“When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the Angels eat.” —Mark Twain
Have you ever wondered how to pick that perfect watermelon? Well, I have! Faced with a bin of green striped beauties, I never quite know where to start. Let me share some tips with you that I recently discovered, and then go andmake this delicious and refreshing Watermelon, Mint, Blueberry and Feta Salad — a great side dish for a hot summer day.
1. When viewing watermelons, the first thing that sticks out are those weird white spots. However, these spots, called field spots, are quite natural. The field spot is the area where the watermelon rested on the ground. While every watermelon has a field spot, the best watermelons have creamy-yellow or even orange-yellow spots. Go for the gold.
2. The webbing of a watermelon indicates the amount of times that bees touched the flower. The more pollination, the sweeter the watermelon is.
3. Watermelons have genders. The “girl” watermelons are more round and stout — theseare the sweeter ones. The male are oblong and tend to be more watery.
4. The best watermelons are average-sized. Don’t go for too small or too big, but just right.
5. The tail of a watermelon indicates its ripeness. Go for the watermelons that have dried tails for the best taste.
6. Tap the underbelly of the watermelon. A ripe one will have a deep hollow sound. Under-ripe or over-ripe melons will sound dull.
Blueberry, Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad
- In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and diced red onion.
- Add the diced watermelon, blueberries, mint and feta cheese to bowl. Gently toss to coat. Serve immediately.
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.
Who doesn’t want to sit down to a fresh, colorful and crispy salad topped with your favorite dressing? The simplicity, the beauty, the different textures all combine to make this lunch time treat such a pleasing and healthy option.
Recently we served this for a retreat, and it received such rave reviews that we thought we’d share our salad bar ideas with you. We haven’t included amounts, because you can make as little or as much as you want. As a guide, people would probably want to plan on 1 Tbsp. of toppings per person. It’s also the perfect “to go” meal – just prep all the toppings, throw them in zip-lock bags or containers and then dish up before serving.
We hope you enjoy some of these ideas as much as we do.
Salad Bar Suggestions:
Lettuce – a blend of iceberg, romaine, bibb and red leaf is nice
diced turkey or chicken
hard boiled eggs
cheese – Havarti, swiss, cheddar – all recommended
tomatoes, wedged or grape or cherry tomatoes
roasted beets, julienned
broccoli and/or cauliflower flowerets
sliced red onion
diced cooked bacon
sunflower seeds, roasted and salted
toasted nuts – such as walnuts or pecans
An Assortment of Homemade Dressings – click on the link for the recipes
Homemade Bleu Cheese Dressing
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
English Garden Salad Dressing
Homemade Bleu Cheese Dressing
- Makes 1 cup (250ml), about four servings
If you can’t get buttermilk, mix one part milk (whole or lowfat) with one part plain yogurt (regular or lowfat) to approximate the taste. Any kind of blue cheese, domestic or imported, should work well.
- In a medium bowl, mash the blue cheese with the salt and pepper with the back of a fork until the pieces of cheese are finely broken up.
- Stir in the chives, sour cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice or wine vinegar until well mixed.
- Add a few drops of red wine vinegar. Taste, and adjust any of the seasonings to your liking and if the dressing too thick, add a bit more buttermilk.
*Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
- Place the mayonnaise, scallions, basil, lemon juice, garlic, anchovy paste, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Add the sour cream and process just until blended. Refrigerate the dressing until ready to serve.
English Garden Salad Dressing
- Combine all but the oils in a bowl and whisk. Slowly whisk in the oils to combine.
- Combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, salt, and black pepper together in a glass jar with a lid.
- Replace lid on the jar and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined.
This past spring, the brass group of our community built us an amazing outdoor kitchen and wood fire oven inspired by the one we have at Villa Via Sacra, our mission house in Barga, Italy. All summer long and even now into the colder months of fall, we’ve been able to fire up the oven and make one of our favorite foods, amongst other things, pizza!
When I served at Villa Via Sacra, I invented a Tuscan pizza of gorgonzola and prosciutto with fig jam that we had made from our gorgeous fig tree. It was delicious – almost like dessert – and we quickly adopted it as one of our “house pizzas”. This past weekend, we hosted a men’s retreat at our community, so I thought it might be fun to make some adaptions to this recipe and really perfect it – once and for all. I am so happy with the results! Thin crust pizza with a mixture of sweet and salty ingredients topped with a salad of crisp nutty arugula that’s been tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Heaven begins here! It doesn’t get much better than this! Now that figs are readily available in the market (get green fresh ones, not dried) and certainly are a treat to many, you just might want to fire up your oven and give this a try.
Prosciutto, Fig and Gorgonzola Pizza with Arugula Salad
- Place ¼ cup very warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes or until yeast is hydrated and creamy (This will allow the yeast to be quickly absorbed by the flour).
- Place flour, salt, yeast mixture, and remaining water in mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook.
- Mix on low speed for 2 minutes to combine. If the dough appears too wet and sticky and is not combining, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time while mixing until dough takes on a “shaggy” appearance.
- Drizzle with oil and mix for 2 minutes more. Dough should form a smooth ball and clear the sides of the bowl.
- Turn mixer off, cover top of bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest for 20 minutes.
- Resume mixing on medium low speed for 3 minutes, or until dough forms a smooth ball, clearing sides of bowl.
- Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
- Let sit at room temperature for 2 ½ hours. It will double in size. Dough may be used immediately.
Instructions for Assembly:
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees or highest setting
- Cut dough into 4 – 8 oz. balls
- Dust both sides of dough with flour and roll out to make a thin crust
- Drizzle with Olive oil
- Sprinkle generously with Gorgonzola
- Place into a wood fire oven (or regular preheated oven – preferably on a pizza stone)until the crust is starting to golden
- Remove from oven and quickly distribute on top of the pizza: sliced fresh figs, cover with slices of prosciutto and dot with fig jam and mascarpone cheese – don’t get too heavy on any one ingredient or your end result will be soggy and the individual flavors will be lost.
- Drizzle with olive oil
- Place back into oven for about another minute – watch carefully
- Meanwhile, dress a bunch of fresh arugula with an aged balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper
- Once out of oven, top with the dressed arugula, slice and enjoy!
One of my favorite flavors of Italy is balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico). In Tuscan homes it is a staple ingredient. Dark, glossy, sweetly sour, balsamic vinegar is the perfect condiment for both salads and desserts. Or try the lighter version, an aged white balsamic vinegar, almost like honey — it can transform any dish with just a little dash. If you are after the richest, most complex balsamic vinegar flavors, look for an aceto balsamico tradizionale DOP.
When I came across this recipe, originally for ribs, I knew I had to try it. The blend of spices in the rub adds a complex layer of flavors that doesn’t overwhelm the meat, but simply raises it to a new level. This past weekend, we served these to a group of foodie enthusiasts who had hob-knobbed all over the world. When I heard them explain, “these are the best ribs I’ve ever put in my mouth! Sister, I must have the recipe,” I felt pretty pleased! If it worked for ribs, why not transform an ordinary pork chop into a culinary masterpiece? Fresh off the grill, they are juicy and sweet with the balsamic glaze kicking it up that extra notch.
Tuscan-Style Grilled Pork Chops with Balsamic Glaze
- In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, rosemary, kosher salt, fennel, black pepper, sage, thyme, paprika, crushed red pepper, coriander and allspice. Rub the spice paste all over the pork chops and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat your gas grill. Brush both sides of your pork chops with the balsamic vinegar and place on the hot grill and grill for 4 min. on one side, or until the pork releases from the grill. Brush again with the balsamic vinegar and flip over. Grill for 3 min. on the other side. Remove from grill and serve immediately.
Note: If using this recipe to make ribs, follow step 1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Arrange the ribs on a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, meaty side up. Roast the ribs for 2 hours, or until tender. Preheat the broiler. Brush the meaty side of the ribs with the balsamic vinegar and broil 6 inches from the heat until browned, about 2 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then cut between the ribs and serve.