One of the beautiful things that I am learning about Italian cooking is that each ingredient is to be savored. So many times, we take wonderful ingredients and throw them all together and miss appreciating them as they were meant to be.
As I walk along the streets of Barga with the dogs in the morning or on my way to the Pannificio to get our bread for the day, I often take photographs of the menus hanging on the restaurant windows. When I return to the Villa and have a moment, I try to find a recipe and recreate them.
A featured item on the menu in the Garfagnana district, and much of Tuscany, is Pecorino pere e miele – Pecorino with pears and honey. Pecorino is a cheese made from sheep’s milk and each district or town here is very proud of their own version of the cheese. The taste of the cheese changes depending on what type of grass the sheep are fed and how the cheese is aged. Most popular and well known are those produced in Sardinia. A good Pecorino Stagionato is often the finish of a meal, served with pears and walnuts and drizzled with a strong chestnut honey or one of the lighter acacia honeys farmed locally. Their food is simple, but in this simplicity can be found tremendous beauty and taste. Savor the moment.
- 1 pears
- 4-5 oz. pecorino fresco, semi-stagionato or stagionato (fresco is a mild and soft form, semi-stationato is also soft but sharper and stagionato is the hardest and sharpest form)
- 1/4 cup honey
- walnuts either in the shell or toasted halves - as many as you prefer
- Slice the pear in quarters from top to bottom and remove the core carefully with a pairing knife. Then slice each quarter into three or four thin slices, depending on the thickness you prefer.
- Slice the cheese into small thin wedges.
- Fan the pears on the cutting board or serving plate with the cheese slices in between the pear.
- Set a dish of honey in the center of the board and place your walnuts around.
- Enjoy sharing this with your friends and family. Andiamo mangiare!
Easter! A day of joy! A day of celebration! That’s why we have been planning a festive Easter Sunday brunch this year. And that’s why we have been experimenting with a number of fresh new ideas to make this an uplifting meal of praise and thanksgiving that will set the tone for the week ahead.
One of the new dishes we put together is a colorful asparagus fritatta. This starts with a tasty potato and onion crust that is filled with a mixture of eggs, cheese, and bacon bits, and then topped with fresh asparagus spears, strips of zucchini, and colorful peppers. To dress it up we garnished it with a couple of crisp bacon curls. We were very pleased with its appearance and we loved its combination of flavors. It is definitely now on our menu, and I am almost certain once it has made its debut in the convent on Easter Sunday it will return for many repeat performances in the days ahead — not only as a brunch or breakfast dish, but as a lovely spring lunch or light supper.
Festive Asparagus Frittata
- Drizzle oil over the base of a 9 inch quiche dish, then spread with onions and top with potato slices.
- Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes or until potato is tender.
- Steam asparagus until tender.
- Arrange asparagus spears and red pepper and zucchini strips like the spokes of a wheel onto top of potato, then pour over eggs and season with black pepper to taste.
- Scatter with Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until frittata is firm.
Recently four of our young sisters were invited to a neighbor’s house in our community for a special dinner. The next day when I asked, “So how was the dinner?”
the response was, “Phenomenal!” That didn’t surprise me knowing that the menu had featured a choice tenderloin of beef, which they all liked and
we rarely have at the Convent. What did surprise and amuse me was that each of them individually wanted to tell me about one special dish
that had put the meal “over the top” and sent it “out of the park.”
This was a savory bread pudding that included leeks, fresh mushrooms, Gruyere cheese, pancetta, and sherry. Well then, why wouldn’t that
impress anyone as a phenomenal dish? And because our brave leeks are still holding their own out in the garden, why shouldn’t we give
it a try here at home? Well, we did, and sure enough it scored a home run with the whole sisterhood. Why not try it yourself and see
what kind of a rating it gets at your house?
Phenomenal Savory Bread Pudding
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large (12-inch) sauté pan over medium heat.
- Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes, until starting to brown. Stir in the leeks and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the leeks are tender.
- Stir in the mushrooms, sherry, 1 tablespoon onion salt and 11/2 teaspoons pepper and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the parsley.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, chicken stock and 1 cup of the Gruyere.
- Add the bread cubes and mushroom mixture, stirring well to combine. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid.
- Stir well and pour into a 2 1/2-to-3-quart gratin dish (13 x 9 x 2 inches). Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Gruyere and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is browned and the custard is set. Serve hot.
Winter has finally hit Cape Cod. With our first snow flurry and single digit temperatures, I felt it was time to create new twists on some old recipes, to warm and delight the cockles of our guests’ hearts: a summer favorite bundled up and served on a puddle of roasted red pepper sauce, giving it just that bit of flair. From the comments I heard, I believe we struck it right with this recipe.
Hot Chicken Salad Bundles with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Prepare the Chicken Salad
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Mix all of the chicken salad ingredients together in a bowl and set aside
- Roll out two puff pastry sheets to 11 x 11” and cut into 2- 5 x5 “ squares (removing one inch of the border – the pastry needs to be this measurement to be thin enough)
- In the center of the square put about a ½ cup of chicken salad and draw the sides up to create a bundle, twisting and pinching the top to secure.
- Place the bundles on a parchment lined pan and brush with egg wash
- Cook for about 15 min. or until golden and cooked through
Meanwhile prepare the pepper sauce
- Heat the oil in a saute pan.
- Add the shallot and cook until soft.
- De-glaze the pan with white wine and cook 1 minute longer
- Add the stock and the drained roasted red peppers. Cook 5 min.
- Cool slightly, and puree in the blender
- Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper and transfer to a small saucepan to reheat a few minutes before serving.
Making croissants from scratch can be a time consuming project, but with this easy recipe, you will be able to make the flaky pastries in a matter of minutes. Chocolate can be substituted for almond paste in the filling if you prefer. Just substitute a mini Hershey’s dark chocolate bar in place of the almond filling. This is a great project to make with your children over the holidays or for any special occasion.
- Thaw the pastry sheets at room temperature (keeping them covered) for 40 minutes or until they're easy to handle.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F
- Unfold the pastry sheets on a lightly floured surface and roll out slightly to a 15 x 10” rectangle.
- Cut each pastry sheet into 6 long triangles – see picture.
- Make a 1/2 “ notch in the center of each wide end of the triangle. Spread 1 tablespoon almond mixture in the center of the wide end of each pastry triangle to within 1/4-inch of the edge. Starting at the wide end, roll up the pastry triangles toward the point. Place the pastries, point-side down, on a baking sheet. Curve the ends of the pastries inward to form a crescent shape and pinch the ends slightly to seal. Brush with the egg.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.
** Note: one can of this filling will fill about 22-24 croissants
In the Benedictine charism, true hospitality is a “holy event”, not just a social happening where only people’s bodies are nourished. No, Benedictine hospitality requires much more than feeding people and sending them on their way. Chapter 53 of The Rule of Saint Benedict makes it very clear just what is asked: in true Benedictine hospitality, “All guests who arrive should be received as Christ.” – Cynthia Bertelson
Entertaining has long been an important part of the outreach of our community. At this time of year, we have about four events happening simultaneously, so we are always searching for creative ways to do things without adding a lot of extra stress and work, but still maintaining the level of excellence we need to do all things to the glory of God. This recipe can be used as an appetizer or first course, for your next holiday gathering. A simple two toned soup shot, hearkening back to the flavors of summer. The soup can be easily made ahead and then assembled at the last minute so you can enjoy more time with your guests.
Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup Shot
- Pre-heat the oven to 325 degree farenheit
- Toss the tomatoes, onion, garlic and one sprig of rosemary in a non-stick roasting pan with the olive oil and season with salt
- Roast for 90 minutes, or until tender (covering the pan with foil if it starts to get too dark); discard the rosemary
- Transfer the roasted vegetables to a blender and process until smooth. Strain through a sieve into a saucepan, discarding the solids.
- Pour in the stock and hot pepper sauce (optional*).
- Check the seasoning and chill until ready to serve or leave at room temperature.
- To make the basil cream, whisk together the basil and cream until slightly thickened.
- To serve, moisten 6 shot glass rims with a lemon wedge. Turn the moistened rim into a plate lined with sea salt to coat the rim. Fill each glass ½ to ¾ with soup and top with a dollop of the basil cream. Garnish each with a rosemary sprig and serve immediately.
Cooks Note *
- For a milder version, simply omit the smoky pepper sauce and add an extra ½ cup of heavy cream instead.
- Chiffonade is a chopping technique in which herbs are cut into long, thin strips. This is accomplished by stacking the basil on top of each other, rolling them tightly lengthwise, then slicing the leaves thinly and perpendicular to the roll.
- You can make this soup the day before and chill in the fridge until ready to use.