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.
As Sr.Irene mentioned last week, our gardens are just starting to burst with vegetables. This week brought in fava beans and my mom gave us a beautiful basket of her home grown kohlrabi (which immediately sent me “Google-ing” for recipes!). But the majority of our yield so far has been zucchini and yellow squash. Time to be creative with recipes!
It’s a tradition in our Convent for Sunday night dinner to be prepared by the Sisters who share a common bedroom. Our rooms sleep 6-8 sisters. We usually choose our room by lot and switch up every once in a while. That means, there is a mix of personalities and gifts in each room; younger sisters with older ones, cooks with calligraphers, night owls and early birds. Our biggest crosses can become our greatest blessings. We live in Community and that’s how we roll!
Enjoy this crispy and flavorful panini prepared by our Sunday night Sister chefs. A healthy and fun twist on the favorite BLT, this recipe subs out cold lettuce for a piece of grilled zucchini. Enjoy!
"BZT" Panini with Mozzarella, Bacon, Grilled Zucchini, and Tomato
- In a large skillet, fry bacon over medium-high heat until golden and crispy, 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
- On a baking sheet, brush zucchini strips with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a 350 degree oven until golden.
- Lay tomato slices on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to soak up liquid.
- Place ciabatta halves on a cutting board. Brush insides of loaf with olive oil. Layer bottom half with zucchini strips, bacon, mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Top with other half ciabatta. Halve loaf and brush outside with olive oil.
- Preheat a panini press. (If you don’t have a panini press, cook sandwich in a large skillet over medium-high heat with a heavy pot or pan on top to weigh it down; flip sandwich halfway through to make sure both sides get cooked evenly.) Place half of sandwich in panini grill and cook, pressing down from time to time, until golden and cheese is melty, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Repeat with remaining sandwich half, then serve cut into triangles.
- Courtesy of: www.delish.com
This is a glorious time of the year for garden lovers. 5:30 am finds sisters weeding, tilling the soil and harvesting “fresh from the earth” vegetables. We have been enjoying beautiful varieties of lettuce, scallions, snow peas and chard for a while, and now zucchini and yellow squash are rapidly rolling in every day.
One of our enterprising Sisters turned out a quick and easy way to prepare a zucchini dish that met with lots of happy responses from the Sisters at last night’s dinner. Who would not love their vegetables prepared like this? Beautiful to behold! Scrumptious to eat! You absolutely must give this prize winner a try and there could not be a more perfect time to do it than right now.
Garlic Parmesan Zucchini and Tomato Bake
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and spray 8 x 8 or 9 x 11 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Sauté onions in 1/2 c oil. Add sautéed onions and the additional 1/2 c oil to the rest of the ingredients, except fresh basil or parsley, and mix well before baking.
- Transfer to a prepared baking dish and bake uncovered for 35 minutes. Check for doneness with a fork or knife after 25 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, garnish with fresh basil or parsley and serve hot/warm.
More and more, we are getting requests from guests for gluten-free and dairy-free diets. Finding recipes that are healthy and tasty all at the same time can be challenging! The reason I love this soup is, you can actually taste the zucchini! So many times zucchini soups are masqueraded in sour cream, cream cheese and dill and you absolutely loose the flavor of the vegetable itself.
Delightful if chilled overnight and served ice cold on a hot summer day, or conversely, ladled out piping hot on a steely winter night. Easy to prepare, vegan (if you swap out the butter), and delicious, you might want to add this to your weekly lunch menu!
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter and the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes.
- Add the zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to a simmer; cook until the zucchini is very soft, about 10 minutes.
- Cool slightly. Working in 2 batches, puree the soup in a blender until it's silky-smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Serve it either hot or chilled, garnished with julienned zucchini.
- The soup can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight.
- **Recipe adapted from Food & Wine.
Salad bars are a real favorite at the Convent. They always bring a happy response from the sisters. With a variety of so many healthy wholesome food to choose from, everyone is sure to find something they like. Recently we roasted fresh beets intending to use them in a familiar salad. While they were being cut up my eyes fell on some beautiful oranges nearby- loving the colors of both I could not resist the urge to combine them. The result was a very different dish from what it started out to be! Not only did the rich colors complement each other, so did their flavors. Baking beets brings out their flavor as no other way of cooking them can. Combining them with fresh orange zest and fruit, red onions and red wine vinegar gives them a surprising zip and mouthwatering brightness.
- Place beets in a foil lined pan and roast for an hour or until tender. Cool. Peel and cut into wedges.
- Place oil and vinegar into a mixing bowl.
- Grate 1 tablespoon full of the red onion into the bowl.
- Zest 1 tablespoon of orange rind into the bowl.
- Add finely chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon onion salt, freshly ground black pepper and marmalade.
- Whisk together and pour over beets. Cut rind off from oranges and cut fruit into slices or wedges. Combine with beets.
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.