Beautiful zucchini and yellow summer squash continue to come in from the gardens every day, and while they do it would be a shame not to have a nice stuffed zucchini boat meal before the season slips by. This is what last night’s convent cook thought as she prepared to make our dinner. She wanted to do something a little different from what we usually do and she turned out a meal that brought applause from the entire sisterhood even though we have had quite a few zucchini meals this summer. Using a combination of sweet and hot Italian sausage and a generous mixture of favorite Italian cheeses she succeeded in satisfying even the most discriminating pallet that evening.
The two things, I think, that put this dish over the top was the combination of cheeses (she used Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Asiago and Gorgonzola) any of which give a distinctive taste, and then the generous use of fresh garden herbs like basil, oregano and Italian parsley.
Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Blanch the zucchini in a large pot of boiling water, 7 minutes, then place in cold water 5 minutes. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out all but ¼ inch of flesh. Brown the sausage in a small skillet, breaking the pieces into small bits, 5 to 6 minutes, then remove the meat from the skillet.
- In the same skillet, on medium heat, add the onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 additional minute (add a little bit of olive oil if the pan is dry). Add the meat back to the skillet along with the cream cheese, zucchini pulp and bread crumbs and stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired; fresh basil, oregano and parsley are nice.
- Place the zucchini boats on a small sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fill with the meat mixture. Top with tomato halves and grated cheese.
- Place in oven and bake 25-30 minutes until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Garnish with basil.
I’ve had the great joy of working side-by-side with an Italian chef over these last few weeks. The other Sisters who have lived and worked at Via Sacra have also had the tremendous privilege of learning from her. Chef Laura has been so generous with her time and energy as we try to absorb all that we can about Italian cooking. Below is one of her recipes that she taught me this past week and I went home and made it for the villa. These crepes are so delicious and light! Chef Laura serves this as a first course at her restaurant, but we enjoyed it as a light supper served with a fruit salad and a tossed green salad on the side.
All Chef Laura’s recipes are in her head, so I tried to reproduce it here by just observing her. If the quantities seem a little off, just adjust them to your liking! We can still get squash blossoms in the market this time of year in Italy. If you have any zucchini plants in your garden, just pluck the blossoms off and you are all set!
Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms
- Make the filling: Over low heat, melt your butter in a saucepan and add the zucchini and red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until both vegetables are very soft. Continue cooking until most all of the moisture is removed (the zucchini will let off a lot of water while it cooks). While the zucchini mixture is cooking, prepare the crepes.
- Make the crepes: In a blender, combine all the crepe ingredients above and blend until smooth. Let rest about 5 min.
- Heat a lightly oiled Teflon frying pan (omelet size pan) over medium heat. Pour or ladle the batter into the pan, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly. Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side for 1 minute. Remove to a plate, put a square of wax paper on top and repeat until all the batter is used up. This recipe should make 8 crepes.
- Remove the filling from the heat and mash with a potato masher. Let cool slightly and add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. This mixture should be the consistency of pesto or a little thicker.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. (or broiler)
- To assemble, in one quadrant of your crepe place a heaping tablespoon of the filling and spread to fill that quadrant. Fold the crepe into quarters and place into oblong serving ramekins (2 per person) or a casserole dish. Repeat, until all the crepes are filled.
- Dot each crepe with butter and lay the squash blossoms over them to cover the crepes. Again, dot butter over the squash blossoms and sprinkle the grated cheese over the entire crepe.
- Place the crepes in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and golden, about 5 min. If you prefer, you can also broil them at this step.
- Remove from the oven and serve.
Years ago before pita pockets, as we now know them, had become so common and readily available commercially, they were a regular everyday staple in our home. We called these Syrian bread, because we had an authentic Syrian neighbor who baked it regularly for her household and taught my mother how to make it. I have many happy memories of helping my mother shape the dough into the round loaves. I loved watching these magically puff up into inflated discs in the oven as they baked; and then settle back down into their original shapes after they came out of the oven and cooled.
Always we would roll some of the bread up into towels while still warm; when it cooled this way it had a much chewier texture which I especially liked just with plain butter. However there are so many ways to enjoy it. Sisters particularly love it stuffed with fried or roasted eggplant and fresh sliced tomatoes, roasted onions, peppers, and zucchini or yellow squash slices, with a sprig of fresh basil.
Another favorite way we eat it is split in half, brushed with oil, herbs of choice, onion salt and grated Parmesan. Then baked in 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes until brown and crisp. It is a fun bread to bake and a fun bread to eat in whatever way you like.
- In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and the sugar in the water and allow to get bubbly.
- In a food processor, pulse the flour with the salt.
- With the machine on, pour in the yeast mixture and then the oil and process until the dough forms a ball.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times.
- Form the dough into a ball.
- Lightly oil a bowl with olive oil.
- Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn to coat
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Take the dough and divide it up into 6-8 sections.
- On a floured surface, shape the dough into little flat circles.
- Heat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Baking the breads 2-3 at a time bake them for 5-7 minutes. Just till they turn a nice golden brown.
- Take them out the oven, let them cool and then ENJOY!
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.