By Gourmet Nun
Tuscan Food has grown rapidly in popularity in recent years. Since opening a new house in Barga, Italy, in the heart of Tuscany, we have become quite familiar with much of the Tuscan way of life-including foods most typical of that area. This herbed Tuscan tomato bread soup has become one of our favorites. It is delicious hot, cold, or at room temperature, and it will be even more flavorful if you use home grown garden-fresh tomatoes as they come into season.
Tuscan Tomato, Bread and Herb Soup
3 pounds of tasty, ripe tomatoes
Good extra-virgin olive oil |
2 large cloves of garlic, one whole, one finely chopped or crushed
2 medium onions, very finely chopped
3 sticks celery, very finely chopped
Pinch of salt
Small bunch of basil, leaves only (at least 25 leaves)
1 ½ pints chicken or vegetable broth
½ loaf Italian bread, cut into small pieces
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and turn off the heat. Put the tomatoes into the water and leave for a couple of minutes. Test with a knife tip to see if the skin peels away easily. Discard water, skin the tomatoes and finely chop.
Heat ½ cup olive oil in a large pot. Add the whole clove of garlic, the onions and celery and sauté for a few minutes, until the onion is translucent, but not browning.
Add the chopped tomatoes, a pinch of salt and some black pepper, and cook gently for a couple of minutes.
Add stock and the pieces of bread. Cook, covered, for another 20 minutes on a low flame. Add more stock or hot water if necessary.
Locate the cooked garlic and squeeze it back into the dish with a garlic press. Add the raw chopped or crushed garlic and the finely chopped basil. Taste for seasoning.
You can serve this hot, at room temperature or chilled. Serve with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and raw extra virgin olive oil to swirl on top at the table.
By Gourmet Nun
This is the season for salad lovers, and we have been enjoying lots of salads at the convent with the daily fresh picked lettuce, herbs, and cucumbers from our gardens.
To add interest to them I’ve come up with my own croutons. If you like crisp and crunch, and you savor the flavor of Parmesan and pepperoni you’re sure to like these.
They are simple, quick and easy to make, add great taste to your salads, and served as snacks, they disappear in no time.
Pepperoni Parmesan Croutons
4 cups of torn Italian bread about 1/2 of a loaf
¾ teaspoon mixed Italian seasonings
¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
½ cup torn pepperoni
Tear bread into bite sized pieces to equal about 4 cups. Toss with seasonings. Spread out on 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle with cheese and torn pepperoni. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or until golden all over. Cool and break into pieces.
By Gourmet Nun
For years I have been making what I called crispy chicken strips, the result of an idea that came to me out of the blue and one that was very successful after simply trying it out on my own without any recipe.
I used them a lot as appetizers along with chutney or sweet and sour sauce. Sometimes I top a salad with them for a nice lunch, and often I add Italian spices and grated Parmesan cheese to the crumbs and serve them with a favorite pasta and sauce for a main meal.
I liked my original idea and have been quite pleased with myself for having come up with something that tasted so good and was exclusively mine or so I thought . . . until a while ago when flipping through a friend’s recipe book and look what I found:
“Baked Chicken Nuggets” – almost identical to what I’d been making, only using bread crumbs instead.
7-8 boneless chicken breasts, uncooked
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups crushed saltines
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
2 Tablespoons mixed Italian spices, optional
Cut chicken into 1½ inch pieces. Season well with onion salt. Dip chicken in butter, then in crumb mixture, adding in optional Italian spices and Parmesan cheese for a Mediterranean accent if desired. Place on baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes – just until golden but still plump and juicy – not dry.
P.S. Saltines give a much crispier crust than bread crumbs.
By Gourmet Nun
We’ve been cooking up lots of strawberry jam for Christmas gifts with this summer’s bountiful crop of berries from our garden. One of our sisters has been dying to make a strawberry tart with it and today she did.
I loved the looks of it when it came out of the oven. I loved the taste of it even more, as did some of the other kitchen sisters who sampled it. The unusual flavor of fresh lemon zested crust was a taste treat in itself even without the filling.
“Leave it right here”, I said “I’ll be back in a minute to take a picture. This has to be a blog!” Locating the camera as quickly as possible I returned to take this photo…..
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” photo by Sr. Clare
Italian Strawberry Crostata
The pastry for this simple jam tart is made with olive oil and flavored with vanilla, lemon rind and a little alcohol, which makes it tender. It is an easy, smooth dough to handle and does not go hard when stored in the fridge.
4 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs
2/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons vodka or other alcohol
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
3/4 cup strawberry jam
Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt on a clean surface. Lightly beat together eggs, oil, vanilla, alcohol and rind. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the egg mixture.
Using your hands, work the flour in gradually to form a dough. Work dough lightly until it comes together into a smooth ball.
Divide dough into 3 pieces. Roll out all pieces to about 1/2 inch thickness. Press 2 of them into the base of 9-10 inch sallow baking pans. Spread each generously with jam.
Cut remaining piece of dough into very thin long strips. Form a ring around edge of dough and make a criss-cross pattern on top of the tarts. Cut tiny diamonds of leftover dough and place into the center of each criss-cross.
Bake for 30 minutes, until lightly golden.
P.S. We added a few fresh berries on top of the jam the second time we tried it, and felt it added yet another dimension of wonderful flavor.
Because the meal was an informal picnic type, the loaf was served whole, allowing each person to decide what size piece they wanted cut for them. For a more refined touch it can be sliced in diagonal pieces and plated, and still be a sandwich!
Hot Chicken Salad Sandwich
3 cups cooked chicken or turkey, cut into large chunks
2 teaspoons onion, grated
2 cups celery, diced
1 cup slivered almonds
2 cups seedless green grapes
2 (6 ounce) cans water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup wine
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Favorite cheese if desired
Combine chicken, onion, celery, almonds, grapes, water chestnuts. Mix mayonnaise, wine, salt and pepper; toss with chicken mixture. Spread chicken salad on bread, top with a layer of your favorite cheese and melt under a broiler.
By Gourmet Nun
It’s strawberry time, and our strawberry patch has been producing tub after tub of beautiful berries every morning . . . a delight to look at, let alone to eat. Of course, no strawberry dessert will ever top old fashioned strawberry shortcake, in my opinion, but if you’d like to try a creation that runs it a close second, these strawberry napoleons are simple to make and delicious to eat.
1 sheet (half of a 17-ounce package) frozen puff pastry
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract or amaretto to taste
1 cup heavy cream
Powdered sugar to taste
2 cups stemmed and sliced strawberries
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional)
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Directions: Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Thaw folded pastry sheet for 20 minutes. Open sheet and cut along folds to make three equal strips; halve each strip to make six rectangles. Space apart on baking sheet. Bake in center of oven about 15 minutes until well browned and baked through. Remove to rack to cool.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whip heavy cream and powdered sugar together until cream is stiff. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk pudding mix, milk, and extract together for 2 minutes; fold in whipped cream and blend thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate.
Carefully split each piece of pastry in half horizontally. Cover bottom halves with almonds, then pudding mixture and sliced strawberries, dividing equally. Cover with pastry tops. Dust with powdered sugar.
*You could double the pudding mixture and use both sheets of puff pastry for more Napoleons. I ended up using all of my puff pastry to be able to have additional layers for each Napoleon.
This recipe makes 3 servings.
By Gourmet Nun
There is no meal so plain or so elaborate that cannot be enhanced by the addition of freshly baked homemade bread. Whether it’s a simple soup and salad lunch or a full oven rolls is guaranteed to bring exclamations of joy from the eaters. It seems to convey a sense of special care and attention that warms their hearts.
We served these beautiful, easy-to-make rolls to a retreat of ladies for lunch today and their response was absolutely overwhelming.
Very Best Dinner Rolls
4 teaspoons dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoon salt
7 cups flour
1/4-1/2 cups butter (reserved)
Dissolve the yeast in some water with a pinch of sugar and let sit for approximately 5 minutes to proof.
Add milk, sugar, 1/2 cup melted butter, salt and eggs. Mix well. Add flour as needed and mix well. Blend at medium-low speed for about 5-10 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl once or twice. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let rise in bowl about 1 hour or till doubled.
Remove the plastic wrap and turn mixer on low to “punch down” the dough; if you wish, you can let the dough rise a second time as it makes for a more flavorful roll. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into 36 rolls. The dough will be very sticky.
Place rolls, edges just touching, in a buttered 9″x13″ or 9″ round pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 30-40 minutes. Brush with reserved butter before baking or an egg wash.
Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit convection oven or 350 degrees Fahrenheit conventional oven until golden.
By Gourmet Nun
“Please, could we have Salisbury steak for dinner sometime? My mother made it all the time and I love it.” I found this note on the convent kitchen counter a few days ago.
Now how does one ignore a request like this? Immediately, we set out to find a good recipe for this old favorite, and served it a few nights later. I’m not sure it was exactly like “Mom made it,” but it certainly made the sister who requested it, as well as many others, very happy. We served it with mashed potatoes (as they always do down South), roasted carrots and zucchini.
How long has it been since you served Salisbury steak?
1 pound ground round beef
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons of onion salt
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
1 whole egg
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons butter
1 large onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups beef broth
In a mixing bowl, combine the beef, black pepper, onion salt, Worcestershire Sauce, bread crumbs and egg. Mix well. Shape into 4 equal patties.
Heat a skillet over medium heat for about one minute, and then add butter. Place meat patties in skillet and brown on both sides for about 4-5 minutes each. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Add the sliced onion to the skillet, right on top of the browned bits. Reduce the heat and cook the onions on medium-low heat until the onions turn translucent and brown. Don’t rush this step: Cook the onions low and slow for about 20-25 minutes
Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of flour over the onions. Stir. Let cook and brown for about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups beef broth. Stir well.
Raise the heat back up to about medium. Stir well.
Place the meat patties back in the pan. Cover. Reduce heat just a little and let simmer for about 15 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm.