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.
Our Lenten journey has begun. The church has been dressed in violet and our promises to God for these forty days have been made. The chants for the season speak of hope, transformation and a return to God. In the monastery, it is traditional to simplify life, not only in our work but also in our attitudes and our eating. Many monastic houses fast from meat during Lent – a simple soup and bread for lunch and dinner are the norm. As we harvest the last of our winter squash from our garden, this simple yet hearty soup is the perfect beginning to this special season of the church year.
Vegetable and Lentil Soup from a Monastery Kitchen
- Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot. Add the diced leeks, celery, carrots, parsnips, butternut squash and a small amount of the dill and parsley and sauté until golden and the vegetables are beginning to soften, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat so the vegetables are sauteing, but not burning.
- Add the lentils and continue to sauté for a few more minutes.
- Add 6 cups of hot chicken or vegetable stock and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- Cook for about 8 min. over medium heat, simmer, but do not boil.
- Add the diced zucchini and continue simmering until the lentils are cooked and the vegetables are softened, about 15 min.
- Remove from heat and add the baby spinach, the herbs and the lemon zest and juice and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. If desired, serve with grated parmesan cheese.
After a dramatic religious conversion, young soldier Nicholas Herman decided to devote his life to following God and learning more about Christ. He joined a monastery and took the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. There, he spent the rest of his life working in the kitchen and repairing his brothers’ sandals. But during his decades of doing seemingly menial jobs, Brother Lawrence discovered a profound truth about having a relationship with God: Experiencing His presence can—and should—happen everywhere. He spent his life serving others. His letters were later compiled into the now classic book The Practice of the Presence of God.
“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.” ― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
Brother Lawrence's Stuffed Turkey Cutlets
- Between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, pound your turkey cutlets with a meat hammer until thin. Melt 2 Tbsp. each of butter and olive oil in a stove to oven safe skillet such as Calphalon or cast iron. Add your sliced onion and saute until lightly golden and soft. Add baby spinach, sun dried tomatoes, herbs and cook over low heat until soft and fragrant. Add the garlic (if desired) and wine. Cook over low heat until the flavors absorb into the tomatoes and onions.
- Lay your turkey cutlets on a cutting board. Zest the lemon over each one. Lay your mozzarella cheese on one end. Spoon the onion mixture over your cheese, and then top with a generous grating of fresh Parmesan. Starting w/ the cheese end, roll up each cutlet tightly. Sprinkle some bread crumbs into a shallow bowl, and roll each cutlet in to coat.
- Add the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter and olive oil back to your pan, melt over medium heat and add the cutlets. Sautée each side of the cutlets until golden and then place the skillet in a 300 degree oven for about 12-15 min. to cook through.
- Take the remaining spinach,and microwave for about one minute until just limp. Sprinkle with onion salt and lay on a platter. Place the cutlets on top of the spinach to serve. Pour the juices along the sides of the cutlets just before serving.
This salad is a lovely and light “one platter” meal for those hot summer days. The warmth of the cutlets over the chilled baby spinach, cooks the leaves slightly, allowing you to bite into a refreshing combination of textures — soft and crunchy. I first served this on a hot day in Italy, and was taken by not only the beauty of the fabulous colors on the platter, but also the lemony and nutty flavors of the greens. Arugula can be substituted for the spinach, which will give it a more “peppery” flavor. Accompanied by a freshly made basket of rolls, you now have an elegant lunch. Andiamo Mangiare!
Summertime Spinach and Turkey Cutlet Salad
- Make your coating for the cutlets according to instructions above
- Salad Dressing: Mix all ingredients in a jar and shake well to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Coating for Cutlets: Combine all of the above in a blender until fine crumbs are made – adjust seasonings to taste
If cutlets are thick, pound with meat hammer until the cutlets are about ¼” thick. Put coating mixture in a small pan and coat both sides of the cutlets well with the crumbs.
- Coat the bottom of a cast iron or other heavy duty skillet with olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter (to prevent burning) and heat. Once sizzling, reduce the heat to medium, add the cutlets and brown on both sides. Tip: don’t turn the cutlets over until they are ready to “release” from the pan or else all the coating will come off the cutlet!
- Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables and fruit for the salad (slicing etc)
- Fill the bottom of your serving platter w/ the baby spinach and toss lightly with the dressing and then a sprinkling of onion salt and fresh parmesan cheese (or dress in a bowl and transfer to platter afterwards).
- Once the cutlets are cooked and while they are still warm, lay them over the bed of baby spinach, overlapping slightly to create some height in the center of your platter. Your baby spinach is going to cook slightly from the heat of the warm cutlets.
- Creatively, arrange your fruit and vegetables on top of the meat, and finish with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese and red onion.
- Serve while the cutlets are still warm.
I love fall — just the smells hanging in the air fills me with a sense of adventure. Woody smoke, apples, root vegetables, leaves burning…it is all there beckoning us to pay attention. The other day, the Sisters were given a very generous donation of pumpkins from a local nursery. It was a beautiful sight seeing them lining our walk in all different shapes and sizes. Being the thrifty sort and hating to see anything go to waste, I knew we must use these not just to beautify our property, but to eat before they went bad. When I got the call that a lunch was needed to feed our community of 200 people, I knew just the thing – homemade pumpkin soup – Delightful! We set about cutting the pumpkins into large chunks, roasting them in the oven, and then transferring them to our skillet where we turned it all into a yummy creamy pumpkin soup. When we were all done, we still had pumpkins left over! (It felt a bit like the feeding of the 5000!). I remembered that a friend, returning from Italy, had brought me a wonderful recipe of a whole, roasted pumpkin layered with ham, sautéed vegetables and cheese. It’s a perfect recipe to try at this time of year, especially with Thanksgiving just around the corner.
Pumpkin stuffed with Vegetables and Cheese
- Wash the pumpkin
- Preheat oven to 375°
- Cut the head of the pumpkin, making an incision horizontally about 2 inches down from the stem
- Place the top back on the pumpkin, wrap it in tin foil and place in a preheated oven for about one hour or until the pumpkin is almost fork tender.
- Remove from oven, let it cool slightly and remove the seeds. With the spoon, gently remove some of the flesh from inside the pumpkin and reserve.
- Generously salt and pepper the interior of the pumpkin.
- In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil and add the butternut squash and parsnips. Sprinkle with kosher or onion salt and pepper.
- When they are partially cooked, remove from the skillet
- Add onions and peppers to the same skillet, again sprinkling with salt and pepper.
- Once they have cooked a few minutes, add the mushrooms, followed by the zucchini, a few minutes later. Sautéing slightly.
- While the vegetables are cooking, grate your cheese and set aside and slice your ham into thin strips.
- Once the vegetables are prepared, in the cavity of your pumpkin, start layering in this order: ham, baby spinach, assorted vegetables, the reserved pumpkin, swiss cheese, parmesan cheese and repeat – two or three times, ending with cheese.
- Place the top on the pumpkin, place the pumpkin in a casserole dish or cast iron skillet, and return to the oven for about 45 min. or until heated through and cheese is bubbly. Let rest a few minutes and slice when ready to serve.
For a meal, serve this with homemade bread or rolls and a salad.
Vegetable Stack Sandwich on Homemade Focaccia with Pesto and Ricotta
Vegetable Stack Sandwich on Homemade Focaccia with Pesto and Ricotta
- Pour the warm water in a small bowl.
- Sprinkle the yeast, sugar and 2 Tablespoons of the flour over the the water.
- Stir until dissolved, and then let sit until foamy, about 15 minutes.
- In a large bowl, place the 4 Tablespoons olive oil, salt, 1 cup of the flour and the yeast mixture.
- Whisk hard until smooth, about 3 minutes.
- Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until a soft, sticky dough is formed.
- Turn onto a floured surface and knead to form a springy ball, dusting with flour to prevent sticking, about 3 minutes.
- Place the dough in a greased deep container, and let rise until triple in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Grease a 17 x 11 inch baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal.
- Place the dough ball on a lightly floured surface.
- Press and flatten the dough.
- Lift and pull gently, stretching to fit the baking sheet.
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk.
- Meanwhile combine herbs and 1/3 cup olive oil, let sit for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Using fingertips or knuckles, gently poke indentations all over the surface of the dough about 1/4 inch deep.
- Drizzle the oil/herb mixture over the surface of the dough, letting it pool in indentations. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until nicely browned.
- Sprinkle with salt if desired.
- Lay the eggplant out onto trays lined with paper towel, sprinkle with salt, and let sit for about 10 minutes.
- Blot with more paper towel.
- Place eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and onion on baking sheets greased with olive oil.
- Brush all vegetables generously with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake in a 400 degree F oven until tender.
- Cut Focaccia into squares, and then cut into 2 layers. Spread each layer with pesto, and the bottom with 2 teaspoons ricotta.
- Place baby spinach next, then a slice of eggplant, onion, tomato, a couple of slices of zucchini and finally some strips of red pepper.
- Place top layer of focaccia on this and you have a great sandwich!