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Tomato, Basil and Ricotta Salata

March 28, 2017 Menu, Salads No Comments

Recently, I shared with you my recipe for game-day empanadas, and one of the fillings that I decided to use in my empanadas was ricotta salata. Up until this point, I had not really been all that familiar with this particular cheese. Ever since, it has become a staple in our house. For those of you who are still not familiar with this flavorful gem, it is an Italian cheese made from whey that is re-cooked (ricotta), and has been pressed, salted (salata) and aged for at least 90 days. The end result is a beautiful, milky white cheese with a slight nutty flavor, that is perfect for slicing, shredding or crumbling. Texture-wise, it is more like a feta than a traditional soft ricotta, with a taste that packs a delightful punch. It is also a very reasonably priced cheese, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

While my wife and I were perfectly content with simply enjoying slices of this cheese drizzled with a little balsamic, the wheels in my mind quickly started spinning on how to incorporate it into recipes. The first, and most obvious recipe that came to mind was the classic Caprese Salad, which of course is simply made up of fresh sliced mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and herbs. My thought was that not only would the texture of the cheese hold up well with the tomatoes and fresh basil, but also that the lively flavors would not require any additional seasonings. My hunch was correct. The in-your-face, vibrant flavor marries perfectly with the sweetness of fresh chopped basil, swirled together with a splash of rich, golden olive oil. The crumbly, chunky texture plays well with chunks of juicy tomato. Traditional Carpese Salad may be one of my all time favorites, but the ricotta salata version is definitely a nice and inviting alternative.

 

Tomato, Basil and Ricotta Salata

This is a very simple recipe. Measurements can be adjusted to your preferred serving size.

one chunk of ricotta salata
1-2 roma tomatoes
fresh chopped basil
Extra virgin olive oil

Chop the cheese and tomatoes into slices or cubes. Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve and enjoy!

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Pancetta and Beans with Spinach

December 13, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

With the cold winter weather rolling in, now’s the time to start planning some good, old fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals. The dish that I’m sharing with you today is one of my all time favorites. The simple, yet classic ingredients make for a wonderfully tasty and hearty comfort dish. Old-school Italian soul food at its best!

 

 

 

 

 

Pancetta and Beans with Spinach

4 oz pancetta, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 14.5 oz stewed tomatoes, drained
1 15 oz can cannellini or garbanzo beans (I use a mixture of both)
1 bag spinach
olive oil (if needed)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth (if needed)
salt and pepper

Sauté pancetta in a large pan over medium heat until crispy and fat is rendered, about 7-10 minutes. Remove pancetta and set aside.

Add onion to rendered fat in the pan, sauté until soft and translucent (you can add some olive oil if needed). Add tomatoes and beans, stir together, cook until heated.

Add the spinach, stir together. You can add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chick broth if needed, to help cook down the spinach.

Once the spinach is cooked down, add the pancetta back to the pan. Stir together, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve and enjoy with a loaf of crispy Italian bread!

 

pancetta_beans2

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Mini Caprese Wonton Bites

April 7, 2016 Menu No Comments

I have been using wonton and egg roll wrappers for many of my quick appetizer recipes for a few years now. I’ve stuffed them with everything from meatballs and cheese steak to buffalo chicken and vegetables. While the end result is always a crowd pleaser, I will admit that the actual stuffing and prepping phase could be a bit tedious. It’s not complicated, but rather monotonous to spoon, fold/roll, seal and repeat.

This past weekend I found the sure-fire method for stuffing and baking wonton wrappers, which involves very little time, yet still produces an amazing snack. By using a mini muffin tray, you are able to set up, fill and seal the wrappers quickly and efficiently. For my first attempt at the mini-muffin tray method, I used the classic caprese pizza ingredients: fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, each sliced into small pieces. After lining up the muffin tin with a wrapper in each cup, I placed a piece of mozzarella, tomato and basil in each, then folded the wrappers over, slightly pressing down on them to seal them shut. After a quick hit of cooking spray and 10 minutes in the oven, my family and I were treated to some great tasting home made appetizers.

The filling combinations for this method are endless…and I plan on experimenting and sharing the results with you along the way. Definitely be sure to give this trick a try for your next round of party appetizers. They’ll be a thousand times better than the usual store-bought frozen variety, and you’ll be sure to impress your guests. This is also a great recipe to get the kids involved with…especially with the stuffing and folding of the wrappers!

The basic ingredients: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and wonton wrappers.

The basic ingredients: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and wonton wrappers.

 

Step 1: Line a mini muffin tin with 24 wonton wrappers, one wrapper in each cup.

 

Step 2: Fill each cup with a piece of mozzarella, tomato and basil.

 

Step 3: Fold the wrappers closed. Spray with cooking spray and place in 400˚ oven for 10 minutes, or until brown and crispy.

 

Remove from pan, serve and enjoy!

 

Bet you can’t just have one!

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Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

October 27, 2015 Pasta, Soup No Comments

With the cooler fall air rolling in, now is the time of year that I enjoy making soups and stews. This past weekend’s brisk weather was the perfect time for me to make a pot of Pasta e Ceci (pronounced as pasta & chichi), which is a cousin to the famous Pasta e Fagioli. Instead of using the traditional kidney or cannelloni beans, this recipe uses garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas. Many pasta e ceci recipes use ingredients similar to other pasta and bean dishes, such as pancetta, fresh rosemary and thyme, and a mirepoix (sautéed carrots, celery and onions). My recipe is a bit abbreviated, but I promise you it does not lack in heartiness or rich flavor! My version of this dish can be prepped and served in just under an hour, which makes it a practical and comforting dish for any chilly weekend or weekday meal.

 

 

Pasta e Ceci

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbspn olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 14oz can stewed tomatoes
1 16oz can garbanzo beans/chick peas, drained
1 32oz can/container of low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 tbspn grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
1 cup short cut pasta, such as dilatini or elbow macaroni
salt and pepper

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion, stir to evenly coat. Let simmer until onions become soft and translucent. Add garlic, stir. Simmer for 30 seconds, until garlic becomes fragrant. Add stewed tomatoes and their juices, along with about 1/3 can of beans. Add bay leaves, stir together. Let simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Using a potato masher, rough-smash the tomatoes and beans, making a chunky broth. You can also use an emulsifier or remove the beans to puree them and add them back into the soup for a creamier texture, but I prefer to mash them along with the softened tomatoes. Add the remaining beans, along with 3 cups of the broth. The soup will thicken up as it cooks, so you can add the remaining broth as needed. Add 1tbspn grated parmesan, stir. Cover the pot, reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pasta, stir well. Again, the soup will thicken up as the beans and pasta cook and expand. You can slowly add more broth or water as needed, or to your liking. Heat another 5-10 minutes until pasta is cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve with crusty bread. Top with additional grated or shaved parmesan cheese.

The basic ingredients...plus a little wine!

The basic ingredients…plus a little wine!

Early stages of the soup.

Early stages of the soup.

Rough-smashing the beans and tomatoes.

Rough-smashing the beans and tomatoes.

Served with shaved parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

Served with shaved parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

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