Stuffed Zucchini

November 30, 2008 Appetizer, Menu 1 Comment

Feeling a bit overstuffed from this past weekend’s food fest? These delicious, healthy, and quite filling stuffed zucchini boats make for a great meal, or even as a nice appetizer for an upcoming holiday dinner party.

I found this recipe in a Rachel Ray cook book…a personally autographed Rachel Ray cook book (15 seconds of celebrity interaction for me, a lifetime’s worth of humiliation and mockery material for my dear friend Jennifer – she’s lucky she sits high on my friendship list). Whether or not you’re a fan of “The Rache,” I highly suggest this dish.

Mama Elsa’s Stuffed Zucchini
Rachael Ray
makes twelve zucchini boats

Six 5-inch zucchini (1 1/2 pounds total)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), 3 turns of the pan, plus more for drizzling

5 garlic cloves, 1 crushed and 4 finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (a couple of pinches)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 can diced tomatoes (15 ounces), drained and juice reserved

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine (a glug)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup Italian bread crumbs (3 generous handfuls)

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (a couple of generous handfuls)

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (a generous handful)

10 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Preheat the oven to 400°. Halve the zucchini lengthwise and hollow them out with a small scoop or spoon. Drizzle the zucchini boats with a little EVOO and place them in the middle of the oven to roast (they will be ready when you take the stuffing off the heat). Chop the zucchini centers.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of EVOO (2 turns of the pan), the crushed garlic clove, the red pepper flakes, the onion and the chopped zucchini. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the zucchini begins to caramelize. Finely chop the tomatoes and add them to the stuffing. Stir until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and deglaze the pan with the glug of white wine. Cook until the wine evaporates, then stir in the reserved tomato juice. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the tomato juice slowly cook off as well.

While the stuffing cooks, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of EVOO (1 turn of the pan) and the butter. When the butter melts into the oil, add the chopped garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the bread crumbs and lightly toast them, about 2 minutes. Add the cheese, parsley and lots of fresh pepper and remove from the heat.

When the liquid has almost cooked out of the stuffing, stir in the bread crumb mixture and the basil and remove it from the heat. Remove the zucchini from the oven and fill each with a mound of stuffing. Place the boats back in the oven and bake for 5 minutes to crisp the bread crumbs.


Pumpkin Soup

November 21, 2008 Menu, Soup 1 Comment

Looking for a hearty, seasonal soup to serve as your first course for Thanksgiving dinner? This Pumpkin Soup has a fantastic flavor and aroma, and is very simple to make. You can also serve it as a hearty winter meal by adding small pasta, such as elbow macaroni or small shells.

2 tbsp. butter
1 onion, diced
2 stalks chopped celery
2 carrots, chopped
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. pepper
4 c. clear chicken broth
1 c. pumpkin (puree)
1 tsp. sugar

Saute onion, celery and carrots in butter in soup pot. Add flour, broth, pumpkin, pepper, sugar. Simmer for 1/2 hour.


Thanksgiving Sides

November 16, 2008 Appetizer, Menu No Comments

Ahhhh, Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday of the year. Now, my favorite holiday meal of the year is still hands-down the Christmas Eve Seven Fish dinner…more on that in a few weeks. But when you’re talking holidays, Bird Day is the tops for me. I love everything about it. The smells, the colors, the crisp fall air, the leaves on the ground. Everything about it screams tradition, comfort and nostalgia. Just the smell of turkey brings me back to when I was a kid, when my brother and I would help my mom make the apple pies. We would start the morning by watching the parade on tv, followed by hours of the WOR Holiday King Kong movie festival (monsters were always more important to me than football when I was little). Then came the food. The glorious food! Now that I have a family of my own, we have our own traditions that we look forward to. And they still involve lots of eating!

Obviously, the main event of the day is the turkey. These days there are countless ways to prepare the main course. My friend John does both a traditional bird in the oven, and another one on the grill. My friend Tony, on the other hand, has turned deep-frying into an art form. So I won’t even begin to suggest turkey tips. Now, if you grew up in an Italian household, chances are that your Thanksgiving main course consisted of a double bill – a pasta course, followed up to a few hours later by the turkey.

So, what I’ve decided to do was offer you some side dishes that go over well with our family dinner. The first, Cranberry Compote, was an Emeril recipe that I came across a few years back. The second, Baked Butternut Squash with Apples, was one that I just recently found. Enjoy, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!


6 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup fresh orange juice

In a non reactive, non-stick saucepan, over medium, combine the cranberries, zest, 1/2 cup sugar, water, salt, and cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in the orange juice. Add the mixture to the cranberries and stir to blend. Simmer another 15 minutes until the mixture is thick. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.


2 tblspn butter
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
1/4 tspn ground nutmeg
1-1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 to 3 large Granny Smith apples, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tblspn balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped pecans,toasted

Heat oven to 375ºF. Place butter in 13×9-inch glass baking dish; heat in oven 5 to 7 minutes or until melted.
Stir cinnamon and nutmeg into melted butter. Add squash; toss to coat. Cover with foil; bake 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix apples, syrup and vinegar.
Pour apple mixture over squash. Cover; bake 10 minutes. Stir; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until squash is tender. Stir before serving and sprinkle with pecans.


Party Salads

November 13, 2008 Menu, Salads No Comments

Since we’re heading into the holiday party gathering season, I though it would be appropriate to post two of my favorite party salads that always go over well with company. Enjoy!

1 bag cole slaw mix
1 pkg. chicken-flavored Ramen noodles
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3-4 tbsp sesame seeds
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup (or so) vegetable oil

Lightly toast sesame seeds by heating them in skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse and drain coleslaw mix and add to serving bowl. Add almonds. Crush the Ramen noodles and add the noodles to the serving bowl (reserve flavor packet).

To make the dressing, combine sugar, vinegar and flavor packet. Add oil gradually while whisking. Add toasted sesame seeds to salad; pour dressing over top. Toss and serve.

1 bag of Lettuce (or 1 head of shredded lettuce)
1-2 diced tomatoes or a handful of cherry tomatoes
1 bag of nacho cheese Doritos, smashed
1 package of Perdue Southwester Style Short Cuts pre-cooked chicken strips, chopped
1 bag of shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 large bottle of Catalina dressing

Combine all ingredients into big bowl, stir well and serve!


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