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.
Meals at the Convent are planned and prepared by the Convent kitchen staff for each day of the week—except Sundays, when rotating groups take turns making dinner. This gives Sisters who don’t normally cook an opportunity to do so, and to select a favorite dish they particularly enjoy. Often these meals turn out to be “fun” or ethnic in nature, such as last night when an abundance of chopping, chatter and laughter resulted in a tasty, colorful Thai meal enjoyed by all.
Crunchy Tofu Noodle Salad
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Cut tofu into chunks about 1” square or ½” strips. Marinate in soy sauce and fry in oil in a sautee pan until slightly brown and semi firm or line sheet pan with aluminum foil, coat with a layer of oil and cook tofu at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until brown and semi firm.
- Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas, return to a boil, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp tender. Lift the sugar snap peas from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Drain.
- For the dressing, whisk together the vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds and peanut butter in a medium bowl.
- Combine the spaghetti, sugar snap peas, peppers, scallions, fried tofu in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the spaghetti mixture. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and the parsley and toss together.
After having had so many special meals over Christmas and New Year’s
we wanted to come up with a simple yet satisfying supper on New Year’s
day. Remembering that we still had some leeks braving the cold out in our
almost barren gardens we decided on a potato leek soup, homemade bread
and a hearty salad. Since there was also some kale fighting for
survival out there why not add that to the soup making it even
healthier and giving it yet another dimension?
Our decision turned out to be a good one and everyone enjoyed it! They especially
appreciated its being light as well as very flavorful and heart-
warming,(the flavor was even better the next day) so when we make
it again I will suggest we make it a day or two before actually serving it.
We garnished it with a dollop of sour cream and chopped kale. A few bacon bits
or curls, if desired, could also add to its look and flavor.
*Whether you get your leeks from your garden or your grocery store it is important
to wash them ever so thoroughly because they often have soil hidden between the leaves
at their stems.
- Heat the oil in a large (6-plus quart) stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek and potato and kale . Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have begun to soften and brown slightly, about 8 to 12 minutes (this time will vary greatly depending on the surface area of the bottom of your pot).
- Add the vegetable stock and bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
- Blend until smooth, either using an immersion blender or by carefully transferring to a blender in batches.
- Add the cream, and season to taste with salt (I start with 1 teaspoon and go from there, tasting frequently) and lemon juice and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Ladle into bowls, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a healthy sprinkling of kale or bacon bits.
When I was a child, there was a peacock that used to strut through the back yard of my great-grandmother’s house. He would time his performance perfectly; as soon as all of us were gathered at the window, he would throw his head back, arch his feathers into a magnificent fan, and do a little pirouette as graceful as a king. It is like this with figs — they must be showcased.
I can’t pass up a fresh fig in a grocery store, especially when I’m doing holiday baking. Our local grocer had a nice selection of figs this past week, and I thought they would make a handsome and tasty dessert for a holiday luncheon we were preparing. Flamboyant as they are with their velvety exterior and intricate, seed-filled interior, they beg to be shown off.
The marriage of figs, mascarpone, and walnuts makes a fabulous winter dessert, and I would recommend this one for any dinner party. You can make the tart shells ahead and freeze them. When you are ready to use them, fill them while still frozen, and they will thaw in time for dessert. Since fresh figs are one of the most perishable fruits, they should be purchased only a day or two in advance of your meal. Look for figs that have a rich, deep color, and are plump and tender, but not mushy.
Fresh Fig, Walnut and Mascarpone Tart
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy for 3 minutes, using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, scraping down the sides and bottom occasionally. Add the flour and mix on low speed until fully incorporated, about one minute (don’t over mix). Add the egg yolk and continue to mix on low speed until the dough comes together, about 30 seconds.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour (or up to 4 days).
- Remove from refrigerator and let soften until pliable. Flour your work surface so dough does not stick, and sprinkle the top of dough with a little flour. Roll out dough, starting in middle and rolling outward, to a 1/4 inch thick disk or rectangle, depending on your tart pan.
- Don’t worry if dough tears or crumbles, it’s easily pressed together in the tart pan. Lift over the rolling pin and place in tart pan with removable bottom. Patch holes or tears by pressing dough with fingers. Press dough into sides, corners and bottom. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the tart pin for a clean even edge. Refrigerate 30 minutes -this is important.
- Bake at 350 for 30 -35 minutes, positioned in the center of the oven, until golden. Be sure to keep a careful eye so that it doesn’t over cook. If using individual tart pans, these will take about 12 min. to bake. Let cool before filling.
- While these are baking, spread your walnuts onto a sheet pan and toast in the oven – once you smell them, remove them, they will be done!
- Put the jam in a microwaveable bowl, and heat in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds until the jam is of a more spreadable consistency. Add the brandy, a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Spread this over the bottom of the tart shell (s) but not up the sides. Let cool.
- In a stand mixer with the beater attachment, whisk together the mascarpone, whipping cream, vanilla, powdered sugar and salt until soft peaks form. Be careful, especially if you are using an electric mixer, because the mixture will thicken very quickly.
- Spread this mixture over the fig jam leaving about 1/4 “ of space of the jam showing on the edges, so not completely covering the jam base.
- Decorate the top w/ some toasted walnuts mounded in the center, a couple of quartered figs and right before serving, drizzle with some light honey.
If making ahead, have your components ready but don’t assemble until close to serving time.