This week’s recipe was inspired by an Asian guest that we were hosting for lunch at our guest house. As a novice learning to cook, I was always taught by the Sisters to really think about the person that I was cooking for: What would they like to eat? What would bless them? Subtle subtext here: it’s not about what I like to cook, or what blesses ME! So a gluten-free, colorful Thai soup came to mind — a recipe that I squirreled away awhile ago in hopes that some time I would have the opportunity to make it. I made a few adaptions which resulted in the recipe below.
As I was chopping, I noticed that all of the ingredients were vibrant shades of green, so I dubbed them the liturgical ingredients of ‘ordinary time’. We rounded this lunch off with a delicate spinach and spring mix salad topped with avocado, fresh strawberries and candied almonds, and pita crisps. The dessert was a homemade Mango and Vanilla Panna Cotta — a recipe that I hope to share in future weeks!
** This recipe was adapted from Once Upon a Chef **
Thai Chicken, Spinach and Rice Noodle Soup
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup shallot(s) thinly sliced, from 1-2 large shallots or red onion
- 1 tbsp. ginger minced, fresh, about a 1" piece, peeled
- 2 tbsp. curry paste Thai green
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 can coconut milk (13.5 fl oz), unsweetened
- 1 tbsp. fish sauce
- 4 packed tsp. brown sugar light or dark
- 2 tbsp. lime juice fresh, from 2 limes
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- For Serving
- 4 oz. rice noodles thin
- 2 cups chicken cooked, shredded, from a rotisserie or roast chicken
- 4 handfuls spinach baby, stems removed
- 1 handful cilantro fresh, chopped
- 3 scallion(s) thinly sliced
- Sriracha sauce
- Lime wedges
- Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium-low heat.
- Add the shallots and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the green curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute more.
- Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, and turmeric; bring to a gentle simmer. Continue simmering, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles according to the package instructions. If not using immediately, let them sit in a bowl of cold water.
- When ready to serve, taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.
- Gently reheat the noodles in the microwave, if necessary (remove from water first!).
- Place baby spinach in the bottom of the serving bowl, place the rice noodles and shredded chicken on top and ladle the hot broth over top and sprinkle with cilantro and scallions.
- Serve with a lime wedge for garnish.
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!
Once we opened Villa Via Sacra, our mission house in Barga Italy, it
took no time for warm friendships to spring up between our Community
family and the locals. Their interest in Gregorian chant resulted in
weekly gatherings at the villa where, over foaming mugs of Cappuccino
and crunchy biscotti, together we studied studied Latin neums and
learned how to sing authentic Gregorian chant. In return the local
women invited the sisters into their kitchens where they
generously shared their own secrets to preparing authentic Tuscan
Since then our menus at the Convent, Bethany retreat house and
Paraclete retreat house definitely reflect our close association
with the life in Barga. This summery salad, although it involves
little cooking, incorporates many of the typical Tuscan flavors and is generously flavored with many of the seasonings regularly used there.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain and transfer to large serving bowl.
- Make dressing: Whisk together olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
- To bowl, add prosciutto, spinach, cherry tomatoes, and dressing and toss until well combined.
- Garnish with Parmesan.
Meals at the Convent are planned and prepared by the Convent kitchen staff for each day of the week—except Sundays, when rotating groups take turns making dinner. This gives Sisters who don’t normally cook an opportunity to do so, and to select a favorite dish they particularly enjoy. Often these meals turn out to be “fun” or ethnic in nature, such as last night when an abundance of chopping, chatter and laughter resulted in a tasty, colorful Thai meal enjoyed by all.
Crunchy Tofu Noodle Salad
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Cut tofu into chunks about 1” square or ½” strips. Marinate in soy sauce and fry in oil in a sautee pan until slightly brown and semi firm or line sheet pan with aluminum foil, coat with a layer of oil and cook tofu at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until brown and semi firm.
- Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas, return to a boil, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp tender. Lift the sugar snap peas from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Drain.
- For the dressing, whisk together the vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds and peanut butter in a medium bowl.
- Combine the spaghetti, sugar snap peas, peppers, scallions, fried tofu in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the spaghetti mixture. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and the parsley and toss together.
Our gardens are bursting at the seams with eggplants. I just love the shiny purple beauties and feel slightly sorry for the bad rap they get from opinionated palates! Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to attempt to set those opinions straight and give you some trusted recipes that will transform this ordinary vegetable into an extraordinary culinary delight.
In writing this, I am reminded of a wonderful book I read many years ago as a young Sister when I was exploring my Jewish roots. The book, To Life! by Rabbi Harold Kushner, is filled with wonderful insights into human nature and God. I underlined over and over as I read through the book. One particular quote has remained with me, the author says, “To be human is to choose to be good; to take something unholy and make it holy, something ordinary and transform it into the extraordinary. To sanctify the world and live a Godly life”.
Praying that co-working with God today will begin to make the ordinary extraordinary.
Melanzane alla parmigiana – Eggplant Parmesan
- Heat the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a heavy (non-aluminum) saucepan.
- Add the onion and half of the basil, the Italian seasoning and the salt.
- Allow to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Cook until the onion is translucent and then add the garlic.
- Add the tomatoes, cover with a lid, and cook until the tomatoes are soft and have melted into a sauce.
- Add the sugar to taste and adjust seasonings.
- Continue cooking so the sauce can thicken and add tomato paste, if desired for a thicker sauce (you don’t want your sauce to be watery!).
- Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Cut the eggplant into slices and sprinkle with salt. Put them in a colander and leave for 30 min. while the bitter juices drain away.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry on a paper towel lined sheet pan. Mix the flour in a separate pan with some salt and pepper and lightly dust both sides of the eggplant with flour.
- Heat enough olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet, or other heavy pan, and fry the eggplant in batches until golden brown on both sides (watch your heat so the oil doesn’t burn – lower is better!). Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil, and repeat.
- To assemble: spoon a little of the tomato sauce into a 12” oven dish, or 13x9” pan. Cover with a layer of eggplant slices. Add a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, then a layer of the mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining basil leaves. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and repeat the layers to use up the ingredients, ending with the cheese.
- Put into the oven and bake for 20-30 min. or until the top is slightly golden and crusty. Cool slightly before cutting into servings. If you are using a cold, ready-made sauce, allow a little extra cooking time (if sauce is not already hot). Serve hot or at room temperature.
It works well to make this the day ahead. Cover the casserole with foil and heat in a low oven for about an hour or until heated through. This also freezes well – assemble in a pan and freeze uncooked. When ready to use, thaw, and bake as above. You will enjoy this during the winter months if you have a harvest now. Andiamo mangiare!