Eggplant, Mozzarello and Arugula Muffuletta with Sundried Tomato Dressing

Lazy summer weekends require just a little bit of advanced planning to fall into place perfectly.  I may want to relax and enjoy my weekends, but I also want to have great tasting, good meals to enjoy at my leisure.  I’ve made pressed sandwiches in many variations; I prefer mostly to have an all veggie stuffing.  It may not be all that kid friendly but I don’t have to worry about that these days.

When my children were younger, I would make a Muffuletta with deli turkey and brie.  We’d pack up this sandwich for weekend trips to Sanibel or beach picnics.  It carries really well; prepared ahead of time and sliced when ready to eat.  Can’t get much easier or better than that!

I really miss those road trips. My daughter would carry on and on hating being in the car, her stomach always hurting.  My son and her would fight over what dvd movie to play, he liked the action type or scary ones and she liked the girly teen movies.  Once settled on the movie to watch, we dealt with her sitting too close to him, volume adjusting too loud, too quiet, fidgeting, complaints and finally falling asleep.  Some of the most wonderful memories I will always cherish.

Eggplant, Mozzarello and Arugula Muffuletta with Sun Dried Tomato and Olive Dressing

1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes

Boiling water

¼ cup pitted kalamata olives

¼ cup olive oil – or less

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons parsley leaves

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 loaf Rosemary bread or other freshly bakede rustic style bread

1 eggplant, peeled and cut into ¼ inch horizontal slices

2 peppers, either red or combination of red, yellow or orange

½ pound mozzarella cheese

2 cups arugula

For the dressing:

Place sun dried tomatoes in enough boiling water to cover. Let stand for 15 minutes to soften.  Drain and add to food processor along with the olives, garlic anchovy paste, parsley and pepper.  Slowly add in olive oil to form a paste; not excessively oily.  Refrigerate until ready to use, can be made a day ahead.

For the grilled eggplant:

Lightly oil each slices and grill until tender.  Season with kosher salt and black pepper.  Set aside to cool.

For the roasted peppers:

Place peppers on grill and grill until charred all over.  Or use a foil lined broiler pan and broil until charred all over.  Immediately place peppers into a paper bag and allow to cool.  When cool enough to handle, peel off skin, discard seeds and slice into large sections.  Do not rinse the peppers, just use your hands to rub off the skin and seeds. Set aside.

For the muffuletta:

Cut bread horizontally with a serrated knife.  Remove some of the bread from the inside on both halves, leaving about ½ inch crust.  Save bread in the freezer for bread crumbs or stuffing.  Spread both cut sides with some of the dressing.  Layer in the eggplant slices, top with roasted pepper slices.  Spread another light layer of the dressing and top with mozzarella slices.  Add another layer of eggplant slices and top with arugula.  Firmly press sandwich closed with top crust and tightly wrap with plastic wrap or foil.  Refrigerate until ready to cut and serve.  Also panini pressing this sandwich is awesome!!

Peanut Butter Lovers Cheesecake

There are times when the oven must be turned on.  Birthdays are one of those times.  Birthdays don’t care that it’s 98 degrees outside; the celebration must go on.  And I hear you all, buy a cake!  Well, no…I simply can’t.  When you’re known to cook and bake, it’s almost expected that when I throw a party or bring a dish, it’s going to be homemade.  And frankly, whether it’s my stubbornness or passion for perfection, buying store bought is out of the question.  And in the end, cooking for family and friends is my gift of sharing my love.

This birthday cake is for my boss.  Deciding on a cake for someone who is extremely fitness conscious and rarely eats desserts was not easy.   In fact, I know this because I am very similar, however, I do eat a bite or two of desserts and when it’s MY birthday, I will eat cake!  In fact, I have this yearly, only on my birthday, treat for myself of giant blueberry pancakes…but that’s another story.  

Everyone has to celebrate their birthday with a little sweet; it makes for a sweeter year ahead.  Other than knowing he likes apple pie, this boss of mine eats a lot of peanut butter….thus, peanut butter cheesecake!  This cheesecake is rich, dense but not overly sweet.  The combination of chocolate and peanut is like a chocolate peanut butter cup.  Truly an occassional treat and a great way to also celebrate National Cheesecake Day on July 30!!

Peanut Butter Lovers Cheesecake

Adapted from Cheesecake Extraordinaire

For the crust:

1 cup finely crushed chocolate wafers

1 cup finely crushed crispy peanut butter cookies

¼ cup finely chopped peanuts

½ cup melted butter

For the filling:

24 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

¾ cup natural, creamy peanut butter

5 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup chopped peanuts

For the topping:

8 oz white chocolate

2 tablespoons natural, creamy peanut butter

1 ounce semisweet chocolate

2 tablespoons chopped peanuts

Prepare oven by placing a casserole pan on the bottom rack filled halfway with water.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust:  Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir together until well combined.  Press mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan.  Refrigerate until ready to fill.

For the filling:  In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar and cornstarch until smooth.  Beat in melted chocolate and peanut butter.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Beat in vanilla extract.  Stir in chopped peanuts.  Pour cream cheese mixture over crust.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  Lower the temperature to225 degrees and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the center no longer looks wet or shiny.  Remove the cake from the oven and run a knife around the edge of the pan.  Turn the oven off and return the cake to the oven for another 30 minutes.  Remove and chill uncovered overnight in the refrigerator.

For the topping:  Gently melt the white chocolate and peanut butter together and set aside.  Melt the semisweet chocolate and set aside.   Pour the white chocolate peanut butter over the cake and then drizzle on the melted semisweet chocolate.  Using a knife, gently swirl the chocolate into the peanut butter layer. Sprinkle on chopped peanuts. Refrigerate until serving time.

Zucchini Pancakes

When I was little zucchini was not my favorite veggie.  In fact, it was never on my dinner plate, no way.  It seemed like my mother would come up with so many different ways to sneak in prepare zucchini.  She won me over finally, disguising it in pancakes or bread.  Even better, chocolate zucchini bread!  Thankfully, my taste buds expanded and just like my mother, zucchini finds its way into so many dishes and meals I plan.  

The same held true for my kids; though my daughter grew to love zucchini, my son still stays away.  This one is for Gina.  It’s an easy, quick lunch or dinner, served alone with a salad and baguette or as a side.  She always needs a dipping sauce to go with whatever she eats so along with the obvious marinara sauce, a nice dollop of sour cream or tzatsiki sauce, recipe below, or for a bit spicier dipping, a sirachi and mayo mix.   When I’ve served these for a brunch, topped with a poached or fried egg is really good! 

I’m thinking though I might first have to buy her a box grater…

Zucchini Pancakes

adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

1 medium zucchini

2 small yellow squash

1 tablespoon Kosher salt, optional for salting/draining

1 green onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I’ve also used a mix of fresh parsley, basil and or oregano)

2 large eggs, beaten

¼ – ½ cup of flour (for gluten free use cornmeal or garbanzo bean flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Grate the zucchini and squash and place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle on Kosher salt and allow to sit for about 20 minutes (optional, as sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t!)  Rinse well and squeeze dry in a clean towel.  Return the squash to the bowl and add in the remaining ingredients.  If the mixture appears too liquidy, add in more flour. 

Heat a large griddle with olive oil to coat.  Working in batches, drop spoonfuls* of batter on to skillet and cook about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown.  Place the pancakes on a baking sheet to keep warm in the oven until all pancakes have been made.  The pancakes can stay warm in the oven for about 30 minutes.  Serve hot. 

* Sometimes size does matter, I prepared these as small appetizer bites, but they can be prepared larger and, for those with good flipping hot skills, one large pancake that fills the skillet make a cool presentation!

Tzatziki Sauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup grated cucumber, squeezed dry

1 teaspoon minced garlic 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped mint

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice 

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Fresh Tomato, Garlic and Herb Chicken Wings

This summer’s heat has been truly draining!  I’ve never been one to complain about hot weather as the years spent up North with the cold and snow have made me love and appreciate every hot and humid day here!  I adjust my days to easier activities though; spending more time in the pool than bike riding,  less baking and heating up my kitchen and eating smaller, lighter meals.  

When I was growing up, my father’s garden supplied the basis of our summer meals.  Gorgeous ripe tomatoes would find their way into every meal but I remember most the simple tomato and onion salad my mother would make several times a week.  The true flavor and scent of the ripe, homegrown tomato made this simple salad so special.  Dressed with just a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper and served with a chunk of Italian bread to mop up all the juices.  This was my summer memory of a great tasting meal.  

On Sunday we had tickets to see a baseball game…in an air-conditioned suite, thank you Randy.  It was another hot day ahead of us and I wanted to make sure I had something ready for a casual, easy dinner.  This dish is perfect for making ahead and eating at room temperature.   The flavor intensifies with the tomatoes, garlic, herbs and juice saturating the chicken.  It’s also a great dish for taking along on a picnic too.  

The wings can be grilled or roasted with just a rub of olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt and ground pepper.  While the wings are cooking, in a bowl, prepare the tomato dressing with two diced tomatoes, two sliced green onions, fresh parsley or basil and three minced garlic cloves.  Drizzle on one tablespoon of red wine vinegar and two tablespoons of olive oil.  Mix gently and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  

As soon as the wings are done, place the wings in a large non-reactive bowl, i.e., not metal, and pour over the tomato dressing.  Cover and allow the wings to marinate for at least one hour at room temperature or refrigerate and remove one hour prior to serving.  A sprinkle of gorgonzola is a great flavor touch too.  Serve with garlic rubbed grilled bread and a salad.

Limoncello Biscotti and True Love

Light, crisp, lemony sunshine, these Limoncello Biscotti are just perfect for serving with my Chilled Berry and Prosecco Soup or a simple glass of white wine.   Because I reduce the sugar in the recipe, I enjoy these for breakfast with my espresso and for a snack with fruit or yogurt.

When I’ve said my biscotti jar is always filled, it is indeed, even in the summer!  And, just not at home.  I have another jar on my desk at work.  This one though is a bit more difficult to keep filled.  Rumor has run through the office where biscotti can be found.  Coffee breaks now revolve around checking the jar.  Oh, the sad faces and remarks of disbelief when the lid is lifted to reveal an empty jar.

“What could she possibly be doing with her time at home that she cannot bake to keep this jar full?”  And the best, “She must no longer love us”.  Really.  So therefore it must be true, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and that includes coworkers also.  Honestly, with all the baking and cooking I do, love should be pouring in from everywhere.  Alas, you know what they say; you’re only as good as the last biscotti you baked.

Well these are amazingly, good biscotti.  I can just feel the love coming on.

Limoncello Biscotti

Adapted from Cooking Light, November 2000

2 ¾ cup white/whole wheat flour

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon Limoncello

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 eggs

For the glaze:

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon Limoncello

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or Slipat.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl, mix together the lemon juice, zest, Limoncello, oil and 3 eggs.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix together.  The dough will be crumbly at first; empty the bowl onto a floured board and knead 7-8 times until dough is smooth.  Divide into two and form each into a long log.  If dough is sticky, wet hands lightly.  Place logs on baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Allow logs to cool for 10 minutes and then slice diagonally.  Place slices back on baking sheet standing upright.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove and cool on rack.  While biscotti are cooling, combine the confectioners’ sugar and Limoncello.   To reduce lumps, warm the glaze slightly in the microwave.  Brush or drizzle the glaze on biscotti when still warm.  Allow to dry.  Store tightly covered.

Leaning Tower of Eggplant

I’m a big fan of the caprese salad in every way it’s presented.  From uniform overlapping slices or stacked like an Italian flag, to a jumble of tiny mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes or roughly rustic chopped.  Summer is the perfectly ripe time for this salad and I could truly enjoy a simple caprese salad with a chunk of ciabatta bread for dinner any night!  But when I’m looking for a bit more; it’s this tower of crispy, melting, cheesy delight I go for!

Eggplants are always in my grocery basket.  Usually I have no specific plan for their use while also knowing they will find their way into something within the next few days!  Lately, I’ve been obsessed over making them into eggplant fries, which I now totally prefer over zucchini fries hands down!  Following the similar method of roasting the egg white/breaded eggplant slices instead of frying; the slices are then topped with a slice of tomato and mozzarella.  A drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar is drizzled over and served warm; totally a melt-in-your-mouth explosion of flavor!

Just recently Chicaandaluza posted her eggplant stack layered with marinara.  This too is a great idea; check it out also!

Roasted Eggplant Caprese Tower

1-2 eggplants (depending on amount to be served)

1 egg white (or 2 depending on amount of eggplant)

½ cup panko/bread crumbs (or more)

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon dried oregano or basil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil for drizzling

1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut in ¼ inch slices

1-2 tomatoes (size to match the eggplant), cut in ¼ inch slices

Fresh basil leaves, enough for each slice

¼ cup Balsamic vinegar (see below to reduce to a glaze)

Slice eggplants about ½ in thick and layer with salt on a plate for 1 hour.  Drain well and press down to release any liquid.  Preheat oven to 420 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet with a rack on top.  Spray the rack well with cooking spray.  Beat egg white well in one bowl, in another mix the bread crumbs, cheese, dried herbs, salt and pepper.  Dip eggplant slices in the egg white and then in bread crumb mix.  Place on prepared rack over the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Turn the eggplant, top with a slice of tomato, basil leaf and a slice of mozzarella.  Return to the oven and roast an additional 10-15 minutes or until cheese has begun to slightly brown and soft.  Remove from oven and stack.  Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve.

Balsamic Glaze:  In a small saucepan, gently simmer the balsamic vinegar until reduced by 2/3.  Cool and set aside until needed.

Grilled Polenta with Zucchini and Goat Cheese

The versatility of polenta is endless and why it ends up in so many of my dishes.  Made creamy and soft, it’s a wonderful side to meat or fish, swirling in different herbs, cheeses or veggies to compliment the dish, or as a “pasta” base for topping ratatouille.  Made firm, polenta can be easily substituted for bread and as an appetizer crostini topped with a tapenade.

I really do keep a simple pantry.  My condiments are fairly basic and I can be creative with a variety of oils, vinegars, herbs, salts and spices.  In other posts it may have appeared that “you name it, I have it”, but no, not so!  It’s like gadgets in the kitchen; I keep those to a bare minimum!  Because I cook fairly Mediterranean style my pantry holds just that.  I always keep cornmeal in bulk (no, not an overload, but just enough) for polenta, or as a thickener for soups or stews and in breading and baking.

Preparing the polenta the day before and grilling the next day, I served a light dinner of Italian sausages with peppers and onions, pared with the grilled polenta.  Easy and yummy!

Grilled Polenta with Zucchini and Goat Cheese

3 cups boiling water (or water and chicken or veggie broth), adding additional liquid as needed

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal

1 zucchini, grated and squeezed dry

2 oz goat cheese

Olive oil for grilling

To prepare the polenta:  Simmer water in the bottom pan of a double boiler.  Add 3 cups boiling water to the top pan.  If not using the double boiler, use a large saucepan bring the 3 cups of liquid to a boil.  Add the salt and slowly whisk in the polenta, pouring the polenta like “rain” to prevent any clumping.   Reduce to low and continue to cook and, switching to a wooden spoon, stir occasionally on a double boiler, more frequently in a saucepan for about 45 minutes.  The polenta should be soft and creamy, pulling away from the bottom.  If the polenta appears to cook too fast or less creamy, add in small amounts of hot water or broth.

Meanwhile, sauté the shredded zucchini in a heated skillet with olive oil until lightly cooked.  Remove from heat and set aside.   When the polenta is done, stir in the sautéed zucchini and goat cheese.   Pour into a greased 13 x 9 pan, spreading evenly, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

To grill the polenta:  Heat a clean grill or indoor grill pan, lightly brushing with oil.  Cut the polenta into squares or desired shapes and lightly brush with oil to prevent sticking.  Grill until light marks appear, turn and grill other side.  Plate and serve!

Chilled Mixed Berry and Prosecco Soup

Temperatures this summer have been hot!  Heavy meals are completely off my menu plans and my guests are not complaining when lighter entrées are served.  Even my desserts are lighter; simple fruit based sweets.  I’m all about fresh tasting and easy, that is easy for me the hostess!

This recipe is truly in its most natural state.  The berries, either fresh or frozen, are pureed, not cooked.  I don’t add in any spices, nor have I ever felt the need to.  Simple syrup or agave is added for sweetness and for sparkle, Prosecco, champagne or club soda is stirred in just before serving.  I like the swirl of buttermilk or thinned yogurt as a pretty contrast and its creaminess blends with the sweetness of the fruit.  For a picnic, this travels really well in a thermos, though I have left out bringing along the yogurt or buttermilk.  Along with the chilled soup, I like to serve lemon biscotti cookies (recipe appearing soon!) and a small dessert cheese plate with nuts and dried fruits.

Chilled Berry and Prosecco Soup

¼ cup fresh or frozen blueberries

¼ cup fresh or frozen strawberries

¼ cup fresh or frozen raspberries

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or mango nectar

Simple syrup or agave to taste (Simple Syrup is simply equal amounts water and sugar heated until sugar dissolves, cooled and refrigerate until needed)

1 shot crème de cases liquor

¼ cup Prosecco, champagne or club soda

½ cup buttermilk or yogurt thinned with a touch of milk

Process berries and orange juice in a blender until smooth.  Add in agave or simple syrup to taste for sweetness.  Stir in the crème de cases and refrigerate several hours.  Just before serving pour in the Prosecco.  Pour into chilled bowls and swirl in a tablespoon of buttermilk or yogurt.  Serve immediately.

Eggs in Purgatory, but tastes like heaven

Pairing tomato sauce with eggs may seem like an unlikely flavor combination.  To me, it’s heavenly.

My Sicilian father would make a variety of egg dishes; fried peppers and eggs, spinach and eggs, meatloaf with eggs; basically frittatas using freshly cooked veggies or leftovers from last night’s dinner.  For many years, I worked right around the corner from his house.  I would stop by for lunch to visit with him, and of course, be treated to a home cooked meal.  I honestly have to say, growing up I had never heard this egg dish referred to as such.  It was simply poached or simmered egg in tomato sauce.  Years later, I heard this interesting and somewhat fitting name. 

When cooked perfectly and served, the eggs break to release their yolk creamy richness into the sauce.  Follow with toasted garlic-rubbed rustic bread sopping up the excess.  Being a spicy girl, I add crushed red pepper to my simmering sauce and a touch of cream at the end to lighten and soften the sauce.  Serving with a spoonful of ricotta cheese and fresh herbs on top adds an extra creamy and fresh taste.

Eggs in Purgatory

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes, pureed

2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional

4-5 Basil leaves, roughly torn

1 tablespoon heavy cream

4 large eggs

2 -3 tablespoons freshly ground parmesan cheese

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil and toss in the garlic.  Gently simmer the garlic for one minute, then adding in the tomato sauce, basil leaves, crushed red pepper and salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to simmer, occasionally stirring for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, crack each egg into a separate cup so that dropping the egg into the sauce will be easier.  When the sauce has simmered for 15 minutes and slightly thickened, remove the garlic and stir in the tablespoon of cream.  Using a spoon make a well in the sauce to gently slide in an egg, repeating for all four eggs.  Sprinkle on the parmesan cheese, cover and cook for about 3-5 minutes or until eggs are set to your preference.  I have occasionally either placed the skillet under the broiler to finish or in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes to complete set the eggs.   Serve with toasted rustic bread and if you don’t mind garlic in the morning, use the simmered garlic cloves to rub over the bread! Serves 2.

Ricotta Pineapple Pie

I have so many sweet memories from my mother’s kitchen.  At times her vaguely written recipes make it difficult to easily recreate but once I get started, memories begin to take over and the dishes come together almost magically.  I can work my way around my kitchen by the aromas I remember, the sights of how a dish simmered, the feel of a ripe vegetable from my father’s garden or by the taste I recall of a perfectly cooked dish.    

As I made this pie the other day, I caught myself remembering how I use to watch the pineapple sauce bubble and thicken in the saucepan.  And as the aroma filled my kitchen it brought back even more memories.  As a little girl, I thought of this pie more for an adult palate.  What child wouldn’t grab for the cookie tray before a slice of fruit pie?  I guess one good thing about growing older is developing wider interests in foods and flavors. 

Ricotta is used in many Italian desserts; as in cannoli, one of my all time favorite desserts.  The pie is light and just sweet enough with the pineapple topping.  It is best made ahead like a cheesecake to allow time to chill and firm up nicely. Being that I have no children around, I added a shot of Liquor 43 to both the pie filling and topping.  I may be grown up but I still like to have fun!

Ricotta Pineapple Pie

For the crust:

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

½ cup finely ground graham cracker crumbs

For the filling:

1 15 oz ricotta cheese, I used part skim

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon Liquor 43

For the topping:

1 20 oz can crushed pineapple in its own juice – drain well and reserve ½ cup liquid

2-3 tablespoons agave (add to taste)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Liquor 43, optional – if using reduce pineapple juice by 1 tablespoon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Brush butter over the bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan or pie plate.  Sprinkle the crumbs over the bottom and sides to coat well. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine the filling ingredients and beat until smooth.  Pour the filling into the prepared pan.  Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until pie is set but center is still slightly jiggly.  Cool on rack.

To make the topping:  In a medium saucepan, add the well drained pineapple and remaining ingredients, except Liquor 43.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and gently cook stirring about 2 minutes until thicken.  Remove from heat and stir in Liquor 43 if using.  Allow to cool.

Spread topping over the pie.  Chill several hours or overnight.  Serves 8.