Saturday, October 31, 2009

Give me an egg, and I'll give you a meal...

Last week I made myself a nice peppers and egg white sandwich for dinner. Just the smell of the sizzling peppers immediately took me back to when I was a kid, visiting my grandparents on Saturday afternoon. My grandfather would always have a big frying pan of peppers and eggs going on the stove. My grandmother would fix it up in a roll for me, just in time to watch Dr. Shock's weekly monster movie. And we still tell the story of when we were working the church flea market one Saturday afternoon. Like Superman, Grandpop showed up just in time with some peppers and eggs sandwiches for lunch. Ah, the good ol' days!

As with many Italian and Italian-American families, peppers and eggs are a staple. Breakfast, lunch, name it. It's simple, old-world comfort food. My friend Lorraine calls it Italian Soul Food. I love that! For many of us, it also represents a way of life. Your principal handed you the diploma when you graduated. But it was the peppers and eggs sandwich that you mom brown-bagged and handed to you on your first day of work that REALLY meant you were entering the real world.

Of course, peppers and eggs are just one example of Italian Soul Food. My mom would always say, "as long as you have eggs and a vegetable in your fridge, you'll have yourself a meal." This goes for asparagus and eggs, spinach and eggs, potatoes and name it*. Potatoes and eggs are still part of our regular rotation. Hot dogs and eggs (the poor man's ham and eggs) were a favorite dish when I was growing up, and my grandfather would often make the triple-threat...peppers, hot dogs and eggs!

Now, some of you may be wondering...what the difference is between these dishes and an omelette? Think of it as marinara sauce versus Sunday gravy (for a better understanding, check out my Sunday Gravy post). I love me a nice breakfast omelette. You crack a few eggs, scramble them up and add some bacon, tomatoes, peppers...whatever you like. It's quick, like a marinara. The Italian Soul Food version, however, requires some love and patience, like a Sunday gravy. You're also working in reverse order. You start by heating up some oil in a large pan and adding some garlic. Then you add your chopped up vegetables, season to your liking and let them slowly cook up until tender. You can also season the chopped vegetables with onion and garlic powders, some salt and pepper and whatever other seasonings you prefer, prior to frying. This method works particularly well with potatoes. At this point you'll have a heavenly smell wafting in your house, one that not even the best omelette would ever leave behind. Finally, you scramble up some eggs (I prefer to use egg whites for a lower cholesterol version) with salt and pepper and a teaspoon of grated parmesan cheese, then add them to the pan. Stir all ingredients together until eggs are done. The eggs are actually secondary in taste, but play an important role. They're the glue that hold everything else together. Grab yourself a nice roll, and you have yourself a sandwich that will rival any hoagie or cheese steak around!

* You can use egg whites to keep these dishes more heart healthy!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Old-Fashioned Banana Crisp

Let's talk some dessert this week. This recipe originally appeared on The Essence of Emeril many years ago, before the Food Network even had a web page (I actually had to send in a $5 check and a SASE and have the recipe mailed to me!). The original recipe called for a cranberry filling.* I replaced the cranberries for bananas and cut way back on the sugar. I also added a splash of dark rum for a little extra kick...and a good kick it is! This is a great dessert to serve this time of year, using whichever filling you prefer. And don't forget the scoop of vanilla ice cream. And the caramel sauce. Maybe a nice cup of coffee....

Old-Fashioned Banana Crisp

6 large or 8 medium bananas, sliced
1 tablespoon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
1 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a bowl combine bananas, sugar, rum, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl combine nuts, brown sugar and flour. Add butter and mix lightly with your fingers until crumbly.

Fill a 2- to 2 1/2-quart glass baking dish with fruit mixture and top with flour mixture. Bake until bubbly and golden-brown, about 30 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

*NOTE - for the cranberry filling, use 6 cups cranberries and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Apples and peaches would also work well, just be sure to adjust sugar to taste.

This recipe yields 6 to 8 servings.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pesto Lasagna

Here's a fresh and unique alternative to a traditional Italian dish.

Because the filling between each layer of noodles is not as thick and dense as a traditional cheese and/or meat filling, you are going to end up with more layers of noodles to fill the dish, approximately 10-12 deep.

Instead of making fresh pesto, I decided to use Bellino brand Pesto Sauce with Olive Oil. It's a good alternative to home made – tasty, all natural and no preservatives. One jar equals approximately one cup. For a great fresh pesto, be sure to check out Ina Garten's recipe. It makes 4 cups, so be sure to refrigerate leftover pesto for future use.

For 8x8 dish (serves 4):
1 box uncooked lasagna noodles
2 cups pesto (or 2 jars Pesto Sauce)

For 9x15 dish (serves 6-8):
1-1/2 boxes uncooked lasagna noodles
3 cups pesto (or 3 jars Pesto Sauce)

1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

Preheat oven to 385º and set pasta water to boil.

Salt the boiling pasta water, add a spoonful of oil to it so the sheets won’t stick. Add the pasta, three noodles at a time. Cook until al dente, remove the noodles with a slotted spoon, then place on a clean cloth or piece of wax paper to dry.

Melt a dab of butter in a hot serving dish, then lay down a layer of pasta, spread a thin layer of pesto, then lightly sprinkle the pesto with grated cheese. Continue alternating pasta, pesto and sprinkle of cheese until all is used up. Heat, uncovered for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and let sit for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

NEW - Veal Pizzaiola (Peez-Eye-Ola)

This is a nice dish that is fairly simple and is easy to serve on either the weekend or during the week. There's not much prep work involved, and it sits on it's own for a good 20-25 minutes. Just enough time for you to settle in with a pre-dinner glass of wine after a long day at work!

4-6 thin slices veal
1 tblspn olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
handful fresh basil, finely chopped, divided*
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
4-6 slices of mozzarella or provolone cheese (optional)

Veal Pizzaiola
Heat olive oil, add garlic, sauté for 30 seconds.
Add veal, then immediately add the can of sauce, Italian seasoning, salt,pepper and 2/3 of the chopped basil.
Let simmer on Med-Lo to Medium for 25 minutes, slightly covered.
Add the remaining basil and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese, simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the sliced cheese, let sit until cheese is slightly melted.

Serves well with mashed potatoes.

*Note - I like to reserve just a bit of basil until the very end. The first addition marries well with the sauce, while the final addition allows for the fresh taste.