One thing Italians share with the rest of the world is their love for pasta. Pasta remains part of a rich tradition that impacts every corner of Italy, meshing with regional cultures and influencing local cuisine.
Orecchiette is a pasta specialty from the beautiful southeastern region of Puglia, down in Italy’s southern ‘heel’. It’s one of the country’s flattest and most fertile regions, with wheat and olive oil produced in abundance.
Orecchiette translates to ‘small ears’—a fitting name for a dome-shaped pasta that looks like tiny ears. This pasta has a thin, concave center, chewy edges, and a rough surface texture. Orecchiette require only three ingredients: hard wheat flour, water and salt.
Their particular shape, combined with the rough surface, makes it perfect for any kind of sauce, especially vegetable sauces.
With its deep-rooted history in the region, use of simple ingredients, and its convenient versatility, orecchiette has become a defining part not only of Puglia’s cuisine, but its culture, as well. And its popularity extends far beyond the region of Puglia.
I absolutely love orecchiette with its chewiness and nice ‘cupping’ ability. Pared with some cheesy meatballs, this meal is so good!
Orecchiette w/ Cheesy Chicken Meatballs
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta & cook until tender but still firm to the bite., stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Transfer pasta to a bowl & add the parmesan. Toss to lightly coat orecchiette, adding reserved pasta water, if needed to loosen pasta.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a large baking sheet with foil & rub with oil.
In a large bowl, combine ground chicken, Parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley, egg & garlic. Season with salt & pepper. Form into 30-40 meatballs, then place on prepared baking sheet & bake until browned & cooked through about 25 minutes.
In a large pot, add chicken broth & tomatoes & bring to a boil. Reduce heat & simmer until tomatoes are soft. Remove from heat & add meatballs & pasta/cheese mixture. Combine grated mozzarella cheese with basil paste.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter a 9-inch baking dish.
Place meatball/pasta mixture in baking dish & top with mozzarella cheese/basil mixture. Bake only until cheese is melted.
Fresh garden veggies are what summer is made for. Eating fresh and in season not only tastes amazing but is so enjoyable.
I’m sure everyone is well acquainted with the zucchini ‘boat‘ idea. Basically zucchini sliced in half lengthwise, hollowed out and filled with whatever you choose. I think incorporating the zucchini you scoop out into the filling is a good idea. This versatile veggie takes on the flavor of whatever your cooking, so the possibilities are endless.
For this recipe, I’m keeping it simple and filled the zucchini boats with rice and succulent pieces of marinated shrimp then topped them with parmesan cheese. I find the best zucchini to use is a medium size, about 8-10 inches in length. Zucchini that is smaller than that really tastes the best but should be saved for other recipes because their not big or sturdy enough to hold the filling. Those super large zucchinis are best for grating to add to baked goods like bread and muffins.
It seems like just about the time you think you made everything possible with this veggie, one more idea pops up. Yay zucchini!
Shrimp Zucchini Boats
In a container with a lid, place cleaned shrimp & remaining marinade ingredients. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Cook rice in chicken broth until tender.
Slice zucchinis in half lengthwise; scoop out centers, leaving 1/8-inch thick shells. Place in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
Chop zucchini flesh that was scooped out of centers. In a large skillet, melt butter; add chopped zucchini & sauté until tender crisp. Remove from heat & add cooked rice, garlic powder & some of the parmesan.
Fill hollowed shells with rice mixture. Drain shrimp & place on top of rice mixture. Drizzle marinade over top of shrimp boats. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan.
Bake 20-25 minutes or until shrimp is cooked & zucchini is tender crisp.
Every person who makes a homemade version of scalloped potatoes usually has had that recipe passed down to them from their mother, their mother’s mother or even further in their history, so the emotional attachment to the recipe immediately precludes any other scalloped potatoes from contention.
At an early age, I remember my mother ‘teaching‘ me the art of making scalloped potatoes. It came down to very thinly sliced potatoes sprinkled with flour, salt & pepper then covered with scalded milk and baked. I think it was dotted with butter and quite possibly topped with bread crumbs. For that matter, there might have even been a few thinly sliced onions involved but I have to admit, I’m a bit fuzzy on that. As plain and simple as it was, it tasted glorious to us.
This scalloped potato recipe starts with Yukon Gold potatoes. They have loads of great flavor and are a beautiful color both when they are raw as well as when they are cooked. For this particular recipe, keep the skin on the potato as it will add loads of fiber to the dish.
Food trends come and go and nothing highlights this more than looking up old recipes. Still eaten today, scalloped potatoes were the prolific side dish of the 1920s. Dairy was no longer rationed and the rich casserole took full advantage of this.
Scalloped Potatoes w/ Mushrooms
In a large saucepan, place potatoes & cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered until tender, 8-12 minutes. Drain.
In another saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms & onion; cook & stir 6-8 minutes or until tender. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute longer.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish; set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk flour, broth & seasonings until smooth; stir into mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook & stir until sauce is thickened, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream.
Thinly slice potatoes. Arrange half of the potatoes in baking dish. Spread half of the hot mushroom sauce over top; sprinkle with 1/2 of the cheese. Layer remaining potatoes , sauce & cheese & sprinkle with French Fried Onion Toppers if using.
Bake, uncovered, until heated through & cheese is melted, 12-15 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving. Top with sliced green onions to garnish.
Some years ago I started using leeks and have never looked back since. Brion & I have never tired of that subtle flavor. When a recipe calls for leeks, it usually indicates to use the white and light green parts only and to either discard the ‘tough dark green tops’ or save them for another use.
So what are these ‘other uses’? Usually it refers to using the green tops as add-ins for soups or stock, only to be removed once they have imparted their wonderful layer of flavor and discarded.
When you think about it, we cook up all kinds of vegetables that are ‘tough’ to start out with yet end up nice and tender when cooked or braised. I find, using the dark green tops presents no issues, just cook them a bit longer than the tender leaves.
On the other hand, you can braise the dark green tops with some butter/olive oil, chicken or veg stock, minced garlic, dried chili flakes, salt & pepper & some lemon juice and make a great side dish to serve with fish or pasta etc.
Stuffed Pasta Shells w/ Wild Salmon, Leeks & Mushrooms
Pasta & Filling
In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add pasta shells & cook 3 minutes less than the cooking time indicated on the package instructions. Drain pasta
In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, saute chopped bacon until cooked. Remove from saucepan with a slotted spoon to a paper towel. Add leeks, garlic & mushrooms to bacon drippings. Sauté until leeks are soft; season with salt & pepper. Add salmon, gently combine & set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, add butter & olive oil. Once melted, add garlic then sauté until light golden brown, about 30 seconds, being careful not to burn. Sprinkle in flour; whisk & sauté for 1 minute. Slowly pour in chicken broth and milk while whisking until mixture is smooth. Season with salt & pepper then switch to a wooden spoon & stir constantly until mixture is thick & bubbly, 4-5 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat & stir in mozzarella cheese, garlic powder & parsley flakes until smooth. Taste then adjust salt & pepper if necessary.
In a small saucepan, over medium heat, add olive oil. Add breadcrumbs & cook, stirring until toasted & golden in color. Remove from heat & place in a small bowl; combine with parmesan cheese.
Assembly & Baking
In a 13 X 9-inch baking dish, spread a small amount of garlic sauce over the bottom. To filling mixture, add reserved bacon & enough garlic sauce to help the filling stick together.
Divide filling between the 16 cooked pasta shells & place in baking dish. Top with any remaining garlic sauce then sprinkle topping over all.
Bake for about 30 minutes making sure not to overcook the salmon. Serve.
We tend to believe that if something takes more work, it automatically means that it has more value. Of course, anyone that follows this blog knows that I, being a ‘food industry’ person, quick isn’t generally what I’m all about. But in a world that thrives on making things complicated, dare to be simple some times. Enter the Stove Top Stuffing universe….
These chicken leg ‘quarters’ make such a nice meal when paired with stuffing. The smoky bacon flavor, the earthiness of the mushrooms as well as the slight sweetness of the cornbread stuffing complement each other well.
In a society that gravitates towards labels stamped with terms like organic or GMO-free, sometimes the simplicity of quick fix food can be a treat.
Chicken Legs w/ Mushroom Cornbread Stuffing
In a skillet, cook bacon until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon to paper towel. Drain, reserving 2 Tbsp of drippings.
Sauté celery & onion in drippings until tender. Add mushrooms, herbs & seasoning; cook & stir for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in stuffing mix, celery leaves, parsley & bacon. Add broth & gently combine. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 13" x 9" baking pan or line with greased foil paper.
Wash & trim any excess fat from chicken leg quarters. Loosen skin over thighs to form pockets for the stuffing.
Fill thigh 'pockets' with stuffing & place in baking pan. Place any remaining stuffing around the 2 leg quarters to bake at the same time. Cover with foil for about 30 minutes then uncover & finish roasting until chicken is cooked through & stuffing is lightly browned.
Quiche is a very flexible dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner and allow you to use whatever ingredients you have on hand. As a substitute for spinach, swiss chard adds a tartness and texture that spinach lacks. The ribs are very flavorful and hold their shape in soups, sautés and gratins. Chopped or whole, smoked sardines add something really unique to this egg dish.
Several thousand years ago, people discovered that exposing fish to intense amounts of salt and smoke was a great way of preserving the catch for later. Today, our smoking techniques are considerably more refined, and we do it more for the flavor than as a means of preservation. Its a shame that more people don’t think to reach for smoked fish as an effortless way to add loads of flavor to foods they love.
Let’s face it …. sardines, you either love them or hate them. The name ‘sardines’ is said to originate from Sardinia, a Mediterranean island known for sardine fishing. The canning of sardines started around the early 18th century in Europe. Through the centuries, the popularity of canned sardines spread around the world.
While sardines get a bad rap for being too salty, mixing it with the right ingredients allows these briny flavors to add a lot of depth and bite to other seemingly bland ingredients.
This quiche recipe is full of smoky bacon & sardines, swiss chard, mushrooms, leeks and creamy grated cheese. It definitely changes up the way to eat smoked sardines, but of course, you have to like them to begin with.
Swiss Chard & Smoked Sardine Quiche
Pre-cook rice in broth (can be prepared the day before).
Lightly butter a 9-inch quiche pan. In a small bowl, combine 30 gm smoked cheddar cheese with cooked rice. Mix well; pat into quiche pan, working it up the sides. Bake for about 5 minutes; remove from oven & set aside.
In a skillet, sauté bacon until cooked; remove from pan & set aside reserving bacon drippings. Remove stems from chard leaves; chop. Place stems in skillet. Chop chard leaves & set aside. Wash & thinly slice leek using about 1/2 of a leek (both white & green parts). Slice mushrooms & mince garlic.
Heat bacon drippings in skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat & add chopped chard stems, mushrooms, garlic & leeks to pan; sauté 5 minutes. Add chard leaves to skillet; sauté until chard is wilted & no moisture remains, about 10 minutes. Stir in thyme, parsley, pepper, crumbled bacon. Remove from heat & cool slightly.
Spread filling mixture evenly over rice crust. Sprinkle with about half of the grated cheeses. Top with drained, smoked sardines ( slice horizontally in 1/2-inch slices). Whisk eggs & milk to combine; carefully pour over quiche. Top with remaining grated cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes or until set. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Nice to serve with tartar & seafood sauce.
Tender, juicy roasted chicken leg quarters are easy to prepare and delicious. The leg quarter is made up of the thigh, drumstick and part of the back of the chicken. It’s named a quarter because it consists of about a quarter of the whole bird. The dark meat takes well to roasting and yields moist and flavorful chicken.
Asiago has long been a favorite cheese of Brion & I. It is a brilliant cheese to bake into bread for a cheesy treat or grate over soft pretzels before baking. It also works particularly well with chicken dishes.
Asiago is a whole milk cheese that originated in Northern Italy, around the Po River Valley where Italy borders Austria. Coming from the mountains, Asiago is similar to other mountain cheeses, such as Switzerland’s Gruyere or France’s Beaufort. Asiago is made in large wheels designed for long-term aging to get through tough winters. Dense and flavorful, Asiago’s flavor profile changes as time polishes the wheels over the course of several months or years. Taken from the milk of cows grazing on the grasses and wildflowers of the mountains, Asiago can have a fresh, fruity flavor or a savory, zesty taste on the palate.
This is a very simple recipe but has an amazing flavor and is well worth trying, especially if your an Asiago lover.
Roasted Garlic Chicken w/ Asiago Gravy
In a saucepan, fry bacon, blot on paper towel & set aside. Add the seasoned chicken & brown, about 3-5 minutes per side. Set aside.
Add onion, mushrooms & garlic to saucepan; sauté until tender crisp & lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes.
Sprinkle in the thyme & flour; cook for a minute.
Add the broth & deglaze the pan by scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a spoon while the broth is sizzling.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix asiago cheese into the sauce & season with salt & pepper to taste.
Add the chicken, cover with a lid or foil & roast for 15 minutes. Alternately, you can turn heat down to a medium-low & simmer on top the stove for 15 minutes.
Add crumbled bacon to sauce after roasting. Serve.
As my love affair with leeks continues, I just can’t imagine what took me so long to try them. It’s amazing how many ways there are to use these giant ‘onions’.
The ‘cordon bleu’ idea has been around forever and generally it features a specific cut of meat stuffed with ham and cheese. In this recipe, the leeks are wrapped in Swiss cheese & Canadian bacon, then baked in a béchamel sauce and served over steamed rice.
Though ham and Canadian bacon look and taste remarkably similar, they’re not the same thing. Ham comes from the back legs, specifically the thighs and rear end, while Canadian bacon comes from the center of the pig’s back otherwise known as the eye of the pork loin.
There are a few names for Canadian bacon which include back bacon and pea meal bacon. During the early part of the last century, yellow peas were ground up and used to coat and cure pork loin. This became known as pea meal bacon. Once cornmeal became more readily available, it was swapped out for the pea meal.
Probably the bacon most people are familiar with is American bacon, which comes from the belly of the pig and tends to be much fattier …. hence the name ‘streaky bacon’.
I have to be honest, I’ve never been a bacon lover (which probably stems back to my Dad’s home cured version !!) but I did find this meal light and tasty.
Leeks Cordon Bleu
Remove roots, outer leaves & tops from leeks; leave 6-inches of each leek. Cut each in half crosswise. Steam, covered 8 minutes or until tender. Wrap each leek half in 1 piece of cheese & top with 4 pieces of Canadian bacon. Place leeks in an 8-inch square baking dish.
Place flour in a small saucepan; add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Stir in broth. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook 6 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat & season with salt & pepper. Pour sauce over leeks & sprinkle with panko crumbs.
Bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Serve over steamed rice.
Meat and fruit pairings are delicious, yet the idea of using both fruit and meat in the same dish is undoubtedly a little controversial.
One of the things I enjoy about cooking is combining flavors to create a wholesome dish. Sometimes, its interesting just to combine ingredients and flavors that don’t seem like they should go together.
Chicken is a good match for a wide variety of fruits with peaches being one of them. Whether fresh or frozen, nothing partners better with peaches than fresh ginger. To enhance the flavor just a bit more, I’m making a fluffy, golden couscous, speckled with green onion and fresh parsley. Subtle cumin and ginger spices add a heady fragrance and warm flavor. Nothing fancy, just a great taste!
Chicken w/ Peaches & Ginger
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt & pepper & cook on one side until golden, about 4-6 minutes. Flip, cook for 1 minute then transfer chicken to a 9x13-inch baking pan.
Place peaches, sugar, thyme & ginger over & around chicken. Add the chicken broth & bake for about 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. While chicken is baking prepare couscous.
Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add green onion, cumin, ginger & garlic clove. Cook & stir for about 3 minutes until green onion is softened.
Add honey. Heat & stir for about 30 seconds until green onion is coated.
Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add couscous & 2 teaspoons oil. Stir. Cover. Remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes without lifting lid. Fluff with fork. Stir in chopped parsley & season with salt & pepper to taste.
Serve the chicken & peaches over couscous with any ginger sauce from baking pan.
The flavors of the meal hint of Moroccan cuisine to me. It wasn’t until Brion & I visited Morocco on a holiday one year, that I realized how many of their spices appealed to me.
Moroccan cuisine is very refined because of its interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Its dishes are layered with sweet and spicy, earthy and bright flavors that reflect the vast array of spices available in their local markets.
Often referred to as the national dish of Morocco, couscous is made of tiny balls of wheat semolina, steamed so they’re are soft and fluffy. Subtle cumin and ginger spices add an exotic flavor to it.
Pairing apricot and lemon flavors with the chicken breast and serving it over couscous makes this simple meal quite special.
Apricot Lemon Chicken Breast w/ Couscous
Preheat oven to 425 F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Beat egg & water slightly. Stir together baking mix, lemon pepper & garlic powder. Pound chicken breasts gently to achieve uniform thickness. Dip chicken into egg mixture, then coat with baking mix mixture. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with melted butter.
Bake uncovered 20 minutes; turn chicken. Bake about 10 minutes longer until no longer pink inside. While chicken is baking prepare couscous & sauce.
In a saucepan, heat 1 tsp oil; add green onion, cumin, ginger & garlic. Cook & stir for about 3 minutes until green onion is softened.
Add honey. Heat & stir for about 30 seconds until green onion is coated. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add couscous & second amount of oil. Stir. Cover & remove from heat. Allow to stand for 5 minutes without lifting lid. Fluff with a fork & stir in remaining 3 ingredients.
Apricot Lemon Sauce
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine sauce ingredients, stirring occasionally, until warm.
Place couscous on a serving platter. Top with chicken breasts & drizzle with apricot lemon sauce. Serve.