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.
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.
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.
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.
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.