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!
Saturdays in the Community call for a lot of physical participation, especially for our band members — 20 of which are sisters. Morning Beehive, the weekly time when all Community members gather to work together on whatever jobs need most to be done, starts at 8 am and continues until noon, with a half hour coffee break at 10 am.
Following lunch our convent band sisters pack up and take off with the rest of the band for a full afternoon of serious rehearsal often requiring considerable concentration as well as physical activity.
Everyone knows that when the band comes home they will come home very hungry and be looking forward to a substantial dinner. That’s why we always plan a hearty meal for that evening for all of us.
This week’s Saturday night dinner cook chose to do pork ribs with creamy polenta, chard, yellow squash and salad, but instead of grilling the ribs as we often do she surprised everyone by choosing to braise them…and…the result? Not a rib leftover and she has now been branded “Best Saturday night convent dinner cook!”
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pat the ribs dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the ribs on all sides, working in batches if needed. Remove the ribs and set aside. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrots, celery, onions and some salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, to remove the raw flavor, about 3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and wine, and then add the red pepper flakes and bay leaves.
- Add the ribs back to the pan and add enough stock to reach halfway up the sides of the ribs. Bring the pan to a simmer, cover and place in the oven. Braise until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. During the last half hour, uncover to allow the liquid to reduce and the pork to brown. Remove ½ of the veggies and blend to a thick puree- return to pan juices to thicken the sauce.
- Serve the ribs with Creamy Polenta, spooning the sauce on top, and garnishing with parsley.
- Spray the insert of a slow cooker with cooking spray (for easier clean up) and preheat on high.
- In a medium saucepan, add 1 cup of the half-and-half, the milk, 1 tablespoon of the butter and the polenta. Season with salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to keep the mixture lump-free. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and cook on high for 2 hours, stirring once or twice per hour.
- Once you are ready to serve, open the slow cooker and whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the remaining 1/3 cup half-and-half and the Parmesan. Salt and pepper conservatively since the polenta will be served with a robustly salted dish.
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.
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.