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.
Here at the Convent we love to give attention to birthdays, be they big or little. Last week I had a very BIG one (85!) and it was celebrated in a very big way, especially featuring an abundance of beautiful spring flowers and fabulous food — two of my main passions.
The day was launched with an outstanding brunch including many of the old favorites I’d used over the years for guests, retreats and special events. This Swiss Omelet Roll was a specialty that brought back many memories, and made for much meaningful conversation as we re-lived the occasions when it was served.
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.
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Pumpkin stuffed with Vegetables and Cheese
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
1 hr30 min
5 1/2lbpumpkin(or whatever would be a good size for your family)
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.
Andiamo Mangiare! For a meal, serve this with homemade bread or rolls and a salad.
I cannot remember another year when our tomato crop has ever been more bountiful than it has been this summer… absolutely beautiful pickings of the healthiest and tastiest fruits each day, and we enjoyed them in so many different ways. My favorite way being sun warmed straight off the vine.
One of the ways in which they are most often requested at the convent is stuffed with a zucchini, onion, breadcrumbs and cheese mixture. I started making these years and years ago and they have never lost their appeal. They are beautiful to serve and a most flavorful addition to any meal. You must be sure to make some before the season comes to a close.
Cut tops off tomatoes, scoop out pulp, and drain upside down on paper towel or a rack.
Grate squash and onion. Mix in salt. Let sit ½ hour; squeeze out liquid and sauté in small amount of olive oil until soft. Set aside 4 teaspoons each of Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Add remaining cheese, bread crumbs and white pepper.
Cook squash mixture in frying pan until liquid is absorbed.
Fill tomatoes. Sprinkle tops with reserved Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10-15 minutes or until hot and golden brown on top. Do not overcook.
For years I thought of making a soufflé as something too difficult to tackle except by the experts, so I put off making them. After finally trying one, I was amazed to discover how simple and straightforward it really is…and how very satisfying! The sight of your creation as it begins to rise before your eyes in the oven and then finally puffs up into all its glory… is reward enough to say nothing of the delight in tasting it.
In case you have been intimidated as I was, this may be the perfect time for you to overcome that fear and tackle one, because these light fluffy wonders are perfect for hot weather meals when you want to serve something other than cold food, and you don’t want anything cooked that’s too heavy. Guests in our retreat house are always thrilled when served a soufflé. They say it makes them feel so special!
The vegetables are really pouring in from the gardens now. Every year it seems to happen all at once. Last summer I never got around to using one of my most favorite tomato zucchini recipes, and I don’t want that to happen again this year. I used this frequently for guest meals and retreats for many, many years and it was always very popular. It is definitely old fashioned but definitely good! Plus it is a very attractive and savory compliment to any plate, especially when all the fresh tomatoes and summer squash are at their peak.