Every now and then when our convent dinner is some kind of a one dish meal, Sisters like to have it served right from the big skillet in which it has been cooked. This is especially so as the weather becomes cooler. When we are a little chilled around the edges nothing comforts one as much as a piping hot bowl of savory soup or stew. Today was such a day, cool, wet and rainy out of doors. Warm, dry and welcoming inside, with the aroma of a tasty combination of the day’s harvested vegetables.
Our convent chef has been eager to make a hearty chicken stew with an Italian twist. Using the last of our autumn garden vegetables she produced a most flavorful dish and chose to serve it from the skillet, which gave everyone a warm comforting sense of generously being cared for in a special way. A along with some crusty home baked bread and a beautiful kale salad we shared a dinner which magically lifted our spirits and pleased us all.
Hearty Italian Chicken and Autumn Harvest Veggie Stew
- Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Place the split chicken breasts on the baking sheet, and drizzle them with a little oil, and a couple of good pinches of salt and pepper.
- Cut the tops off of the heads of garlic, drizzle each head with a little oil, plus a pinch of salt and pepper, and wrap each head in a small piece of foil; place on the baking sheet next to the chicken.
- Roast the chicken, along with the garlic, for 45 minutes; then allow both to cool until they can be handled.
- Once they are cooled, shred the chicken, and set it aside; then, squeeze the roasted garlic from the papers, and using your knife or a fork, make the cloves into a paste; set the paste aside for a moment.
- Place a medium-large pot over medium to medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, plus add in the tablespoon of butter; once melted together, add in the onion and allow it sweat for about 3-4 minutes, until translucent and softened.
- To the onion add the roasted garlic “paste”, and stir it in to combine.
- Next, add in the diced carrots, parsnips, celery and butternut squash and stir to combine; add in the Italian seasoning, plus a pinch or two of salt and black pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and stir to incorporate.
- Add in the tomato paste and stir, and allow it to cook with the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes, or until the “raw” flavor of it is cooked out of it.
- Next, add in the chicken stock and stir, cover with a lid and simmer very gently on low for about 20-22 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender.
- Turn off the heat, if using; add in the kale and stir to incorporate it, and allow it wilt into the soup for a few minutes; then, finish the soup by adding in the shredded chicken, the basil and the parsley (also, check your seasoning at this point to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed).
- To serve, add about ¼ cup or so of cooked gnocchi to your bowl, and ladle some of the stew over top; garnish with some grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve with warm bread.
Leaving the noon church service today I got into a conversation that resulted in my late arrival for lunch. As I entered the refectory I heard happy exclamations regarding the meal…”What a great lunch! I loved this…so fresh and beautiful so colorful and tasty.”
What was it they were raving about? It was a brand new crisp, crunchy tofu recipe and it was all they described it to be! Truly sensational and remarkably satisfying.
Citrus Cabbage Salad with Crispy Tofu
- Drain tofu of excess water. Let sit 20 minutes to drain.
- While waiting for tofu, mix together the first 7 ingredients and set aside.
- Heat a skillet on medium with about a 1/2 inch of vegetable oil inside. While heating, slice tofu into 1/2" slices, then cut each slice into thirds. Coat each cube lightly with cornstarch using a sifter and then place into pan until browned and crispy. You may have to turn up the heat under the pan a bit. Remove from frying pan sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and set aside on paper towels.
- Wipe pan clean with paper towel and add sesame oil, onions, and
chopped ginger. Cook about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add sauce mixture to pan, bring to a boil, and simmer about 2 minutes. Add tofu back to mixture, toss to coat. Top with green onions if desired.
- Put the cabbage in a large bowl, with the celery, cut the skin and pulp from the oranges ...slice them into wheels (cut out any seeds) and add to the cabbage. Whisk the oil, lemon juice, balsamic and oregano and salt and pepper and pour over the cabbage.
- Mix well. Let it settle then mix through a few more times so that it is completely coated. Toss prepared tofu over salad before serving.
We have just entered Advent, celebrated Thanksgiving, and are now headed into the holiday season with all our favorite foods ahead of us. So we want to keep our menus tasty but also healthy without including too many rich heavy dishes at this time.
Fish is perfect for right now. Not only because of its nutritional value but also because it’s so convenient, fast and easy to cook during these busy days when time is at premium. Here at the convent we include fish weekly in our meal planning and prepared in this Mediterranean way it appeals to many. We often serve it with fresh kale which is still growing in our garden and continues to provide us with many healthy benefits through the winter months.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper, celery and anchovies. Cook stirring often, until lightly browned.
- Add wine and garlic and simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in olives, oregano and lemon zest.
- Season with 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and capers. Season fish with the remaining salt and pepper.
- Arrange the fish in a single layer in a pie pan or baking dish. Spoon the vegetable mixture over the fish and give a light sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Bake uncovered, until the fish is just cooked through, 10 to 20 minutes.
- Divide the fish into 2 portions and top with vegetables and their juices.
This weekend, we will be harvesting the last of our peppers from our garden. We have been so blessed to have such an abundance of beautiful vegetables this year, so much so, that we are still reaping the benefits of the eggplant, leeks, butternut squash, and pumpkins. My brain goes into overdrive, as recipe after recipe comes to mind.. what magical combination can we concoct next?
We had a special request for stuffed peppers from one of our Sisters. She adores them, and has happy childhood memories from her Pennsylvania roots. I was delighted to fulfill her request. While in Italy, I came across this wonderfully spicy stuffed pepper recipe. I modified it with the ingredients I had on hand. I’ve never been a big fan of green peppers, but I love the sweet, colored varieties, as recommended here. The flavors of Italy abound: balsamic, red pepper flakes, fennel and spicy sausage. This is sure to be a family favorite.
Villa Sacra Stuffed Peppers
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Bring rice and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, and the liquid has absorbed, 20-25 min. Remove from heat and set aside
- Cook the chopped leek in olive oil over medium low heat until the leek begins to soften (watch that it doesn’t burn), about 5 min. Transfer half of this mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
- Stir tomato sauce, beef broth, balsamic vinegar, and red pepper flakes into the skillet with half the leek mixture; cook and stir for 1 minute.
- Pour tomato sauce mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish and set aside.
- Combine the ground beef, Italian sausage, fennel seeds, diced tomatoes, parsley, garlic, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper into bowl with reserved leek; mix well. Stir in cooked rice and 1 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano. Stuff bell peppers with beef and sausage mixture, heaping slightly.
- Place stuffed bell pepper halves in the baking dish over tomato sauce; cover baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
- Remove aluminum foil, sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bake until the meat is no longer pink, the peppers are tender and the cheese is browned on top, an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Andiamo Mangiare!
It is so amazing to me how the humble little garbanzo bean has grown in popularity over recent years and so firmly established itself in our American diet. Because it is so rich in protein and fat free it is a healthy source of nourishment. Recent tests have now verified that adding garbanzos to one’s diet reduces, in many people, craving for other less wholesome foods. These little chickpeas, as some people prefer to call them, are a fantastic snack roasted in a little olive oil and sprinkled with onion salt or other favorite seasonings.
But our favorite way of having them at the convent is in the form of homemade hummus with pita pockets – when sisters see this on the lunch menu a cheer sounds throughout. Everyone goes away from the meal happy- including the kitchen crew because it is such an easy meal to prepare to eat and to clean up.
Basic Plain Homemade Hummusv
- Puree in food processor to desired taste and consistency.