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!
This salad is a lovely and light “one platter” meal for those hot summer days. The warmth of the cutlets over the chilled baby spinach, cooks the leaves slightly, allowing you to bite into a refreshing combination of textures — soft and crunchy. I first served this on a hot day in Italy, and was taken by not only the beauty of the fabulous colors on the platter, but also the lemony and nutty flavors of the greens. Arugula can be substituted for the spinach, which will give it a more “peppery” flavor. Accompanied by a freshly made basket of rolls, you now have an elegant lunch. Andiamo Mangiare!
Summertime Spinach and Turkey Cutlet Salad
- Make your coating for the cutlets according to instructions above
- Salad Dressing: Mix all ingredients in a jar and shake well to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Coating for Cutlets: Combine all of the above in a blender until fine crumbs are made – adjust seasonings to taste
If cutlets are thick, pound with meat hammer until the cutlets are about ¼” thick. Put coating mixture in a small pan and coat both sides of the cutlets well with the crumbs.
- Coat the bottom of a cast iron or other heavy duty skillet with olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter (to prevent burning) and heat. Once sizzling, reduce the heat to medium, add the cutlets and brown on both sides. Tip: don’t turn the cutlets over until they are ready to “release” from the pan or else all the coating will come off the cutlet!
- Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables and fruit for the salad (slicing etc)
- Fill the bottom of your serving platter w/ the baby spinach and toss lightly with the dressing and then a sprinkling of onion salt and fresh parmesan cheese (or dress in a bowl and transfer to platter afterwards).
- Once the cutlets are cooked and while they are still warm, lay them over the bed of baby spinach, overlapping slightly to create some height in the center of your platter. Your baby spinach is going to cook slightly from the heat of the warm cutlets.
- Creatively, arrange your fruit and vegetables on top of the meat, and finish with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese and red onion.
- Serve while the cutlets are still warm.
The current revival of iconic American diners stirs my teenage memories, when I spent as much time as possible in my father’s restaurant which had its beginning as a small diner. A local landmark in our town, it grew into a large upscale dining establishment complete with banquet facilities, catering to many special events.
As a diner his menu consisted mainly of American favorites with a sprinkling of Greek and Mediterranean dishes. One of the most popular luncheon specials was a phyllo crusted meat,spinach,feta cheese pie similar to spanikopita, baked and served in an oblong dish. This is a revision of that dish which includes eggplant, fresh tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. The filling can be made and frozen in advance for a time when a quick emergency meal may be needed.
Meat and Spinach Pot Pies
For the filling
- Brown and crumble meat in olive oil. Add onions, eggplant, seasonings and cook till tender 12 to 15 min. Then add spinach, garlic, tomatoes and fresh herbs, simmer for 5 min. Pour in sauce, simmer until all ingredients are well blended.
For the puff pastry topper
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Flour a work surface and lightly roll out the puff pastry. Cut the size and shape of 1 large casserole or up to 6 individual bowls or large ramekins, using sharp paring knife. Place the dough on a nonstick baking sheet and wash with egg.
Place the hot filling into selected baking dishes sprinkle cheeses over all- top with crust and bake til golden...
I love fall — just the smells hanging in the air fills me with a sense of adventure. Woody smoke, apples, root vegetables, leaves burning…it is all there beckoning us to pay attention. The other day, the Sisters were given a very generous donation of pumpkins from a local nursery. It was a beautiful sight seeing them lining our walk in all different shapes and sizes. Being the thrifty sort and hating to see anything go to waste, I knew we must use these not just to beautify our property, but to eat before they went bad. When I got the call that a lunch was needed to feed our community of 200 people, I knew just the thing – homemade pumpkin soup – Delightful! We set about cutting the pumpkins into large chunks, roasting them in the oven, and then transferring them to our skillet where we turned it all into a yummy creamy pumpkin soup. When we were all done, we still had pumpkins left over! (It felt a bit like the feeding of the 5000!). I remembered that a friend, returning from Italy, had brought me a wonderful recipe of a whole, roasted pumpkin layered with ham, sautéed vegetables and cheese. It’s a perfect recipe to try at this time of year, especially with Thanksgiving just around the corner.
Pumpkin stuffed with Vegetables and Cheese
- Wash the pumpkin
- Preheat oven to 375°
- Cut the head of the pumpkin, making an incision horizontally about 2 inches down from the stem
- Place the top back on the pumpkin, wrap it in tin foil and place in a preheated oven for about one hour or until the pumpkin is almost fork tender.
- Remove from oven, let it cool slightly and remove the seeds. With the spoon, gently remove some of the flesh from inside the pumpkin and reserve.
- Generously salt and pepper the interior of the pumpkin.
- In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil and add the butternut squash and parsnips. Sprinkle with kosher or onion salt and pepper.
- When they are partially cooked, remove from the skillet
- Add onions and peppers to the same skillet, again sprinkling with salt and pepper.
- Once they have cooked a few minutes, add the mushrooms, followed by the zucchini, a few minutes later. Sautéing slightly.
- While the vegetables are cooking, grate your cheese and set aside and slice your ham into thin strips.
- Once the vegetables are prepared, in the cavity of your pumpkin, start layering in this order: ham, baby spinach, assorted vegetables, the reserved pumpkin, swiss cheese, parmesan cheese and repeat – two or three times, ending with cheese.
- Place the top on the pumpkin, place the pumpkin in a casserole dish or cast iron skillet, and return to the oven for about 45 min. or until heated through and cheese is bubbly. Let rest a few minutes and slice when ready to serve.
For a meal, serve this with homemade bread or rolls and a salad.