Recently a friend drove me to a medical appointment. As we left to return home she asked, “How about lunch?” This had not been in the plans but it was lunchtime and a nice suggestion so I said, “Sure.” The next question was what did we feel like having: a burger, a taco, pizza, Chinese? None of them moved either of us, so I offered another idea, “Further on there is a nice little French bakery that serves lunch, if you wouldn’t mind driving an extra bit.”
Within minutes both of us were savoring the richest flavored onion soup out of individual black wrought iron pots overflowing with melted cheese and boasting a gorgeous golden crusted crouton. Almost simultaneously, we both had the same thought: Why don’t I ever make this at home? Within days she made it for her family and the convent sisters served it for two different retreats. In each case it met with overwhelmingly positive responses.
How long has it been since you served French onion soup?
- In a heavy-bottomed pan, slowly brown the onions and garlic in butter and sugar until the onions are golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Add flour and cook, stirring for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add stock or consommé and water, and simmer partially covered for 1 hour.
- To serve, place a small slice of French bread on top of each bowl, and cover generously with Swiss cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, then bake covered at 325 degrees for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake another 10 minutes.
If you visit any one of Tuscany’s Trattorias, you will most likely find this on the menu as a “contorni” or side dish. Leeks, parmesan and a light sprinkling of nutmeg — all the flavors of Northern Italy combine to make this savory pie a wonderful addition to beef or veal. This past weekend, we served this as a side to Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Vinegar to our Oblates on retreat. As we venture into Lent, this meatless side dish could actually become a main dish for lunch. It’s one of my favorite recipes to share with you. Our prayers are with you for a very blessed Lent.
"Torta di porri" (Leek Pie)
- Make your pastry and leave it to rest in the refrigerator for an hour before rolling out.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the pastry into a 8" pie plate and blind bake it. Click here for instructions on blind baking a pie crust.
- Prepare your filling. Strip away any damaged tough parts of the leek and top extreme ends, and slice the leeks into thin slices.
- Put them into a bowl of cold water and swish them with your hand to remove any dirt remaining. Transfer to a colander to drain.
- Put the olive oil into a saucepan to heat and add the leeks. Saute gently to soften, and season with salt and pepper.
- When the leeks become lightly golden, add the wine and continue cooking over low heat until most of it has evaporated and the leeks are softened. If the leeks are still hard and the wine has evaporated, add 1 cup of hot water and saute for another 10 min. or so until the leeks are soft and there is only a little liquid left in the pan. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool slightly.
- Lightly whip the eggs in a bowl and add the cream, parmesan cheese and a dash of nutmeg. Add the cooled leeks and stir well. Adjust seasonings if needed.
- Pour the mixture into your par-baked crust, shifting the leeks evenly with a wooden spoon.
- Return the tart to the oven for about 20-30 min. until the top is lightly golden and the filling is set.
- Cool slightly and slice into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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.
Easter! A day of joy! A day of celebration! That’s why we have been planning a festive Easter Sunday brunch this year. And that’s why we have been experimenting with a number of fresh new ideas to make this an uplifting meal of praise and thanksgiving that will set the tone for the week ahead.
One of the new dishes we put together is a colorful asparagus fritatta. This starts with a tasty potato and onion crust that is filled with a mixture of eggs, cheese, and bacon bits, and then topped with fresh asparagus spears, strips of zucchini, and colorful peppers. To dress it up we garnished it with a couple of crisp bacon curls. We were very pleased with its appearance and we loved its combination of flavors. It is definitely now on our menu, and I am almost certain once it has made its debut in the convent on Easter Sunday it will return for many repeat performances in the days ahead — not only as a brunch or breakfast dish, but as a lovely spring lunch or light supper.
Festive Asparagus Frittata
- Drizzle oil over the base of a 9 inch quiche dish, then spread with onions and top with potato slices.
- Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes or until potato is tender.
- Steam asparagus until tender.
- Arrange asparagus spears and red pepper and zucchini strips like the spokes of a wheel onto top of potato, then pour over eggs and season with black pepper to taste.
- Scatter with Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until frittata is firm.
Sometimes simpler can be better. This is true with many things including food. Complex cooking with multi- layers of flavor and texture has its place,however combining just a few select foods can sometimes take ones breath away. Such was the case with a lunch we served last week to some visiting bell ringers.
Our change ringing bells bring many bell ringers here from many places to hone their ringing skills. They come for different lengths of time and are often here for meals. Most of them prefer healthy foods. All of them love our fresh garden vegetables especially our salad bars. Right now when eggplant and tomatoes are at their best we put them together in a simple salad that almost made itself. Together with a few special seasonings this dish kept many of them coming back for just one more helping all through the meal. This dish along with some crusty French or Italian bread and a favorite cheese, if desired makes a most satisfying lunch or light supper. Two important tips to insure the best flavor – use very ripe tomatoes and serve the combined ingredients at room temperature NOT chilled.
- Cut the eggplant and tomatoes into cubes and salt both generously with
- Toss eggplant with 1/2 cup of oil and spread out on parchment lined pan. Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until golden. Let Cool.
- Grate onion and add to tomatoes stir and leave at room temp.
- When eggplant is cooled to room temperature combine with tomatoes.
- Add oregano and place in serving dish. Sprinkle with olives and finely chopped basil.
- If desired top with grated cheese. This combination of ingredients is perfectly flavorful as is but if a little more tartness is preferred sprinkle with a splash of vinegar.
Our gardens are bursting at the seams with eggplants. I just love the shiny purple beauties and feel slightly sorry for the bad rap they get from opinionated palates! Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to attempt to set those opinions straight and give you some trusted recipes that will transform this ordinary vegetable into an extraordinary culinary delight.
In writing this, I am reminded of a wonderful book I read many years ago as a young Sister when I was exploring my Jewish roots. The book, To Life! by Rabbi Harold Kushner, is filled with wonderful insights into human nature and God. I underlined over and over as I read through the book. One particular quote has remained with me, the author says, “To be human is to choose to be good; to take something unholy and make it holy, something ordinary and transform it into the extraordinary. To sanctify the world and live a Godly life”.
Praying that co-working with God today will begin to make the ordinary extraordinary.
Melanzane alla parmigiana – Eggplant Parmesan
- Heat the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a heavy (non-aluminum) saucepan.
- Add the onion and half of the basil, the Italian seasoning and the salt.
- Allow to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Cook until the onion is translucent and then add the garlic.
- Add the tomatoes, cover with a lid, and cook until the tomatoes are soft and have melted into a sauce.
- Add the sugar to taste and adjust seasonings.
- Continue cooking so the sauce can thicken and add tomato paste, if desired for a thicker sauce (you don’t want your sauce to be watery!).
- Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Cut the eggplant into slices and sprinkle with salt. Put them in a colander and leave for 30 min. while the bitter juices drain away.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry on a paper towel lined sheet pan. Mix the flour in a separate pan with some salt and pepper and lightly dust both sides of the eggplant with flour.
- Heat enough olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet, or other heavy pan, and fry the eggplant in batches until golden brown on both sides (watch your heat so the oil doesn’t burn – lower is better!). Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil, and repeat.
- To assemble: spoon a little of the tomato sauce into a 12” oven dish, or 13x9” pan. Cover with a layer of eggplant slices. Add a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, then a layer of the mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining basil leaves. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and repeat the layers to use up the ingredients, ending with the cheese.
- Put into the oven and bake for 20-30 min. or until the top is slightly golden and crusty. Cool slightly before cutting into servings. If you are using a cold, ready-made sauce, allow a little extra cooking time (if sauce is not already hot). Serve hot or at room temperature.
It works well to make this the day ahead. Cover the casserole with foil and heat in a low oven for about an hour or until heated through. This also freezes well – assemble in a pan and freeze uncooked. When ready to use, thaw, and bake as above. You will enjoy this during the winter months if you have a harvest now. Andiamo mangiare!