Fall is officially here, which means less outdoor barbequing and the oven gets turned back on! I don’t do much oven cooking in the summer, for obvious reasons. And as much as I love summer weather, fall and winter cooking for me is so much more fun. Less salads and more soups please!
And if you’re looking to have your house smelling delicious and like you’ve cooked all day, I recommend roasting some peppers immediately! Italians love roasted sweet peppers and we use them as a side dish, added to salads, or in a delicious sandwich or frittata. The method and list of ingredients does not vary much and though you could use green, orange or yellow peppers, the red ones are the easiest to peel and the sweetest ones to serve. Since peppers are mostly water, they will wilt substantially once roasted so you will end up needing more than you think. I usually roast about 10 at a time, because, if you’re going to turn the oven on, might as well do so for a bunch of them. Choose peppers that are bright in color, crisp and free of blemishes. And yes, some folks roast them directly on the stovetop over an open flame. I prefer roasting them in the broiler. It’s less hands on, you can roast many at a time, and the aroma will engulf your entire home.
Roasted Red Bell Peppers
6 – 10 large red bell peppers
2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dry oregano
Fresh basil, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1. Turn oven on to broil and place the rack on the very top shelf. For easier clean up, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Rinse the peppers under cold water, dry them with clean paper towels and place them on the prepared baking sheet.
3. Roast peppers in the oven for about 20 minutes, turning the peppers on all sides every 5 or so minutes. 4. When peppers are charred on all sides, remove the tray from the oven and place the entire baking sheet in a large brown bag for a few minutes, this will steam them and make peeling easier. Peel peppers and remove all visible skin and seeds.
5. Cut peppers in strips and place them in a serving bowl. Season the peppers with oil, salt, oregano, basil and garlic. Serve immediately as a side dish, in a sandwich, added to salads, or as you wish. They can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Hearty, quick, and nutritious, polenta is a wonderful fall dish that is heartwarming as it is comforting. Enjoyed throughout Italy, but a main staple in Northern Italian cuisine, polenta is a wonderful dish for folks following a gluten free diet. Often served with mushrooms, an alternative method is to serve it with sautéed vegetables simply cooked with some olive oil and garlic. Packed with nutrients, this humble peasant dish comes together in just 20 minutes, making it the ideal week-night meal. Spinach and Swiss chard cook quickly, but if you wanted to add sturdier vegetables, broccoli rabe and kale also work wonderfully. Adjust cooking time by adding about 5 minutes when sauteing the vegetables.
4 - 6 cups vegetable stock
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped to 1-inch pieces
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 (10-ounces) bags baby spinach
1½ cups instant polenta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup shredded Fontina cheese
1. In a medium soup or stock pot, add the stock and bring it to a full boil over high heat.
2.Meanwhile, prepare the greens. In a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-low heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, until slightly golden but not burnt. Add the chard, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, until slightly wilted and softened. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of stock from the stock pan if the oil is drying out too quickly.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the polenta. Gradually add the polenta to the boiling stock, cook according to instructions, generally 3 to 4 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent sticking.
4. Add the spinach to the vegetable pan and using a tong or wooden spoon, pack spinach down. It will wilt down and cook in 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Remove the polenta from the heat and add the butter, grated cheese, and shredded fontina. Add the polenta to a large serving platter, add the greens on top and serve family style.
*Recipe originally published from my 30-Minute Italian Cookbook! Grab your copy on Amazon!
It’s that time of year in Italy. The grapes are being harvested for this year’s wine production! It’s an exciting time, to say the least, as well as a delicious period when the locals are enjoying the bounty the land has to offer. Making wine is no small task, so I will leave that to the pros, but one way I am enjoying the season, even though I am not in Tuscany, is by eating and baking with grapes. One of Tuscany’s most preferred method of baking with grapes is in schiacciata, which is similar to a sweet focaccia. While I love making fall schiacciata, I love this cake just as much. This cake is a bit more, well, cakey, that schiacciata, which tends to be a bit more bread-like and with added rosemary on top, can be a bit savory. This cake is wonderful for dessert, to be enjoyed with coffee or tea, or even for breakfast. Be sure to use small seedless grapes, as anything large will sink to the bottom of the cake. Topping it with a tablespoon of sugar and some slivered almost is purely optional, but they do add a nice touch. Go ahead and make prepare this delicious cake this fall, you will not be sorry.
Fall Harvest Cake
2 cups small seedless grapes (Thompson or Concord grapes)
11/3 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting the grapes)
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
Zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup light tasting olive oil (or vegetable oil)
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup milk (whole/skim/2%)
Optional: 1 tablespoon sugar
Optional: 2 – 3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1. Pre-heat oven to 350F, grease and flour an 8-inch springform or regular cake pan, or spray it with Pam non-stick spray.
2. Lightly dust the grapes in 1 tablespoon of flour. Set aside.
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder and baking soda together in a medium bowl, set aside.
4. In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3m inutes. Add the zest and vanilla beat until combined.
5. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the oil. Slowly add the yogurt and milk and beat until combined.
6. Still with speed on low, slowly add the flour just until combined, do not overmix.
4. Turn the mixer off and add half the grapes into the batter and mix with a spatula. Pour into the pan, and spread evenly. Top the batter with remaining grapes, and very gently press them down with your hand or spatula.
5. Optional: Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar on top and top with slivered almonds. Bake the bake for approximately 40-45 minutes. Cool before removing from the pan.
Oh summer…. We love you, but you don’t last nearly as long as we’d like. With it, you bring your bounty of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, green beans, and lots and lots of basil. But fall is almost here and with it comes an entire new line of ingredients that we adore just as much. Italians love to enjoy products at their peak of season, and why not, that is when they are the healthiest, tastiest and most readily available. Adopting the Italian mentality of eating in season, below you will find a list of seasonal ingredients often enjoyed in Italian dishes, that are perfect for this time of year. Enjoy them liberally for they all carry lots of vitamins and minerals.
Swiss Chard and Spinach
Swiss chard and spinach are autumn vegetables that are also excellent antioxidants. They also have the advantage of cooking very quickly. Which makes them even that much more appealing. Great in salads, in pasta dishes or simply sautéed as a side dish, these leafy greens are a must in my kitchen.
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, cabbage is also great for your health. It also contains vitamin A and vitamin C and has an intense and characteristic flavor. I enjoy it in soups, with lots of carrots, onions, parsley and diced potatoes.
Be it fresh, dry or frozen, mushrooms are the ideal fall ingredient. Their growth is facilitated by the autumn rains, and they are considered a good source of mineral salts such as potassium, phosphorus, copper and selenium. Did you know that mushrooms are famous for their power to strengthen the immune system? I love mushrooms in risottos or in chicken and turkey recipes.
Another typical autumn vegetable is the artichoke. Considered to be the protector of the liver, the artichoke with its characteristic bitter-sweet taste has a low-calorie content and is rich in minerals. After cleaning them out, I steam baby artichokes, then sauté them with lots of garlic and herbs, then top them with fresh breadcrumbs and grated Parmigiano cheese.
Often added to salads, or roasted in the oven as a side dish to chicken or seafood, fennel is rich in water, low in calories, and known for its aromatic and digestive properties. Its liquorish flavor is refreshing and light.
Rich in complex carbohydrates, potatoes are a vegetable that gives life to many recipes in the kitchen and has many beneficial properties. I love potatoes any which way they’re cooked, but one of my favorites method is diced small, seasoned with lots of great olive oil and fresh herbs, than placed in one layer on a baking sheet. After that, I top them with a healthy dusting of fresh breadcrumbs and roast them for 25 – 30 minutes. They’re the perfect side dish to roasted chicken.
Apples and Pears
Typical fruits of the autumn season are apples, pears. There are several varieties and all have a unique flavor. They are great in fall salads, enjoyed with chicken or pork and eaten as dessert. I also love baking with apples and pears as they are a great addition to coffee cakes or bundts.
Typically harvested in September or October for wine production, grapes are a great way of ending your meal. With their sweet flavor, they are deceptively addictive!
There are countless varieties of chestnuts, a very nutritious food that can be used for many dishes in the kitchen. In addition, chestnuts are rich in vitamins and minerals. I enjoy them simply roasted in the oven. Be sure to score them with an X or they will burst in the oven!
Oranges and Mandarins
Sweet citrus fruits rich in vitamin C, oranges and mandarins are highly hydrating fruits, that contain few calories and many vitamins. They’re in peak season in the late fall, all the way into winter.
Add these or any other seasonal ingredient to your fall menu, and not only will you be eating like an Italian, you’ll be eating healthy too!
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