Thursday, April 26, 2012

Swiss Chard and Cannellini Beans

 I couldn't believe the rave reviews for my last minute Swiss chard, bean, and tomato side dish that I happened to put together the other night.  Supper had been planned around hearty pork ribs with my homemade B.B.Q sauce and rice pilaf with wild mushrooms. Given that Nonna  joined for supper, I felt it was a good idea to also have on hand a lighter, healthier dish. Swiss chard has long been known as a favorite in Mediterranean diet.  It is not only highly nutritious but also rich in fiber. My Swiss chard dish with onions, garlic, vibrant orange sweet peppers, tomatoes and buttery cannellini beans, literally stole the show. I couldn't believe the rave reviews for this humble dish! Among those who truly enjoyed the dish was my dear neighbour Rob, to whom I'm dedicating this post. Rob as promised, here is the recipe before it gets forgotten with all my other last minute "no recipe" dishes. 
I hope you do try this super healthy vegetarian, vegan friendly dish, which makes for a fuss free and easy meal, and all under thirty minutes. I hope you all enjoy it as much as we did.

1 bunch of white stemmed Swiss chard
4 tablespoons extra virgin oil
1 large onion cut in half and sliced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes (amount according to desired heat)
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 orange sweet pepper diced
2 regular tomatoes chopped or 4 small tomatoes.
1 can (14 oz) cannellini beans, drained

Wash the Swiss chard in cold water.  Cut the large part of the stem into 1/2 inch pieces and set aside. Cut the leaves into large pieces and set aside. Heat the extra virgin oil in non-stick skillet and saute the onions until golden. Add the chili flakes garlic cook slightly, and then add the Swiss chard stock pieces and cook until tender. Stir in the diced peppers and continue cooking for about 2-3 minutes. Toss in the Swiss chard leaves.  Continue cooking until wilted.  Stir in the tomatoes and cook for two minutes. Add the beans and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes to allow the flavours to build and beans to heat through.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Broccoli Cauliflower Salad with Parsley Vinaigrette

It does not get much healthier than this refreshing broccoli and cauliflower salad with parsley vinaigrette. It is the perfect side dish for your favourite meat and fish, or simply on its own. 


Wash 1/2 head each of broccoli and cauliflower.  Cut into florets. Drop into boiling water and cook until al dente. Strain and immediately put into an ice bath. The cold water will stop the cooking process and help the vegetables retain their vibrant colour.  Strain the vegetables and transfer to a salad-serving bowl. Pour in the desired amount of parsley vinaigrette and toss.

Parsley Vinaigrette:
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove finely chopped
 Pinch of fleur de sel or sea salt to taste

In a bowl, add the parsley, garlic and salt. Whisk in the vinegar. Whisk in the oil in a slow and steady stream.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Meaty Lasagna with SpinachRicotta and Bechamel Sauce

I believe I can count on one hand how many times I have actually made lasagna, the quintessential Italian dish. I always felt the process of making lasagna tedious, and why bother when we had easy access to my mom’s perfected dish. Well to quote Dylan, "the times, they are a changin". I no longer dread the idea of making it for my family.  By using oven ready lasagna pasta and making the meat sauce a day or two ahead of time, makes for a less daunting recipe. Also by prepping the spinach ricotta mixture and grating the cheese beforehand, transforms it into a carefree recipe.  To my pleasant surprise, my lasagna even got my mom's seal of approval even though the filling is not what she is accustomed to.

Note: As I did not reheat my sauce prior to assembling the lasagna nor use boiling water to cut the sauce, the cooking time for the lasagna was somewhat longer than suggested on the package instructions. By adding water to the sauce, enough moisture is created to cook the uncooked pasta. Midway through the baking process, you might find it necessary to submerge the pasta edges with a fork to ensure that the pasta will be fully cooked.

Ingredients and Preparation

1 package oven ready lasagna pasta (375 grams or 3/4 lb)
1 cup water
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Tomato Meat Sauce
3 tablespoons extra virgin oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lb minced veal
1/2 lb. minced pork
1/4 cup tomato paste 
handful chopped Italian parsley
6 cups canned tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet; add the chopped onions and cook for about 4 minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and half of the chopped garlic. Continue to cook until golden. Stir in the minced pork and minced veal. Stir in the parsley and the remaining chopped garlic. Cook the meat until it is no longer pink and the juices are absorbed, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Pour in the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce thickens for 40-60 minutes.

Ricotta Spinach filling:
1 bunch fresh spinach (about 2/3 cup cooked, squeezed spinach)
1 (1 1/2 cup) container low fat or regular ricotta
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cook the spinach. Drain and wring out as much moisture as possible( using your hands, or twisting the spinach in a paper towel). Chop the spinach and set aside to cool.
In a bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg, parmesan, and 1 teaspoons salt. Whisk in the chopped spinach and set aside.

Béchamel sauce:
3cups hot milk
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 bay leaf
pinch nutmeg

In a medium sauce pan melt 6 tablespoons of butter and stir in the flour. Continue to stir and allow the flour to cook for 2 minutes. Gradually pour the hot milk into the butter, flour mixture while continuing to whisk. This will prevent lumps from forming while incorporating the milk.  Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and continue to whisk continuously until the sauce is very smooth. Cook for 3 minutes and remove from the heat.

    Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

    Spread a layer of  meat sauce to cover the surface of the 9x13 inch baking pan or casserole dish. Stir in the 1/2 cup of  water if using the oven ready lasagna. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parmesan. Layer 3 noodles on the sauce to which the water was added, leaving space between the lasagna pieces. Spread tomato sauce to as shown below:

    Sprinkle part of the mozzarella and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Place a second layer of pasta strips.

    Spread the some of the spinach ricotta mixture on top of the lasagna layer. Gently spread several tablespoons of béchamel sauce on the spinach ricotta mixture, as shown below.

    Continue to layer the lasagna with the meat sauce and finishing with the spinach ricotta mixture. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of water along the edges of the pan. Place a layer of  lasagna pasta on top of the spinach mixture and spread the béchamel on top to cover. Finish by grating fresh  Parmigiano-Reggiano on the béchamel sauce.
    Cover pan with  foil and bake 50-60 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake to allow any excess liquid to be absorbed and the bechemel to become golden.

    Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. Serves 6-8.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

    Asian Burgers with Hoisin Napa Cabbage Topping

    While in the process of making wonton dumplings, I realized that I overshot on the quantity of meat needed. Not wanting to waste the pork meat, the idea of making burgers with the prepared meat came to mind. Wanting to keep the Asian theme, I went with a Napa cabbage and onion topping.  
     When I mentioned posting the burger recipe, photos and all, my husband was appalled by the idea. Above my laughter, I could still hear him saying, "How can you actually even contemplate posting a photo of a half eaten burger; there is nothing less appetizing!"  Well, I beg to differ; besides, I only realized that I hadn't taken a picture until after the first bite had been taken. Although it might not win any "super burger" award, it was a nice change from the standard beef burger.

    1/2 lb lean ground pork
    2 green onions finely chopped
    1/4 cup finely chopped water chestnuts
    1 teaspoon Kikkoman soy sauce
    1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
    1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

    Combine all the ingredients and make 2-4 patties depending on the desired size for each burger. Fry  in a skillet until well done.

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 onion thinly sliced
    1 garlic glove finely chopped
    1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
    2 cups napa cabbage sliced
    2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
    2 teaspoons soy sauce
    1 teaspoon mirin sauce
    dash or 2 of sesame oil

    In a saute pan heat the oil and add the onion slices. Cook until translucent. Add the garlic.
     In a small bowl combine the ginger, the remaining ingredients and stir to blend.
    Pour the liquids into the pan. Toss the onions while continue cooking and add the napa cabage. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Serve as a topping on the Asian burgers.

    Thursday, April 5, 2012


    Rapini with Chick Peas and Tomato Sauce

    Orecchiette with Rapini ( brocoletti di rape)

    Orecchiette with Rapini ( brocoletti di rape)

     I couldn't be more excited, seeing Yahoo's front page today, "A cancer-fighting vegetable you should be eating", extolling the health benefits of  rapini, a vegetable I grew up eating. Thanks to my Italian background rapini has always been a vegetable dish to grace my parent's and my own table. It was always a thrill to introduce it to friends, who had never heard of rapini, kin to the broccoli family. More often than not, they devoured this new and exotic vegetable, using my mom's simple traditional recipe. Therefore, to celebrate this media proclamation I will re-post, mom's recipe.  Make sure to check out the other two recipes shown above, available on my site.

     Mom's basic recipe posted...

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010



    Rapini, also known as brocoletti di rape and broccoli rape, happens to be one of my all time favorite vegetables. It is also becoming more well known on "this side of the pond". Growing up in an Italian home, this vegetable was a staple, even when not in season. My parents would blanche large batches; and then would freeze them for later use as a side dish, mixed with fagioli (roman beans) , or tossed into pasta. Another use for this basic recipe is to add it as a topping for a gourmet pizza. Today, it is available all year round even though it's peak season is fall to spring. When buying rapini, chose bunches with firm green flower buds and avoid those with yellow flowering ones. Blanching the rapini will take away most of the bitter taste. To retain it's vibrant green color simply shock the rapini in ice cold water after blanching.

    Mom' Basic Rapini and Garlic Recipe
    1 bunch rapini
    4 tablespoons extra virgin oil
    3-4 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
    1/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes or more for extra heat
    salt to taste

    Begin by washing the rapini and cutting about an 1 inch off the stem. To allow for more even cooking with a knife, split about 1-2 inches down the center of the lower part of the rapini stem. This allows for more even cooking. Wash the rapini under cold water and drain. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. I add salt to the boiling water as you would do, when cooking pasta. Drop the rapini in the salted boiling water and cook for about 1 minutes until "a la dente".
    Strain the rapini and place it immediately in a large bowl filled with ice water. Strain and remove the excess water by wringing the rapini with your hands or paper towel. Cut into 3 pieces and set aside. In a frying pan heat the oil and add the garlic slices and red chili flakes. Saute the garlic until a golden colour. Add the rapini as shown in the photo, away from the sizzling oil as it tends to splatter, and continue cooking on medium heat to infuse the flavours, for about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not over cook. Season with salt. Serve as a side dish or toss into a hot pasta and tomato sauce dish. So from my family to yours, buon appetito!

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    Ultimate Basque Chicken Recipe...Done My Way

    This is my take on Basque chicken

    Begin by cutting a chicken into large pieces or simply use pre-cut chicken pieces from your grocer. Most recipes call for chicken thighs but I prefer using both breast meat and dark meat.

    Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a large non-stick skillet on medium high, heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin oil and 1 tablespoon of butter.  Add the chicken pieces to the hot fat and brown on each side. 
    Transfer to a plate.

    Cut four slices of bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Cook the bacon in the same skillet used for browning the chicken and cook until crispy.  Add 1 chopped onion, 1 small sliced leek. Cook the vegetables until translucent. 

    Toss in 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic plus 3 slices of diced cooked ham. I also added 2 whole bay leaves, 3 sprigs of thyme, 1 heaping teaspoon of sweet paprika, 2 chopped stalks of celery, and 1 chopped carrot, continue cooking on medium high for 3-4 minutes.

    Add 1 large red bell pepper (seeded) cut into large pieces and  3/4 cup of white wine. Stir in 4 chopped tomatoes. Continue cooking for several minutes to allow the wine to reduce and the flavours to amalgamate.

    Transfer the vegetables and meat to an oven-proof Dutch oven by nestling the meat in the vegetable mixture. Cover and braise in a pre-heated 350°F oven for  30-35 minutes or until the meat is fully cooked.

    I removed the cover near the end of the cooking process and lifted the chicken pieces out of the braising juices to allow them to brown.