Sisters birthdays are a special day of celebration in our Convent. Much prayer and discussion goes into the place setting at the table, the beautiful word that is specially picked just for her and then a few carefully and lovingly wrapped gifts (which are usually a few treat foods that she rarely gets). The Sister gets to choose her dinner entree and dessert from a menu. It’s really such fun – some sisters take up to a week deciding what they’re going to ask for on their special day. This past week, I had the great fun of cooking for one such occasion. I made my signature shrimp dish – a little like a scampi, but made richer by the fettucine tossed with cream and parmesan. The fresh lemon in this recipe is a must – don’t skip it. The Sister slowly savored her meal, a smile emanating after every bite. What a blessing it is to bless others – that’s what I love so much about the gift of cooking.
Stella's Shrimp and Fettuccine
- Boil salted water for pasta
- Meanwhile, sauté ¼ c. diced onion and crushed garlic clove until translucent over medium low heat. Watch carefully so you don't burn the garlic. Add chopped basil leaves and chopped tomato – lightly toss, sauté and remove from heat and into a dish to hold.
- Cook your pasta and when finished, toss with 4 Tbsp. butter, warmed heavy cream and 1/2 cup fresh parmesan until you have an “Alfredo” – add onion salt and fresh ground pepper - seasoning to taste.
- Quickly sauté your shrimp in butter, once golden on both sides, add white wine and juice of one lemon. Simmer slightly and then add the tomato mixture back to the pan and combine - season to taste.
- Serve fettuccine with the shrimp tossed over – sprinkle with the lemon rind, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
Most of the sisters enjoy having falafels whenever they are put on the menu, but we have one sister who absolutely loves them. Just mention the word…her eyes light up, her face beams, and she’s ready to reach for the garbanzos to whip some up! “How did you acquire such a passion for them?” I asked. This was her reply:
“Picture,” she said “a dusty winding street in the heart of Jerusalem that leads to an intriguing shop. The walls are covered with hand-woven rugs, and the atmosphere is alive and warm with people sitting all around on the floor on cushions sipping mugs of tea and eating falafels. Here it was that I first fell in love with them.”
Well, you may not be able to go all the way to the Holy Land to become acquainted with this food, but you may learn to love it yourself by trying out this simple recipe right here at home as so many of us have!
- Blend together egg, onion, cumin, salt and pepper and fresh parsley.
- In a separate bowl, coarsely mash the cooked garbanzo beans, leaving some whole.
- Add egg mixture to garbanzo beans. Stir in ½ cup panko crumbs, and chill for 10 minutes.
- Remove garbanzo beans from the refrigerator and form into a ball, using about 1 tablespoon per ball. Roll in remaining panko crumbs.
- Fill a deep sided skillet with 1 inch of oil, and heat over a medium-high heat.
- Gently drop the falafel balls into the oil and fry until golden, turning occasionally for about 6 minutes. Remove falafel balls from oil and set on a paper towel to drain.
- Serve in a pita pocket with shredded cabbage or lettuce and a savory dressing, top a garden salad, or just eat it plain alongside vegetables, and enjoy!
There are certain tastes and flavors that never leave our memories no matter how much time may have passed since we first experienced them. Such is the case with me and the aromatic Greek rice my mother so often made for our family when I was growing up.
As with almost all of her cooking, she seldom, if ever, referred to a recipe. She simply relied on an innate sense that never seemed to fail her. One of my favorite foods she frequently made in this manner was this garlic flavored rice. Here’s what she did: Into a favorite skillet she simply poured some olive oil, heated for a minute or so, added some dry rice, few cloves of fresh garlic, let it sizzle, then a few cups of water pinch of salt and a generous fistful of fresh chopped parsley, lowered the heat, put the lid on, and left it alone till she was ready to serve it to us.
We loved this with lamb which we often had, and also enjoyed having it as the stuffing for a whole roast chicken.
- Heat olive oil in skillet until hot, add dry rice and stir until it becomes slightly golden.
- Add garlic cloves and let cook until softened, crush with fork; add water, and parsley.
- Cover tightly and let slowly simmer till desired doneness. Add pepper to taste.
This past weekend, I was a joy-filled member of the cooking team for our remarkable and award-winning marching band, Spirit of America. The band is embarking on a very exciting groundbreaking opportunity to travel to Dubai this January (2017) to assist in starting the first marching field band in the United Arab Emirates!
Over the past few months, they’ve had 4 rehearsals together to pull off this enormous project — creating a field show with 150 people from all over the United States! One thing we knew for sure, they needed to be fed well! My job was to cook for those with special diets. It was fun to spoil them and experiment with recipes that were gluten free, lactose free and vegan! When the weekend was over, it got me to thinking about creating more healthy recipes that we could add to our diet. This soup is high in fiber and packed with flavor, especially if you like the tastes of curry and coconut.
Vegan Curried Chickpea, Coconut and Kale Soup
- First, sauté the onion in 2 Tbsp of olive oil until softened.
- Combine all ingredients, except the lemon zest and juice, in a blender and puree until completely smooth.
- Pour soup into a medium pot and heat on medium-high. Allow soup to simmer for 10 min, stirring occasionally.
- Add the lemon zest and juice.
- Adjust seasonings to your liking and add fresh cracked pepper.
- Serve and garnish with the extra garbanzo beans and fresh kale.
Every now and then when our convent dinner is some kind of a one dish meal, Sisters like to have it served right from the big skillet in which it has been cooked. This is especially so as the weather becomes cooler. When we are a little chilled around the edges nothing comforts one as much as a piping hot bowl of savory soup or stew. Today was such a day, cool, wet and rainy out of doors. Warm, dry and welcoming inside, with the aroma of a tasty combination of the day’s harvested vegetables.
Our convent chef has been eager to make a hearty chicken stew with an Italian twist. Using the last of our autumn garden vegetables she produced a most flavorful dish and chose to serve it from the skillet, which gave everyone a warm comforting sense of generously being cared for in a special way. A along with some crusty home baked bread and a beautiful kale salad we shared a dinner which magically lifted our spirits and pleased us all.
Hearty Italian Chicken and Autumn Harvest Veggie Stew
- Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Place the split chicken breasts on the baking sheet, and drizzle them with a little oil, and a couple of good pinches of salt and pepper.
- Cut the tops off of the heads of garlic, drizzle each head with a little oil, plus a pinch of salt and pepper, and wrap each head in a small piece of foil; place on the baking sheet next to the chicken.
- Roast the chicken, along with the garlic, for 45 minutes; then allow both to cool until they can be handled.
- Once they are cooled, shred the chicken, and set it aside; then, squeeze the roasted garlic from the papers, and using your knife or a fork, make the cloves into a paste; set the paste aside for a moment.
- Place a medium-large pot over medium to medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, plus add in the tablespoon of butter; once melted together, add in the onion and allow it sweat for about 3-4 minutes, until translucent and softened.
- To the onion add the roasted garlic “paste”, and stir it in to combine.
- Next, add in the diced carrots, parsnips, celery and butternut squash and stir to combine; add in the Italian seasoning, plus a pinch or two of salt and black pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and stir to incorporate.
- Add in the tomato paste and stir, and allow it to cook with the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes, or until the “raw” flavor of it is cooked out of it.
- Next, add in the chicken stock and stir, cover with a lid and simmer very gently on low for about 20-22 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender.
- Turn off the heat, if using; add in the kale and stir to incorporate it, and allow it wilt into the soup for a few minutes; then, finish the soup by adding in the shredded chicken, the basil and the parsley (also, check your seasoning at this point to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed).
- To serve, add about ¼ cup or so of cooked gnocchi to your bowl, and ladle some of the stew over top; garnish with some grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve with warm bread.
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!