Utica Greens

Back during my senior year in college, every Monday we’d head down to Cavallo’s Restaurant for their all-you-can-eat pasta special. I want to say it was the ridiculous price of $1.50 per person (when I did a quick Google search, I was thrilled to see the place was still there, although the special now $2.49). What more could hungry college students on a limited budget want? But periodically we’d branch out and try new things. That’s the first time I remember trying Utica Greens. For years, I tried to explain this dish to my family and was met with complete resistance to bringing it to our table. Flash forward to this summer, when we ordered take out from our favorite local Italian restaurant and I decided to get a side order of greens. My husband was so intrigued and once he took a taste, he was hooked. So finally I could head to the kitchen and get cooking!

What are Utica Greens? From what I’ve read, they’re a variation of Southern Italian Sautéed Greens – a dish made to make the most of common ingredients around the kitchen and stretch the grocery budget. They’re spicy perfection.

1 bunch of escarole, chopped
1/2 cup prosciutto
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic (bashed and chopped)
5 hot, pickled peppers, chopped*
1/2 cup chicken stock (or less)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs (I used an Italian blend)
1/4 cup freshly-grated Asiago cheese

*You can use more peppers, or fewer, depending on your tolerance for spice. I had no idea how easy they are to pickle – bring one cup water, one cup white vinegar, 1 tbsp each of sugar and salt . Once it comes to a boil, remove from the heat, add the peppers (if they’re whole, just pierce them to get the pickling liquid in there), seep for about 10 minutes.

Blanch the escarole for a couple minutes in salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Heat some olive oil in a broiler-proof pan then add the prosciutto and onions. Once the onions are soft, add the peppers and garlic and let them cook through. Add the greens back in and add some stock if it isn’t juicy enough (I only used about a quarter of a cup). Top with the panko and cheese, and broil until the top is toasty brown.

I serve them with just meatballs in sauce. Honestly, you don’t even need pasta to walk away from the table full and happy! It was perfection on a plate and brought up so many wonderful memories of nights with friends at Cavallo’s.

What are some of your favorite nostalgic dishes? Whatever they are, may you enjoy them in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

Fall is in the air! And the weather is certainly turning cooler so I’m returning to indoor cooking; remembering some of our favorite dinners and trying some new dishes.

I love a good breakfast for dinner sometimes. These ham and cheese stuffed hash brown waffles never fail to be a hit.

The key is making sure the frozen hash browns are completely thawed and as much water is squeezed out as possible (which can be pretty messy). Toss a full bag of thawed potatoes with half a stick of melted butter, salt, pepper and dill. I have a four-slice waffle maker, so I put half a cup of the potatoes in each section, add some diced ham and cheddar and top with another quarter cup of potatoes. It will take a good 15-20 minutes to get them nice and crispy brown. The other key is to make sure the waffle iron is really well sprayed. Otherwise, they’ll be almost impossible to remove!

I serve them with some sour cream or applesauce on the side.

My favorite local grocery store now has rotisserie turkey breasts which are seasoned to perfection (and if we’re being honest, a better deal than the rotisserie chicken!). All I had to do was find the perfect sides to accompany the turkey.

So I made a quick zucchini gratin with Asiago cheese, Italian seasoning, garlic and rosemary olive oil. When the zucchini was tender, I added some panko breadcrumbs and fried onions and returned it to the oven till the top was browned.

The fingerling potatoes had a similar flavor profile: olive oil, garlic, and oregano. After about 15 minutes in the air fryer, I added some chopped mushrooms and a slice of chopped bacon, finishing it off for another 5 minutes or so.

While we’re sorry to see summer is coming to an end, I have to confess fall is my favorite season and I can’t wait to re-discover some of our favorites while finding new dishes to share. What’s your best-loved taste of fall? Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well my friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

I very dutifully create a menu planning our dinners each week before heading to the grocery store, but honestly, sometimes I just get distracted and go off script. Sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes an overabundance of an ingredient calling my name, sometimes what I planned, I’m just not feeling on cook day! That’s exactly what happened this past week when I switched things up to make stuffed peppers and chicken, bacon, ranch grilled flatbreads.

I cannot resist loading up on fresh peppers during this time of year. Sometimes I get a little too enthused and end up with an entire vegetable bin of them! So stuffed peppers are my go-to way to make sure they all get used. I cook up some basmati rice, brown some ground beef or turkey with diced onion & minced garlic, then add tomatoes (yes, I’m still using up the end of my San Marzano’s). When the rice is done, I add it to the meat mix, tossing with some red wine vinegar and fresh parsley. The last step is to mix in some shredded parmesan. I cut my peppers lengthwise, stuff the mixture in and top with shredded mozzarella or provolone. Put them in a grill pan and grill until the peppers have a nice char and the cheese is melted (and yes, if you look closely at the picture, you’ll see I flipped one over trying to get them on to a serving platter!)

If you are ever looking for a quick and satisfying meal, chicken, bacon, ranch flatbreads are amazing. The bonus is that I typically have all the ingredients on hand (because after all, we’ve planned for an entirely different meal so we don’t want to be running to the grocery store!). Just spread some naan, or your favorite flatbread, with ranch dressing and top with healthy amounts of cooked chicken, chopped tomatoes, cooked bacon, and shredded cheddar. Grill for about five minutes, top with diced scallions, and dinner is served.

What’s your favorite way to transform your planned dinner menu? No matter what it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

Eat well friends!

Simplest San Marzano Sauce

I was fortunate to pick up about 8 pounds of San Marzano tomatoes this week. They’ve been absolutely perfect in everything I’ve added them to this week, but let’s be honest, 8 pounds is A LOT of tomatoes. So I decided today to make some fresh sauce with them. I panicked about the prospect of peeling all these little guys, but after a whole lot of Googling, I decided to give it a try without the hassle of peeling.

8 cups roughly chopped San Marzano tomatoes
2 cups water
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves
Lots of fresh basil
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Sea Salt

After roughly chopping the tomatoes (this was a family affair – I felt I was running the kitchen in The Bear), add the water and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft. Add the tomatoes & water, the salt and red pepper flakes to your taste and a healthy amount of fresh basil wrapped in cheesecloth. Get the basil all snuggled into the tomatoes. Heat to boiling, then simmer until most of the water has been absorbed (I let it go for probably 90 minutes). Remove the bundle of basil.

If you like your sauce on the chunkier side, that’s it! We wanted it a little smoother, so I hit it with an immersion blender (I still kept a good bit of the chunkiness). Add some chopped fresh basil at the end.

I can’t wait to serve it up on Monday (and plan on freezing the rest)! I’ve only used about half of the tomatoes, so if you have a favorite way to use them, please share!

Fresh Blueberry Sauce

I just returned from an amazing weekend reconnecting with my dearest college friends to discover that, as one of the people who drove, I was gifted an amazing amount of fresh fruit (we somewhat over planned the amount of food that could reasonably be consumed in one weekend. But hey, who was complaining?) So I decided to make a quick blueberry sauce!

2 cups fresh blueberries (I’m thinking you could use frozen, but I’ve never tried)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tbsp. water
dash of vanilla extract
zest of one lemon

Mix the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to just a boil till blended (if you’re worried about the amount of sugar, you can always use a bit less, personally we don’t find it super-sweet). Gently toss the blueberries in a bowl with the water & cornstarch mixture. Add to the saucepan with the vanilla and gently boil until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add in the lemon zest and you’re done!

I’ll confess sometimes I get a little distracted and forget to check it, so if it becomes more like a jam, no worries – just add a bit more water until it’s the consistency you like!

Trust me when I tell you this is absolute perfection on waffles, ice cream and cheesecake if you have it (and seriously, now I’m really leaning toward making one this weekend!)