To me, the perfect sandwich is one that awakens all the senses at once: the crunch of the lettuce, the creaminess of the cheese, the zip of the spice, and the smokiness of the grill. This recipe fits that bill and has become our favorite summer ‘go-to’ sandwich. It’s a feast for the eyes and easy to prepare, packed with flavor. If you can’t get to Italy this summer, let Italy come to you!
This week, we have five young women working as sous-chefs in our kitchen to help us with a week-long retreat. They’ve had some great lessons as they’ve learned how to: pick the proper herbs, chiffonade basil, properly dice tomatoes (yes, it’s a technique!), grill chicken so it is moist and delicious, and many others. I expect them to return to their families with some great new recipes and skills at the end of this week. We hope you enjoy this sandwich for one of your functions this summer. It’s going to be a staple on our menu!
Tip: make a jar of the pesto sauce to have on hand in the freezer any time you need it!
Summer Grilled Chicken and Bruschetta Sandwich
- Make bruschetta topping: in a medium sized bowl. Combine the red onions, garlic, tomatoes, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon olive oil, oregano, and basil. Set bruschetta to the side. Drain slightly before using.
- Grill your chicken: season with salt and pepper and rub with about 1 tsp. of olive oil and grill over low flame until 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Meat is ready to turn when it no longer sticks to the grill. Do not overcook
- Split your rolls in half then stack back together, lay on a sheet pan and toast for 5 min in a 350 degree oven.
- To assemble, spread pesto sauce on each half of the roll, then layer with lettuce or arugula, mozzarella, grilled chicken then drizzle with balsamic reduction and top with the bruschetta topping. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.
The Sisters have been rising with the sun over the past couple of months to get our gardens going for summer. We have six different vegetable gardens in plots of land all over our community. Some cover acres of land and others are smaller plots, but they all need the love and care it takes to get them going. As we were working this morning, putting the last of our basil seedlings in the ground, I was getting excited about the prospect of harvesting and cooking some of my favorite dishes. Who doesn’t love a big bowl of steamy pasta tossed in pesto and sprinkled with parmesan cheese?
This recipe is one of my favorites for pesto. It’s a bit lighter and more of a sauce. It’s loaded with flavor and makes an elegant dish when used with tortellini, fettucini or one of the other heartier pastas that can stand up to pesto. It introduces the aromatic flavor of parsley with the basil and the lemon juice helps keep the herbs vibrant. If you’re making a regular pesto, I was taught in Italy to throw an ice cube in when blending the basil as this also helps keep the color bright and green. This can be refrigerated or frozen indefinitely for future use; just warm it up at room temperature – do not cook or heat.
- Put all the ingredients except the basil into a blender and grind thoroughly.
- Add the basil and grind until creamy texture is achieved. No cooking is needed.
- This amount of sauce is enough for 1 pound of pasta of your choice.
This past week, we invited artists to step away for a few days of retreat as they enjoyed renewing their vision and sharing together, in an atmosphere of Benedictine hospitality on the shores of beautiful Cape Cod Bay. Each day was punctuated by two lectures given by renowned art historian, Msgr. Timothy Verdon. He shared his passionate love of art, with beautiful images—both familiar and unknown—in a series of seven post-Easter lectures. Art lovers had the opportunity to fellowship together, while Msgr. Verdon discussed what it means to see with artistic understanding. It was a treat for our entire community and a privilege to be behind the scenes creating meals for them to enjoy. (Read more about the retreat here!)
Oscar Wilde said, “The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, I believe that you are. Every one of us wishes to create beautiful things out of nothing. Take this Lemon-Almond Butter Cake for example…
- For the curd, combine zest, juice, sugar, salt and eggs in a heatproof bowl, and beat well.
- Add butter, and place over a saucepan full of simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture thickens into curd, about 5 minutes.
- Strain into a bowl, and press plastic wrap onto surface to keep skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool, at least 1 1/2 hours.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-inch spring-form pan with 1 tablespoon butter, and dust with 1 tablespoon flour, shaking out excess.
- With an electric mixer, cream the remaining butter and 1 cup sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt, and stir in.
- In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until they start to foam. Do not overbeat or the cake will be tough. Add eggs and ground almonds to batter, and mix well.
- Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Drop 8 individual tablespoons lemon curd around perimeter of batter, leaving a 1-inch border, and taking care to space drops evenly.
- Drop 3 to 4 tablespoons curd into center of batter. Refrigerate remaining curd for another use. Sprinkle cake with toasted almonds and 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, depending on taste.
- Bake until cake is toasty brown on top and a toothpick inserted into cake (not curd) comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
- Let cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove sides of pan, and cool completely.
- Whip cream with almond liqueur. Present cake at table, and offer whipped cream on the side.
(Recipe adapted from the New York Times)
Whole grains have firmly established a prominent place in today’s overall diet, and are continuing to grow in acceptance and popularity. Once a taste for them has been acquired, less textured, more refined grains often have less appeal. Years ago when I first sampled wild rice I was not at all eager to have it again. Last night when it was served for dinner, I immediately wanted a second helping.
During this time of Lent, when many people choose to eat less meat, and have simpler meals, it can be a good time to introduce more grains into the menu such as this flavorful combination of wild rice with mushrooms and leeks.
Wild Rice with Mushrooms and Leeks
- Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan, add the onion, and cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until translucent.
- Add 5 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, and the wild rice.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer, covered, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the rice is tender. Drain well.
- Place the drained rice in a bowl, add the remaining tablespoon of butter, the scallions, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper.
- Slice mushrooms, cut up leeks to similar size as mushrooms.
- Sauté both in just enough olive oil to brown.
- Stir into rice. Add wine and heat all together till hot.
- Taste for seasonings and serve hot.
Cider, apples, yams, and pork chops. What could better express Autumn in the form of a meal? With a daily collection of apple drops from our trees in the orchard we have been having them in many ways each day: homemade cider, spicy apple butter on crispy warm toast, and tangy applesauce as an accompaniment to most anything, but tonight they made their appearance for the first time in a main meal, and what a successful debut this was! One would hardly expect something so simple to be so successful in pleasing so many.
The yams and apples were simply quartered and roasted on a sheet pan while the chops were seared and simmered in cider — which was reduced to a surprisingly flavorful sauce, tying everything into a perfect expression of the Fall season.
Cider-Glazed Pork Chops with Roasted Yams and Apples
- Preheat oven to 450º Fahrenheit. Mix yams, apples, rosemary, 2 tablespoons oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Spread yam mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until potatoes are browned and tender, about 25 minutes, turning halfway through baking time.
- Season pork with 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Heat remaining oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Add pork, and cook until golden brown and center is barely pink, about 5 minutes per side. Place 1 chop each on 4 individual dinner plates, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings in skillet.
- Reduce heat to medium, and add cider. Bring to a simmer, stirring to loosen browned bits from skillet. Whisk in mustard, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter until melted and incorporated. Sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Drizzle sauce over chops. Divide yam mixture among plates, and serve immediately.
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.