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Nancy’s Eggplant Caponata

In Appetizers / Starters, Vegetables On June 27, 2012 0 Comments

Muir Glen Organic Tomatoes®

In The Kitchen Buzzz’s kitchens, we use Muir Glen Organic Tomatoes® because of their natural, sweet flavor, minus the salty, acidy aftertaste.

Active prep time: 20 minutes
Inactive prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 6 to 8

2 large eggplants, rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons salt (to remove bitter juices of eggplant)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, stem removed, seeds discarded and flesh cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium brown or white onion, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
One 15-ounce can Muir Glen Organic Crushed Tomatoes®, blended, strained (pulp discarded and tomato juice reserved)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (brown variety)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup black or green, pitted olives, rinsed, drained and sliced
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1. Using a knife and working on a cutting board, trim and discard the eggplant tips.

2. Cut the eggplant into 3/4-inch slices. Cut slices into 3/4-inch pieces.

3. Place eggplant in a colander set over a large bowl. Sprinkle the eggplant with 2 tablespoons salt. Using hands, toss the eggplant and salt; set aside 20 minutes for bitter juices to drain).

4. After 20 minutes, and using plastic gloves, place about 2/3 cup eggplant pieces in between hands. Press hands together over sink, allowing eggplant juices to escape. Set the pressed eggplant aside in a large bowl.

5. Meanwhile, in an 8-quart stockpot, heat the oil on medium-high setting. Stir in the eggplant. With a wooden spoon, sauté eggplant on high setting, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes or until it is light golden brown. If high heat browns eggplant too quickly, lower it to medium-high.

6. Stir in the bell pepper, celery and onion pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, on medium-high setting for 3 to 4 minutes or until onion is translucent.

7. Add the reserved tomato juice, Muir Glen Organic Crushed Tomatoes®, balsamic vinegar and sugar; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, on medium-high setting.

8. After 5 minutes, stir in the capers and olive slices; cook an additional 2 minutes. 

9. After 2 minutes, taste the caponata and, if needed, adjust salt level. Stir in the black pepper.

Enjoy Eggplant Caponata as an appetizer with fresh Italian bread or toasts.

To serve with Italian toasts, called “bruschette” – arrange Eggplant Caponata atop bruschette and serve immediately.

Red wine pairing: Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Text and Photographs ©2012 Nancy DeLucia Real.

Stuffed Artichokes (Vegetarian)

In Vegetables On May 4, 2012 1 Comment

Since moving back to the United States from Italy, I often remember all the delicious vegetable recipes my Nonna Annunziata taught me to make. Believe it or not, one of these marvels is the artichoke.

Let me show you how to transform this rough, prickly vegetable into a Campania-style delicacy: Stuffed Artichokes. You stuff the artichokes with a fresh breadcrumb, Pecorino Romano cheese mixture and then stew them in some olive oil, onion, wine and small amounts of water added.

Without a doubt, this recipe is one of my best. Buon Appetito!

Prep time: 50 minutes
Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

4 medium globe artichokes (they should measure 4 to 5 inches in diameter)
1 lemon
3 to 4 large eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup grated, imported Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Dash each ground black pepper and grated nutmeg

4 to 4-1/2 cups breadcrumbs, hand-shredded & made from three-day old white or wheat bread
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium brown or white onion, chopped
3-1/2 cups cold water
1 cup white wine

1. Fill an 8-quart sauce pot with 5-1/2 cups cold water.

2. Add the juice of one lemon to water in pot (this liquid prevents artichokes from blackening); set aside.

3. Meanwhile, place one artichoke on its side; trim and discard its bottom stem.

4. Trim and discard 1/2-inch from artichoke top. Remove outer layer of leaves and discard.

5. Place artichoke in water, and gently open up or loosen the outer leaves, taking care not to break them off.

6. Carefully loosen the inner rows of leaves up to the artichoke heart and open it up with your thumbs. Let artichoke soak in lemon water.

7. Repeat above trimming and opening of leaves with remaining 3 artichokes; set aside.

In the meantime, prepare the stuffing:

1. In a 6-quart mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, cheese, parsley, black pepper and nutmeg.

2. Stir in the breadcrumbs and crushed garlic.

3. Divide the stuffing into four (4) parts and set them aside on a plate.

4. Remove artichokes from lemon water.

5. Drain artichokes by shaking them upside down. Place them on a flat working surface (a cutting board) and pat dry.

6. Carefully and slightly open the leaves of one artichoke.

7. Using 1/4 of the stuffing and beginning in center of artichoke, slightly pack some stuffing inside its core.

8. Gently working your way outwards, place a little stuffing in between the next two layers of leaves and continue until you have reached the last two layers of exterior leaves.

9. Set the artichoke aside and repeat stuffing technique with remaining three (3) artichokes.

10. In a clean 8-quart sauce pot, heat the oil. Place the artichokes, face down, in hot oil and let them brown on medium-high heat, about 3 to 4 minutes.

11. After 3 to 4 minutes, carefully slide a spatula underneath each artichoke to separate it from bottom of sauce pot. Flip the artichokes over, face up.

12. Stir in the chopped onion to fit all around and in between the artichokes.

13. Saute the onion on medium heat for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent.

14. Carefully pour 2 cups cold water into sauce pot, in between and around the artichokes (never pour liquid over tops of artichokes). Cover and bring to a boil.

15. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 3 minutes.

16. After 3 minutes, slowly pour the wine in between and around artichokes.

17. Cover and cook for 15 to 18 minutes. The artichokes should always sit in liquid which rises halfway up the vegetable.

18. After 15 minutes or so, when liquid has reduced by one-third, stir 1 cup cold water in between and around artichokes. Cover and cook for 10 more minutes.

19. After 10 minutes, taste the cooking liquid; adjust salt, to taste. Taste an exterior leaf. If the leaf is tough and you cannot bite the artichoke flesh off its leaf, cook for an additional 9 to 10 minutes.

20. If liquid reduces during this time, stir in 1 additional cup water and cook for 5 more minutes.

Serve one artichoke per guest or cut each artichoke in half and serve as an appetizer to 6 or more guests.

Wine pairing suggestion: Chilled Pinot Grigio (white).

Text & Photograph ©2012 Nancy DeLucia Real

Zucchine Parmigiana

In Vegetables On March 27, 2012 0 Comments

When I lived in Italy, I watched my Nonna Annunziata create zucchine parmigiana when she didn’t have any eggplant. Now, remember that zucchine are a watery vegetable and can taste bland. This means that zucchine obtain a bolder flavor from whatever ingredients they’re coated with. In this recipe, they’re combined with tomato sauce and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese. Can zucchine get any more exciting than this?

Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 25 to 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6 (as main dish); 6 to 8 (as side dish)

1 to 1-3/4 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
1 to 1-1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 to 4 large eggs, beaten with 3/4 teaspoon salt and dash ground black pepper
4 to 5 medium-large zucchine, tips cut off and discarded
Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce (previously published on this blog & found in index under Salad Dressings, Salsas & Savory Sauces), made up to two days ahead
1/2 to 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Pour 1 cup of the oil in a 10 or 12-inch frying pan; set aside on a cold stove burner.

2. To avoid splatters on stove, cut off and discard handles and bottom of a large brown paper bag. Cut one side of bag open, placing it over burner. Cut out a hole in bag which is the size of the burner, plus one extra inch. Place bag with hole over burner – the remaining parts of bag will cover and protect the stove from oil splatters.

3. In the meantime, cut zucchine crosswise, in half. Cut each piece lengthwise, into 1/4-inch slices; set aside.

4. Place the flour in an 8-inch wide, shallow bowl.

5. Beat the eggs, salt and pepper in another bowl of the same size; set aside.

6. Heat the oil in frying pan on high setting and, simultaneously, coat 6 zucchine slices in flour.

7. Shake off excess flour and, using two forks, coat the zucchine with egg mixture.

8. When oil is hot, lower heat to medium-high and gently place coated zucchine slices in pan.

9. Fry 1 to 2 minutes per side or until golden; turn zucchine over once and repeat frying instruction. If oil diminishes, add more to frying pan, heat and continue frying.

10. With two forks or slotted spoon, transfer the fried zucchine slices to a platter coated with paper towels.

11. Continue coating and frying instructions for remaining zucchine, transferring each batch to a layer of paper towels set over bottom layer of fried zucchine. Set aside.

12. Preheat oven to 350°F.In a 12 X 12-inch square baking dish, spread about 2/3 cup warmed Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce.

13. Place one layer of fried zucchine over sauce.

14. Spread 1/3 cup sauce over zucchine. Sprinkle with some grated cheese.

15. Repeat layer assembly of Zucchine Parmigiana until all zucchine have been used.

16. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Serve immediately as a main dish, accompanied by a green salad.

Alternatively, serve Zucchine Parmigiana as a side dish to meat, chicken or fish.

Wine Pairing Suggestion: Chianti (red).

Text & Photograph ©2012 Nancy DeLucia Real

Aunt Menina’s Leaves & Potatoes (Foglie e Patate)

In Sides, Vegetables On February 26, 2012 0 Comments

While living in Avellino, Italy, my Aunt Menina sometimes came to spend the day with us. These visits stand out because Menina was great at creating exquisite dishes from my Nonna’s vegetable garden. And she would introduce us to recipes from her husband’s village, Pietrastornina (that’s a mouthful, ain’t it?).

Today, Menina and Antonio Urciuolo serve a fav of mine, Foglie e Patate (Italian for “Leaves and Potatoes) at their restaurant, La Locandina (located in Pietrastornina).

Although my recipe is delicious, whenever I have this vegetarian dish at La Locandina, it’s as though I’m tasting it for the first time. The main ingredients of this recipe are rapini (the leaves) and potatoes.

Make it – I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do!

Prep time: 30 to 35 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

2 pounds Russet potatoes (about 3 large potatoes)
1/3 cup fine quality extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced
1 bunch rapini, washed, drained and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
Dash ground black pepper & nutmeg, to taste

1. Place potatoes in a 5 or 6-quart saucepot and cover them with cold water. Cover and bring to a boil.

2. Cook potatoes on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until fork-tender.

3. Drain the potatoes and set aside to cool.

4. Meanwhile, in a 10 to 12-inch skillet, heat the olive oil.

5. Add the garlic cloves and fry on medium heat until the cloves are golden.

6. Add rapini to the oil and garlic. Cook rapini on medium-high heat 5 to 7 minutes, occasionally tossing with thongs, until crunchy-tender.

7. Stir in the salt and set skillet with rapini aside.

8. Peel the cooled potatoes and mash them in a large bowl; set aside.

9. Return the skillet with rapini to a burner set on medium heat. Heat the rapini until they are hot.

10. Stir the mashed potatoes into the rapini. Stir and cook until Leaves and Potatoes are warmed through. Season with a dash of black pepper & nutmeg.

Serve in 4 bowls as a vegetarian meal or as 6 side dishes to chicken, fish or meat.

Wine pairing suggestion: Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon (reds).

Text & Photographs ©2012 Nancy DeLucia Real

Cuban Black Beans & Rice (Moros y Cristianos or Congri)

In Pastas, Rice & Legumes (Beans & Grains), Vegetables On July 29, 2011 0 Comments

The Spanish name for this rice dish is “Moros y Cristianos” – Moors and Christians. The black beans represent the “Moors” and the rice refers to “Christians”. The dish’s name may be inspired by early Cuban settlers’ referral to the Islamic conquest of Spain in both the 8th and 15th centuries. Another version of this dish (rooted in the African Haitian culture and later brought to Cuba) is known as “Congri”, wherein “congo” is the black bean and “riz” is the rice.

Whatever the origin or the name, the light infusion of onion, cumin and oregano elevate this rice dish to that of a refined delicacy. I’ll also share this – once my Cuban friend, Maria Elena, explained the process for making this seemingly difficult dish, it suddenly became quite simple to me.

Active prep time: 35 to 40 (for the beans); 15 to 20 minutes for the rice
Inactive prep time: Overnight soaking (for the beans)
Serves: 4 to 6

1 cup dry, uncooked black beans
6 cups cold water
2 whole bay leaves
½ medium white or brown onion
1 clove garlic, whole
¼ green bell pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup long grain, uncooked rice
¼ teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 to 1½ teaspoon salt

1. Rinse the beans in cold water and drain. Place beans in a 4-quart glass or porcelain bowl with 6 cups cold water. Cover and soak on a countertop or table overnight.

2. In a 6-quart saucepot, combine the soaked beans (including soaking water) with the bay leaves.

3. Bring to a boil and cook, semi-covered, on low heat 35 to 38 minutes or until beans are tender but not broken or mashed (the beans should simmer or boil gently).

4. Drain the beans and set them aside in a bowl. Reserve 2 to 2½ cups of the cooking liquid in a small bowl. Add enough cold water to measure 3 cups liquid altogether. Set aside.

5. In a food processor, finely mince the onion, garlic and ¼ of the bell pepper; set mixture aside.

6. In a 12-inch, nonstick skillet heat the oil. Stir in the onion mixture and sauté 2 to 3 minutes or until onion mixture is translucent.

7. Add the beans, rice, 2½ cups liquid, oregano, cumin and the lesser amount of salt. Stir once.

8. Cover and cook on low heat (without stirring) for 15 to 20 minutes.

9. After 15 minutes taste the bean and rice mixture. If rice is not fully cooked, sprinkle ¼ cup of the liquid over rice mixture, cover and cook an additional 5 minutes. Taste and adjust salt level, if necessary.

10. Serve alongside any meat, fish or poultry dish or as part of a vegetarian meal.

Wine pairing suggestion: Chilled Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay or Trebbiano (whites).

Text & Photograph © Nancy DeLucia Real 2011