Vegetables

Vegetables

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Fiori di Zucca Fritti

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

The best way to enjoy zucchini blossoms is enrobed in a simple batter made of cold sparkling water and flour, deep-fried in hot extra-virgin olive oil until the batter is crisp and golden and the blossoms are coaxed to their full potential of sweetness. I've tried other batters (beer, Prosecco, egg and wine) and none compare to this straight-forward version. It's a classic case of less is more. The same can be said for the blossoms themselves: most recipes call for stuffing them with all manner of cheese, ground Mortadella, herb fillings, and other embellishments... adding a stuffing only takes away from the blossoms' delicate flavor and ethereally light texture. As for the oil to use when deep-frying, I find extra-virgin olive oil to be the best: its flavor is bright and clean, it yields lighter fried foods than peanut or other oils, and it doesn't smell up the house the way other oils do. As long as you don't overheat it, it is extremely stable for deep-frying and produces exceptional results. And one final word of advice: Use the blossoms the day you buy (or pick) them, as they are extremely delicate and wilt quickly.

  • 12 perfect, large zucchini blossoms
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup ice cold sparkling water
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Rinse the blossoms thoroughly under a thin, light spray of cool water, gently opening out the leaves and running your fingers inside each blossom to remove any small insects.

Using your fingers, remove the hard long stem inside each blossom. It is bitter and must be removed.

Remove the thin thorn-like filaments running up from the bottom of each blossom, just above where the stem ends.

Cut off the stem at the bottom of each blossom, just where it meets the bud (be careful not to cut it too high or you will make a hole in the base of the blossom).

Blot the blossoms dry on paper towels.

When you are ready to fry, combine the flour and sparkling water in a large bowl until a thin batter results. Do not overbeat; a few lumps are fine.

Heat the olive oil in a deep pan until it registers 350 degrees on a frying thermometer.

Dredge a few blossoms in the batter and deep-fry until golden and crisp on both sides, turning once. Be sure not to fry too many blossoms at once or the temperature of the oil will drop.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the blossoms from the hot oil to a platter lined with paper towels.

Fry the blossoms in several batches, and serve hot, sprinkled with the salt. Serves 4

Insalata di Indivia, Cavolfiore e Peperoni

Endive, Cauliflower, and Roasted Pepper Salad

A colorful salad that tames the bitterness of endive with the sweetness of roasted peppers.

  • 2 red peppers, halved and seeded
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • 2 heads endive, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup snipped chives
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves

Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the peppers, cut side down, on the foil. Broil for 15 minutes, or until black all over; wrap the roasted peppers in the foil and set aside to steam for 20 minutes, then unwrap, peel off the skin, and cut into strips. Set aside.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Drop in the cauliflower florets and cook 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking, then drain again.

In a large bowl, toss the boiled cauliflower with the roasted peppers, the endives, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, chives, and basil. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Serve within 30 minutes. Serves 4

Porri alla Griglia con Vinaigrette al Pepe Rosa

Grilled Leeks in Pink Peppercorn Marinade

To crush the pink peppercorns, use a mortar and pestle, or wrap them in a towel and crush them with the bottom of a heavy pan. And yes, pink peppercorns aren't peppercorns at all... But the name fits, so what's the harm? Serve the leeks as a starter, before a hearty soup, or as an antipasto.

  • 6 small leeks, white part only, halved lengthwise (2 pounds untrimmed weight)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon or 1 tablespoon dried tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon snipped chives
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed pink peppercorns

Rinse the leeks thoroughly under cool water, fanning out the leaves and running your fingers between them to dislodge any grit.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the leeks and 1 tablespoon of the salt and cook the leeks for 5 minutes, or until almost tender when pierced with a knife.

Drain, rinse under cool water to stop the cooking, and blot dry very gently.

Heat a grill until it is smoking hot.

Gently toss the blanched leeks with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and ¼ teaspoon of the salt.

Grill until lightly browned and tender, about 3 minutes per side, turning once. Remove to a platter.

In a medium bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt.

Beating with a wire whisk all the while, pour in the remaining 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a thin steady stream, until well blended and emulsified.

Whisk in the tarragon, chives, shallots, garlic, black peppercorns, and pink peppercorns.

Pour the dressing over the leeks. Let rest for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours, and serve at room temperature. Serves 4

Okra Cotta al Forno

Slow-Roasted Okra

Okra may not be an Italian vegetable, but I grew up eating it thanks to my Turkish Nonna Eva. She stewed it with tomatoes, a hint of lemon, and plenty of onions (much like her slow-cooked beans), which I love, but my husband is not a fan of the slimy, gluey texture. So at home, I slow-roast okra instead and the result is crispy, intensely flavored okra without any hint of slime: more addictive than potato chips, and far tastier and healthier. You can add a bit of cayenne pepper and garam masala when seasoning the okra for a spicy, aromatic flavor.

  • 1 pound okra, washed thoroughly
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 300°F (preferably set on convection bake).

Trim the tough stem end from each okra. Slice each okra in half lengthwise.

In a large bowl, toss the okra with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Arrange the okra, cut side down, on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet; it should be in a single layer; if needed, use 2 baking sheets. In order to crisp properly, the okra needs to be in a single layer, with the cut side facing down.

Roast in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until just starting to crisp and turn golden; do not overcook the okra, as it will firm up as it cools. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 4

Cavolfiore Arrosto con Pancetta e Fontina

Cauliflower Gratin with Pancetta and Fontina

For crispier Pancetta, be sure to scatter the Pancetta on top of the cauliflower and cheese.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 head cauliflower, trimmed into florets
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 ounces grated Fontina from Val d'Aosta
  • 3 ounces Pancetta, defatted and diced

Preheat the oven to 425°F (preferably set on convection bake).

Lightly oil a wide baking dish.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of the salt and the cauliflower florets.

Boil the cauliflower until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and shock in ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again.

Blot the cauliflower dry and arrange in the baking dish in a single layer.

Toss with the olive oil, the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, the pepper, and the nutmeg, and top with the Fontina.

Scatter the Pancetta in the baking dish on top of the cauliflower.

Roast in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Serve hot. Serves 4

Scarola con Limone ed Aglio

Escarole with Lemon and Garlic

A very refreshing side dish, especially paired with fish or seafood. It keeps well in the refrigerator up to 2 days, but you may need to readjust the seasoning before serving.

  • 1 large bunch escarole (about 1 pound), trimmed, washed several times, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the escarole and 1 tablespoon of the salt; boil 3 minutes, then drain.

Rinse under cool water to stop the cooking, drain again, and squeeze dry.

Place in a bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, and chili flakes. Toss well and adjust the seasoning. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4

Piselli con Pancetta Affumicata

Sweet Peas with Bacon and Onions

In the spring, cooks in central Italy pair fava beans or peas with Pancetta or Prosciutto, creating a simple vegetable stew that tastes as delicious on its own as it does over pasta with a dusting of Pecorino.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 2 ounces bacon or Pancetta, defatted and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon minced marjoram
  • 2 packages (10 ounces) frozen petite peas, thawed
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil a heavy 2-quart pot over a medium flame.

Add the onion, bacon, and marjoram; cook 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft but not golden.

Add the peas, salt, and pepper and cook, covered, 10 minutes; add a little water if needed to prevent the peas from scorching.

Serve the peas hot. Serves 8

Cavoli di Bruxelles con Pancetta e Aglio

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Bacon & Garlic

Look for small, bright green Brussels sprouts: they are sweeter and tastier than larger or yellowish ones.

  • 20 Brussels sprouts, tough bottoms trimmed, halved if large
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 pound double-smoked bacon, defatted and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup water

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (preferably set on convection roast).

Toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, bacon, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Arrange the Brussels sprouts cut side down in a roasting pan. They should be in a single layer.

Add the water and roast until they are tender and lightly browned at the edges, about 30 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 4

Zuppa di Scarola con Salsiccia ed Orzo

Escarole, Barley, and Sausage Soup

You can serve this soup with cheese-topped crostini (Mozzarella and Pecorino are ideal cheeses) if you want a little more richness.

  • 4 spicy Italian sausages with fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 4 cups (1 quart) chicken broth
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup pearl barley
  • ¼ pound escarole leaves, washed thoroughly and chopped

Place the sausages in a skillet and pierce with a fork to prevent bursting.

Cook over medium heat until done, about 20 minutes, turning as needed to cook evenly and pouring in ½ cup of water halfway through cooking (steam makes the sausages more tender).

Cool, then cut in quarters lengthwise and chop into ¼-inch pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a 2-quart pot and add the garlic and onion.

Cook 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring often, or until the onion is soft.

Add the broth and bring to a boil, then stir in the salt and barley. Lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer 30 minutes, covered, or until the barley is al dente.

Stir in the sausage and escarole.

Cook 5 minutes, adjust the seasoning, and serve hot. Serves 4

Tortino Saporito al Formaggio con Carciofi

Three-Cheese & Artichoke Bread Pudding

Serve in generous wedges as a side dish to meat and poultry.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the mold
  • 2 and 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 6 slices day-old white sliced bread, torn into small pieces
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup minced fresh herbs (tarragon, basil, chives, thyme, marjoram, mint, Italian parsley)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 box (10 ounces) frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
  • ¼ pound freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • ¼ pound coarsely grated fresh Mozzarella
  • ½ pound coarsely grated Gruyère

Make the bread pudding: Preheat the oven to 425° (preferably set on convection bake).

Generously butter a 3-quart soufflé dish (or, if you prefer a crustier soufflé with more crisp edges, use a 2-inch-deep x 10-inch-round roasting pan).

Beat the milk and cream together in a shallow container. Add the bread to the milk and cream and set aside to soak for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the herbs, spinach, paprika, nutmeg, pepper, and salt in a medium bowl.

Squeeze the bread gently to extract the milk. Whisk the milk into the egg-herb mixture.

Stir in the soaked bread, the artichokes, the Parmigiano, Mozzarella, and Gruyère.

Pour into the buttered soufflé dish. Dot the top with the butter. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden-brown on top, set in the center, and bubbling. Serves 8

Patate Gratinate

Nutmeg-Laced Potato Gratin

Be sure to use freshly grated nutmeg, never the pre-ground kind, for best flavor.

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the roasting pan
  • 2 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 large Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 and ½ pounds total), very thinly sliced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 450° (preferably set on convection bake).

Generously grease an 8-inch roasting pan. Dust with the bread crumbs.

Combine the heavy cream, milk, butter, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, a pinch of the pepper, and the nutmeg in a 1-quart pot and bring to just below the boiling point. Remove from the heat.

Toss the sliced potatoes, onion, garlic, and flour with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of pepper in a bowl.

Layer the potatoes and onions in the greased roasting pan. Compact the potatoes and onions firmly with your hands; pour the warmed cream mixture over the potatoes and onions; it should come three-quarters of the way up the potatoes.

Bake in the preheated oven 45 minutes, or until tender all the way through when pierced with a knife and lightly browned on top.

Cool 5 minutes, then serve hot. Serves 6

Barbabietole Marinate con Olio, Limone ed Aglio

Marinated Beet Greens and Stems with Olive Oil, Lemon, and Garlic

Most people simply throw out the green leaves and stems of beets, using only the root vegetable... What a waste! My Nonna Eva taught me to cook both the leaves and the stems in boiling water just until soft; all they need after a light squeeze to drain off excess water is a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and if you like, chili flakes. You can saute the greens and leaves with garlic and chili in olive oil after blanching if you prefer a warm side dish.

  • leaves and stems from 1 large bunch beets, washed several times and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the beet leaves and stems and 1 tablespoon of the salt; boil 5 minutes, or until soft, then drain.

Rinse under cool water to stop the cooking, drain again, and squeeze dry gently.

Place in a bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, and chili flakes. Toss well and adjust the seasoning. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4

Barbabietole Arrosto

Roasted Beet Salad

Roasting beets is not only easy, it brings out their incredible sweetness; boiling beets dilutes their distinctive taste. You can toss the peeled beets with walnuts and goat cheese and serve them atop arugula, but I prefer them plain, warm from the oven, with just a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  • 1 large bunch beets, trimmed, washed several times, and scrubbed (reserve the leaves and stems for a refreshing salad)
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the beets on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the salt; roast in the preheated oven 1 hour, or until you can pierce them with a knife.

Cool 5 minutes, then slip off the skins and slice thickly.

Place on a serving plate, drizzle with the olive oil, season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper, and enjoy. Serves 4

Salsa Cruda al Pomodoro

Fresh Tomato Salsa

My mother served this light, summery sauce often when I was growing up. It is wonderful with a thick, juicy steak, grilled pork chops, or firm-fleshed grilled fish like swordfish or tuna. The amount of cayenne pepper you add is altogether personal: add a lot for a searingly hot sauce or just a pinch for the merest hint of spice.

  • 3 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/8-inch dice (1 and ¼ pounds)
  • 1/2 small purple onion, cut into 1/8-inch dice
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced thyme
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons salt

Toss the tomatoes, onion, olive oil, cayenne, and thyme together in a medium bowl. (Process in a blender for a smooth texture if you like, but I prefer the mellower flavors and chunky texture of the chopped version.)

Add the salt just before serving and toss again. Serve at room temperature. Makes 2 cups

Insalata di Rucola, Noci e Scalogni

Baby Arugula, Walnut, and Scallion Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs

Toss in a handful of croutons for textural contrast if you like.

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 packed cups wild baby arugula
  • 4 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 12 walnut halves, shelled and coarsely chopped or crumbled

Place the eggs in a small pot. Cover with cool water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let rest, undisturbed, for 13 minutes. Drain off the water, rinse under cool running water, and drain again.

Shake the pot with the hard-boiled eggs vigorously; this will crack the shells and create a small air pocket between the shells and the eggs, making peeling much easier. Rinse thoroughly and peel the eggs; rinse again to remove any bits of clinging shell. Cut the peeled hard-boiled eggs in half and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss the arugula, scallions, and walnuts with the lemon dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Arrange on 2 large plates, garnish each plate with 3 hard-boiled egg halves, and enjoy. Serves 2

Patate Arrosto al Limone

Lemony Roast Potatoes

An easy and delicious side to meat and seafood. Add a handful of black olives to the roasting pan if you like; as the potatoes roast, the olives will release their lovely briny flavor and permeate the potatoes with their unmistakable aroma.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the roasting pan
  • 2 large lemons
  • 2 pounds baby red creamer potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (preferably set on convection bake).

Lightly oil a wide roasting pan. Thickly slice the central part of the lemons (use the skinny end pieces to squeeze the juice later); arrange the lemon slices in the roasting pan (discard any pits from the lemon slices first).

Scatter the halved potatoes over the sliced lemons, cut side down. Season with the salt and pepper.

Squeeze the reserved lemon end pieces over the potatoes. Drizzle with the olive oil. Scatter the rosemary and garlic around and over the potatoes.

Roast the potatoes in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until golden brown. If needed, slip under a preheated broiler for the last 5 minutes to get a little browned on top. Serve hot. Serves 8

Insalata di Rapanelli e Pomodori Estiva

Summer Radish and Tomato Salad

Lime juice lends a vibrant flavor to this easy summer dish. Serve alongside rich grilled meats and fish for a refreshing contrast.

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced radishes (preferably spicy, not sweet)
  • 2 medium ripe beeftsteak tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, white parts only, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 12 basil leaves, cut into thin strips

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper if using.

Toss the radishes, tomatoes, scallions, and basil with the lime dressing in a bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Scoop into 4 pretty goblets or martini glasses, and serve. Serves 4

Cuori di Palma con Prosciutto Cotto, Bocconcini ed Olive

Hearts of Palm Salad with Prosciutto Cotto, Bocconcini, and Olives

This colorful salad can be embellished with toasted pine nuts or slivered radicchio if you like.

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 cup shredded Romaine lettuce
  • 1 can (15 ounces) hearts of palm, drained, rinsed, and thinly sliced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 12 pitted black olives
  • 1/2 pound bocconcini (fresh Mozzarella balls), thinly sliced
  • 8 thin slices Prosciutto Cotto, rolled into spirals

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano; set this dressing aside.

Arrange the Romaine, hearts of palm, tomatoes, olives, bocconcini, and Prosciutto Cotto on 4 plates.

Drizzle with the dressing and enjoy. Serves 4

Insalata di Asparagi, Pomodori e Formaggio Feta

Asparagus, Tomato, & Feta Cheese Salad

This is a truly Mediterranean salad, with inspiration from Italy, Greece, and Turkey... A sprinkling of Aleppo pepper (a dried chili pepper from northern Syria and Turkey with a delicate spicy kick) gives this colorful salad a hauntingly delicious flavor. Look for Aleppo pepper and other spices at Penzey's.

Asparagus Salad
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 12 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 small purple onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled French Feta or young goat cheese (such as Coach Farm Low Fat Goat Cheese Stick)

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and drop in the asparagus. Boil until tender-crisp, about 3 minutes, then drain, cool under running water to stop the cooking and set the color, and blot dry. Arrange on a serving platter.

Top the asparagus with the tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. Drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil over the vegetables on the platter. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the Aleppo pepper. Top with the crumbled Feta cheese and serve. Serves 4

Insalata di Rucola, Pomodoro ed Olive

Arugula, Tomato, & Olive Salad

A refreshing yet boldly flavored salad that works equally well on its own or as a side to meat or fish; just be sure to buy vine-ripened grape or cherry tomatoes in the cold months.

Arugula, Tomato, & Olive Salad
  • 2 bunches arugula, washed and dried, stems removed
  • 24 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 12 pitted black olives, such as Gaeta or Taggiasche, halved
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Roll 4 or 5 leaves of arugula at a time into tight bundles and thinly slice with a sharp knife (this is a chiffonnade). Toss the sliced arugula with all the remaining ingredients except the lemon wedges; taste, adjust the seasoning if needed, and arrange on a platter.

Serve immediately, decorated with the lemon wedges. Serves 4

Calzone ai Funghi

Mushroom Calzone

Use a combination of chanterelles, morels, and oyster mushrooms in this robust calzone. If you can get your hands on fresh porcini mushrooms, they are divine in this dish.

A cornucopia of fresh mushrooms in an italian market
  • 3 and 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend

Mix the flour, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of the salt in a food processor. With the motor running, add enough warm (110°F) water (about 1 and 1/4 cups) to make a soft dough that rides the blade. Process for 45 seconds. Add a little water if the dough is dry or a little flour if it is sticky. Lightly oil a bowl, place the dough in it, shape into a ball and wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over a medium-high flame. Add the garlic, parsley, and mushrooms, and sauté 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms have let out their water. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper; set aside to cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 550°F.

In a bowl, mix the mushrooms, Ricotta, and Parmigiano.

Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Shape into 4 balls on a lightly floured counter. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes (this allows the gluten to relax, making stretching easier). Using a rolling pin (or your hands for a lighter texture), roll into 10-inch circles; the edges should be slightly thicker than the center.

Top each circle with one-quarter of the mushroom mixture and fold in half to form a half-moon; seal the edges well with your fingers. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush the top with the egg. Place the baking sheet on top of the baking stone.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and golden. Serve hot. Serves 4

Peperoni alla Griglia al Basilico

Grilled Peppers in Basil Marinade

Select an assortment of sweet bell peppers for this delicious side dish: orange, red, and yellow look glorious combined. Avoid green peppers, which are not sweet enough to complement the basil dressing.

sweet bell pepper
  • 1 red pepper, seeded, sliced into finger-thick slices
  • 1 yellow pepper, seeded, sliced into finger-thick slices
  • 1 orange pepper, seeded, sliced into finger-thick slices
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the peppers
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 basil leaves, torn

Heat a grill pan over a medium-high flame until it is very hot. (The ridges in the pan are important, because they will give the peppers a grilled appearance.) Meanwhile, brush the peppers with a little olive oil.

Place the red, yellow, and orange peppers on the grill pan and cook, stirring from time to time, for about 10 minutes, or until they are lightly charred and softened.

Place the grilled peppers in a large serving platter while you make the marinade. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, and basil. Pour the basil marinade over the roasted peppers and allow to marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to 2 days in the refrigerator.

Serve at room temperature. Serves 4

Pomodori Ripieni Estivi

Summer Stuffed Tomatoes

You can make your own bread crumbs by pulsing dried bread in a food processor until fine.

  • 1/4 cup minced basil
  • 1/4 cup minced Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons minced thyme
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon milk, plus extra if needed
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, halved horizontally and seeded

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Combine all the ingredients except the tomatoes in a bowl; the mixture should form a soft, somewhat oily paste. Add more milk if it seems dry.

Stuff the mixture into the tomato halves, packing it in well and compacting it so it does not slip out. Arrange the tomatoes, stuffing side up, on an 11-inch x 17-inch baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast in the preheated oven until softened and lightly browned around the edges, about 25 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 6

L'Insalata della Mamma

Mom's Summer Salad

A favorite at our house, and a dish we crave no matter how often we eat it (and we eat it almost every day!). It is my mom's classic summer salad, delicious as is or embellished with some black olives for a more briny taste.

  • 1/2 red pepper, cubed
  • 1/2 yello wor green pepper, cubed
  • 24 grape tomatoes, halved if small or quartered if large
  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled, cubed
  • 1/2 small purple onion, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ounce French Feta cheese, crumbled

Toss all the ingredients in a serving bowl. Adjust the salt if needed and serve within 1 hour. Serves 4

Cuori di Palma con Carote, Cipolla e Menta

Crunchy Hearts of Palm Salad with Fresh Mint
 fresh mint

Hearts of palm are delicious on their own or tossed with sweet carrots and purple onions for a more colorful, and crunchy, salad. You will find hearts of palm in cans or glass jars in specialty markets; be sure to drain and rinse them thoroughly before using them.

  • 8 hearts of palm, rinsed, halved, and cut into long, thin strips (1 average can)
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, cut into long, thin strips or coarsely grated
  • ½ small purple onion, sliced into thin half-moons
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes, adjust the seasoning if needed, and serve. Serves 4

I Fagiolini della Nonna

Nonna's Braised String Beans
string beans

When I was little, my grandmother Eva (who was born in Izmir, Turkey) cooked these braised string beans to accompany roasts, meatballs, and other main courses. Italian string beans are much thinner and more delicate than North American varieties; the closest substitute is haricots verts, thin French string beans available in most specialty greenmarkets. Although the cooking time for the beans may seem inordinately long (45 minutes over low heat), the flavor and texture are just incredible: the beans cook up buttery soft, with a deep, earthy flavor and a rich sauce that is sheer heaven on a slice of crunchy bread. Both Turkish cooks (like my grandmother) and Italian cooks love their string beans cooked low and slow... and I do too.

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
  • 1 pound string beans or haricots verts, tipped
  • 4 ripe plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart pot over a medium flame. Add the onion and garlic, and cook 5 minutes, stirring often.

Fold in the beans and tomatoes, season with the salt and pepper, and pour in 1 cup of water. Bring to a gentle boil; cover and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Cook 45 minutes, stirring every few minutes and adding a little water if needed; there should always be a bit of liquid in the pan. Adjust the salt and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 4

Funghi Misti Trifolati

Wild Mushroom Medley with Garlic and Parsley
fresh mushrooms

Funghi trifolati (mushrooms sautéed with garlic, parsley, and olive oil) are an all-time favorite across Italy. Select a variety of mushrooms for the most intense flavor. Try serving the mushrooms as a pasta sauce, not just as a side dish to meat and poultry; or spoon atop crostini with shaved Parmigiano as a delectable finger food.

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini, shiitake, lobster, oyster, etc...), rinsed, dried, and coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over a medium-high flame. Add the mushrooms and sauté until all the liquid has evaporated and they are lightly browned in spots, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn the mushrooms at this point or the dish will be acrid rather than gentle in flavor.

Stir in the garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper, and continue to sauté another 5 minutes, or until the garlic and parsley have lost their raw aroma and the mushrooms are tender but not burned. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, as a side dish to meat or poultry; you can also toss the mushrooms with boiled pasta and a bit of freshly grated Parmigiano for a delectable first course. Serves 6

Pomodorini Ripieni di Tonno

Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Creamy Tuna Mousse

The creamy tuna mousse can be spread onto toasted bread for an even easier palate teaser. You can turn it into a succulent first course by tossing it with 1 pound of boiled pasta, or a delicious main course by spooning it over poached sliced chicken or turkey breast.

  • 36 cherry tomatoes
  • One 6-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil, drained and crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 anchovy fillet packed in olive oil, darined and chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1/4 cup dill sprigs

Rinse the cherry tomatoes and cut off their tops; scoop out the seeds with your finger or a tiny spoon. Trim the bottoms of the cherry tomatoes in order to stabilize them. Place the cherry tomatoes upside-down on a rack set over a tray to drain for 15 minutes.

In a food processor, purée the tuna with the butter and olive oil until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the capers, anchovy, and Tabasco, and purée until blended and smooth once again, about 15 seconds. (The tuna mousse keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, so this step can be done well ahead of serving.)

Spoon the tuna mousse into a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe into the hollowed-out cherry tomatoes, garnish with the dill, and refrigerate until needed (up to 1 hour). Makes 36 pieces

Spinaci con Pinoli ed Uvetta

Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins

Swiss chard leaves work well instead of spinach, but require blanching before they are sautéed and take a few minutes longer to cook through.

  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small purple onion, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, washed thoroughly
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Soak the raisins in warm water to cover for 30 minutes; drain and blot dry.

Heat the olive oil in a 14-inch sauté pan or wok. Add the garlic, onion, and pine nuts, and cook until the nuts are golden, about 5 minutes, stirring often; watch that the garlic and pine nuts do not burn, or the dish will taste bitter. Stir in the drained raisins and cook 1 more minute, still stirring.

Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes, stirring often or tossing with metal tongs.

Season the spinach with the salt and pepper. Sauté until no liquid is left in the pan, about 3 more minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4

Frittatine alla Cipolla ed Erbe

Miniature Onion-Herb Frittatas

The generous use of herbs in these mini frittatas makes a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the onions. Instead of individual frittatas, you can prepare an 8-inch frittata instead: a lot less work, and equally delicious.

  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the onion and cook 15 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned all over, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper, fold in the parsley, thyme, marjoram, mint, and basil, and cook 2 more minutes; remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Beat the eggs, milk, flour, and Pecorino in a large bowl. Fold in the onion mixture and adjust the salt if needed.

Heat the same 12-inch nonstick skillet over a medium-high flame. Pour in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and swirl to coat the skillet with the oil. Drop in 6 spoonfuls of the egg mixture about 2 inches apart and cook until golden and set on the bottom, about 4 minutes; turn and cook until the other side is also golden and set, about 2 minutes. Remove the frittatas to a platter.

Continue in the same manner with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining egg-onion mixture. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Makes 12 miniature frittatas

Misticanza con Focaccia Tostata

Mixed Baby Greens with Focaccia Croutons

Toasting focaccia cubes makes for truly delectable croutons.

  • 1/2 pound focaccia, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 2 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups packed baby greens, washed and dried
  • 2 red peppers, julienned
  • 1/2 pound Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, peeled into long, thin shards with a vegetable peeler

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Spread the cubed focaccia out on an 11-inch x 17-inch baking sheet and toast in the preheated oven until golden and lightly crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, macerate the scallions with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper for 30 minutes.

Toss the baby greens with the scallion dressing in a large bowl. Adjust the seasoning (and the balance of lemon to olive oil if needed) and mound on 6 plates. Top each serving with the julienned red peppers, Grana, and focaccia croutons, and serve within minutes, before the greens get soggy. Serves 6

    Finocchio con Dragoncello e Semi di Senape

    Fennel Slaw with Tarragon and Mustard Seeds

    Look for mustard seeds in specialty markets; Indian shops always stock them. Their subtle mustard flavor is a splendid complement to the fresh tarragon in this crisp salad. In a pinch, you can substitute Dijon mustard (use about 1 teaspoon), but you'll miss out on the seeds' lovely crunchy texture.

  • 2 fennel bulbs, quartered, cored, and sliced paper-thin
  • 1/2 small purple onion, sliced paper thin
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons minced tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Toss all the ingredients in a large bowl; set aside 30 minutes.

Adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve at room temperature, as a side dish to roasted or grilled fish or white meat. Serves 6

Nastri di Zucchina Crudi Marinati

Marinated Zucchini Ribbons

Serve this refreshing vegetable dish with grilled fish for a memorable main course. To slice the zucchini into paper-thin ribbons, use a mandoline or a vegetable peeler (a vegetable peeler will yield narrower strips, and is less dangerous than a mandoline).

  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced into paper-thin ribbons
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill

Place the zucchini slices in a wide, shallow dish and add the lemon juice and salt; set aside 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over a medium flame. Add the almonds and paprika; cook, stirring often, 5 minutes, or until golden. Immediately remove to a bowl to stop the cooking (the almonds may burn otherwise).

Add the almonds to the zucchini with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the pepper, and the dill. Toss to distribute the dressing. Let rest for 30 minutes, and serve at room temperature. Serves 6

Asparagi in Padella al Limone ed Aglio

Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Zest and Garlic
Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Zest and Garlic

Try string beans instead of asparagus for another great vegetable dish. You can omit the ginger and add a few rosemary sprigs and sage leaves instead.

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • two 2-inch long strips lemon zest
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon julienned ginger
  • 1 bunch pencil-thin asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place all the ingredients in a 12-inch skillet. Cook uncovered over medium-high heat 5 to 8 minutes, stirring once in a while, or until the asparagus are golden brown in spots and starting to soften.

Add 3/4 cup of water and cook 8 more minutes, still uncovered, or until the water evaporates and the asparagus are cooked but still slightly crisp. Serve hot. Serves 4

Cannellini Brasati con Cipolla e Bietole

Braised Cannellini Beans with Onions and Swiss Chard

Canned beans are one of the few canned foods I really like, and I often use them instead of dried beans in soups, stews, and even salads to save on soaking and cooking time. In this easy recipe, I braise cannellini beans with onions, garlic, and a hint of tomato, and throw in Swiss chard for an earthy flavor and silky texture. I serve the beans piping hot as a side dish to meat, poultry, or savory pies, or as an antipasto spooned atop toasted bread rounds.

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 dried red chili pepper or 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 medium purple onion, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
  • One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed thoroughly, and drained again
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, washed, dried, and chopped (leaves only)

Heat the olive oil in a 1-quart pot over a medium-high flame. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly; the garlic should become aromatic and just lightly golden (do not burn it or it will taste acrid). Stir in the chili pepper and cook 15 more seconds.

Add the onion and cook, still stirring, about 2 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent and soft. Stir in the pepper and parsley and cook 1 more minute. Fold in the rinsed and drained beans, and then stir in the tomato paste. Add enough cool water (or chicken broth if you happen to have it on hand) to cover the beans by 1/4 inch (about 1 and 1/2 cups, depending on the width of your pot).

Season with the salt and bring to a gentle boil, uncovered. Cover and lower the heat to medium-low; cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir in the chard leaves, and cover again. Cook for another 15 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if needed and serve hot. Serves 4

Experiment with Other Flavorings...

substitute fresh thyme and rosemary (1 tablespoon each, minced) for the parsley

add 1 thinly sliced green pepper along with the onion and omit the chard

brown 1/2 pound of Italian sausage, removed from the casing and crumbled, along with the onion before adding the beans for a hearty main course

stir in 1 head of chopped and blanched escarole instead of chard and sprinkle the beans with grated Pecorino when serving

try the same dish with canned chickpeas or other beans instead, or combine a few varieties if you like

Turn the Beans into a Soup...

for a simple bean soup: in a 3-quart pot, add 4 cups of chicken broth instead of water and cook 30 minutes, covered; omit the chard; puree one-quarter of the beans in a blender and return to the pot, heat through, and serve hot, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil

for an elegant bean-shrimp soup: in a 3-quart pot, add 4 cups of water and cook 30 minutes, covered; omit the chard; puree one-quarter of the beans in a blender and return to the pot, return to a boil, nd drop in 1/2 pound of shelled medium shrimp; cook just until the shrimp turn pink (about 2 minutes) and serve hot, sprinkled with 1/4 cup of snipped chives

for a robust bean-escarole soup: in a 3-quart pot, add 4 cups of chicken broth instead of water and cook 10 minutes, covered; omit the chard; fold in 2 cups of chopped raw escarole and cook 15 more minutes, covered; serve hot, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper

Getting Rid of the Canned Flavor in Canned Beans

It is very important to rinse canned beans thoroughly before using, or they will taste canned. To rinse beans, open the can into a colander. Drain the canning liquid.

Rinse the beans under cool running water for 2 minutes.

Drain the beans thoroughly again.

The beans are now ready to use in soups, stews, salads, and more.

Note that the same rule applies to any canned vegetable or legume.

Step-by-Step Recipe: Cannellini

Step 1: Briefly Cook Garlic and Chili
Step 1

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a 1-quart pot over a medium-high flame.

Add 2 chopped garlic cloves and cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly; the garlic should become aromatic and just lightly golden (do not burn it or it will taste acrid).

Stir in 1 dried red chili pepper or 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes and cook 15 more seconds.

Step 2

Add 1 minced purple onion and cook, still stirring, about 2 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent and soft.

Step 3: Fold in Pepper and Parsley

Don't cook the onion long enough to caramelize or brown it, or it will become too sweet.

Step 3

Stir in 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley and cook 1 more minute.

The aim here is to liberate the aroma from the pepper and parsley by infusing them in the hot olive oil, not to cook the onion until it caramelizes.

Step 4

It is very important to rinse canned beans thoroughly before cooking, or they will taste canned. (To rinse beans, drain them into a colander and rinse under cool running water for 2 minutes. Drain thoroughly again.)

Step 4: Stir in Drained Beans

Stir the drained and rinsed beans (from one 15-ounce can cannellini beans) into the aromatic base in the pot.

Step 5

Stir in 1 tablespoon of tomato paste (I suggest a good Italian brand for best flavor).

Add enough cool water (or chicken broth if you happen to have it on hand) to cover the beans by 1/4 inch.

You will need about 1 and 1/2 cups of water, depending on the width of your pot.

Step 6
Step 5: Add Tomato Paste and Water

Season the beans with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a gentle boil, uncovered, stirring once in a while.

Cover and lower the heat to medium-low; cook for 5 minutes.

Step 7

Uncover, stir in 1 bunch of washed, stemmed, and chopped Swiss chard leaves, and cover again.

Cook for another 15 minutes.

Adjust the seasoning if needed and serve hot. Serves 4

Step 6: Simmer 5 Minutes

Step-by-Step: Roasted Peppers Quick, Easy, & Mess-free

Step 1: Cut Peppers in Half Lengthwise

Strips of succulent roasted peppers tossed with nothing more than olive oil, slivered garlic, sea salt, and a few torn leaves of fragrant basil: this is summer on a plate. Accompanied by a hunk of crusty bread, a piece of pungent Pecorino, a handful of olives, and a chilled bottle of white, you have a satisfying alfresco meal. Now that the gardens and farmers' markets are bursting with sweet peppers, it's time to roll up our sleeves and make the most of the season's bounty.

But if roasting peppers seems like a messy, tedious, and difficult job, nothing could be further from the truth. I've developed an easy, quick and mess-free technique for roasting and peeling peppers--it takes mere minutes of work and the results are far better than anything you can buy in a store.

Step 1
Step 2: Scoop Out Seeds, Membranes, & Stems

Preheat the broiler.

Rinse red, orange, or yellow peppers (or a mixture of all three) and cut them in half lengthwise. (Avoid green peppers for roasting, because their flavor is not sweet enough and their color is too dull after roasting.)

Step 2

Scoop out the seeds, stems, and membranes from each pepper half.

Step 3

Arrange the pepper halves cut side down on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.

Step 3: Place Cut Side Down on Foil-Lined Sheet
Step 4

Broil for 20 minutes, or until the skins are blistered and charred and blackened all over.

Step 5

Remove the peppers from the oven, wrap them snugly in the aluminum foil you used to line the baking sheet, and set aside for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the peppers cool to room temperature; the steam created by the hot peppers in the tight aluminum foil bundle will help to lift the skin from the flesh of the peppers, making peeling easier later.

Step 6
Step 4: Broil Until Black All Over

Unwrap the aluminum foil, then slip the skin off the peppers using your fingers. It should come off easily, thanks to the steam trapped by the sealed aluminum foil.

Step 7

You can leave the roasted peppers in perfect halves; you can cut them into strips or dice; or you can puree them in a food processor until velvety for use in sauces, dips, and spreads.

To store the roasted peppers in the refrigerator: Pack them into glass jars, cover with extra-virgin olive oil, and tuck 1 or 2 peeled garlic cloves and a handful of washed basil leaves in each jar; refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Step 6: Unwrap Foil and Peel

To freeze the roasted peppers: Place the peppers in plastic freezer-safe bags and freeze immediately (roasted peppers will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month).

Serving ideas: Use the roasted peppers in salads, pasta sauces, or as a garnish atop crostini or bruschetta. They are also wonderful in rice dishes or pureed into sauces for meat, fish, or poultry.

Quick tip: Make large batches of roasted peppers, as they shrink tremendously upon roasting (just think about what happens to spinach).

Recipe: check out this fantastic crostini recipe featuring roasted peppers.

Tips on Vegetables

Making Garlic Easier to Digest

Whether you eat it raw or cooked, garlic can be hard to digest. Here's a little trick to make garlic more digestible. Before you crush, chop, or mince it, remove any bruised or browned spots, including the little flat end, which often turns dark and hard; slit the clove in half vertically and discard the inner germ, which changes from white to green to brown as the garlic ages (the darker the germ, the more important it is to discard it).

Storing Nuts

Because of their high fat content, nuts are especially susceptible to rancidity. To keep nuts fresh for longer, store them in the refrigerator (up to 2 months) or in the freezer (up to 6 months), then return to room temperature before eating or incorporating them in your recipe. The cold will not affect the nuts' flavor or texture, but it will slow down the nuts' deterioration.

Selecting Eggplants At The Market

When buying eggplants, choose unblemished ones without soft spots or bruises; bruises often mean the flesh will be unpleasantly bitter. Another factor that affects eggplants' bitterness is ripeness: ripe eggplants are sweeter and less bitter than under-ripe ones; they will be firm to the touch, but not hard, and should yield a little when pressed with your finger. The stem should be green in color, with no trace of mold or softening, and firmly attached to the eggplant. If possible, select smaller eggplants--the smaller they are, the more intense their flavor and less watery their flesh. And if you can, opt for female eggplants, which are less bitter than male: they have an indented little belly button at the bottom end, so they're easy to spot.

Snipping Chives

Just what does it mean when a recipe instructs you to "snip" chives? Even if it sounds like it may just be a fancy way of saying "mincing," snipping is actually a different technique, and is applied most often to chives (and not other herbs). To snip, you need scissors (unlike mincing, which requires a knife). Chives are ideal tackled with a pair of scissors: not only do you avoid crushing them with the heavy weight of a knife, you can cut through many chives at a time effortlessly, thanks to the chives' perfectly linear shape. Snipped chives look perkier and more even than minced chives--and they oxidize far less quickly than minced chives. To snip chives, hold up the amount you wish to cut over a cutting board or plate, and snip into the desired length with a sharp pair of kitchen scissors. Just be sure (as with all herbs) to blot chives dry thoroughly after rinsing, or they will stick together and stick to the blade of the scissors.

Tomato Storage

Don't store tomatoes in the refrigerator. Their sugars will become dormant in the cold, making them less sweet and more mealy. Store tomatoes at room temperature and eat them within a few days, before they soften too much. But don't despair if your tomatoes get a little mushy before you've had a chance to eat them: soft tomatoes are delicious cooked (in sauces, sautes, and soups)...

What Is Blanching?

Blanching vegetables just means cooking vegetables (green, starchy, or otherwise) in boiling water until partially cooked--a blanched vegetable is typically roasted, fried, sauteed, or baked after blanching and draining. Blanching prepares the vegetable for further cooking; it tenderizes the vegetable so that the final cooking (in the oven, on the stove, in hot oil) takes less long.

To blanch green or other vegetables:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add the vegetables and season with salt.
  3. Cook until crisp-tender when pierced with a knife.
  4. Drain and proceed with whatever recipe you are following.
  5. You may want to shock (see boiling vegetables , steps 2 and 3) your blanched vegetables in ice water immediately after draining to stop the cooking and set the color. Drain and proceed with whatever recipe you are following.

The procedure is somewhat different for starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, turnips, etc... You need to start them in cool water because starchy vegetables take longer to cook through than green vegetables like string beans or other vegetables like cauliflower. If you start starchy vegetables in boiling water, the risk is that the outside of the vegetable cooks through and becomes mushy before the inside has a chance to cook.

To blanch starchy vegetables:

  1. Place the vegetables in a large pot with ample cold water to cover and season with salt.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Proceed as above (steps 3, 4, and 5).

A How-To of Boiling Vegetables

I am often asked how long vegetables should be boiled in my cooking classes. The fact is, there really is no absolute right and wrong when it comes to how long vegetables should be cooked. Quite simply, you should cook vegetables until YOU like their texture--after all, you're the one who will be eating them! That being said, here are a few guidelines to boil vegetables in the best manner possible:

  1. Italians tend to prefer vegetables soft; in North America, the penchant is for crunchy (or crisp-tender) vegetables. Keep in mind that the longer you cook vegetables, the softer they get.
  2. Green vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, string beans, etc...) lose their bright green color when cooked a long time. If you intend to serve your boiled green vegetables cold, place them in a bowl of extremely cold water (or water with a few ice cubes in it) immediately after draining; this procedure, called shocking, sets the color and stops the cooking.
  3. All vegetables, from potatoes to carrots to asparagus, can be shocked after boiling (see above); keep in mind that shocking robs vegetables of some of their starch, so you may not want to shock potatoes or other starchy vegetables if starchiness is key to the texture or taste of the final dish.
  4. To minimize discoloration of green vegetables, cook them in an uncovered pot.
  5. Stirring vegetables once in a while as they cook ensures even cooking.
  6. Also to ensure even cooking, use a very large pot filled with ample water.

Getting the Most Juice out of Your Citrus

No need for fancy reamers and citrus presses: all you need to get the most juice out of your lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit is to roll the fruit back and forth along the counter as you apply pressure, then cut the fruit in half and squeeze each half forcefully with one hand as you place your other hand beneath to catch any seeds or membranes. Some cooks prick citrus fruit with a fork after rolling it along the counter, before squeezing--try it and see if you like it.

Keeping Lettuce Crisp After Washing

If you're tired of throwing out lettuce, wash a head of lettuce and store whatever you don't eat right away in the refrigerator for up to a few days. Dry the lettuce thoroughly, keep the leaves whole, then place in a large bowl and cover with a double thickness of paper towels that have been moistened with water and wrung almost dry. The lettuce will remain crisp and fresh this way for up 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator--no need to overdose on lettuce just after washing it for fear of limp leaves, and no more wasted lettuce.

Rinsing Strawberries

To avoid water-logging strawberries, always rinse them before cutting them. If you cut your strawberries before rinsing them, the water will penetrate the strawberries much more--making for watery berries (all that exposed flesh is a great entry for moisture). Dry your berries gently on a paper towel and then cut just before serving. And to avoid mushy, soft strawberries, try to rinse berries immediately before eating or using them--no more than 1 hour ahead if possible.