Since the 1970’s, we have prepared hundreds (if not thousands!) of meals here at the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, and at our mission house, Villa Via Sacra, in Barga, Italy. We believe that food nourishes body, soul, and spirit, and that even the simplest meal, prepared with love, can change your life. At the heart of our call to kitchen and table lie the words of Saint Benedict: “Welcome all as Christ.” This premise has led us on many culinary adventures, which we now gladly share with you!
Beautiful zucchini and yellow summer squash continue to come in from the gardens every day, and while they do it would be a shame not to have a nice stuffed zucchini boat meal before the season slips by. This is what last night’s convent cook thought as she prepared to make our dinner. She wanted to do something a little different from what we usually do and she turned out a meal that brought applause from the entire sisterhood even though we have had quite a few zucchini meals this summer. Using a combination of sweet and hot Italian sausage and a generous mixture of favorite Italian cheeses she succeeded in satisfying even the most discriminating pallet that evening.
The two things, I think, that put this dish over the top was the combination of cheeses (she used Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Asiago and Gorgonzola) any of which give a distinctive taste, and then the generous use of fresh garden herbs like basil, oregano and Italian parsley.
Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Blanch the zucchini in a large pot of boiling water, 7 minutes, then place in cold water 5 minutes. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out all but ¼ inch of flesh. Brown the sausage in a small skillet, breaking the pieces into small bits, 5 to 6 minutes, then remove the meat from the skillet.
- In the same skillet, on medium heat, add the onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 additional minute (add a little bit of olive oil if the pan is dry). Add the meat back to the skillet along with the cream cheese, zucchini pulp and bread crumbs and stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired; fresh basil, oregano and parsley are nice.
- Place the zucchini boats on a small sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fill with the meat mixture. Top with tomato halves and grated cheese.
- Place in oven and bake 25-30 minutes until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Garnish with basil.
I’ve had the great joy of working side-by-side with an Italian chef over these last few weeks. The other Sisters who have lived and worked at Via Sacra have also had the tremendous privilege of learning from her. Chef Laura has been so generous with her time and energy as we try to absorb all that we can about Italian cooking. Below is one of her recipes that she taught me this past week and I went home and made it for the villa. These crepes are so delicious and light! Chef Laura serves this as a first course at her restaurant, but we enjoyed it as a light supper served with a fruit salad and a tossed green salad on the side.
All Chef Laura’s recipes are in her head, so I tried to reproduce it here by just observing her. If the quantities seem a little off, just adjust them to your liking! We can still get squash blossoms in the market this time of year in Italy. If you have any zucchini plants in your garden, just pluck the blossoms off and you are all set!
Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms
- Make the filling: Over low heat, melt your butter in a saucepan and add the zucchini and red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until both vegetables are very soft. Continue cooking until most all of the moisture is removed (the zucchini will let off a lot of water while it cooks). While the zucchini mixture is cooking, prepare the crepes.
- Make the crepes: In a blender, combine all the crepe ingredients above and blend until smooth. Let rest about 5 min.
- Heat a lightly oiled Teflon frying pan (omelet size pan) over medium heat. Pour or ladle the batter into the pan, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly. Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side for 1 minute. Remove to a plate, put a square of wax paper on top and repeat until all the batter is used up. This recipe should make 8 crepes.
- Remove the filling from the heat and mash with a potato masher. Let cool slightly and add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. This mixture should be the consistency of pesto or a little thicker.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. (or broiler)
- To assemble, in one quadrant of your crepe place a heaping tablespoon of the filling and spread to fill that quadrant. Fold the crepe into quarters and place into oblong serving ramekins (2 per person) or a casserole dish. Repeat, until all the crepes are filled.
- Dot each crepe with butter and lay the squash blossoms over them to cover the crepes. Again, dot butter over the squash blossoms and sprinkle the grated cheese over the entire crepe.
- Place the crepes in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and golden, about 5 min. If you prefer, you can also broil them at this step.
- Remove from the oven and serve.
Years ago before pita pockets, as we now know them, had become so common and readily available commercially, they were a regular everyday staple in our home. We called these Syrian bread, because we had an authentic Syrian neighbor who baked it regularly for her household and taught my mother how to make it. I have many happy memories of helping my mother shape the dough into the round loaves. I loved watching these magically puff up into inflated discs in the oven as they baked; and then settle back down into their original shapes after they came out of the oven and cooled.
Always we would roll some of the bread up into towels while still warm; when it cooled this way it had a much chewier texture which I especially liked just with plain butter. However there are so many ways to enjoy it. Sisters particularly love it stuffed with fried or roasted eggplant and fresh sliced tomatoes, roasted onions, peppers, and zucchini or yellow squash slices, with a sprig of fresh basil.
Another favorite way we eat it is split in half, brushed with oil, herbs of choice, onion salt and grated Parmesan. Then baked in 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes until brown and crisp. It is a fun bread to bake and a fun bread to eat in whatever way you like.
- In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and the sugar in the water and allow to get bubbly.
- In a food processor, pulse the flour with the salt.
- With the machine on, pour in the yeast mixture and then the oil and process until the dough forms a ball.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times.
- Form the dough into a ball.
- Lightly oil a bowl with olive oil.
- Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn to coat
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Take the dough and divide it up into 6-8 sections.
- On a floured surface, shape the dough into little flat circles.
- Heat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Baking the breads 2-3 at a time bake them for 5-7 minutes. Just till they turn a nice golden brown.
- Take them out the oven, let them cool and then ENJOY!
This past week at Via Sacra, we have been thanking God for His incredible protection over us. The earthquake that hit a large portion of central Italy was only about 2 hours from us. Our community reached out to the Monks of Norcia to inquire of their safety. They told us that, miraculously, the monks had been up early for prayer on the morning of the earthquake (3 am) since it was a solemn feast day. When the tremors started, most of the town fled to the piazza where there is a statue of St. Benedict. The townspeople knew they would be safe there with Benedict’s prayers protecting them. An update on the monastery can be found here.
Restaurants all over Italy (and all over the world) have been serving a dish that is traditional to Amatrice, one of the towns destroyed. It is called Pasta all’Amatriciana, and proceeds from this dish are going to the recovery efforts. Last weekend would have been the celebration in Amatrice for their annual food festival. You’ll find many different versions of the traditional dish; some use onions and garlic and some don’t. We decided to and loved the results.
Join us in prayer by creating this delicious and spicy pasta dish in your home and if you do, use this hashtag to join millions of others who are as well: #unamatricianaperamatrice
- Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
- Meanwhile, in a 10- to 12-inch saute pan or dutch oven make the sauce.
- Combine the olive oil, pancetta, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes; set over low heat and cook until the onion is softened and the pancetta has rendered much of its fat, about 12 minutes.
- Leaving about 1/2 cup fat in the pan, add the pureed tomatoes, basil, parsley, oregano and balsamic vinegar.
- Turn up the heat, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and allow to bubble for 10 min to 1/2 hr (the longer it cooks the better it tastes!). Adjust seasonings if needed.
- While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta in the boiling water for about a minute less than the package directions, until al dente; drain, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water (if needed later).
- Add the pasta to the simmering sauce and toss for about 1 minute to coat (add some of the pasta water if the sauce is too thick). Divide the pasta among four heated bowls and serve immediately, topped with freshly grated pecorino, a dash of olive oil if desired, and a sprig of fresh basil to garnish.
- Andiamo mangiare!
Just out the side entrance to the convent one steps directly into an orchard of fruit trees: peaches, nectarines and pears. Most of these trees were gifts to us back when the convent was being built, and what a gift they have been each year, providing us with beautiful fruit for eating, cooking, and preserving into different forms of gifts. Right now the peaches are at their peak, gorgeous to behold, and luscious to eat.
I have been longing to see some of them turned into a dessert. I love peach pie, peach cobbler or crumble, but my heart was set on something cool, light and summery, so I set about to make this happen. Here’s what came of my efforts which were quick and easy — just as I wanted them to be.
Summer Peaches and Cream Supreme
- Press one sheet of phyllo into 9 inch pie plate. Shape and crimp
edges to form a crust pour beans into shell and bake
according to directions on wrapper until golden brown. About 10 minutes. Remove and discard beans. Let cool completely.
- Into a medium saucepan cut up 6 peaches. Add ½ cup water, ½ cup sugar, juice of half a lemon and cook until it begins to thicken into a syrupy sauce. After 20 minutes (approx.) add zest, amaretto or extract. Let cool. Add the four remaining peaches, nicely sliced.
- Soften ice cream and spread half into cool shell. Spread a layer of peaches and syrup across this. Then spread remaining ice cream over peaches. Finally swirl remaining cool whip over entire top and freeze till serving time.
- Cut into wedges, spoon remaining peaches and sauce over each serving and sprinkle with toasted coconut.
This week took me back to serving at Villa Via Sacra, the home of the Mount Tabor Center for Art and Spirituality in Barga, Italy. What a blessing to be back in this verdant and beautiful area of Tuscany. This is the peak of Tuscany’s summer season when tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peaches and nectarines are all in abundance. After a busy summer of offering hospitality to various groups, the villa household has quieted down for a wee bit. August 15th is a national holiday for the Feast of the Assumption. We felt it was only right to celebrate this special day in true Italian style, which means pack a picnic and head for the cooler air of the mountains! We did just that: a simple meal of homemade bread, cheese (pecorino stagione, ricotta and parmigiano), meats (mortadella, sopressata and prosciutto cotto), some garden vegetables of cucumbers, tomatoes and olives, a bottle of red wine and a fresh fruit salad.
We enjoyed this fresh French bread with our picnic. Delightful to eat with cheese and meats or just a little olive oil, it requires little rising time, so it’s a wonderful go-to bread recipe that you can make and bake within an hour.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Activate your yeast by sprinkling it over the hot water in a bowl and whisk with a fork until dissolved and add 1 Tbsp of the sugar - let sit until foamy - about 5 min.
- Add the remaining sugar (3 Tbsp) and then the flour a cup at a time, mixing in as you go (you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for this step, if you'd like). Add the salt at some point along the way. Stop adding the flour if your dough is no longer sticky.
- When the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl, turn the dough out onto your counter and divide into two balls.
- Using the palm of your hand to kneed out any air bubbles, roll the dough into two long loaves.
- Let rise slightly (about 10 min.) and brush with the egg-wash.
- Bake for 25-30 min, or until golden or reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.
- This recipe can also be used to make nice breadsticks.