20th century, the poet’s list of ingredients was the general description of the salad. It was then, in the 1900’s, that tomatoes were introduced and lived happily ever after in the hearts of Tuscans when they thought of Panzanella.

The Ingrediente Speciale: The very special ingredient that sets this apart from any other salad is the use of a crusty country bread, preferably Tuscan, which is first soaked. Wet bread you say?? Si, paesane e paesani! You betcha! –no, not until it is slimy and falls apart. The bread is soaked lightly, and then you squeeze the water out. The Tuscans have done this for centuries – and they haven’t been wrong yet.  Trust me on this one. It makes an incredibly delicious and satisfying salad – one that can even be used as a light main course. In fact, this is often the way we have it on hot summer nights at our house – on the patio – of course! Add a lovely chilled white wine and you are all set.

More About The Bread Thing: All those years ago in Binghamton, NY, it was not unusual for my mother, Loretta, when preparing a soup or stew or vegetable dish to stretch it a little by putting a thick slice of crusty bread on the bottom of the dish which soaked up all the goodness of the ingredients and added heartiness to our meal. It was also, not unusual for her to do the same with salad. Good things just never get old.

My Little Secret: As usual, I have a little twist that I like to make on the bread. (Shhhh! It’s just between you and me.) Most recipes call for using stale bread and soaking that. You can use stale bread, day old bread if you like. Instead of just soaking my bread, I like to brush it with olive oil and toast it in the oven til golden for a few minutes…and THEN soak it. It makes a difference in both flavor and consistency.

The Tuscan Way: Tuscans are persnickety about the ingredients for their dishes. They don’t like to wander too far off the piazza when they prepare their special dishes.The expected choices for a typical Tuscan preparation of this Panzanella Salad are onion, tomato, fresh basil, Tuscan Bread, salt, pepper, wine vinegar, and olive oil. However, it is not uncommon to find a very good one with other ingredients invited to come along for the ride. For instance, I like my salad with a few extras that you will see below which, I think, offer flavor, color, and interest to this wonderful old standard.

Another way: For instance, it is not unlikely to find this salad prepared with shrimp and cuttlefish in Livorno with its proximity to the sea. It is my opinion that the Livornese would put seafood in anything if given the opportunity. And why not?  One really delicious introduction that I often make is to add grilled sliced rare tuna. The tuna grilled with a little olive oil, Kosher Salt, and fresh pepper is a great way to serve Panzanella when you want just a little something more.

Let’s get this little beauty to the table!

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PANZANELLA SALAD

Serves: 4 as main course

Serves: 8 as a side dish

Prep: About 40 minutes + a couple of hours to chill

Ingredients:

12 oz. Crusty Tuscan Loaf or Country Loaf of Bread – sliced in approx. 1 inch slices

Olive Oil for brushing the bread slices

4-5 Fresh Ripe Red Medium Sized Tomatoes cut into quarters or 3 cups Baby or Grape Tomatoes

1 Cucumber – peeled, seeded, chopped into cubes

One Medium Purple Onion – sliced thinly

1 Fennel Bulb Sliced (See this post for instructions: how to slice fennel)

2 Tbsp. Capers, rinsed and drained

1 C. Whole Pitted Kalamata Olives

Handful of Fresh Basil – cut Chiffonade style

2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar for soaking liquid

1 1/2 – 2 cups Water for soaking bread

Instructions:

Brush bread slices on both sides with olive oil.

Panzanella_1

Place bread slices on a baking sheet and Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 min. Turn slices over and bake about 10 min. more. The idea here is to toast the bread to a little golden color on each side.

Panzanella_2

Add red wine vinegar to the water for soaking.

Place toasted bread slices in bowl and pour vinegar and water over the bread. Let stand 1-2 minutes only –  moving the bread around so that it soaks evenly.

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Immediately, take bread out of bowl and squeeze water out of each piece. Tear the bread slices into chunks and lay out on paper towels – set aside.

Panzanella_4

Cut vegetables as listed and place them in a large bowl with the capers and olives– toss gently with clean hands. Add the Basil.

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Add soaked bread pieces to the bowl with the vegetables – toss gently with clean hands.

Make dressing with ingredients below, and add to salad and toss again with clean hands.

Using your hands makes for less needed tossing action and does a better and gentler job than a spoon.

Important: Put the salad in the refrigerator to chill for several hours or overnight. This is necessary to let the flavors blend properly. You can add more basil before serving if you like.

Dressing:

Whisk the following ingredients together:

1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar

1 Tbsp.White Balsamic Vinegar

1 tsp. Orange Juice

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

This Panzanella Salad lasts for a few days in the refrigerator which is great if you want to make it ahead. It is a bright and beautiful presentation of the “bella stagione” or beautiful season for bountiful fresh local vegetables. It is healthy and is filling because of the bread. Enjoy this one now with summer and Panzanella  as the perfect pairing.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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CHICKPEA SALAD

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Insalata di Ceci

Chick Pea Salad_0025

Buon giorno!

 

There is nothing that tickles all of the senses like an Insalata di Ceci – or Chickpea Salad, especially when it includes fresh aromatic ingredients like oranges and fennel (finocchio), two of my favorites. The scent of the oranges permeates the kitchen when you prepare this dish, along with the unmistakably lingering anise aroma of the fennel. The vivid colors tempt the eye, and the flavor of every component is distinct, each with its own level of crunch while at the same time combining together in harmony to bring the taste buds to crescendo.

Where best to enjoy this splendid mix of color and flavor? I choose outdoors! On the patio or al fresco is undeniably my favorite place to dine. There is something about the fresh air, balmy breezes if you’re lucky, and good company of the birds and bees around you. It reminds me of of those outdoor meals, alive with chatter, in Italy served on long tables in the open air, perhaps on the loggia, that go on for hours.

As a family, we often took meals together this way on our patio in Binghamton, NY, when the weather permitted, and usually frequently in the summertime. Italians don’t know the meaning of “a quick bite”. These events often lasted all afternoon on a summer Sunday, a bottle of vino rosso on hand, and about nine of us, including family members and several “strays”, all trying to out-shout each other over seemingly endless courses of flavorful food. Even with the cacophony, I am bound to that memory. Perhaps that is why I continue to seek any opportunity for dining outdoors – to recapture those moments. In the South, there are many nights offering just such a perfect temperature and setting, and I take advantage of every one.

The grill: Very often, on these evenings, my husband, Tom, takes to the grill with all proper utensils and does the “man thing” with a great steak or firm piece of fish. It is always my task to come up with an interesting side dish. Tired of green salads with all the usual suspects, chickpeas or “ceci” as Italians call them offer an interesting canvas on which to paint something different for the occasion. I love chickpeas! You can do almost anything with them – adding them to soups, stews, throw them in salads etc.

With grilling season about to launch in a major way, much scouting will begin for that different and fresh dish that is beautiful to look at and will also marry perfectly with seared and char-broiled meats and fish. Along with your grilled favorite, this Chickpea Salad is truly “ un matrimonio fatto in paradiso!” ( A marriage made in heaven!)

About Chickpeas: Read all about the health benefits of eating chickpeas at The World’s Healthiest Foods.

By any other name: Italians love ceci – not to be confused with Cheechi, Ciccio, or Cheech – your Italian buddy’s godfather. In almost every story about the Mafia, there is always a Cheech, and every true Italian knows at least one person with that name. Rather, the ceci we entertain for today’s dish are plump, round little beans with a soft but not mushy consistency. Known also as chickpeas or garbanzos, biting into ceci properly cooked is similar to biting into a soft nougat. They combine well with endless varieties of flavors. They are available in cans or in dried form. I like using the dried whenever possible, as they tend to maintain their substance, firmness, and full flavor. The canned are good “in a pinch” but, to me, are never as satisfying to cook with as the dried. They seem to lack the distinctive flavor, and run the risk of “mushing up” when tossed. Have you ever tried the dried form of these beans? Give it a shot! It is definitely worth the extra effort.

Today, we have Insalata di Ceci! This dish is not only delicious but also very fresh tasting. It makes a great side dish for your barbeque as well as that dish you promised to bring to Zia Maria’s christening party for her cousin’s daughter’s new baby. It just seems to go with everything. You can put it together a day ahead, and it will be the most attractive offering on the table. Troppo Bella! To illustrate how delicious this is, the last time I made it, my husband ate the leftover salad for breakfast.

Let’s begin now because we first must give the Ceci an overnight swim!

Insalata di Ceci

(Chickpea Salad)

Chickpeas:

1 c. dried Chickpeas – soak in water to cover overnight – then drain

Place the soaked chickpeas in 2 1/2 qts of water with 3 cloves of garlic each cut in half, and 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt. Bring to boil and then simmer for a couple of hours. You will see a white foam form on the surface of the water. You can skim that off. Stir occasionally and add more water if getting dry. Drain the chickpeas and set aside.

Chick Pea Salad_1

Fennel:

Prepare 2 medium or 1 large fennel bulb as follows:Cut off the base and feathery green fronds. Peel outer layer.

Chick Pea Salad_2

Slice the bulb vertically and cut out the inner core.

Chick Pea Salad_3Chick Pea Salad_4

Facing one half bulb downward toward the cutting board, slice horizontally across. Repeat with the other piece or pieces until completely sliced.

Chick Pea Salad_5

Orange:

Grate the zest of 1 orange and put aside for the dressing.

Peel the orange and divide into single sections, cutting each section in 1/2.

Instructions:

In a bowl combine:

Sliced fennel

orange pieces

9 Peperoncini (these come in a jar)- sliced into rings with seeds removed or about ½ c. presliced Peperoncini rings

1/2 purple onion sliced thinly

1 c. pitted black olives or Kalamatas (amt. depends on how much you like black olives!)

5 Campari or Cherry tomatoes – cut into quarters

Chick Pea Salad_6

1/3 c. roughly chopped fresh basil

A little extra chopped fresh basil for the top of the salad for garnish

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Add the chickpeas and toss.

Dressing

1/3 c. Extra virgin olive oil

1/4 c. Orange juice

Zest of 1 orange

1 clove garlic – chopped very finely

1 tsp. White Vinegar

1/2 tsp Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch Red Pepper Flakes

Whisk above ingredients, add to chickpea salad and toss well. Taste and correct seasoning to taste if required. Refrigerate until serving time.

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Chickpea Salad can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. NOTE: if making ahead, taste and see if it needs re-seasoning before serving. Sometimes when the salad sits, it absorbs some flavor and needs a refresher.

See you on the patio!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE

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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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