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!
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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.
The other night, we made this tasty soup at the Convent in the form of a stew, with pieces of chicken thighs cooked into it, and chunks of sweet potato left intact. We loved the flavor so much that we thought we’d create our own recipe in a meatless rendition, something to relish during Lent. The result was wonderful! You can taste each subtle flavor: roasted peanuts, sweet potatoes, coriander, ginger, and tomato – a very odd collection! But when put together, a velvety and beautiful soup is born.
It’s very simple to throw together and with a little bread, cheese, and salad, you have a complete meal. Enjoy!
Our Lenten journey has begun. The church has been dressed in violet and our promises to God for these forty days have been made. The chants for the season speak of hope, transformation and a return to God. In the monastery, it is traditional to simplify life, not only in our work but also in our attitudes and our eating. Many monastic houses fast from meat during Lent – a simple soup and bread for lunch and dinner are the norm. As we harvest the last of our winter squash from our garden, this simple yet hearty soup is the perfect beginning to this special season of the church year.
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Vegetable and Lentil Soup from a Monastery Kitchen
Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot. Add the diced leeks, celery, carrots, parsnips, butternut squash and a small amount of the dill and parsley and sauté until golden and the vegetables are beginning to soften, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat so the vegetables are sauteing, but not burning.
Add the lentils and continue to sauté for a few more minutes.
Add 6 cups of hot chicken or vegetable stock and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
Cook for about 8 min. over medium heat, simmer, but do not boil.
Add the diced zucchini and continue simmering until the lentils are cooked and the vegetables are softened, about 15 min.
Remove from heat and add the baby spinach, the herbs and the lemon zest and juice and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. If desired, serve with grated parmesan cheese.