Aegean Beef Kebabs with Yogurt Sauce

Aegean Beef Kebabs 

1 pound ground beef (80-85 %)
1 onion, grated
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 tablespoon red pepper paste or tomato paste
Ground Paprika
1 teaspoon dried mint, optional
1-2 tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, kneading well with hands.

Divide the meat into 10 balls and shape like a burger. Place on skewer and stretch and pull the patty to the length of skewer.  Repeat the process.

Slightly oil a frying pan or stove top grill.  Cook turning only once until the meat begins to lightly char.

Yogurt sauce
In a bowl, mix: 1 cup strained yogurt, 2 garlic cloves mashed to a paste, pinch paprika, ½ teaspoon dry mint, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. 

Aegean Kebabs with 2 skewers

I use 2 skewers for each kebab, it holds the meat in place without any worries.  These Kebabs can be made the day before.  You can also freeze them easily for future use.  

Orange and Fennel Salad

Orange and Fennel Salad

3 large juicy organic oranges
1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
1 bulb fresh fennel (reserve the greens)
A drizzle Champagne vinegar
A drizzle extra virgin olive oil
Cracked pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fennel greens, roughly chopped

Peel the oranges, and slice to thin round. Place the slices on a serving platter overlapping each other slightly. Cut the fennel into thin slices. Place on top of orange slices. Finely slice or dice the red onion and place on top of orange and fennel slices.

Drizzle the salad with olive oil and vinegar and season with cracked pepper.

Top with fennel greens.  Let it stand for about 20-30 minutes before serving. Serve at room temperature. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy the wonderful juice this salad will produce.

This recipe brings back sweet memories of my dear grandfather; it was his favorite fresh salad and mine to make. I can still swell the sweet fragrance of the oranges as we peeled them. 

Maghreb Hummus and Olive Salad

Hummus and Olive Salad

1 large (28 ounces) can garbanzo beans, drained
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Zest 1 lemon, and juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup tahini (ground sesame paste)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 - 1/3 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
Warm water, as needed
Olive Salad
20-30 mixed green and black olives (with pits)
1-2 tablespoons minced roasted red peppers
1-2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/3 – 1/2 cup robust extra virgin olive oil
Ground paprika for decoration
Ground cumin for decoration

Combine the chickpeas, garlic, zest, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, and salt in a food processor and pulse. Gradually add some warm water a little at a time, scraping the sides of processor. Pulse again. Add the oil. Keep blending until you get a smooth consistency.  Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt, spices, or lemon juice as needed. (Note: mix the tahini in jar well before using)

Place hummus in a medium-sized round plate or bowl, and create a shallow well in the center to make room for the olive salad.  Run a small fork around the edges (rim) of the hummus to create ridges.  Drizzle a thread of olive oil on the ridges.

Place olives, roasted peppers and parsley in the well. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into it. Sprinkle and alternate pinches of paprika and cumin on ridges as a decoration for color.  Serve with pita, naan bread, or any flat bread of your choice.
olive bar

This chickpea hummus is a typical appetizer in the Maghreb and the Middle East. It is colorful, easy to make, and really flavorful.  I add olive in the middle so that I have two appetizers in one dish.  It is usually accompanied at a table with other vibrant appetizers, bread, and raw vegetables. 

Magical Eggs in Balsamic

Balsamic Hard-boiled Eggs

12 hard- boiled eggs
1 – ½ cups Secolari California Balsamic vinegar

Warm the balsamic vinegar. Place the eggs in glass container. Pour the warm balsamic vinegar over the eggs.  Let cool and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Be sure to turn the eggs occasionally so that they will be evenly colored. When you have the desired color, remove eggs from balsamic.  The eggs can be served on a salad, for Easter, or to decorate an antipasto platter.

You can also reserve the balsamic and make another batch before discarding.

The balsamic vinegar is a popular condiment on our Italian table. In Italy we are fortunate enough to be able to count on high quality balsamic made with cooked must of grapes that come exclusively from the province of Modela and Eggio Emilia. 

Traditionally the balsamic vinegar is used for salads, vegetables, sauces, dips and marinades. It is served as a condiment for appetizers and sometimes used in drops on cheeses such as Parmesan and Mozzarella. It is also used to garnish ice cream and sweets.

For this recipe, I used a medium quality California balsamic vinegar because of the large quantity I needed.  I save the luxurious Modena balsamic for more cherished drizzling's.

Leeks and Cheese Pie

Leeks and Cheese Pie

2 ready-made pie crusts
2-3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 large leeks, cleaned thoroughly**
Sea salt
Black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-3 tablespoons golden raisins
1 ½ cups shredded Gruyere or Fontina 
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

To clean the leeks, loosen the outer leaves, cut off the tough green leaves and root, on the opposite side. Open them with a sharp knife.  Cut  first, then rinse them several times. I also soak them in a large bowl of cold water for 15-20 minutes. Then I rinse them one more time.  To cook these leeks just dry them with paper towel to remove excess water before cooking. 
Fresh leek
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium size skillet, add the oil and leeks on medium-low heat.  Cook until the leeks are soft and barely golden.  Add the salt, pepper, and spices and combine.  Lastly combine the raisins and cook another minutes. 

Place the first pie crust on the parchment paper.  Spread the leek mixture on the pie leaving about an inch gap. Sprinkle the cheeses on top. Place the other pie crust on top. With a fork or with fingers bring the edges together to close.  Brush with egg wash and bake about 30 minutes or until the top is golden.

Leeks, golden raisins, and spices
 The leek is a tasty and versatile vegetable, a little treasure that can be used in cooking to flavor recipes in place of onion.  It is more delicate in taste.  

Halloumi and Endive Salad

Halloumi and Endive Salad

3 endives, cut in cubes (diced)
Juice ½ lemon
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided  
Flour for dredging
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 halloumi cheese, thinly sliced

Mix the lemon juice, 2-3 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper in a bowl; mix well. Add the cut endives and mix again.

Dredge the halloumi slices in flour, shaking off any excess flour.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, when hot at the halloumi cheese and cook until golden brown on both sides, turning only once.

When ready, transfer the endive salt to a serving plate, add the cooked cheese. Serve warm.

Halloumi is a Cypriot firm, brined, slightly springy white cheese, traditionally made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk, or cow’s milk. It has a high melting point so it can be fried or grilled. The texture of Halloumi changes when grilled or pan fried from strong salty flavor to a creamier texture.

This is a delicious treat when you are looking to change up a routine salad dish. This recipe can be served as a Tapas, Meze, or Salad. 

Sweet Onion and Fennel Frittata

Sweet Onion and Fennel Frittata

1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
4 tablespoons minced fresh fennel greens, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced
Fresh Fennel
In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, 3 tablespoons fennel greens, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and grated cheese. Stir to combine.

In 8-inch non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook onion and fennel, stirring occasionally, until softened and barely golden, about 7-10 minutes. Gently add the egg mixture; cook over medium-low heat until bottom is set, about 10 minutes. Flip over carefully, and cook a few more minutes until the other side is set.  Remove from heat, cut into wedges, sprinkle 1 tablespoon fresh fennel greens on top, and serve warm.

Baked Sformato of Potatoes and Leeks

Sformato of Potatoes and Leeks

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
4 Yukon gold potatoes, small dice
Sea salt
3 large leeks, cleaned thoroughly, diced, pat dry  
2 large eggs, lightly beaten  
8 ounces whole ricotta, drained overnight
4 ounces sharp provolone, shredded
6-8 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (any: basil, parsley, chive, rosemary, thyme)
Drizzle balsamic vinegar, optional

Strained Ricotta 
Line a baking dish with parchment paper.  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil on bottom and all sides. Sprinkle with pepper and grated cheese. Preheat oven to 350F.

Wash, peel, and dice the potatoes, place in a colander.  Place colander in a large pasta pan with cold water and boil gently with salt until just tender.  Strain well and cool. Do not overcook, we don’t want mashed potatoes.

Add 2 tablespoons of oil and leeks to a small skillet. Season and cook for about 5 minutes or until just tender.

In a mixing bowl, add the beaten eggs, ricotta, cheeses, and herbs.  Mix well to blend.  Gently add the leeks and potatoes and mix.   Gently transfer to baking pan.  Add additional grated cheese and pepper on the top of sformato and a drizzle of oil. Bake about 30 minutes or until the top is golden.  Serve with a drizzle of thick balsamic vinegar on top.

Fresh Herbs
This sformato is a savory rustic potato cake made with small diced potatoes, leeks, cheeses and lots of fresh herbs. A very fragrant dish, ideal to serve as an appetizer, side, or even a main course with a side salad.  Enjoy it, it will delight your palate.

Festive Salmon and Mascarpone Appetizer

Salmon and Mascarpone Coppa (mold)

4 paper thin slices of smoked salmon
4 ounces mascarpone
2 ounces Gorgonzola dolce
1 ounce chopped walnuts
Zest of ½ orange
Freshly ground mixed pepper
Brie or Camembert cheese
1 glass or ceramic mold

Cover the mold with plastic wrap, making sure that it overlaps so that the mold can be completely covered after adding filling. Place the salmon over the wrap to conform to the shape of the mold.

In a bowl, mix the mascarpone, Gorgonzola, nuts, zest, and pepper. Add this mixture over the salmon in the mold and level the top with a spatula. Cut the brie to the shape of the mold, or cut in strips to fit the mold. Place on top of the cheese mixture. First fold the overlapping salmon over the brie. Next, fold the plastic wrap over the mold pressing down gently.  

Refrigerate for at last 4 hours before using. When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap from the bottom of mold; transfer the mold onto a plate so that the brie is on the plate. Serve with crusty bread or crackers.  I like to add a drizzle of blood orange olive oil and freshly cracked pepper on top of each portion! 


A festive recipe that can be prepared a day ahead. It’s elegant and unique. It can be placed in individual smaller molds or one large mold. Serves 4-6.

Cranberries in Marsala Wine

Fresh Cranberries

Cranberries in Marsala Wine

2 small bags Ocean Spray fresh cranberries
Zest 1 orange
Juice ½ orange
Pinch salt
1/3-1/2 cup Marsala wine
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 bay leaf
Freshly cracked black pepper

In a small casserole, add all of the ingredients and cook on medium-low until it begins to boil. Turn heat to low, stir and continue to cook until most of the cranberries are soft. Stir, taste and add more brown sugar if you like.  If too thick, add a little warm water.  Serve warm or cool. 

I love fresh cranberry sauce but not when it's very sweet.  I like to cook with Marsala wine so I experimented.. and it turned out JUST like I wanted !!!!!

Tuscan Kale and Finocchiona Salami Crostini

Rustic Bread

Tuscan Kale and Finocchiona Salami Crostini

8 slices salt less rustic bread, about 1/4 - 1/3 inch thick
2 bunches Tuscan Kale (black Kale), washed
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large shallot, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup vegetable or chicken broth
8 paper thin slices of Finocchiona salami

Broil the 8 slices of bread on the lowest part of the oven.  It will broil quickly, so, do not step away from the oven. Broil only one side to golden.

Remove about 3 inches of stems from kale, reserve it for soup. Wash thoroughly; cut the kale in thin long slices (chiffonade).

In a large skillet, on medium-low heat, add the oil and sauté the kale with the minced shallot and garlic. Cook about 5-6 minutes; add the broth and cook until the kale is just tender. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.  

Place the toasted slices of bread on a platter, drizzle a thread of olive oil, add 1 slice of salami on top of each slice and a forkful of Kale. Drizzle with another thread of oil on top. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

The delicious bites can be served as appetizer for a Sunday dinner, Christmas, or any special occasion!

Finocchiona salami is a cured firm spiced pork meat made with fennel, peppercorns, garlic and 4 year old Chianti wine. Legend has it that Finocchiona owes its origins to a thief at a fair near the town of Prato, Italy, who stole fresh salami and hid it in a stand of wild fennel. When he returned for it, he found it had absorbed the aromas of its hiding place. 

Tuscan Kale (Cavolo nero di Toscana) is a vegetable in the cabbage famili, most specificcaly it is from the Tuscany region. Besides being delicious, it conains antioxidant properties and is rich in minerals and vitamins. It has long intense green color and the leaf surface is sort of bubbly.  It is a winter vegetable used in many Tuscan Recipes.  It is also a key ingredient in the famour "ribollita" soup. 

Caramelized Orange Slices for the Holidays

Caramelized Orange slices 

1 organic orange, cut into thin round slices
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons water

Arrange the slices in a large non-stick pan without overlapping. Spread sugar and water over the slices, stirring with a spoon and turning the slices so that the sugar dissolves well in water.

Turn the heat on low, and cook until the water has evaporated and the sugar forms bubbles on the surface. As soon as the sugar begins to color, immediately remove from heat.

Gently transfer the orange slices on parchment paper and let them dry for a few hours at room temperature.
Dark chocolate covered orange slices
To cover the slices with dark chocolate, microwave 1/3 cup of dark chocolate pieces for 15 seconds first.  Stir well and microwave again 10 seconds.  Each time stir and mix the chocolate until it has melted. The chocolate does not need to be hot, just melted. Dip one side of the orange slice in the melted dark chocolate, sprinkle with sea salt,  and place on parchment paper to cool until hardened.

The preparation for these little jewels are quick and easy. After they have dried, you have tasty caramelized orange slices that are perfect to use as a cake or cupcake decorations, cover them with dark chocolate to serve like candy, or eat them as a tasty little snack. These little jewels are sold in candy shops all around Italy.  You can also make them with lemon slices… and yes you eat the entire slice!

Orzo with Fresh Rainbow Carrots and Ginger

Orzo with Fresh Rainbow Carrots and Ginger

4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 2 limes
1 piece of fresh ginger, grated finely (use based on your taste)
Sea salt and black pepper
4-5 rainbow carrots, grated large
1 pound orzo pasta
2-3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

In a small bowl, add the oil, zest and juice of limes, grated ginger, salt and pepper. Add the grated carrots and mix well.  Refrigerate about 30 minutes. Taste before adding the pasta, adjust seasoning as needed.

Cook the orzo in water or vegetable broth until al dente. Strain and cool. When ready transfer to a large bowl; add the dressing and fold. Lastly, add fresh basil on top and serve. 

While at the market, I couldn't resist these beautiful rainbow carrots; I quickly put them into my basket. I was immediately inspired by their vibrant colors. I have made many recipes using rainbow carrots; this is one of the recipes that can be served warm or at room temperature. 

Eggplant-Tomato Salad (Salad Zalouk) Alba’s Way

Salad Zalouk - Eggplant Tomato Salad

1 pound small eggplants, cut in small cubes 
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, minced
2-3 large tomatoes, diced
Pinch red pepper flakes
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon Raz el hanout, optional
Zest 1 large lemon
30-35 pitted green olives
25-30 capers in brine, drained
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh basil
Boil the egg plant in hot salted water, about 30 minutes on medium-low heat. Strain and cool.

In a large skillet, add the oil, garlic, and shallot. Cook on low heat until golden. When ready, raise the heat to high and add the chopped tomatoes.  Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the spices, salt, lemon zest, olives, and capers. Cook about a minute.  Add the eggplant; cook on low heat about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. When ready to serve, add the lemon juice and fresh basil, and fold.  

Easy and extremely flavorful….. Salad Zalouk, is a spicy eggplant dish, usually served as an appetizer or side dish with fish or meat. My version is a fusion of Moroccan and Sicilian.  I use the same spices; however I add the olives and capers so it mirrors the caponata.  I also don’t mash the eggplant as in the traditional recipe; I like mine chunky, with some texture. 

Fennel Cheese and Lemon Fritters

Fennel Cheese and Lemon Fritters (Fritelles)

3 medium fennels, stalks removed
2 large eggs, beaten
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 cups grated Pecorino cheese
Zest of 2 lemons
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cook the fennel in hot boiling salted water.  Cook until just tender.  Strain well and allow to cool. From the core, cut in half first. From the core cut into 1/3 inch slices. Dry well with paper towel.

Place the beaten eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. In another bowl add the Pecorino cheese and zest together.

Dip the fennel slices in the eggs first, then in the cheese and zest mixture.  Add the oil to a large skillet and cook on medium heat until golden on the bottom. Turn once and cook the other side to golden. Be sure the slices are about 1/2 apart for best results.

Fennel is delicious eaten raw because it is refreshing to the palate. It can be served to whet the appetite if eaten as an appetizer with vinaigrette or simply sprinkled with salt.  Boiled or steamed with butter, and covered with grated Parmigiano, it makes a great side dish.  This recipe is served as an appetizer or side.  I make extra, so I can have leftover snacks.

Cannellini and Avocado Hummus

Cannellini Avodado Hummus

1 small can of cannellini beans, strained
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons tahini
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 ripe avocado, peeled cut in large pieces  
2 tablespoons water
Salt to taste
1/3 cup toasted almonds

In food processor add cannellini beans, lemon juice, oil, tahini, ground cumin, and red pepper flakes; pulse a few times. Add the avocado and pulse again. It should be a thick cream. If it is too thick, add a little water. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed. Drizzle a little extra olive oil on top and the toasted almonds. 

Cotolette alla Valdostana

Cotolette alla Valdostana (Chicken Cutlets from Valle D'Aosta)
8 thin slices chicken breast
4 paper thin slices of Prosciutto or rosemary ham
4 thin slices Fontina cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 lemons cut in quarters
1 bunch Italian parsley

valleys and mountain - Valle D'Aosta, Italy

Gently pound the chicken slices between two pieces of wax paper to flatten evenly.  This flat type of meat is called cotolette (cutlets).

Lay a piece of the chicken on a working area; season with salt and pepper. Add one slice of ham and one slice of cheese on top.  Cover with another slice of chicken on top.   Repeat the process three more times.  

Add 1 ½ tablespoons of oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Drizzle remaining oil when adding the other pieces of chicken.  The oil should be added gradually as needed, not all at once.

Place the beaten eggs in a dish.  In another dish mix the breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Begin by dipping the chicken in the egg on both sides.  Next, dip in the breadcrumbs shaking off any excess breadcrumbs.  When the butter and oil is hot, place a few pieces of coated chicken in the hot pan.  Let the chicken become golden on the bottom first before turning. When golden on both sides, transfer to a platter lined with paper towel to absorb any excess oil.

Squeeze with fresh lemon juice and top with minced parsley.

Valle D'Aosta, Italy

 If you want to prepare a special and enchanting dish, try my “Cotolette alla Valdostana ". It is delicious and perfect for those who love to try regional Italian recipes to bring to the table with a bit of tradition. This dish is liked by adults and children alike because the cutlets are stuffed with ham and sweet Fontina cheese. Simply serve with potatoes and a healthy lettuce salad.

The cutlets can be made with beef, veal, or turkey breast!

Baked Ziti and Fontina

Baked Ziti and Fontina
1 pound ziti                           
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided                                
1 cup heavy cream                                                                  
2 cups buttermilk                                          
2 cups shredded Italian Fontina cheese                              
Salt and black pepper to taste
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, divided
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
Fontina Valdostana 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a deep baking dish. Cut 5 tablespoons of butter into tablespoon portions. Cut remaining 3 tablespoons of butter into 1/2 inch cubes.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 3 minutes of al dente. The pasta is going to continue to cook in the oven, so you don’t want to overcook it. Drain, add 5 tablespoons of butter, mix well and set aside.

Warm the cream and buttermilk in a small pan on low heat.

When the pasta is ready, pour in the warm cream and buttermilk, and fold in the Fontina until it starts to melt. Add the grated nutmeg, 1 cup grated cheese, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread the pasta mixture into the buttered baking dish. Top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Scatter the 3 tablespoons of cubed butter over the top. Bake 20-22 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned. When ready, sprinkle fresh parsley over the top, and serve hot. 

Valle D'Aosta, Italy

Fontina (DOP) is made in the Valle D’Aosta region of northern Italy.  It is the smallest region in Italy, with neighboring France and Switzerland, and surrounded by the Alps, green valleys, fresh water streams, and lakes. All of these elements are significant to the cows that roam free most of the year, except the coldest months of the year. These cows eat only the greenest grass, flowers, and drink the freshest water from the streams. Therefore, the milk that is produced is the very finest.  Fontina is made from whole raw cow’s unpasteurized milk. It takes about 3 months to age.  Only the perfect cheeses get the DOP seal of approval.  Please don’t mistake imitation Fontina wrapped with a red wax with this fontina from Valle D’Aosta. It doesn’t come with wax wrapper. Though it costs a lot more, it’s worth every bite, after all the Valdostani have been making it this way for over 500 years.