Mussels in Creamy Butter and Garlic

Mussels in Creamy Butter and Garlic 

2 bags fresh mussels (organic if possible)
1 ½ - 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons chopped chive, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
¾ cup dry white wine

Clean and de-beard the mussels in cold running water. Make sure all the mussels are firmly closed. If any remain open, give them a firm tap. If they close you can cook them. If they stay open, discard them. Also discard any mussels that are broken, for food safety.

In a small bowl, add the softened butter, garlic, chive, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.  Fold to mix into a smooth creamy consistency.

In a large deep pan, add the mussels and cook covered on high heat about 5 minutes, or until they have opened. Add the wine and ½ of the butter mixture; mix well and cover and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove lid and discard any mussels that have not opened.

Quickly transfer the mussels in a serving bowl, add the remaining butter mixture on top and serve. Crusty bread is delicious to dip in the sauce.

Mussels in butter and garlic sauce are absolutely French. In North Africa, my mom would make this dish on a Friday nights, when we could not have meat.  Although not my favorite, she also made this same sauce with escargot.  This sauce is bursting with flavor with the slightly sweetness of butter, the fragrant garlic, and notes of dry white wine.  A simple dish, c’est magnifique!!!

Grilled Grape Leaves Goat Cheese and Almonds

grapes on a vine
Grilled Stuffed Grape Leaves Goat Cheese and Almonds 

10-12 grape leaves from a jar                                                                                   
½ teaspoon dried thyme                                                                  
½ teaspoon dried rosemary                                                             
1/3 cup toasted chopped almonds
6 ounces goat, cold
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Aged balsamic for drizzling

Remove the grape leaves from the jar. Arrange them so they are not stacked on top of each other. Alternate position with leaves so that when you place them in the pan they are loose and they will cook evenly. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil.  Add the grape leaves; blanch for 30 seconds and drain. Throw the water away and add fresh water to the pan. Blanch the leaves a second time in boiling water. Drain again. Gently spread the leaves on a work surface over a kitchen towel, vein side up to cool. .  Pat dry and cut off stems.

Heat a stovetop grill on medium.

In a shallow dish, combine the thyme, rosemary, goat cheese, and pepper; combine. Take a tablespoon of mixture and roll into a small log.  Coat logs with chopped almonds and set in the center of each grape leaf.  Remember the rough side is where the stuffing goes; shiny side is on the outside for grilling.

Drizzle each leave with a thread of olive oil and then begin to wrap them into a log.  Lightly brush the outside of grape leaf packages with olive oil. Grill each one about two minutes per side. The leaves should be crispy on the outside and the cheese slightly melted on the inside. When ready, drizzle some balsamic vinegar on top and serve with a yogurt or tahini sauce.

Grape Leaf
I love the traditional Greek rice and meat stuffed grape leaves, they are usually served as a meze.  They are delicious yet a little more time consuming.  I wanted to see how they would taste if I grilled them.  Then I took another short cut and used cheese, almonds and so herbs without worrying about cooking the stuffing.  I have made them in several cooking classes and they have been well received.  Give it a try, fill them will other cheeses if you like. 

Asparagus Crab and Melted Grana Padano

Fresh Asparagus

Asparagus Crab and Melted Grana Padano 

 2 bunches medium size asparagus
 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
 2 tablespoons unbleached flour
 1 ¾ cups warm milk
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup shredded asiago cheese
1 cup grated Grana Padano, divided
4-6 ounces cooked crab lumps 

Cut/shave the dry bottoms of the asparagus.  Place them in a pan with boiling salted water; cook until very al dente.  Do not overcook. Strain and cool in ice water. Strain again and pat dry.
how to shave bottoms of asparagus
Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and butter the paper. Sprinkle some grated cheese on the top. When the asparagus are cooked and dry, place them on the buttered baking sheet.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don't let it brown, about 2 minutes. It should be slightly golden and aromatic.

Add the warm milk in two batches, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a slight bubble. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat. Add the shredded Asiago cheese, and ½ cup grated cheese; stir until well combined. Add the crab and gently fold.

Transfer the sauce on top of the asparagus.  Sprinkle remaining ½ cup of grated cheese on top and bake about 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted to a golden color.  Serve warm.

Asparagus one of my favorite vegetables, crab one of my favorite seafood, and cheese a favorite ingredient that I could eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner. How lucky am I to have all three ingredients that I love in one dish?

This may seem like a delicate recipe to make, however it is simple and easy to prepare. Don't let the béchamel sauce fool you, if you read my recipe or watch a video on line, you will see how easy it is to make.  Once you’ve made the béchamel, it can be used for lots and lots of recipes.  So give it a try!!!

Delectable Parmigiano-Reggiano Flan

 Parmigiano-Reggiano Flan  with Poached Pear

Béchamel Sauce:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cups whole milk
6 Ramekins:
3 eggs, beaten
2 egg yolks, beaten
2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 8 ounces)
Pinch salt and freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Generously butter six 5-ounce ramekins.

Making the béchamel sauce:
Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium to medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk in the saucepan for 3-4 minutes, until you begin to smell the cooked butter and flour or see a slight change it color (more beige). Slowly and in batches, add the milk, whisking constantly each time; cook, stirring until it thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Cool slightly so we don’t scramble the eggs when they go in.

Making the flan:
In a bowl, transfer the béchamel and add the beaten eggs; whisk whisk whisk! Add the Parmigiano cheese, season with pinch of salt and pepper, and nutmeg; stir until well mixed.

Divide and pour the mixture into the 6 prepared buttered ramekins. Place in a baking dish. Pour in enough boiling water to come 1 inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the flans are puffed and slightly firm to the touch; 30-45 minutes. The flan mixture should jiggle slightly when moved.

Remove the ramekins from the water bath. Let the flan rest for 15 minutes before you cut and serve. When the flans have rested, gently run a small knife around the edges and remove the flans from the ramekins to serve in the center of each plate. Or... you can serve them right in the ramekins, which would be ok.

Spinach Flan

Artichoke Flan
This comforting Italian cheese flan makes an impressive appetizer or side for your guest. I love the silky creaminess of a flan and I love cheese, together they are so pleasing on the tongue. For years, I have made savory versions of flans which are very popular in Italian cuisine, such as spinach, artichoke, zucchini flowers, and more.

This custard-like dish partners perfectly with any poached or grilled fruit, fish, seafood, or vegetables. It’s very easy to do. When I make it, I like to serve it with crusty bread until it’s all gone!!!

Tomato Confit In lemon Zest and Garlic

Making Tomato Confit 
Tomato Confit 

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, rinsed and patted dry   
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely minced  
Zest of 1 lemon
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon chopped fresh oregano)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil 

1.     Cut the tomatoes in half. Place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. The tomatoes must not overlap and the cut side should be upwards.
2.     In a small bowl, add and mix the sugar, minced garlic, lemon zest, and thyme leaves. Sprinkle this mix evenly on the tomatoes.
3.     Lightly sprinkle salt over each tomato slice, followed by cracked black pepper. Lastly drizzle the tomatoes with a generous amount of good extra virgin olive oil.            
4.     Bake at 225 °F for about 2 hours, or even better at 200 °F for 3 hours (low and slow).
5.     Cool and place in a glass jar with more oil to preserve for a few weeks.

These caramelized tomatoes are absolutely simple to prepare and bake at home.  They are ideal:
·       As a sauce with cooked al dente spaghetti with an extra 2-3 tablespoons of evoo
·       Served as a side dish with grilled fish or seafood
·       Baked as a tomato tarte with a few dollops of goat cheese
·       as finger food for happy hour coupled with olives and capers
·       use a few in soups and stews for flavor
·       on top of pizza
·       to make a tomato pesto 
·       Can you think of other uses?????

Creamy Tuna Filled Lemons

Creamy Tuna Filled lemons

3 large organic lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 can Italian albacore tuna in oil, well drained
1 teaspoon capers in brine, drained
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from the pulp)
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
3 ounces of mascarpone or cream cheese
3 tablespoons lightly toasted crumbled pistachios, divided
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil  

Cut the lemons in half lengthwise; remove all the pulp to form cups. Reserve pulp for 1 tablespoon of juice and use remainder for other recipes.

In a food processor; add the zest, parsley, tuna, capers, lemon juice, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and mascarpone cheese. Pulse a few times to a creamy consistency. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.   Transfer the mixture to a bowl and fold in 2 tablespoons of the toasted pistachios. 

Fill the lemon cups with the tuna mixture. Refrigerate about an hour. Serve at room temperature or cold. When ready to serve, add a sprinkle of toasted pistachios and a thread of extra virgin olive oil on top.

Fresh Organic Lemons

These Creamy Tuna Filled Lemons are a great appetizer or a side dish to serve with grilled fish or seafood. They are so versatile; you could fill them with countless ingredients. I chose to fill them with tuna.  If you like to bring a little color, freshness, flavor and novelty to the table, these stuffed lemons are perfect!

Homemade Focaccia with Sea Salt and Rosemary


3 ½ cups 00 Flour or unbleached flour
1 packet instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt for dough, more for topping
1 1/2 cups warm (100 degree) water, plus extra as needed
Extra-virgin olive oil for the bowl
2-3 tablespoons freshly chopped rosemary
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for top of focaccia
Drizzle thick balsamic vinegar

Making the dough:
Place the flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl or use a food processor and pulse. With the machine running, add enough warm water to make soft dough that does not stick to the sides of the processor bowl; pulse for 30-45 seconds. If the dough is dry, add a little more water. When you have dough a formed, transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead 5-8 minutes until the dough bounces back at the tough using your thumb. Shape into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl; cover with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest and rise at room temperature 2-3 hours.

Baking the dough:
When you are ready to bake the focaccia, preheat the oven with a baking stone if available to 500F. It’s best to bake at the convection setting.

Drizzle a little oil on a baking sheet if you don’t have a baking stone.  Stretch the dough  on the baking sheet.  If the dough is not relaxed the dough may not stretch.  Just leave the semi-stretch dough on the baking sheet and cover again with a kitchen towel for about 30-45 minutes.  Uncover and stretch the dough again, it should stretch easily. You do not need to stretch the dough perfectly to fit the shape of the baking sheet, rustic is better!

Once the dough is stretched on the baking sheet, drizzle the olive oil all over the focaccia, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh rosemary.  Transfer the focaccia to the hot oven and bake about 15-20 minutes until the dough is golden on the bottom and lightly golden on the top. Remove from oven and baking sheet and cut into squares.  For a delicious finish, drizzle an aged or thick balsamic on top.
00 flour

Tip: if the dough is still a little sticky when removed from the bowl or processor, sprinkle some flour on the surface and knead the flour in. Keep repeating this process until you have supple dough. 
Fig Marmalade or Preserve
I love adding fig preserve on top of the focaccia when it comes out of the oven hot, and then serving it as a dessert with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Enjoy!

Ricotta and Strawberry Filled Croissants

Ricotta Filled Croissant (French Toast)

6 small croissants
1 small container whole ricotta, drained overnight
4 tablespoons whole milk, or almond milk
Zest 1 orange
4 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons rum, optional
2-4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, dried, diced (some whole for decoration)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
Powdered sugar for decorating

In a bowl add the ricotta, zest, sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla; mix well until creamy. Add the diced strawberries.

With a sharp knife cut the croissant in the center leaving the ends uncut (pockets to be filled).  Fill each croissant with the ricotta mixture. Do not overfill, or the filling may come out during cooking.

In a deep dish, add the eggs, milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and rum if using. Mix well.

Heat a large skillet with a little butter. Dip each croissant in the egg mixture; cook in the skillet on medium heat until just golden on both sides, turning only once.  Transfer to a serving dish.

Continue cooking the rest of the French toast using the butter as needed in the skillet and not all at once. When ready, sprinkle with powdered sugar or honey, and fresh sliced strawberries on top.

Straining the ricotta

I recently was asked to do French toast for a brunch. I wanted to come up with an Italian version that is slightly enriched from the classic French toast recipe. I decided to stuff them first with fresh strawberries and mascarpone; however after testing with ricotta I found it to be lighter and more delicious. This recipe is easy to prepare and I serve it not just for brunch, as a dessert as well.

Lentil Soup in Red Wine and Broccoli

Lentil Soup in Red Wine and Broccoli 

10 ounces fresh broccoli florets
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cup red wine, divided
1 medium sweet onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 celery stalk, minced
8 ounces small lentils, rinsed                                                                                                   
2 bay leaves                                                                                                                 
6 ounces tomato sauce    
4-5 cups broccoli water
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes                                                 
Pinch ground coriander
Small Brown Lentils

Steam or boil the broccoli florets for 2-3 minutes.  Strain reserving all of the broccoli water and set aside.

In a small skillet, add a few drops of olive oil and coriander seeds on low heat; stir until just fragrant.  Add the broccoli florets; cook on medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup of wine and cook to reduce by half.

In a large pan, on medium-low heat, add the 2 tablespoons oil. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook 8-10 minutes or until soft. Add the lentils; cook 10 minutes. Add ½ cup wine and reduce slightly.  Add the bay leaves, tomato sauce, and some of the broccoli water; Cover and cook 10-15 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Remove the bay leaves and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes as needed.

Serve the soup in bowls with a tablespoon of hot broccoli in the center, a thread of olive oil, and a sprinkle of ground coriander.

Broccoli Florets

Lentils are legumes rich in nutrients, which are typically enjoyed as a side dish or a main soup entrée.  These lentils are cooked in sautéed vegetables, flavored with aromatic bay leaves and coriander seeds, and with a rich red wine reduction. In Italy, when lentils are prepared in larger quantity, it symbolizes good fortune and abundance coming throughout the year, especially if they are cooked for New Year’s Eve.

Have fun discovering my Lentils Soup in Red Wine and Broccoli recipe. 

Vellutata of Potatoes with Spinach Polpettine

Vellutata of Potatoes with Spinach Polpettine (Velvety Potato Soup with Spinach Balls)
1 large sweet onion, diced        
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil                                                            
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced                                                         
3 carrots, peeled and diced                                                                        
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper          
Pinch red pepper flakes
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese      
Drizzle thick aged balsamic                                                                             
Spinach Polpettini:
1 pound fresh spinach, roughly chopped
¼ - ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
5 ounces grated parmesan
6-8 ounces breadcrumbs
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper          

Diced Potato

For the Vellutata: In a saucepan, sauté the onion in oil until just golden on medium low heat. Add the potatoes and carrots, sauté 2-3 minutes. Add warm water about 2 inches over the potatoes. Cook until it boils; reduce to a simmer and cook about 25-30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. When the Vellutata is ready, blend with stick blender.  Taste, add the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Taste again.  Cook 5 more minutes, adding a little water if the vellutata is too thick. Stir the grated Parmesan cheese.  

Spinach Polpettini: In a skillet, drizzle a few drops of olive oil, add spinach and nutmeg; cook spinach until it just wilts.  Transfer to a strainer for a few minutes to cool. When cool, press to remove any excess liquid.

Place the spinach in a bowl; add the eggs, parmesan and half of the breadcrumbs. Knead the dough so that it is compact.  If too soft add more breadcrumbs. Form small balls.  Cook the spinach polpettini in a skillet with a few drops of olive oil until just crispy on all sides.

Pour the velvety soup in the dishes, then complete by adding the spinach balls on top, and a drizzle of thick balsamic.
Sweet Onion

No cream required!
This potato soup is an easy recipe to prepare and perfect for the cold winter months: a first course for everyone, even for vegetarians.

If using a stick blender, the soup will become very velvety no cream is required.  If the soup is too thick for you, just add a little more liquid.  If it’s too watery, warm without a lid for a few minutes until the liquid reduces. For added flavor, replace the warm water with either vegetable or chicken broth.

Easy Corn Soufflé for the Holidays

Baked Corn Souffle 

3 cups corn (fresh) sweet corn, husked
1/2 cup diced or shredded Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons diced poblano pepper, or to taste
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Unsalted butter, for the soufflé molds
4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Butter four (3/4 to 1 cup) soufflé molds. Sprinkle each mold with Parmesan cheese.

In a small skillet add the oil. When hot, sauté poblano pepper to just golden. Cool and set aside.

Using a sharp knife, cut the corn kernels off the cobs. Put the corn, Gruyère , half-and-half, eggs, poblano pepper, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes in a food processor, pulse a few times until fairly smooth. Add the chives and pulse to mix. Sprinkle with extra pepper and grated cheese on top.

Fill with the molds with corn mixture and place on a baking sheet. Bake the soufflés 10-25 minutes, until puffy, golden, and set. Serve right away.
Fresh Corn on the Husk

Note:  if you cannot find fresh corn, use frozen corn.  Put the frozen corn in a strainer and over a bowl and place in the refrigerator to thaw out overnight.  Before using the corn, dry with a dish towel to remove any excess water. 

This recipe has been adapted from Jacque Pepin Corn Souffle