It’s My Blogiversary Today, and a Giveaway!

It’s hard to believe that 6 years ago today I started this food blog called Proud Italian Cook and what a journey it has been from day one! It still continues to be one of the joys of my life. I’m honored to be a part of  a wonderful community of bloggers, many of whom I can truly call my friends. To all my readers, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support with all your comments and personal emails that you’ve taken the time to write. Thank you to all those who “liked” me on Facebook, and a thank you to all my loyal subscribers and those of you who have “pinned” any of my recipes on Pinterest. And last but not least my close family and friends!
 This past year has been full of change for Proud Italian Cook, I really moved out of my comfort zone complete with a makeover! I took the leap and left a free blogging platform and moved forward on to one that I own, and I’m so happy I did! With it came many modern updates that I so wanted to give all my readers. The other thing I did, (and I still can’t believe it myself), I wrote my first e-book on Italian Sauces. Inside you will see what I cook for my own family, special recipes and stories that bring me back to my own traditions from childhood. For all of you who bought my book, thank you, I appreciate it. For those of you who might be considering it, it’s always available for purchase right here on my blog.

What will the future bring? Well one thing for sure I’m not going anywhere yet, this is too much fun, and who knows, there might just be another e-book in the works!

 AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!

Recently I received the most beautiful gift basket from a company called, Manhattan Fruitier, in exchange for my honest review. I have to tell you I was so blown away the minute I opened the box. Inside there were two superior quality wicker hampers, which I will reuse at another time, it was tied together like the photo shows above and at the top was a large, wrapped round loaf of walnut bread from Balthazar Bakery.

 The hamper I received from them called, Mediterranean-Santorini was filled with wonderful products such as Emmer farro, Herbes de Provence, capers, preserved lemons, almonds, organic Medjool dates, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Ligurian olives, Ventrusca tuna, seasonal fresh fruit, flowers and 2 dipping bowls. Everything needed for eating the healthy Mediterranean way!

I would highly recommend Manhattan Fruitier if you want to send someone a very special gift, they offer all different price points, something for everyone and you can even customize your own baskets. Please keep them in mind for the upcoming holidays!
 NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS THAT INVOLVES YOU!

Manhattan Fruitier wanted to help me celebrate my 6th  Blogiversary so they are graciously sending ONE of my lucky readers the Mediterranean-Santorini gift hamper!

Unfortunately because there are perishables, shipping is limited to the U.S. Also, for the purpose of the giveaway they can’t serve Hawaii or Alaska.

For those of you who qualify to enter, please leave only one comment per person telling me what recipe or features you like on or about Proud Italian Cook. No anonymous comments will be accepted as I will need an email address to contact the winner. Comments will not be accepted after 11:59 pm central time, Sunday August 18, 2013. Winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Monday August 19th, 2013

If you are reading this via Facebook you must enter on this blog to win the giveaway, not Facebook.

Disclaimer… I did receive 1 Mediterranean- Santorini gift hamper for review, but as always all opinions expressed here are 100% my own.

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Making Basil Oil

basil oilOne of the absolute joys of summer for me is to walk out into my garden and pick fresh basil leaves when ever I feel like it. I have basil growing all over my backyard, in pots and in the ground. Our seasons are so short here that I have to get it while I can. I’m not the gardener in my family, the husband is, but he takes great direction from me concerning how many plants I want even if I go a little overboard!
fresh garden basil This was a stellar year for basil, all the leaves were vibrant and lush, perfect for pesto and my new found love, basil infused olive oil!

Making basil oil is so simple and the end result is so amazing, trust me you’ll want to drizzle it all over your fish, meat, vegetables, eggs and crusty toasted bread! I had my sweet granddaughter help me in the process picking the leaves, check out her green toes!
making basil oil All it takes is just a few short steps and you’re finished, and a little goes a very long way. Put some in a pretty glass bottle and hand it off to your friends and family, they will love it!

basil oilGive the 3 ingredients a quick whirl in a blender or a food processor until nice and pureed. Check out that beautiful color you can tell by looking at it how good it’s going to taste!
basil oil When it’s finished you can choose to strain it through cheesecloth for a more refined and clear result or just leave it as is, I did it both ways to show you, but either way the flavor is dynamic!

Here it is not strained dripping over a tomato and mozzarella stack sprinkled with flaky sea salt. To-die-for!
 And here it is pictured above strained through cheesecloth, clear and still vibrant green. I made this for breakfast the other day, crusty toasted Italian bread drizzled with basil oil, layered with bacon, sliced tomatoes and a sunny side up egg drizzled with more basil oil. Another to-die-for!  Thanks M-A for the inspiration!

Basil Oil

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed basil leaves
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Wash basil leaves then blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute.
  2. Remove and place in an ice bath to cool down.
  3. Squeeze out water and dry with paper towel.
  4. Place blanched basil, the oil and salt into a blender or food processor and puree.
  5. Let it settle a little then pour into a glass container.
  6. Use immediately or refrigerate. Flavors are even more intense the next day.
  7. Keeps for 1 week refrigerated.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/08/making-basil-oil.html

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Lemon Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

lemon risottoHere’s a wonderful summery risotto filled with bright flavors of lemon that has roasted cherry tomatoes folded inside, it’s the perfect side dish for any type of grilled fish!
garden tomatoes Also a brilliant way to use up some of those cherry tomatoes you might have exploding in your garden like me. I’m guaranteed a bowl full everyday from my garden so I’m constantly thinking of different ways to use them up.

lemon risottoThat’s why I was thrilled when I came across this recipe from an old bon appetit  magazine. The original recipe folds in arugula at the end but I opted not to do that, I don’t think it needed it, also the original recipe includes rosemary and thyme, I eliminated those and just added more fresh parsley. While my tomatoes were roasting in the oven at 400 degrees I had a separate pan roasting thin lemon slices for garnish, (watch those they don’t take long!) I also added a little more lemon zest and grated parmesan to the risotto because my theory is, “more is better”. My suggestion to you is, taste as you go!
cedar planked salmon I served the risotto with cedar planked salmon, the bright citrusy flavors paired so well with the smoky salmon.

cedar planked salmonMy daughters favorite way of preparing salmon is brushing it with coconut oil and topping it with salt, pepper, lemon slices and fresh cilantro.
cedar planked salmon This one was brushed with olive oil, finely smashed garlic, salt, pepper, lemon zest, lemon slices and chopped fresh parsley. Soak your planks for a few hours beforehand then keep outdoor grill around 400 degrees, the time it takes will depend on the size and thickness of the fish.

This was such a perfect summertime meal!

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Grilled Kale Salad

grilled kale salad Who knew you could grill kale? I didn’t. It wasn’t until I saw this technique done in a book called, Hero Food by Chef Seamus Mullen’s, that I got inspired to do it. Actually, the minute I saw it I knew I had to try it, why not, I grill everything else!

garden kale We grow a ton of kale, we have it all over our garden, three different varieties so I’m always thinking of ways to use it up, as it keeps growing well into the fall. I’ve made kale chips in the past and I have to admit I didn’t like them at all, but I’ve since realized it was the way I made them, they lacked flavor. With a little more seasoning and a little more olive oil I’ve come to love those crispy little chips, maybe it’s an acquired taste I don’t know, but they’re very addicting if they’re made right!garden bounty Our tomatoes are finally getting red, it’s exciting to walk out into the garden everyday to see what kind of loot we have vine ripened and ready to pick. grilling kale Tossing the kale in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic, lemon zest and garlic gives you a nice base for a salad or just to eat as is.grilling kale The kale leaves hold up very well on the grill with the stems and all. Don’t walk away because it just takes one to two minutes per side. You could grill up a large platter in a few minutes!grilled kale Grilling brings out a rich smokey flavor with a texture that is crunchy and chewy at the same time, and it looks quite unique on a platter, something you don’t see often.grilled kale salad  As I said you could eat it right off the grill as a side dish to fish, poultry, beef or pork or you might want to break it up and toss it into a salad like I did.grilled kale with grilled veggies For my grilled kale salad I used vegetables that I had previously grilled, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, corn, yellow and red peppers. In addition to that I added fresh cherry tomatoes and goat cheese to the salad with an extra drizzle of my vinaigrette over the top. Summertime freshness that is so good for you!

Grilled Kale Salad

Ingredients

  • Adapted from Chef Seamus Mullen's
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons, balsamic vinegar
  • 2 bunches of kale, washed and spin dried, any variety with big leaves will do
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat grill.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine olive oil, garlic, vinegar, juice, zest and kale. Toss until well coated.
  3. Lay kale side by side in a single layer on top of the grill until crispy, 1 - 2 minutes per side.
  4. Pile the kale in a big stack on a large platter or break up and place into a salad.
  5. For salad add grilled assorted veggies, goat cheese and sliced cherry tomatoes.
  6. VINAIGRETTE RECIPE to drizzle on top.
  7. 3 parts good olive oil to 1 part wine vinegar, a splash of balsamic, 1 smashed garlic clove, a dollop of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, ground pepper to taste. Whisk everything together.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/08/grilled-kale-salad.html

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Cherry Studded Ricotta Tart and Summer Scenes in Chicago

cherry studded ricotta tartAs promised, I said I was going to post my Cherry Studded Ricotta Tart, so here it is! Creamy, light, slightly sweet and bursting with cherry flavor, all nicely baked into an almond crust. It’s the perfect summer dessert to have out on the patio with a cup of espresso!
Morello cherries Deep into summer cherries are bountiful here right now, so if you don’t mind pitting fresh cherries go right ahead, you’ll need around 23 or so for a 9 inch tart. I must confess pitting is not my favorite thing to do so I cheat a little bit and use these yummy dark Morello cherries I discovered from Trader Joe’s. All you have to do is open the lid, pour them into a strainer and drain them really good.

almond meal crustNormally I would make a graham cracker crust for this tart but I thought I would change it up this time and make an almond crust, since almonds and cherries go so well together.
cherry ricotta tart It was a great choice if I do say so myself!

cherry ricotta tartJust look at that crunchy, nutty crust!

slice of ricotta tart Put the espresso on, grab a slice and enjoy!

ChicagoThis past weekend we had relatives from out of town visiting, they wanted to go into the city to see Millenium Park and “The Bean” so we drove down, parked our car and walked all over town.
Chicago scenes It was a gorgeous summer day, the perfect temperature to dine outside and enjoy the views.

Chicago riverThe river looked exceptionally beautiful that day, the sun was glistening on the water, even the buildings were shining! If your visiting Chicago take the architectural boat tours it’s one of the best ways to see the city.
Chicago scenesChicago BeanWe made it to “The Bean” then sat and people watched by the fountain, I highly recommend it!

Chicago food Of course eating and drinking along the way makes it even more fun!

Cherry Studded Ricotta Tart

Ingredients

  • ALMOND CRUST
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • RICOTTA FILLING
  • 2 cups, drained ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • feel free to add 1 tablespoon of Limoncello if you so desire, optional
  • 24 pitted cherries.

Instructions

  1. FOR CRUST.
  2. Add melted butter to almond meal and sugar, mix well then pat into a 9" tart pan.
  3. Place tart pan on a baking sheet then place into a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove.
  4. FOR FILLING.
  5. With a hand mixer blend together the ricotta cheese, sugar, eggs, zest and flavorings until smooth and creamy. Pour mixture into the tart pan and place into the oven for 5 minutes. Remove, then carefully studd your cherries on top.
  6. Place cherry studded tart back into the 375 degree oven and continue baking 30-40 more minutes or until toothpick comes out clean in the center.
  7. Let it cool completely, then refrigerate for an hour or two before serving.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/07/cherry-studded-ricotta-tart-and-summer-scenes-in-chicago.html

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Patty Pan Squash Carpaccio for a Hot Summer Night

patty pan squash carpaccioSometimes on a hot summer night or when I’m just being lazy, I’ll put together a nice antipasto platter and we’ll have that for our main meal. My refrigerator is never without a variety of olives and cheeses and either salami or prosciutto of some sort, so it’s pretty quick for me to whip this up. This is casual dining at it’s best, just open a chilled bottle of wine, add some crusty bread then relax and enjoy!
farmers marketpatty pan squashOver the weekend I went to our local farmers market and couldn’t resist taking home a bag of these tiny saucer shaped squash and a few 8-ball zucchini, even though I had no clue how I was going to prepare them!
patty pan squash I’ve seen these tiny squash stuffed before and roasted, but because it’s been so hot outside I decided to make mine carpaccio style, raw uncooked thin slices tossed in olive oil and lemon with shaved parmesan and parsley, it was the perfect addition to my cool and refreshing antipasto platter. I just love the scalloped edges and the tops on the patty pan squash, it’s all edible and it makes for a nice presentation.

italian antipastoI also made a caprese salad to go along with everything, because in the summer that’s a staple at my house and besides I have basil growing like crazy all over my backyard!
antipasto Aaaah summertime, when the living is easy!  Don’t you love it?

Patty Pan Squash Carpaccio for a Hot Summer Night

Ingredients

  • patty pan squash
  • 8-ball zucchini
  • fresh chopped parsley
  • arugula, optional
  • shaved parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • Lemon zest
  • fresh lemon and olive oil dressing

Instructions

  1. Slice the tops off of the patty pan squash with a knife, set aside.
  2. Slice tops off of the 8-ball zucchini, discard.
  3. Thinly slice remaining squash with a mandolin if possible, slices should be thin.
  4. Add sliced squash, plus the tops of the patty pan squash into a bowl and add parsley, zest, shaved parmesan, arugula, use as much as you want, to taste.
  5. Whisk together a fresh lemon and olive oil dressing then pour over the squash and toss very gently.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/07/patty-pan-squash-carpaccio-for-a-hot-summer-night.html

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Rainbow Carrot Ribbon Salad

rainbow carrot saladI couldn’t resist these beautiful rainbow carrots the other day while I was shopping, I quickly stuck them into my cart not knowing what I was going to make with them, but I was inspired by their vibrant colors!
raw rainbow carrots Just look at these beauties! The colors are amazing, deep purple, yellow, red, white, peach and of course orange. I decided to make a salad, shaving the carrots into ribbons using my vegetable peeler so I could showcase all the gorgeous colors inside.

rainbow carrotsAs I was shaving them their deep rich colors were even more pronounced, my favorite was the purple with the yellow center.
shredded carrot ribbons Surprisingly their flavor isn’t all that much different, some of the carrots might taste slightly sweeter than the others but you sure can’t beat the visual! Imagine this on a large platter as a side dish. I served it with grilled salmon, a beautiful healthy meal that needed nothing else!

rainbow carrot ribbonsWorks of art for under five dollars, your guests will be impressed, it’s turns the humble carrot into a very sophisticated dish!
carrot salad Of course I had to make my salad Italian style with ribbons of Parmigiano Reggiano tossed inside, I also added arugula which balanced the sweetness of the carrots perfectly.

rainbow carrot saladFresh basil, parsley and slivers of red onion added and tossed with my homemade vinaigrette, I’m telling you there wasn’t one ribbon left on the platter!
carrot salad Don’t pass these babies up!

Rainbow Carrot Ribbon Salad

Ingredients

  • I'm listing the ingredients, the amounts are to taste. Taste as you go!
  • rainbow carrot ribbons
  • baby arugula
  • Parmigiano Reggiano ribbons
  • slivered red onion
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh basil
  • toasted pine nuts, optional
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • light vinaigrette, recipe below

Instructions

  1. Use a large bowl to toss and coat every thing completely then place your salad on a platter.
  2. VINAIGRETTE RECIPE
  3. 3 parts good olive oil to 1 part wine vinegar, a splash of balsamic, 1 smashed garlic clove, a dollop of dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, ground pepper to taste. Whisk everything together.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/07/rainbow-carrot-ribbon-salad.html

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Have a Happy and Safe 4th of July!

SangriaNo recipes today, just relaxing and sipping sangria, enjoying the beautiful weather here in Chicago, and wishing winter never comes back!
steak and vegetable kabobs Many grills will be fired up and good smells will be in the air, some of the things we enjoy grilling are, steak kabobs. It’s not summer without a kabob  of some sort!

BBQ baby back ribsOf course ribs are a given. We make no claims here to be rib masters, we just cook them low and slow then slather on some really good bbq sauce.
beer brats The hubby makes his famous beer brats. Sweet onions, butter and beer flavor perfectly grilled brats!  A nice side for all this would be my red, white and blue potato salad.

cherry ricotta tartAfter a heavy meal a nice light dessert goes well like my cherry studded ricotta tart, I promise I will get this recipe on the blog soon, it’s that good!
fireworks Have a great day and enjoy the fireworks!

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Olive Crusted Cod in Foil

olive crusted codNext time you’re making fish consider wrapping and cooking it in foil. You can either bake it in the oven or stick it on the grill, which ever way you choose you’ll love how these foil packets lock in all the moisture and flavor of the fish, and clean up is a breeze!
fresh cod I bought a beautiful fresh filet of Alaskan cod the other day from Whole Foods, I’ve always been a fan of cod I love the texture, the mild flavor and those big moist flakes. I’ve made cod this way, and this way before but this time I wanted to try something a little different.

After a little Google research I got my inspiration from a Jacques Pepin recipe. I was sold when I read that the assertive ingredients used in this crust is just right for flaky and mild flavored cod. I made mine slightly altered but the basic ingredients are the same, briny olives, sundried tomatoes, garlic, parsley and scallions rough chopped and drizzled with olive oil.
 I placed my olive crusted fish on top of a layer of zucchini ribbons then drizzled the whole thing with a lemon and olive oil dressing that I whisked together. Extreme flavor!

It was a hot day and I didn’t want to turn on my oven so I decided to make individual foil packets for the grill, something I do often anyway. Easy cleanup and it takes less then 15 minutes to cook!
 Just look at all that flavorful juice! Here is my version for the grill.

Olive Crusted Cod in Foil

Ingredients

  • 1lb of fresh cod
  • 3/4 cup of mixed olives, kalamata, nicoise, and green
  • 1/2 cup of sundried tomatoes, dried or drained of oil
  • 2 small garlic cloves
  • 3 scallions
  • 3/4 cup of parsley
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • zucchini ribbons, optional

Instructions

  1. Rough chop the olives, sundried tomatoes, garlic,scallions and parsley in a food processor.
  2. Use heavy duty foil and cut it large enough to be able to enclose fish without leakage.
  3. Drizzle bottom of foil with olive oil, place zucchini ribbons first and then fish.
  4. Spread olive mixture all over the top of the filet.
  5. Whisk together the juice of 1 lemon and olive oil and drizzle that on top of the olive crusted fish.
  6. Crimp foil to enclose fish.
  7. Place on hot grill at 400 degrees for around 15 minutes.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/06/olive-crusted-cod-in-foil.html

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Caprese Style Portobellos

caprese stuffed portobellosI love the large portobello mushroom caps because basically you can stuff them with almost anything you want resulting in a beautiful meal that you created in no time. You don’t need a bunch of ingredients to make them and you feel totally satisfied after you’ve eaten them.
stuffed portobello We often eat these as a main course during the week along with a nice big salad but if you want to make them as a delicious side dish next to grilled chops or a steak, I’m here to tell you they go perfectly together!

caprese mush
What’s not to like? All the flavors of a caprese salad all plopped into a large portobello cap! It’s good, it’s really good.

caprese mush11One of the reasons this tastes so good is that you cut and prepare your cherry tomatoes ahead of time letting them sit in a bowl for a few minutes with your olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper, letting all the flavors meld together. Good tomatoes are the key of course!

caprese mush9And lastly, and I wouldn’t say this unless I meant it, but if you really want to take the whole flavor experience over the top, finish it off with this!

Caprese Style Portobellos

Ingredients

  • large portobello mushroom caps, gills removed
  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • shredded or fresh mozzarella ( although I've tried both I prefer the dryer shredded version for this because of the moisture factor seeping out)
  • fresh basil
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean up.
  3. Brush the caps and rims with olive oil on each mushroom.
  4. Slice cherry or grape tomatoes in half, place in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, add chopped basil, salt and pepper. Let it sit for a few minutes to let the flavors meld.
  5. Place your cheese on the bottom of the mushroom cap, spoon on the tomato basil mixture and bake until cheese melts and mushrooms are cooked but not overcooked.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/06/caprese-style-portobellos.html

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Grilled Fennel Salad with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan

grilled fennelWill you be firing up the grill for Father’s Day? If so, I’d like to suggest a platter of grilled fennel as a side! It goes wonderful with steaks, chicken, fish and my absolute favorite, a Tuscan grilled pork roast. Those of you who have been on the fence about fennel because of it’s slight licorice/anise flavor, please give this grilled version a try.
grilled fennel platter Cooked fennel doesn’t taste licoricey at all, it’s delicate and mellow and has a natural sweetness with a texture that is similar to bok choy.

Fresh herbs combined with lemon, lemon zest, olive oil and shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano makes for the perfect topping to enhance the flavors even more.
grilled fennel salad You can grill your fennel ahead of time either outside or on an indoor grill, just don’t flip them until you get a nice char on each side and they’re tender to the touch. I like to keep my grill on medium, watching closely. They take about 5 minutes per side.

 Then all you have to do is drizzle on the dressing and watch them disappear!

Grilled Fennel Salad with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan

Ingredients

  • fennel bulbs, sliced
  • olive oil
  • fresh herbs like basil, parsley and thyme and some fennel fronds
  • lemon juice and zest
  • Parmigiano Reggiano shavings

Instructions

  1. If your fennel bulbs have stalks and fronds on them, then you'll want to trim them off.
  2. Cut off any hard and inedible outer parts.
  3. Trim a tiny bit off the bottom, the core helps to keep your slices in tact.
  4. Holding your fennel bulb upright cut 1/4 inch slices vertically from top to bottom.
  5. Brush each side with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
  6. Place slices on a medium hot grill turning until you get a nice char on each side and fennel is tender to the touch.
  7. Whisk together the lemon, olive oil, herbs and zest adding salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle all over.
  8. Garnish with the shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.
  9. Delicious slightly warm or at room temperature.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/06/grilled-fennel-salad-with-fresh-herbs-and-parmesan.html

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Summer Salad Sides

Italian saladIf you’re having a BBQ then your going to need some side dishes, here’s a few that I’ve been making lately. When I make a salad I don’t fuss about exact measurements, I just grab a bowl or a platter, the size of which is always determined on how many people I’m feeding, then I just start cutting and tossing in all my favorite ingredients. If you love artichokes like me then add more, if you’re not crazy about onions, don’t add any. If I’m adding chickpeas I might want to start with a handful at first adding more as I go. That’s how I make a salad, so for these four salads I’m featuring I’m giving you the combination of ingredients I used but not the exact amounts, you can be the judge according  to your tastes!

For my ITALIAN CHOPPED SALAD  which is also great as a starter because of all the antipasto ingredients. I added romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, green and black olives, red onion, roasted red peppers, cucumbers, diced provolone cheese, salami and cooked ditalini pasta. Vinaigrette dressing.

zucchini ribbon salad ZUCCHINI RIBBON SALAD with ASPARAGUS and CORN. Everything here is raw except for the grilled corn, After you dress it let it sit for an hour so all the flavors meld together.  It includes yellow squash and zucchini ribbons, ( that I make with my vegetable peeler) slices of baby zucchini, tender small asparagus cut diagonally, grilled corn, parmesan chards, (the more the better), toasted walnuts, basil and chopped chives. Vinaigrette or lemon olive oil dressing.

grilled potato saladGRILLED RED POTATO SALAD. This is a tasty side for steaks, ribs, pork and chicken. Pre-grill some red potato slices by cutting the top and bottom off of the potatoes then cutting into planks, toss in olive oil and place on your grill until tender. Grilled red, yellow and orange peppers, chopped bite size, Nicoise olives, sliced grape tomatoes, chopped green onion and fresh parsley. Vinaigrette dressing.
Italian vinagrette I get asked many times how I make my Vinaigrette so here it is,  3 parts good olive oil to 1 part wine vinegar, a splash of balsamic, 1 smashed garlic clove, a dollop of dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, ground pepper to taste. Whisk everything together. I always have a jar sitting in my fridge at all times!                                                                                                                                                                                                   quinoa saladGrilled Veggie Quinoa Salad. A great healthy lunch as well as a side. For this I used a tricolored quinoa that I precooked according to the package then I just added assorted and chopped grilled veggies, yellow squash, zucchini, onion, eggplant, red, yellow and orange peppers, chopped basil and lemon zest. Lemon slices for garnish. Lemon and olive oil dressing.
 How could something so simple taste so good? Fresh Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing. This simple dressing is one of my favorites! Fresh squeezed lemon juice plus a little zest, a small smashed garlic clove, whisk in some good olive oil, add salt and pepper, done! I taste as I go along checking for the right balance of juice vs olive oil, you’ll know when you get it just right!

Enjoy!

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Grilled Vegetable Skewers

grilled vegetable skewersGrilling vegetables is nothing new but when you put them together on a skewer they transform into an eye-catching little side dish! Who could resist all those colors and combinations? They look so pretty on a platter and a little goes a long way!

I cut up all my veggies first and place them into a big bowl tossing them in a generous amount of olive oil, salt, pepper and whatever herbs I feel like using, either dried or fresh.

The more color the better, red onion, cherry tomatoes, corn, zucchini, yellow squash, multi colored peppers of red, yellow, orange and green. I like to use a Japanese eggplant when making these because it slices into nice rounds for skewering. I also added crimini mushrooms and small red potatoes into the mix. Try to keep all the slices the same size around 1 1/2 inches so everything cooks at the same pace.

grilling vegetables Assemble them in any order that appeals to you, you can get very creative with all the different colors. I parboil the potatoes just a little ahead of time so they won’t take so long to cook on the grill. Cook on a medium turning often until slightly charred and cooked through.vegetable skewersVeggie skewers are the perfect option for entertaining because you can assemble all your skewers way ahead of time, even the night before. Refrigerate until you’re ready to throw them on the grill.

grilled artichokes Of course at my house we always make extra room on the grill for my stuffed grilled artichokes, I make them pretty regularly in the summer, so easy, so good!grilled shrimp I served my veggie skewers with grilled shrimp that I marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, a pinch of red pepper flakes and fresh parsley. I love those flat wooden skewers, the shrimp doesn’t move and flip around when turning, everything stays in place.shrimp skewers A touch of grilled lemon squeezed over the top was the perfect finish to the shrimp. The finishing touch on my veggie skewers will always be this, what can I say, they just go hand in hand!

Fire up your grill and make this colorful and healthy meal for your next cookout!

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Plank Grilling with Cheese

planked cheeseI’m a big fan of plank grilling, I love the subtle smoky flavor that the different woods infuse. I’ve planked salmon and other fish many times, also scallops and portobello’s but never tried cheese, until now. Wow, have I been missing out! I have to say this is a spectacular appetizer, just open up a few bottles of wine and let the party begin! This would be perfect to start off your Memorial Day weekend BBQ’s.
outdoor gourmet Whatever flavor board you decide to use just make sure you soak them really good, I went with cedar and maple since I wanted to do a a sweet and savory version. Make sure you anchor the boards under the water, I soaked mine for 3 hours and I never got a flare up thanks to Outdoor Gourmet, they have great products! Brun-uusto cheese I had every intention of using some sort of an Italian cheese for my first try, I already knew that a wheel of Brie would work but I was afraid I might have puddles of cheese dripping down the board. I wanted a cheese that was a little more sturdier so I asked my cheesemonger who gave me quite a few suggestions one being a special romano, but then he insisted I try this Brun-Uusto cheese from Brunkow Cheese in Wisconsin. It’s known as a “bread cheese” because the crust on the cheese is similar to toasted bread. He just went on and on how good it was, and he was right!

If you can’t find this cheese in your area you might want to try a halumi type, but if you live in the Chicagoland area this cheese will be available at Whole Foods, Standard Market, farmers markets and possibly Trader Joe’s, although I can’t confirm that.

It’s meant to be eaten warm and is delicious with sweet or savory toppings.

 I purchased everything so it was easy to put together, I bought a jar of sour cherry preserves for the sweet topping and for the savory I picked up a container of sundried tomatoes that were tossed in olive oil, garlic, oregano and capers. I toasted a loaf of crusty bread and bought assorted crackers and a brioche toast.planked cheese with tomatoes This cheese melts perfectly, it doesn’t ooze out all over it stays contained but yet it’s still creamy and soft with a nutty flavor and the cedar infusion takes it over the top!  Crusty toasty bread, warm creamy cheese plus savory tomatoes makes this a match made in heaven! For the sweet version I used a maple board which added a delicate smoky flavor to the warm cheese.

 The sour cherry topping combined with the nutty warm cheese spread on brioche toast was truly amazing! I think this was my favorite!

I hope I inspired you to plank some cheese.   Happy Grilling!

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Veggie Bundles Wrapped in Phyllo

veggie bundle in phylloThis is such a great lunch or even a light dinner. You could use leftover veggies either roasted or grilled and all you’ll need is a box of phyllo, a little bit of cheese and some muffin tins. Crunchy on the outside with cheesy flavorful veggies on the inside.

It’s an individual take on something I make quite often at my house, which is this.
roasted vegetables I always have roasted veggies in my fridge and now that the weather is staying warm I’ll be stocking up on grilled instead. Any combination will do, use whatever you like, you’ll only be using 1/2 cup per muffin.

veggies in phylloIn the past I was always afraid to use phyllo dough, but now I never go without a box in my fridge and use it for both sweet and savory dishes. I love to work with it because it’s so forgiving. My kind of dough!
 I also like the free form look of the finished product, no matter how you fold the phyllo up over the veggies it always looks pretty in the end. Serve with a nice salad and some roasted red pepper sauce on the side, so good!

 

Veggie Bundles Wrapped in Phyllo

Ingredients

  • precooked grilled or roasted veggies of your choice
  • 5 sheets of phyllo
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese like asiago, mozzarella or fontina
  • olive oil for brushing
  • roasted red pepper sauce or marinara for swiping bundle in
  • muffin tin
  • makes 6

Instructions

  1. Lightly oil muffin tins.
  2. Layer 5 sheets of phyllo on top of each other brushing olive oil on each individual sheet.
  3. Cut into 6 squares.
  4. Press one square into each muffin cup and fill with 1/2 cup veggie mixture.
  5. Top with grated cheese, then fold over the corners to secure filling.
  6. Brush tops with olive oil and sprinkle with cheese.
  7. Bake at 375F until golden, around 30 minutes.
  8. Cool for 5 minutes, then serve warm or at room temperature.
  9. Best eaten same day or otherwise reheat in a 400F oven until crispy again.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/05/veggie-bundles-wrapped-in-phyllo.html

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Grilled Potato and Asparagus Napoleon

 I’m so happy grilling season is back in full force! This is one of the things I made recently, Grilled Potato and Asparagus Napoleon,  it’s the perfect side dish for all your summer grilling events.

 Grilled asparagus, grilled red pepper slices, creamy and slightly tangy goat cheese layered between grilled potato slices topped off with nicoise olives and a rich balsamic glaze to swipe it all in. I spoke about Mandarano Balsamic Glaze before, it’s a staple in my kitchen, I use it all the time and many times on this blog. I adore it and highly recommend it!

Once you get a bottle you’ll never want to be without, it’s that good!  Good news, all my readers will get a discount at checkout using the code, PIC.
 I did three stacks of potato slices here but two stacks would work as well especially if your serving a bunch of other side dishes. It looks impressive, the flavors are amazing, it’s a win, win!

Grilled Potato and Asparagus Napoleon

Ingredients

  • Amounts will vary depending on how many you will be making and whether you have a 2 or 3 high stack. This will be a guideline.
  • I used large baking potatoes which need to be precooked until tender but not mushy. You could either steam, boil or bake After they are cooked cut off the ends and make 1/2 inch slices. Brush slices with olive oil then finish cooking on grill for a few minutes. Be sure to get some nice grill marks!
  • Asparagus, pre grilled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Goat cheese log, cut into rounds
  • Red pepper slices, pre grilled
  • Nicoise olives and balsamic glaze for finish
  • Light vinaigrette or fresh lemon olive oil dressing

Instructions

  1. Have everything ready for assembly,
  2. Potato* goat cheese round* red pepper slice* asparagus pieces* a few olives.
  3. Drizzle layer with either a light vinaigrette or fresh lemon and olive oil dressing.
  4. Repeat!
  5. When napoleon is made, garnish with more dressing, olives, asparagus pieces and a healthy swirl of luscious balsamic glaze around the plate.
  6. better served either slightly warm or room temperature.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/05/grilled-potato-and-asparagus-napoleon.html

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Olive Oil and Chardonnay Pound Cake with Citrus Vanilla Glaze

olive oil pound cakeHave you ever been instantly attracted to the title of a recipe? It happened to me the second I read the words olive oil and Chardonnay pound cake, and ever since I’ve been obsessing about making this cake!

I’m so glad my obsession turned into a reality because we loved this cake! It’s super moist from the olive oil with hints of chardonnay throughout, and the glaze was bright and bold.  A very special cake for a special occasion, this would be a wonderful addition to your Mother’s Day table that would cater to all the adults.
ingredients for a pound cake And the best part is it’s such a breeze to make! Easy prep with few ingredients, my kind of baking!pound cake batter It’s a nice bubbly batter created by the chardonnay addition and you can actually smell the chardonnay as it’s baking in the oven, your kitchen will smell so good!frosting dripping I found this recipe on the Jordan Winery website, the original recipe finishes the cake off by brushing it with cognac, I wanted to try something different. Since chardonnay has notes of citrus and vanilla I decided to make a glaze using the zest of a lemon, lime and a mandarin orange along with vanilla. If I do say so myself I think the glaze took this cake way over the top! The flavors all blend amazing together, this is a cake for special summer events. It’s golden brown with a nice moist crumb and the chardonnay and citrus compliment each other perfectly. It’s very impressive!slice of pound cake I will be making this cake over and over again!

Olive Oil and Chardonnay Pound Cake with Citrus Vanilla Glaze

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chardonnay
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached white flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • FOR THE GLAZE
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • the zest of 1/2 a lemon, lime and mandarin orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Squeeze the juice of all 3 citrus fruits until you get the right consistency for your glaze, slightly thick but still runny.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch cake pan, I used glass.
  2. With a mixer, beat eggs. Gradually add sugar and beat until batter is light and creamy. Slowly add extra virgin olive oil and chardonnay. Stir to combine.
  3. Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Fold flour mixture into the egg mixture. Spoon batter into your buttered cake pan.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick in center comes out clean. Let cake cool for ten minutes then remove from pan.
  5. Let it cool down a little before you pour the glaze on, cake should be warm but not hot.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/04/olive-oil-and-chardonnay-pound-cake-with-citrus-vanilla-glaze.html

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Spring Green Pasta with Parsley Walnut Pesto

parsley pesto pastaThe spring weather reached havoc here in the midwest with major flooding all around us last week. As I drive through my neighborhood I see piles and piles of peoples belongings in dumpster after dumpster, many homes are uninhabitable just a few blocks from me, one of them a close friend of mine. For some reason my house was spared and not a drop of water came in. I feel guilty and grateful all at the same time.
parsley walnut pesto Yesterday was a comfort food kind of day, something simple and easy but full of bright flavors. The key to this pasta dish is the parsley walnut pesto. Fresh parsley, toasted walnuts, grated parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon zest and juice all swirled with extra virgin olive oil, you could slather this on anything and it would be good!

zucchini stripsI decided to slather it all over spaghetti along with strips of yellow squash and zucchini, peas, asparagus and spinach. This is what I call cozy and delicious spring comfort food!
The pesto clings to the warm pasta, every bite has intense flavor!
 
Toasted walnuts and shaved parmesan tops this dish off, all you’ll need is a bowl and a fork!

Spring Green Pasta with Parsley Walnut Pesto

Ingredients

  • For the Parsley Walnut Pesto
  • 2 cups fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of olive oil
  • For the Pasta
  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti or linguine
  • 2 medium zucchini julienned
  • 1 yellow squash julienned
  • 1 lb. small asparagus cut on the diagonal
  • 1/2 cup of peas
  • a good handful of fresh baby spinach
  • reserved 1/2 cup of pasta water

Instructions

  1. For the Parsley Pesto, place parsley, garlic and toasted walnuts in food processor bowl, pulse until well incorporated. Add in remaining ingredients and process until you get a nice smooth consistency
  2. For the pasta, prepare your squash first by making thin strips julienne style, you can do this with a mandoline, a julienne vegetable peeler, or by hand cutting planks and then making the strips with the tip of your knife like in the photo above. When finished, quickly saute until slightly wilted, a minute or two.
  3. Saute the peas and asparagus together in a little olive oil just until al`dente tender. set aside.
  4. Cook pasta and reserve some of the pasta water. When finished, toss hot pasta into a large bowl along with all the other vegetables, the peas, asparagus, squash and spinach. Add 2 or 3 heaping tablespoons of the pesto, adding more if needed and to your taste. If you want to thin it out add some of the pasta water.
  5. The leftover pesto keeps well in the fridge.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/04/spring-green-pasta-with-parsley-walnut-pesto.html

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Italian Sauces, My Way – The E-Book!

I always had a passion for cooking. I remember way back to my high school days in public speaking class when our first assignment was to give a live presentation on something that excited us: the topic I chose was, “How to Make an Italian Salad.” It turned out to be a big winner, I fed the whole class and got an “A”!Fast forward as a young bride where my skills in the kitchen didn’t always produce such flawless results, like the time I almost landed my dear husband in the hospital due to my lack of cooking talents.  Ahem.

When I became a new mother, convenience foods were all the rage and quite often Hamburger Helper would be served on my dinner table, but deep down inside I was determined not to feed my family from a box, instead I honed in on the recipes of my past, recreating those smells in the kitchen that were near and dear to my heart, the ones that I wanted to share with my kids, the ones that continue to link generations to one another no matter how much time has passed.

I wrote this book on Italian Sauces because to me they have always been the foundation for so many memorable meals. I encourage you to use this book as inspiration, a guide or reference book to help you showcase your own special food traditions!Italian Sauce Recipes E-book

The recipes I’ve included are not complicated or fussy, they’re user friendly plus you can have the confidence that they’ve been tried and tested over the years to make sure they came out just right!  I like to say I worked out all the kinks for you.  I also took into consideration the very busy lifestyles of today by creating shortcuts for those who want a quick homemade dinner instead of take out during the week, using fresh ingredients and things you have on hand.

Italian Sauce Recipes

When time is not an issue and you crave that slow cooked meal, I’ve given you personal family favorites, traditions from my home, because honestly, nothing beats a huge pot of sauce simmering on the stove all day, the smells enticing you with anticipation of the meal ahead.

Italian Sauces Ebook

This book, a collection of some of my favorite sauces as well as some of the dishes you’ll be using them with, will provide you with all that you need for creating a special dinner for guests, a romantic meal for two as well as the ultimate comfort meal for one, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned cook.

Italian Sauces My Way Ebook

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The kitchen is the heart of the home. Take these recipes and put your own twist on them, you can never go wrong! Cooking is about having fun in the kitchen, getting creative, making memories and sharing with those you love. I hope you enjoy Italian Sauces My Way!

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Grilled Meatballs Stuffed with Fontina and Some Exciting News!

grilled meatballsThis past weekend the weather finally felt like spring so it was time to clean the grill and fire it up for the first time since winter.
Fontina stuffed meatball I decided I was going to try grilling meatballs, I’ve been wanting to try it, something different. I mixed them up the way I always make them minus the breadcrumbs. I cubed up some Fontina cheese and placed a hunk right in the middle. For my grilled meatballs I used ground turkey because that’s what I had, but you could use any ground meat mixture that you like. Just make sure your grill is nice and clean, rub some oil on the grates and because I used ground turkey I sprayed my meatballs beforehand with olive oil. I had no fancy gadgets I just plopped them right onto the grill, but here’s the thing, don’t get anxious and start moving them, let them form a crust on the bottom. For extra precaution I checked the bottom using a sharp edged spatula before I flipped them over.

I have a gas grill and I put all my burners on low. I made a roasted tomato and garlic sauce to serve with my meatballs, a great combination that enhanced all the flavors of the entire dish. We loved how they tasted! The slightly smokey flavor the grill added was a plus along with the nice crispy outer crust that formed. Moist and flavorful inside with gooey Fontina cheese oozing out. This would be great for a party, you could even make them as kabobs!

 And now for my exciting news! I wrote an ebook/cookbook! I can hardly believe it myself but I really did! Within a couple of days I will be releasing it here on my blog. So please come back and read all about it, I can’t wait to share it with you!

Ironically, and I didn’t even plan it this way, both my favorite meatball recipe and the sauce I made here will be featured in my ebook. So feel free to use your own  special meatball recipe along with your favorite sauce, but I really encourage you to make some meatballs on the grill next time next time you fire yours up, I promise you will love them!

If you haven’t already done so please “like” my Facebook page or share my post over there, I’ll be giving away 10 copies to my Facebook friends. In the very near future I’ll also be having a giveaway right here on my blog for some free copies.

Thank you all for your support!

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Spring Vegetable Frittata with Brie

frittataOver Easter weekend I made three different frittatas, one with potatoes and eggs and another with every vegetable you can think of, but this spring vegetable frittata is by far my favorite one of the moment!
Ingredients for a frittata Everything about it reminds me of spring, fresh shaved asparagus, tiny fresh peas and those cute baby zucchini. I also like to add in tomatoes and chopped green onion, delicate flavors that really pack a punch!frittata

I always cook my frittatas in a nonstick oven safe skillet. My aunt taught me how to make frittatas, she never flipped them and neither do I, I tried it once and it wasn’t a pretty sight! The key is to let the eggs set in the skillet on the stovetop forming a slight crust on the bottom and then you finish it off under the broiler, but you can’t walk away, you have to keep opening the door and checking so as not to burn it!

spring frittataI always flavor my eggs with grated parmesan or romano it gives a nice base for all of the other ingredients, and with the addition of Brie here it really takes it over the top!
frittataBy placing it under the broiler for a few minutes your frittata will become perfectly golden as well as puffy and fluffy and that’s exactly what you want!
frittata

While the frittata is still warm I like to dot it with additional brie cheese because it melts so fast and besides I love how it looks when it oozes out.

slice of frittata

I served my frittata with fresh pea shoots tossed in a lemon and olive oil dressing with shaved parmesan. The perfect breakfast, brunch, lunch, or midnight snack!

Spring Vegetable Frittata with Brie

Ingredients

  • I used a 10" nonstick skillet
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/3 cup or more grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil to coat pan
  • 4 asparagus shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 3 baby zucchini cut into rounds or the smallest zucchini you could find
  • 1/4 cup of fresh or defrosted peas
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 5 or 6 grape tomatoes cut in half
  • 3 oz. of Brie cheese, rind removed
  • parsley for garnish

Instructions

  1. Beat your eggs in a bowl with the water, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Heat skillet on medium high with a nice drizzle of olive oil and very quickly saute the zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, peas and scallions. Leave half of the veggies in the pan, remove the other half.
  3. Pour in egg mixture and reduce heat to medium low and let the eggs set so it's not so runny, then place the rest of the veggies all around with half of the Brie.
  4. Make sure your broiler is on and place the whole oven safe skillet under it, this will not take long, a few seconds maybe a minute or so, keep checking, sometimes I turn the pan to make sure it is evenly cooked.
  5. When frittata is nice and golden remove and dot with the remaining Brie and garnish with parsley.
  6. You can eat this hot or at room temperature.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/04/spring-vegetable-frittata-with-brie.html

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Limoncello Cookies Made From Homemade Limoncello

limoncello cookiesOh my, I’m so excited to share this cookie recipe with you! If you don’t have a bottle of limoncello in your home right now please go out and get one so you can make these cookies for Easter. Let me see if I can describe them to you, buttery, crunchy, refreshing, bright with an explosion of  lemon flavor! The perfect cookie to welcome in spring.
Making limoncelloFortunate for me I still had a bottle of homemade limoncello that my daughter, her friend and her cousin made back in September. It was quite a project and fun for me to watch since I’ve never ever made it myself. Much planning went into it beforehand, she was on a mission to find the best organic lemons she could find, lemons free of chemicals and wax because the peels would be soaking in alcohol for weeks.
Making limoncelloPeeling the yellow skins off the lemons take time and patience, it’s something you can’t rush because you have to be careful not to get any of the white pith beneath it otherwise your end result will be bitter, and you don’t want bitter limoncello. Their goal was to have it all completed and ready to sip for the holiday season. I’m happy to say they reached their goal.

As you can see even her dog was there for moral support!Homemade limoncelloThe essential oils of the lemon peels infusing with the alcohol is such a dynamic combination, creating the most vibrant liqueur. I don’t want to sound like a bragging mother but this was the best limoncello I’ve ever had! It tasted so fresh with a wonderful smooth finish to it. After giving out some bottles as gifts they now have people begging them to make more. Homemade limoncello I hoarded one last bottle, it was hidden away in my freezer, making limoncello cookies was a good excuse to bring it out!Sipping limoncello Of course I had to sip some while I was baking!glass of limoncello Look at that color, liquid gold, slightly thick and perfectly sweet. It screams blue skies and sunshine!frosted limoncello cookiesThe limoncello is mixed right into the frosting so with every bite you take you’ll have a burst of lemony flavor. I promise you, these will be devoured if you make them for Easter, but you need to double or triple this recipe for sure!
frosted limoncello cookieThe dough is shaped into a log then refrigerated for a while, sliced and baked. I tried to shape my log into an oval so they would look like eggs, or you could just cut them rounds.limoncello cookiesMelt in your mouth goodness! Happy Easter to all!

Limoncello Cookies Made From Homemade Limoncello

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • grated lemon zest of 1 lemon
  • ICING
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 5 tablespoons limoncello
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • zest of 1 lemon for garnish on frosting

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine salt and flour. Set aside.
  2. With a mixer cream together butter and sugar until fluffy and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix until combined, then vanilla and the zest.
  3. With mixer on medium low, slowly add the flour/salt combo. Mix until the flour starts to incorporate. Don't over mix, cookie will be tough.
  4. roll dough into a 2"x 12" log, ( it will be soft at this point) or oval to resemble eggs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. ( refrigeration is key, dough needs to be firm).
  5. When ready to bake remove wrap and slice dough into 1/3 thick cookies, place on parchment and bake at 350 for 13-17 minutes. You want the edges to become golden. Cool before icing on wire racks.
  6. FOR THE ICING:
  7. In a medium bowl, combine powdered sugar, limoncello and lemon juice. Stir until fluid but thick.
  8. Brush or dip cookies into frosting, garnish with zest and allow to dry about 10 minutes.
  9. Makes 24 cookies but I would double or triple this recipe!
  10. Recipe adapted from, In Sock Monkey Slippers
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/03/limoncello-cookies-made-from-homemade-limoncello.html

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Pizza Bread

pizza bread

Soon after a dear cousin of mine past away, family members handed down to me an old metal box containing priceless recipes of my aunt, their mother, it was like I won the lottery!

old recipes

A simple gray slightly rusted box stuffed full of yellow stained index cards, some typed but the majority handwritten treasures by my aunt. I spent some time going through them all recently, what I found were decades of her cooking, some magazine and newspaper clippings, but in between it all were some of our most cherished family recipes. Needless to say it brought back many happy food memories of my childhood. I also came across some unfamiliar recipes that I couldn’t wait to try.

old recipe

Like this pizza bread recipe, sort of a vegetarian version of sausage bread, something we would have each year at Easter time when I was a kid.  Pizza bread mimics the makings of a pizza but it actually gets rolled up and baked as a savory bread.

pizza doughYou can make your own pizza dough which is provided in the recipe or buy a good quality one like I did to make it really quick.
making pizza

I made the filling exactly as the recipe stated but you can certainly be creative and add other ingredients or change up the cheese to make it your own.

making pizza

Make sure to leave about a one inch edge all the way around free of sauce to make the rolling and sealing easier. After all the filling is placed on the dough your going to roll it up jelly roll style. Brush the top with olive oil, sprinkle with romano cheese and crushed black pepper.

The smell in my house was amazing and it lingered for a few hours, much better than potpourri! Just make sure to let it rest before you cut into it with a serrated knife. 

 

This is a keeper, thank you Aunt Eileen!

Pizza Bread

Ingredients

  • DOUGH
  • 1 small cake compressed yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • FILLING
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 2 cups of canned tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup of grated romano cheese
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. For the DOUGH, dissolve yeast in water, make a well in flour and add yeast mixture. Knead for 10 miniutes, add oil and knead until smooth. Place in bowl cover with wax paper and towel and set in a warm place. Let rise for about 2 hours. Spread dough in a circular shape about 14 inches in diameter
  2. For the FILLING, saute garlic and onion in oil. Remove garlic and add tomatoes, salt and pepper.cook over medium about 20 minutes, crushing tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Let it cool then cover dough with sauce.
  3. Arrange mozzarella over the tomatoes. Sprinkle grated cheese and oregano on top. Roll pizza like a jelly roll and place on a greased cookie sheet sprinkled with corn meal or polenta.
  4. Bake in a 425 oven for 10 minutes. Lower oven to 375 and bake for 35 minutes more.
  5. NOTES;
  6. I opened one 28oz can of whole tomatoes and just used the tomatoes without the juice.
  7. I crushed the garlic and left it in.
  8. You could easily increase the mozzarella to 2 cups.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/03/pizza-bread.html

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Non-Traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage

corned beef Traditional corned beef and cabbage is a slow boiled one pot meal, and although I like corned beef I’ve never been a big fan of the boiled vegetables in this dish which are usually potatoes and carrots. So today I’m sharing with you my fuss free, non-traditional corned beef and cabbage, just a little twist on the classic!
roasted cabbage slices

It’s no secret that I love to roast vegetables, so it was a no-brainer on roasting the cabbage in thick slices especially after I saw it done on Pinterest more than a few times. It’s very similar to roasting slabs of cauliflower which I’ve done in the past. Roasting the cabbage intensifies all the flavors, it becomes tender, perfectly caramelized and it gives you the ideal surface to top with your favorite ingredients.

Trader Joe's corned beef

This recipe was fuss free for me because I happened to pick up a fully cooked corned beef brisket at my local Trader Joe’s the other day after tasting a free sample. It was nice to just open up the package, slice it while it was still cold and then give it a quick warm up.

corned beefI used savoy cabbage because I love the crinkled leaves plus it gave me a little Italian addition, just be careful when you turn the slabs over during the roasting process, just take your time and use a nice wide spatula.

In a separate pan I roasted potato wedges and carrots to eat alongside it.

corned beef

Spicy grainy mustard slathered on the surface of the cabbage gave a nice kick to the corned beef, Just grab a knife and fork and dig in!

Non-Traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage

Ingredients

  • 1 medium head of savoy cabbage, cut into 1 inch slices
  • a few carrots
  • 2 potatoes, cut into wedges
  • cooked and sliced corned beef
  • grainy mustard

Instructions

  1. Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil, place cabbage slices single layer on top, drizzle the cabbage with more olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven. Check after 15 to 20 minutes if golden on bottom carefully flip slices over and continue roasting until tender and golden on the other side.
  2. Roast potatoes and carrots in a separate baking sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/03/non-traditional-corned-beef-and-cabbage.html

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Lasagnetti with Crumbled Sausage, Asparagus and Zucchini Coins

lasagnetti pasta

I always gravitate towards the unique non traditional pasta shapes, when I see a shelf full of them I always have to grab a bag or two. My pantry is stocked with different shapes just waiting to be cooked up, so every now and then I will showcase one here on my blog.

Like these cute little lasagnetti which I recently found, they look like mini one inch square lasagne sheets. As far as what kind of sauce to serve with it, my first idea was to toss them into marinara and then dot the whole thing with fresh ricotta and a little romano, but I wanted something different this time and since fresh asparagus has been popping up all over in my area I used that as my inspiration to make this dish.

The combination of roasted zucchini coins, asparagus, medium spicy Italian sausage and sauteed grape tomatoes turned out to be the perfect flavor combination to grace my lasagnetti. Of course, any sturdy pasta shape would do, but if you’re interested my fellow Chicagoans, I got this pasta at Caputo’s.

If you’re looking for something a little different for your next dinner party I would suggest this dish, not only does it taste great it looks really nice spread out on a platter!

It’s fun to get out of your comfort zone every now and then!

Lasagnetti with Crumbled Sausage, Asparagus and Zucchini Coins

Ingredients

  • 3 small yellow squash cut in 1/4 inch slice
  • 3 small zucchini cut in 1/4 inch slice
  • 1 lb. fresh asparagus cut diagonally
  • 12 or more grape tomatoes cut in half
  • 1 large shallot finely chopped
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/2 cup each of white wine, chicken broth and pasta water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb. of cooked lasagnetti or any sturdy pasta, reserve 1/2 cup pasta water
  • 1 cup of ricotta
  • fresh basil and grated romano for garnish

Instructions

  1. Roast zucchini coins and asparagus on a baking sheet drizzled in olive oil at 425 until golden brown.
  2. Saute the tomatoes in olive oil in a small skillet.
  3. Brown sausage in a skillet with the chopped shallot and garlic cloves, my sausage is very lean so I add a little olive oil when browning. When sausage is cooked through add in the wine, broth, 1/4 cup olive oil and pasta water, this will be the base for your sauce.
  4. Toss everything into a large bowl coating the cooked pasta with the sauce, tossing with grated cheese, fresh snipped basil and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Place on a platter and dot with fresh ricotta and a drizzle more of olive oil if needed.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/03/lasagnetti-with-crumbled-sausage-asparagus-and-zucchini-coins.html

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Bundt Pan Chicken and Winter Potato Salad

bunt pan chicken

I love beer can chicken, I make it throughout the summer all different ways on my grill, the meat always comes out moist and juicy and because it’s cooked vertically the bird get’s nice and crispy all the way around. I never attempted to make it inside my oven although I have seen it done.

I was dreaming of spring the other day and wishing it was warm enough to grill outside when I happened to come across bundt pan chicken on Pinterest, sort of the same concept without the beer and it’s made in your oven. I was inspired!

bunt pan chicken

Perfect timing because Whole foods had a one day, half price sale on their organic chickens, so I picked up a few and dusted off my bundt pan which I haven’t used in, I can’t even remember how many years! I also had a bunch of herbs I needed to use up so I made an herby paste and rubbed it all over the outside of the chicken and underneath the skin.

fingerling potatoes

While I was there I also picked up a package of their fingerling potatoes, the heirloom variety. You could place your potatoes right in the bundt pan along with the chicken, most of the pictures I saw showed it done that way but I like my potatoes really crispy so I decided to roast them separately and toss them into a salad.

bunt pan chicken

It was sort of fun and to make it this way, using the bundt pan, although I had to reduce my oven temp from 450 to 400 because my smoke alarm kept going off but other than that it turned out very flavorful, crispy and juicy. I guess it will just have to do until spring gets here!

Bundt Pan Chicken and Winter Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • For the Paste
  • 2 tablespoons each parsley, basil
  • 1 tablespoon each rosemary and thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • For the Potato Salad
  • 1 package of fingerling potatoes
  • 1 bag of arugula
  • tomatoes, either roasted or sliced grape tomatoes
  • balsamic glaze and olive oil
  • 1 chicken
  • bundt pan

Instructions

  1. Make a paste by finely chopping your herbs, smashing your garlic, adding the lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste and enough olive oil drizzled in to make it loose
  2. Loosen skin around the breast of the chicken then rub the paste under and all over the whole bird
  3. Spray bundt pan with cooking spray and place bird on top
  4. Place bundt pan on a foil lined baking sheet with rim to avoid any drips
  5. Roast in a 400 degree oven for around 1 hour and 10 minutes or until meat thermometer reaches 165
  6. For the potato salad, roast potatoes on a separate baking sheet drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, around 30 minutes on top shelf, same oven temp.
  7. Toss your arugula in a separate bowl with drizzled olive oil and balsamic glaze or a good aged balsamic vinegar. Add tomatoes and toss.
  8. Place salad mixture onto a platter and scatter the crispy potatoes all around.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/02/bunt-pan-chicken-and-winter-potato-salad.html

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Creamy Warm Polenta with Broccoli Rabe, Mushrooms and Roasted Tomatoes

creamy polenta

Creamy polenta is the perfect winter fare, it’s warm, comforting and becomes the ideal rustic meal for a very cold winter day!

creamy polenta

Fresh herbs, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a touch of cream stirred into the polenta makes it so irresistible, you’ll be tempted to eat it straight out of the pan, trust me!

creamy polenta

But please try and resist the urge because it tastes even better when it’s spread out all over a platter and then topped with your favorite vegetables.

creamy polenta

I used garlicky broccoli rabe, juicy roasted tomatoes and sauteed portobellos to grace the top of mine. I didn’t even have time to plate it, we just grabbed 2 forks and went to town!

poached egg

Now if you’re feeling like you need just a little more comfort, place a couple of poached eggs on top and let that yolk ooze on out. I guarantee all your senses will be satisfied!

Creamy Warm Polenta with Broccoli Rabe, Mushrooms and Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup polenta ( I used the quick cook kind)
  • 2 cups of chicken broth, or vegetable
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley and basil
  • 1/2 cup of half and half
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 3 portobello mushrooms, gills removed and sliced
  • 1 bunch of broccoli rabe
  • 5 campari tomatoes or several cherry tomatoes
  • 2 shallots
  • 4 minced garlic
  • splash of white wine

Instructions

  1. Prepare Vegetables: Roast tomatoes on baking sheet with foil drizzled with olive oil at 400 until they slightly burst.
  2. Boil broccoli rabe for 5 minutes then place in ice bath, drain, then saute with 2 cloves of shaved garlic, olive oil and a pinch of crushed red pepper.
  3. Saute 2 chopped garlic and 2 chopped shallots in olive oil, add sliced mushrooms and a splash of white wine, cook until moisture evaporates.
  4. For the Polenta: Boil water and broth along with the butter, whisk in polenta cook until bubbly and creamy.
  5. Stir in grated Parmigiano, herbs and the half and half, drizzling a little more olive oil.
  6. Spread polenta on a platter or board, arrange veggies on top, garnish with more Parmigiano
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/02/creamy-warm-polenta-with-broccoli-rabe-mushrooms-and-roasted-tomatoes.html

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Flourless Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake

chocolate flourless cake

I baked a cake for you! I figured Valentines Day is right around the corner and we needed something sweet around here. It’s been a while since I made something chocolate and the fewer the ingredients for me, the better, so I decided to make a flourless cake!

hazelnuts

Besides I’ve been waiting for just the right reason for me to showcase these beautiful hazelnuts that I recently purchased from my friend Cathy’s new store on her blog. Cathy lives in Oregon which happens to be the single largest producer of hazelnuts in the U.S.

Rich, decadent, fudgy and dense that’s how I would describe this cake, just make sure you buy a good quality dark chocolate it makes all the difference.

melted chocolate

I’m not a chocoholic by any means, once or twice a year I like to get my fix, but I have to admit the aroma of rich dark chocolate as its melting makes me wonder why I don’t bake with it more often!

chocolate flourless cake

With a dollop of fresh whipped cream to balance the yummy richness and a strawberry slice shaped into a heart, this could be your perfect Valentines Day dessert!

Flourless Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup toasted hazelnut meal
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5oz of dark chocolate, chopped
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • coco powder for dusting

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8" springform pan. Set aside
  2. In a large heatproof bowl over simmering water add chocolate, butter and sugar, melt and whisk until mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool down.
  3. In smaller bowl beat the yolks until they break up. Pour into cooled chocolate mixture. Stir in all the ground hazelnuts.
  4. Beat egg whites and salt into a soft peak then fold into the chocolate mixture 1/3 at a time until incorporated.
  5. Place batter into your prepared pan and bake 35 minutes or until center is firm and springs back.
  6. cool and then dust with good quality cocoa.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/02/flourless-chocolate-and-hazelnut-cake.html

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Vegetable Paella, Italian Style

I have a 14″ paella pan that I got from HSN many years ago, it was a Todd English pan, I think he makes a different one now but you can still get it. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve used that pan, I’ve made so many things in it. I love it for frittatas, they come out perfect in it and you can feed a ton of people. You can use it on top of the stove, in the oven or under the broiler. When ever I need to bring a big side dish somewhere I often use my 14″ paella pan. I recently made a huge primavera pasta pie in it, which I’ll post about in the near future. I think I’ve only used it once to make an actual traditional paella, saffron and all, with chicken, seafood and sausage.

By now all my regular readers know the”veggie issues” that I have, and since I needed to bring a side dish to someones house recently I decided to make a  vegetable paella with an Italian twist. I’m here to tell you it was a big hit!

I’ve always been attracted by the way paella looks, pinwheels of color all in one pan, it’s very impressive looking when it gets placed  on the table!

With small amounts of veggies and a little bit of rice you could recreate this for your next party, serving it as a side or a main course.

There is no saffron here in my version, instead I infused the rice with roasted red pepper puree which gave it my little Italian twist.

Hope you like it!

vegetable paella

Vegetable Paella, Italian Style

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of short grain arborio rice
  • 4 cups of warmed chicken or veggie stock
  • 1 cup of roasted red pepper puree made from 4 peppers, blistered, peeled and cored and placed into a food processor until pureed.
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 each, red, yellow and orange bell pepper cut in strips
  • 8oz. crimini mushroom caps
  • 1 bag frozen artichoke hearts
  • a handful of haricot vert beans
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion
  • olive oil
  • grated romano or parmesan cheese
  • chopped basil for garnish

Instructions

  1. 14" paella pan or a wide skillet, if smaller just adjust rice by 1 cup
  2. Roast the eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, artichokes and the peppers ahead of time, and set aside. 400F drizzled with olive oil.
  3. Purchase or make your own red pepper puree, have that ready made also
  4. Drizzle the bottom of the pan with olive oil, saute the garlic and onions until light golden, add rice and stir until coated then add in 1/2 cup of the roasted red pepper puree and stir until mixed through.
  5. Smooth rice until it is flat all over the bottom of the pan, then gently pour in the heated broth being careful not to move the rice, sprinkle with a generous helping of grated cheese, a little salt and black pepper.
  6. Arrange all your veggies on top of the rice and broth in the order that you would like, sprinkle with more grated cheese.
  7. Let it cook med low until moisture starts to disappear then cover with foil until rice is tender, mine took about 40 minutes, you might have to add a little more broth just keep checking. Dot some of the remaining pepper puree all around for added flavor.
  8. Garnish with fresh chopped basil and a drizzle of olive oil
  9. Note: You might have a few extra veggies left over after you fill the pan
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/02/vegetable-paella-italian-style.html

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Roasted Veggie Overload!

Hi, My name is Marie and I’m a veggie-holic! Yes, when I’m in the produce isle I just can’t help myself, I have no control. Sometimes I get strange looks from people as I happily stroll by them with my grocery cart.  I’ve even had people say to me, “My, you do buy a lot of vegetables!” It’s not until I get home and start unpacking my bags that I realize, they might have a point!

So when I feel like I have an overload of veggies hanging out in my fridge, I just roast them all, as in the photo above, and figure out what to do with them later.

I always roast my veggies at 400F, drizzled with a good quality extra virgin olive oil and lately, and actually more times than not I’ve been using this, the mellow roasted garlic flavor just enhances the veggies even more, I truly love that stuff!
The thing about having roasted veggies handy is that you can quickly whip up a meal in no time, toss them into frittatas, pastas, grains, all sorts of things. I had a package of farro that I quickly cooked up and made this for a nice lunch but you could easily use brown rice, barley, couscous, you get the idea. For this I added a fresh lemon and olive oil dressing to it, along with fresh herbs.
Want something a little more substantial? Stuff it all into a pre-roasted acorn squash and serve it with a salad on the side.
But I have to say one of my favorite ways to use up all my veggies is to stack them high layered into a springform pan all wrapped up in phyllo dough pie.
Every time I make this I get rave reviews, it’s great for a luncheon with the girls, a main course or even a side dish to bring to a party.
phyllo vegetable pie
The wedges cut perfectly because the layers are slightly “glued together” with some grated cheese, I like to serve mine with a little roasted red pepper sauce on the side, so good!
Roasted Veggie Pie Wrapped in Phyllo

Ingredients

  • Assorted roasted vegetables of your choice
  • Grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • grated asiago, mozzarella, or fontina cheese
  • Phyllo sheets
  • Olive oil
  • 9" springform pan

Instructions

  1. Brush springform pan with olive oil or olive oil spray
  2. Unwrap phyllo and cover with a dampened towel, keeping it covered as you work quickly
  3. Add 3 sheets into the bottom of the pan,1 at a time, spraying or brushing with olive oil and a sprinkling of grated parmesan or romano
  4. Fit one sheet partially on the bottom with the ends hanging well over the pan, spray or brush all over with olive oil
  5. Continue with the phyllo all the way around the pan, then do it all around 2 more times( phyllo is very thin) rotating pan so the sheets cover the entire rim
  6. Start layering your vegetables one layer at a time, in between the layers add a sprinkling of grated parmesan or romano and also your grated asiago, mozzarella or fontina, use enough to cover all around the vegetables,but not too much, pressing down lightly
  7. When you get to the top fold in the overhang of phyllo, making sure its sprayed or brushed with olive oil
  8. Add more phyllo sheets to the top to make sure all the veggies are covered
  9. Finish off by spraying or brushing with olive oil on entire top and a final sprinkling of cheese
  10. Place pan on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake in oven at 400 for around 20-25 minutes or until phyllo is crispy golden
  11. Let it cool down then cut into wedges with a serrated knife
  12. Note: No exact amounts here, just cover each layer with veggies and cheese, you could also use a smaller springform pan or a deep dish pie plate depending on how many veggies you have.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/01/roastedveggieoverload.html
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Pork Chops Marsala

Sweet Marsala wine sauce is like nectar of the gods, it transforms simple chicken, veal and beef into something extraordinary, and now I’m here to tell you it does exactly the same for pork!

The second the Marsala splashes into the pan your kitchen will smell absolutely amazing, the aroma is deep, rich and bold and as it simmers down it gets even better. It doesn’t take much time at all to get this flavorful meal on the table so it’s really good for mid week as well as for guests, the other bonus is everything goes into one pan!

Dollops of mascarpone cheese gets whisked into the Marsala, it thickens the sauce to the perfect consistency as it slowly cooks down, the end result is a sauce so rich and creamy that you’ll want to drink it!

You can serve this with angel hair pasta, it’s divine with garlic mashed potatoes, or if you prefer no carbs at all try it along side sauteed spinach or kale in garlic and olive oil. Which ever way you choose you can’t go wrong!

Pork Chops Marsala

Ingredients

  • 2-4 pork chops
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 yellow or red onion cut into rings
  • 1 box of crimini mushrooms left whole, stems removed
  • 3/4 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • fresh thyme and parsley

Instructions

  1. Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper, add to a heated skillet with 1 tablespoon of melted butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, remove when brown.
  2. Add remaining oil and butter, brown your garlic and onion rings, remove.
  3. Add mushrooms and saute till all juices evaporate then add Marsala, deglaze pan and reduce by half.
  4. Add broth and a couple sprigs of thyme and let that reduce.
  5. Add chops and all juices back in the pan along with the mascarpone cheese, whisk in until melted, then cover and simmer until chops are cooked through and sauce has thickened.
  6. Garnish with chopped parsley and thyme.
http://www.prouditaliancook.com/2013/01/pork-chops-marsala.html

Note: I hope you like my new recipe plugin, I’m still learning how to use it, so please bare with me!

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Stuffed Eggplant with Ricotta, Spinach and Artichoke

stuffed eggplant (7)

Have you ever been inspired by Pinterest? I have, many times.  I needed to cook up three eggplants before they went bad so I checked out Pinterest for a little inspiration, as I was wandering from page to page I saw an eggplant that was stuffed with spinach, ricotta and artichoke, that was it, that was my inspiration! The original recipe that was pinned had honey in it, I didn’t want to use honey but was inspired to make mine more Italian style, so that’s exactly what I did.

stuffed eggplant (9)

I started out by cutting my eggplant lengthwise then carefully scooping out the middle leaving a small border all the way around the eggplant half. Drizzled the inside with olive oil, salt and pepper, did the same with the scooped out eggplant, placed them all on a baking sheet in a preheated 400 degree oven until tender and cooked through.

When the eggplant was finished cooking I removed it from the oven to cool down. On another baking sheet I placed one 12oz bag of frozen artichoke hearts, courtesy of Trader Joe’s (which I have in my freezer at all times) a shallot and 3 minced garlic cloves, drizzled everything with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roasted in the 400 degree oven until artichokes defrosted and became tender.

I then placed everything into a big bowl, the artichoke mixture, the scooped out cooked eggplant, 1 heaping cup of ricotta cheese, 1 chopped roasted red pepper, 1 cup of fresh chopped baby spinach, a heaping 1/2 cup of grated romano cheese, chopped parsley and basil.

Pile high the mixture into the scooped out portion of the eggplant and place back into the 400 oven until ricotta is heated through, about 15 minutes.

For a finishing touch I drizzled a rich balsamic glaze all over the stuffed eggplant which just intensified all the flavors even more so!

We had this as our main course served with soup and salad, but it would also be great as a side. Enjoy!

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Welcome to My New Home on WordPress!

Welcome everyone! I’m finally here and settling into my new home on the web. I’ll have lunch for you in a minute but first I want to tell you about my journey here.

I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, migrating my Blogger blog over to WordPress, but I never had the nerve, I heard horror stories in the past, pictures, posts, links being lost, etc. Not being a techie person at all this scared the heck out of me!

Even though Blogger was good to me in the beginning, as time went on many issues came up that weren’t getting fixed, things disappearing, problems with commenting and a ton of spam on a daily basis, and something that really bothered me was that you never really own your blog on Blogger, it’s free, they could delete it at any time.

I loved all the new features I was seeing on WordPress blogs, updated, modern, user friendly, I needed a new look, after 5 years I felt stale and old!

In comes my web designer, Jeni, The Blog Maven, who came highly recommended by Cathy of Wives with Knives, so I emailed her a couple of months ago and from the first time I spoke with her I knew I had the right person. I had a list of questions that she patiently answered one by one no matter how ridiculous some of them were, she even skyped me several times!  Jeni is very detailed and thorough, she considers all of your needs and finds the best way to incorporate them for you. The whole process went so smooth with no major glitches at all, I didn’t even stress once! I would highly recommend her for migration of your Blogger blog, design issues or any technical questions you might have.

I have to learn some new things to get around on the back end of my blog so I will most definitely be out of my comfort zone for a while so please bare with me, but honestly it’s already starting to feel like home here. Take a look around and let me know what you think so far, I’m loving my new visual recipe index!

Now, how about that lunch? I’m serving, Spaghetti Squash Stuffed Peppers!

Welcome to my new blog! (2)

Spaghetti squash, think of it as vegetable spaghetti, I know it’s not the real thing but when you roast it and rake up the strands with a fork it magically becomes a great substitute for the “white” stuff, and it tastes really good too! If you’re trying to lay off the carbs for a while replace this with any spaghetti dish you might be craving. I recently served it with mussels in a red sauce and it was delicious, the strands soaked up all the sauce, it was so good I’ll be making it again real soon.

Welcome to my new blog! (3)

This time I decided to stuff some peppers with it, making an all veggie meal. I roasted crimini mushrooms along with garlic and green onions and pre-roasted the peppers as well.

Welcome to my new blog! (4)

Then into a bowl I tossed the spaghetti squash, mushroom mixture, grated romano cheese, shredded asiago, parsley, basil, ( you could also add chopped fresh spinach or kale) a healthy drizzle of olive oil and a few tablespoons of roasted red pepper spread, courtesy of Trader Joe’s, but marinara sauce would work just as well.

Welcome to my new blog! (5)

Stuff your peppers, put them back in the oven until the cheese melts inside and they are warmed through.

Welcome to my new blog! (6)

Serve along side a green salad and you’ll have the perfect lunch or dinner. Thanks for stopping by my new digs!

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Proud Italian Cook’s Twelve Most Viewed Posts of 2012

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of my most popular posts of 2012, it’s always fun to see what peaks my readers interest.
No name for This Salad which I made back in June, I’m a sucker for zucchini ribbons I just think they make every dish look pretty!
Faux Spaghetti, I made this last January when the reality of all the holiday eating hit me hard and once again I needed to go low carb, looks like I’ll be repeating this recipe real soon!
My Winter Veggie Torte, born from leftover veggies in my fridge and nicely formed in my trusty spring form pan. I think the sliced sweet potatoes on top gave it a nice colorful look.
Limoncello Tart with Amaretto Cookie Crust and a Blueberry Blackberry Sauce.
Come on, need I say more?
Grilled Vegetable Tart with Phyllo
I conquered phyllo and I’m proud of it!
As I sit here on a very cold night in Chicago I’m missing my grill big time!
Caprese Ravioli
I made this back in April for an appetizer, simple to make if you can find good quality store bought pasta sheets.
Summer Veggie Slaw
I made this deep in the heart of summer using the zucchini and herbs from our garden. This is a really good side dish with all your grilled meats, and everything is raw, so it’s quick to put together providing you have a julienne peeler!
Eggplant Patties
Even though I posted these last August I still make them on a regular basis, I serve them topped with a little bit of roasted red pepper sauce, make a salad and dinner is served!
Summer Bounty Zucchini Tart
Here I go again with the zucchini ribbons, and some blossoms here too, this time pressed into ricotta on puff pastry none the less!
Roasted Veggie Pasta
I make this often, great for a crowd. Hmmm, veggies seem to be a theme here on my blog, don’t you think?
Boneless Pork Chops in a Creamy Mustard Thyme Sauce with Mushrooms and Caramelized Shallots.
Comfort food that’s quick to make mid week!
Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf
This is so good your house will smell amazing while it’s cooking in the oven, I like to change up the marinara for roasted red pepper sauce, let me give you a little tip my fellow Trader Joe lovers, they have the best jar of red pepper spread that I use all the time, It’s called Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant and Garlic, you really can’t taste the eggplant, but the red pepper flavor is outstanding.
I have 4 jars in my pantry and 2 in my fridge, I’m a horder, I smear it all over everything! If they ever stop selling it I’ll be devastated!As 2012 comes to a close my wish for you in 2013 is, HEALTH, HAPPINESS, PEACE, JOY, LOVE, LAUGHTER AND A HEALTHY DOSE OF AMAZING ITALIAN FOOD!

CHEERS!

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Last Minute, Holiday Appetizers

If your looking for a quick holiday appetizer to pull together on a moments notice have no fear, these bite size bundles are the perfect thing!
Providing you have a box or two of puff pastry tucked away in your freezer. You have some don’t you? If not you should!
Take it straight out of the freezer, lay it on your counter, in ten or fifteen minutes you’ll be able to separate the sheets. Then sprinkle a little flour on your counter and with a pizza cutter, cut the sheet into thirds, then each third into four slices, for a total of 12 per sheet, if you cut into the other sheet you’ll have a whopping 24 appetizers!
Now place each square into a mini muffin pan, I didn’t have to grease mine but it has been called to my attention that you might have to depending on the type of muffin tins you might have. My tins are not non stick but they are fairly new so maybe the butter in the pastry was just enough.
Now the fun begins, the fillings are endless! I had less than a cup of caramelized onions sitting in my fridge so I took a bowl and mixed the onions with gorgonzola cheese and toasted walnuts, that’s how I made mine here.
 Each puff pastry cup only requires a heaping tablespoon so you don’t need much filling at all.
Think, tomato, basil and goat cheese, roasted peppers and fontina, spinach, artichoke and feta, crabmeat and cream cheese, gouda and apple, roasted mushrooms with gruyere, Do you have a jar of fig jam or even chutney in your fridge? How about a little brie and fig? You get the picture, use what you have, it’s all good!
They take 20 minutes in a 375 oven, in the meantime open a cold bottle of wine, they’ll be done in no time!
I know this is a busy time for everyone, myself included, I’ve shopped, wrapped, planned my Christmas menu and baked my last cookie, with a little help from my granddaughter!
Puff Cookies, they’re tradition in my house! One bite brings back happy memories to me.
 Now if I could just stop at one bite, that would be a good thing!
But what I really wanted to do was to take this opportunity to thank you, all my readers, for the wonderful support you’ve given me, and to wish you all a very Happy Holiday filled with an over abundance of happiness, amazing food, surrounded by those you love!
xox

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Dinner Party Worthy, Shrimp and Artichoke Risotto

I made this recently and it was such a big hit I wanted to share!  Succulent tiger shrimp with fresh artichoke hearts, sitting on a bed of creamy risotto.
The flavor was super enhanced by this fabulous roasted garlic olive oil I received from Colavita. I love their olive oils but I never tried their roasted garlic version, all I can say is you need a bottle of this in your kitchen! I had a few fresh artichokes ( you could use frozen, I wouldn’t use canned) that I cut, quartered and steamed, then tossed them into the garlic oil and placed them in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes, the flavor is addicting!
I did the same thing with the shrimp, tossing them into the roasted garlic oil, sprinkling them with salt, pepper and a little peperoncino. I roasted the shrimp Ina’s way on a baking sheet for 5 or 6 minutes at 400 until the shrimp are cooked through. This method is full proof, cooks perfect every time!
The risotto itself was made with 1 box of chicken stock that was warmed in a pot on my stove and
 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice.
In a heavy bottomed pan heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sweat 1/2 diced onion. Add the rice, stirring and coating it with the butter and oil. Saute for a couple of minutes but don’t brown it, then add 1/2 cup of white wine and let it absorb. Add a ladle of hot chicken stock to the rice and let all the liquid absorb, then add another ladle and repeat the process stirring constantly.
I tossed in a handful of frozen peas along the way, added fresh snipped basil and parsley and a touch more butter in the end.
Pour your creamy warm risotto on a nice big platter and lay your roasted artichokes and shrimp all around.
The roasted garlic flavor took the risotto to another level, there wasn’t one grain of rice left!

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