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

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!

What’s Cooking This Week

August has gotten kind of crazy around here. It’s like the calendar flipped and we’re trying to squeeze all the summer things into the month. I’m not complaining – it’s been days filled with amazing weather and the company of good friends. And food of course!

It’s been all about the sides this week. Yellow squash is one of those vegetables that is always plentiful during the summer but it just doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of taste, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to bring out more flavor. This week I finally achieved my goal by adding sweet red peppers, oregano and rosemary-infused olive oil. I grilled it up with some fingerling potatoes (another summer favorite) tossed in garlic and oil. So good.

I grill so much in the summer, that a stormy day tends to throw me off my dinner game. So I went with a beef stir fry (I don’t mind grilling in the rain, but not much of a fan of grilling in a thunderstorm). I always begin with getting some basmati rice cooking then put together the rest (if you have everything prepped ahead of time, dinner will take as long as the rice). A couple lessons I’ve learned along the way is to make sure you cook the beef in batches so they have time to get a nice sear on. Crowding the pan can make the beef tough (and not so pleasant to look at!). And be sure to deglaze the pan after your beef is done so all the browned bits become a part of the cooking of the broccoli. The sauce never turns out the same way twice since I’m always throwing different spices in there. One constant is freshly grated ginger (cut one inch pieces and keep it in the freezer – it will keep longer and using a frozen chunk makes it easy to grate). The final constant is topping with freshly chopped scallions.

How are you enjoying the dog days of summer? No matter how you are, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

What’s Cooking This Week

In my Misfits Market box this week was perhaps the biggest eggplant I’d ever seen! I typically make eggplant parmesan the usual way of breading and either baking or air frying, but it’s grilling season so I got thinking of ways to replicate the flavor on the grill (I’d experimented before but there was just something about this edition that won hands down). Simply put, it was amazing and we never missed the breading one bit.

I sliced the eggplant, sprinkled it with sea salt and let it sit on paper towels for a couple hours to let the water drain out of it (making sure it doesn’t get soggy while cooking). Then I brushed it with rosemary-infused olive oil and sprinkled with pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. I grilled it for about 5 minutes a side just to get some good flavor and marks on it.

I had a pot of sauce on the stove, so I threw some in a foil pan, added the grilled eggplant slices, and topped with mozzarella and asiago cheese (my new cheese obsession because I love the bite of it) till the sauce was hot and the cheeses were bubbly. Top with some fresh oregano (because that’s what I have in my garden. I would have used basil too if I’d had it!) and serve.

What’s your favorite way to adapt a cold-weather dish to summer? No matter what it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!