Cooking

Miniloaves are a great gift idea for the holidays. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

There seem to be very few ways to escape the early onslaught of the commercialism of Christmas. With stores and websites foisting the holiday upon us almost as soon as we’ve put away our sandals and sunscreen, it loses its magic long before it even arrives.

I find that the best way to avoid that is to revert to what Christmas used to mean by making my own gifts. Nothing fancy or lavish, but something that shows originality, care and affection. I’ve made everything from potpourris to potholders, jams and tree ornaments, cookies and candles and candy, but I find that the easiest and most appreciated gifts from my kitchen have often been miniloaves of quick bread in inexpensive ceramic or foil loaf pans. Wrapped in colored cellophane and tied with a length of pretty ribbon, they’re always welcome.

Here are three of the many versions.

Banana Raisin Bread

Banana Raisin Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup golden raisins

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 2)

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Soak the raisins in hot water. Preheat oven to 350 F and generously grease three 6- by 3- by 2-inch loaf pans. Sift flour with baking soda and salt. Cream butter and sugar; add eggs and bananas and blend thoroughly. Combine the milk and lemon juice (don’t worry if it curdles a little). Slowly and alternately fold in the flour mixture and the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and blending well, but not overmixing. Drain raisins and fold into batter. Divide batter evenly among three prepared loaf pans; bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

Bourbon Bread

Bourbon Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

1 egg, well beaten

¼ cup vegetable oil

½ cup bourbon

1/3 cup brown sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F and generously grease and flour three 6- by 3- by 2-inch miniloaf pans. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, walnuts and sugar. In a medium bowl combine sour cream, egg, oil and bourbon; add to dry mixture and stir just until blended. Divide batter evenly among the miniloaf pans, sprinkle with brown sugar before baking. Bake 35 to 45 minutes, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with brandy, liqueur or chai tea.

Date Pecan Bread

Date Pecan Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup boiling water

8 ounces chopped pitted dates

Half a stick softened, unsalted butter

1¾ cup flour

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 beaten egg

¾ cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F; generously grease three 6- by 3- by 2-inch miniloaf pans. In medium bowl, pour boiling water over dates; add butter, stir and let sit 5 minutes. In another medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; stir in date mixture, egg and pecans; mix well but do not overmix. Divide batter evenly among three loaf pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with eggnog, hot spiced wine or dessert wine.

Duck Breasts with Orange Sauce

By Barbara Beltrami

Like any holiday, Hanukkah deserves a special dinner, something beyond the ordinary but not too far away from the traditional. Along with the potato latkes and doughnuts, the spinning of the dreidel and the Hanukkah gelt for the kids, there is that moment when families and friends gather to celebrate and share their holiday joy around the table. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a nice roasted chicken or a pot roast or hearty winter stew that everybody loves. But how about changing it up a little and doing a duck breast or sweet and sour brisket or Hungarian goulash? 

Duck Breasts with Orange Sauce

Duck Breasts with Orange Sauce

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 approximately half-pound duck breasts

2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest

¾ cup orange juice

¼ cup honey

¼ cup soy sauce

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Fresh orange slices for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Score fatty side of each duck breast in a cross-hatch pattern of approximately 1-inch squares. In a large resealable plastic bag combine zest, juice, honey, soy sauce and pepper. Add duck, turn to coat evenly, and reseal bag. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably 8 or overnight. Remove breasts from bag; set marinade aside. Place duck in a large heavy skillet; do not preheat. Frequently moving pieces around, cook over low heat, skin side down, and turning once, until fat is rendered and skin is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cover and continue cooking until thermometer inserted in thickest part reads 120 F for medium rare (about 3 to 5 minutes), longer for more well done. 

Transfer to a cutting board, tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pour fat from skillet and discard or save for later use; replace with marinade; simmer until liquid is thick and syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes. Place duck on platter, spoon sauce over it and garnish with orange slices. Serve with wild rice, Brussels sprouts and a good red wine.

Sweet and Sour Brisket

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2½ pounds beef brisket

1 onion sliced thin

Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon

1 bay leaf

2 to 3 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup very hot water

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 to 6 gingersnaps (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Place meat in heavy pot or Dutch oven; add remaining ingredients, except gingersnaps. Cover and simmer 2½ to 3 hours, until tender. Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice as needed to balance the sweet and sour. If using, break up gingersnaps and stir into liquid from roast to thicken it a little. Slice and serve with sweet potatoes, green beans and carrots.

Hungarian Goulash

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds chuck, cut into 1½-inch cubes

2 tablespoons melted vegetable shortening or oil

6 cups beef stock

2 garlic cloves

1 bay leaf

Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon paprika

DIRECTIONS:

Stirring constantly, brown meat in hot fat. Add stock, garlic, bay leaf, salt and paprika. Simmer slowly, 2½ hours; remove bay leaf and discard. Serve with broad noodles or mashed potatoes, cabbage or cauliflower and pickled beets.

Dolores’ Cranberry Cheddar Spread. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

So it’s Thanksgiving. Bearing foil-covered trays and pans, tracking in wet leaves, and offering sumptuous hugs and air kisses, here they are … your family and your friends and probably a couple of strays from work.

The turkey is nowhere near done, a fact which my mother-in-law, Rose, reminds me is because I didn’t do it her way. Uncle Hal is already smashed and proselytizing about the election. My 2-year-old great-nephew, Harley (named after his dad’s bike), is poking holes in the pumpkin pie. My great-niece, Opra (without the “h”), is wired to her iPhone. Aunt Dolores is already out on the deck having the first of many smokes, and  my sister Lynn unveils a bowl of her “famous Brussels sprouts” while I internally grimace and mutter, “You shouldn’t have.”

To get him out of the kitchen because his after shave lotion is so staggeringly overpowering that I’m starting to feel woozy, I ask my brother-in-law, David, to go to the family room and turn on the parade or game and take platters of nibbles with him. Predictably, others follow in his wake and start gobbling (pun intended) everything in sight as if there were no dinner coming soon.

I ask my brothers to swirl their wine glasses outside while they light the grill to cook the oysters. No one except Uncle Hal has had enough to drink yet to bring up politics, but that should get rolling any minute and reach a crescendo over what’s left of the pumpkin pie.

With apologies and wishes to all perfect and imperfect families, Happy Thanksgiving!

Dolores’ Cranberry Cheddar Spread

Dolores’ Cranberry Cheddar Spread

YIELD: Makes 24 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 ounces softened cream cheese

2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons half and half

¼ teaspoon mustard

¼ teaspoon cayenne

3 tablespoons chopped dried cranberries

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl, vigorously combine all ingredients except cranberries. Stir in cranberries. Place in a serving bowl and refrigerate or serve immediately with crackers and crudités.

My Grilled Oysters

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1½ sticks softened unsalted butter

4 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

2 tablespoons hot sauce

Scant half teaspoon coarse sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 dozen large fresh oysters, scrubbed but not opened

DIRECTIONS:

Place the butter, chives, hot sauce, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until completely combined. Transfer to small bowl. Meanwhile, light the grill. When it is hot, place the oysters, flat side up, on a sheet of aluminum foil on the grill rack. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until they open. Using tongs and being careful not to spill any of  the liquid inside the shells, remove the oysters from the grill, remove the top shell and divide the prepared chive butter evenly among them. Return to grill, cover and cook until butter is mostly melted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully remove from grill and transfer to a platter. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and toasted baguette slices.

Not My Sister’s Brussels Sprouts

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise

10 garlic cloves, peeled

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large pan, heat oil over medium high heat, then add sprouts, cut side down. Evenly distribute garlic, salt and pepper, and roast, shaking pan frequently, until sprouts are browned on bottom and tender inside, about 35 minutes, depending on their size. Remove from oven, transfer to a large serving bowl and toss with balsamic vinegar. Serve as hors d’oeuvres immediately or at room temperature accompanied by a dry rose or white wine or as a side dish to dinner.

By Barbara Beltrami

It’s time to start thinking of dried fruit as something beyond an ingredient in trail mix or cereal. Sure, raisins are good, and we don’t think of them as anything but raisins when actually they’re dried grapes. A while ago prunes stopped being marketed as prunes and became dried plums. Dried cranberries are craisins. Ah, what’s in a name? In the recipes below you’ll find dried fruit in a couple of Middle Eastern recipes as well as in an easy dessert. Whatever their name, they all add a healthful and tasty dimension to otherwise ordinary dishes and are great on their own.

Chicken Tagine with Figs, Apricots and Green Olives

Chicken Tagine with Figs, Apricots and Green Olives

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons olive oil

One 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 onions, finely chopped

1 cup finely diced carrots

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne

¼ teaspoon crushed saffron threads

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup pitted large green olives, coarsely chopped

½ cup dried Turkish apricots, coarsely chopped

½ cup dried figs, coarsely chopped

2 preserved lemons, cut into wedges

½ cup minced cilantro

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:

In a 6-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper; place in pot and brown, turning once, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside. In same pot, melt butter; add garlic, onions and carrots, and stirring frequently, cook until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add bay leaf, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and saffron and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes, until they release their aroma.

Return chicken to pot; add stock, olives, apricots, figs and lemons and cook, partially covered, over medium low heat until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf. Stir in cilantro and lemon juice and serve hot with rice or couscous.

Pilaf with Dried Fruit, Nuts and Chick Peas

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2½ tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, diced

1½ cups basmati rice

1 cup canned chick peas, rinsed and drained

¾ cup chopped dried fruit

2½–3 cups vegetable broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2/3 cup chopped pistachios or almonds

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; add onion and saute until opaque,  about 2 minutes. Add rice, chick peas, fruit, broth, mint and parsley. Stir and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low, cover and cook until rice is tender and has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from heat, stir in nuts and cover again. Let sit 15 minutes; add salt and pepper. Serve hot or warm with chicken or lamb.

Dried Fruit Compote

Dried Fruit Compote

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups water or 2 cups water and 1 cup white or red wine

2/3 to ¾ cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 whole clove

1 lemon wedge

¾ cup dried cherries

¾ cup dried pears

¾ cup dried apples

¾ cup dried plums

DIRECTIONS:

In a large saucepan combine all ingredients except dried fruit and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves. Add dried fruit, cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes; remove cover and continue to simmer another 10 to 15 minutes until liquid is thickened and slightly syrupy. Remove and discard cinnamon, clove and lemon. Serve hot, warm at room temperature or slightly chilled with cheese, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and ginger cookies.

Pear-Custard Pie

By Barbara Beltrami

When in doubt about what to say about something, I always go to good old Ralph Waldo Emerson, my favorite quotable person (except for my grandmother). And, sure enough, he has come through for me again. He writes, “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” And that’s the truth. 

Not ripe and it is flavorless and resistant to the bite. Overripe and it’s a sloppy, juicy mess. And how quickly it morphs from one to the other. That’s if you’re going to eat a pear au naturel. But suppose you miss that 10-minute window, then what? Here are some recipes to save the day and the pear.

Pear and Arugula Salad with Prosciutto and Goat Cheese

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 generous handfuls fresh arugula

4 firm ripe pears, pared, cored, halved and cut into ¼-inch slices

8 slices prosciutto

Four 1-inch-thick slices herbed goat cheese

4 to 6 ounces raspberry vinaigrette

DIRECTIONS:

Place one handful arugula on each of four salad plates. Arrange pear slices in a petal formation over arugula; lay prosciutto slices attractively over pears; top with goat cheese. Drizzle with raspberry vinaigrette and serve at room temperature with toasted baguette slices and dry white wine.

Pear-Custard Pie

Pear-Custard Pie

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 prebaked 8- or 9-inch pie crust

3 not quite or just ripe pears, pared, cored, halved and sliced thin

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup flour

¾ cup milk

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line pie crust with pear slices in a slightly overlapping pattern. In a blender or food processor combine the sugar, flour, milk, eggs, vanilla and salt. Pour mixture over pears. Bake 40 to 50 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean, top is golden and custard is firm to touch. Let sit 30 minutes before sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with coffee, tea, a dessert wine or milk.

Pears Poached in Red Wine

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

½ 750-ml bottle of dry red wine

2 to 2½ cups water

11/3 cups sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

4 to 6 cloves

3 orange slices with rind

4 slightly underripe pears, pared, cored and stem left on

DIRECTIONS:

Combine wine with all ingredients except pears in 3-quart or similar size saucepan. Place pears in liquid. Cover and simmer over low flame, turning frequently and basting so fruit becomes evenly stained by wine, until it is tender but firm, about 45 minutes depending on size of fruit. Remove pears and set aside; continue cooking poaching liquid over medium heat until it is thickened and syrupy, about 10-15 minutes. Return pears to hot liquid and turn to coat evenly. Remove pan from heat. Serve warm drizzled with thickened liquid and accompanied by Gorgonzola cheese and biscotti.

Sausage, Peppers, Onion and Tomato Hero

By Barbara Beltrami

Ever since one of my favorite readers suggested I do recipes on sausages, I’ve been combing my files for my favorite and most successful ones. Surely pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage is a staple in my repertoire of easy hearty meals, and kielbasa with potatoes, sauerkraut and apples is another. And for an ever popular sandwich, especially when I’ve got the grill going, there’s the sausage, pepper, onion and tomato hero. None of these recipes is particularly exotic, delicate or light, but each one is a delicious interruption to a string of ho-hum meals.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound orecchiette pasta

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

2 bunches broccoli rabe, washed and stems removed

¼ cup olive oil

½ teaspoon or more, or more, if desired, crushed red pepper flakes

6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin

Coarse salt to taste

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Cook pasta according to package directions; reserve cooking water in pot. Set pasta aside to keep warm. In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, cook sausages until brown on all sides; remove from skillet and when cool enough to handle cut into half-inch slices. Set aside to keep warm. Drain all but one tablespoon sausage fat.  In reserved pasta water cook broccoli rabe until bright green and tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to skillet, add olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, salt and sliced sausage; stir and cook over medium heat 5 minutes until garlic is cooked through but not brown. Place pasta in a large bowl, add sausage and broccoli rabe mixture, toss, then sprinkle with grated cheese. Serve with a tomato and mozzarella salad and warm, crusty bread and extra virgin olive oil for dipping.

Kielbasa with Sauerkraut, Potatoes and Apples

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound sauerkraut, drained

3 medium potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks and boiled in salted water 5 minutes

2 medium apples, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

½ cup flat beer

¼ teaspoon caraway seeds

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound kielbasa, cut into 1-inch slices

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a two-quart casserole. In a large bowl, toss together the sauerkraut, potatoes, apples, beer, caraway seeds and black pepper. Top with kielbasa slices; cover and bake for 10 minutes; uncover and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until kielbasa is brown and other ingredients are heated through and tender. Serve hot with pumpernickel bread and butter, pickled beets and beer.

Sausage, Peppers, Onion and Tomato Hero

Sausage, Peppers, Onion and Tomato Hero

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 sweet or hot Italian sausages, cut into 4 pieces each 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled, mashed and minced

5 red or yellow bell peppers, washed, cleaned and seeded, and cut into 1-inch-wide strips

3 green bell peppers, washed, cleaned and seeded, and cut into 1-inch-wide strips

1 pound fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped

2 large onions, peeled and sliced

1 handful parsley, washed and chopped

Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage pieces on all sides; leave in pan. In same skillet heat the oil and garlic; remove garlic as soon as it starts to brown. Add peppers, cover pan and cook over low heat until they are slightly limp, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, onions, parsley and salt. Toss all ingredients together. Return cover to pan, but leave it slightly askew. Cook 30 minutes, until all veggies are soft. Serve hot on crusty Italian bread accompanied by marinated artichokes, olives, eggplant caponata and provolone cheese.

Pumpkin-Butterscotch Muffins

By Barbara Beltrami

When the kids were little, we used to carve pumpkins and then use the insides to make all kinds of pumpkin goodies: pumpkin bread, which we froze for Thanksgiving; pumpkin soup and pie and pudding; and cookies and cakes. Each year we would try a new recipe for the jack-o’-lantern’s innards; sometimes it was great like the pumpkin-butterscotch muffins and sometimes it was awful like the pumpkin tapioca. But we always had fun looking up recipes and concocting something new. Here are two of our success stories.

Pumpkin-Butterscotch Muffins

Pumpkin-Butterscotch Muffins

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 muffins

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

¾ cup pureed cooked fresh pumpkin, drained

¼ cup water

1¼ cups flour

¼ cup whole wheat flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2/3 cup butterscotch morsels

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a muffin pan or insert paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine sugars, oil and eggs. Stir in pumpkin and water. In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Add the pumpkin mixture and butterscotch morsels; stir until just combined. Do not overmix. Fill muffin cups two-thirds full and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until crusty on top and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with cream cheese, butter or apple butter and hot coffee, tea or chocolate.

Pumpkin Crumble

Pumpkin Crumble

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 stick unsalted butter

4 cups pureed cooked fresh pumpkin, drained 

2 cups light cream or half and half

1½ cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup rolled oats (not quick cook or instant)

1 cup brown sugar, packed

¾ cup flour

½ cup finely chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. With one tablespoon of the butter, grease the bottom and sides of a 13×9×5-inch baking dish. In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, cream, sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice and half the salt until well blended. In a large bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, pecans and remaining half teaspoon salt. Melt remaining butter, add to oat mixture and toss well. Spread pumpkin mixture evenly over bottom of prepared dish; sprinkle oat mixture on top. Bake 45 to 50 minutes until pumpkin mixture is set but a little wobbly in the middle if dish is moved back and forth and oat mixture is golden and crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and hot apple cider.

Pasta with Walnut Sauce

By Barbara Beltrami

Come October it was always there. The peaches and plums and cherries in the big yellow bowl on the kitchen table gave way to apples and pears and walnuts accompanied by an ancient slightly rusty nutcracker and mother of pearl-handled fruit knives thrust among them. When we came home from school, we would grab a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts on our way upstairs to do our homework. Inevitably we would be chastened later for having left a trail of nutshell shards behind us and not putting the nutcracker back in the bowl. If you like walnuts as much as I did and still do, here are some recipes you’ll love.

Pasta with Creamy Walnut Sauce

Pasta with Walnut Sauce

YIELD: Makes 1½ to 2 cups sauce

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound pasta

1¼ cups chopped shelled walnuts

1 garlic clove

¹/3 cup light cream

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a food processor combine walnuts and garlic; pulse a few times until coarsely chopped. Add cream, oil, thyme, salt and pepper and process to a coarse paste with pieces still remaining. Add 4 tablespoons pasta water and Parmesan cheese and pulse a few more times (sauce should be chunky, not smooth). If desired, place sauce in a small skillet over medium heat to warm. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and pour sauce over it. Serve with a light salad or green vegetable on the side.

Candied Walnuts

Candied Walnuts

YIELD: Makes 3 cups

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup sugar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Dash of freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg white at room temperature

1/2 pound shelled walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 300 F. In a small bowl, combine the sugars, salt, cinnamon and pepper. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white till frothy; add one tablespoon room temperature water and whisk in. Add walnuts and stir to coat; add sugar mixture and stir again. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and spread nuts on it. Bake 15 minutes, stir the nuts, then bake another 15 minutes until nuts are toasted and sugar coating is caramelized. Serve alone as a snack or with salad or cheese.

Walnut–Arugula Pesto

Walnut Arugula Pesto

 

YIELD: Makes 1 cup

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1 garlic clove

2 cups tightly packed arugula

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Place all ingredients in an electric food processor and, stopping to scrape sides of bowl frequently, process until smooth and light green. Serve with pasta, crostini, crackers, chips, chicken or fish, as a sandwich spread or dip.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Shallots and Mushrooms

By Barbara Beltrami

A recent trip to a farm stand out east provided more than I had bargained for. I had stopped to pick up winter squash as an accompaniment to a flavorful main dish. But when I beheld the cornucopia of varieties gorgeous and green and gold, earthy and tawny, tumbling from crates and mounded in baskets, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I wanted to buy them all. However, I showed remarkable restraint and took home just a couple of spaghetti and acorn squashes. Then I couldn’t decide between the following two recipes so I made them both! 

Stuffed Winter Squash

YIELD: Makes 4 to 8 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 large, 2 medium or 4 small winter squash, any variety

3/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs

¹/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Chopped leaves from one handful Italian flat-leaf parsley

2/3 cup pignoli nuts

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano, thyme or sage

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. Wash, halve and seed the squash. With a sharp spoon scrape out flesh until only half an inch is left inside the shell. Place flesh in a food processor and puree until as smooth as possible. Transfer to a medium bowl; add breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, nuts, pepper and herbs; and mix thoroughly. Scoop mixture into hollowed-out shells; dot with butter. Fill a shallow baking pan with one to two inches of water; then place the filled shells in the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes more, until tops begin to turn golden brown. Serve immediately with Italian sausages, pork or poultry and couscous or wild rice.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Shallots and Mushrooms

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Shallots and Mushrooms

YIELD: Makes 4 to 8 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

2 small spaghetti squashes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 small shallots, minced

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, basil or thyme leaves, minced

5 to 6 large fresh Roma tomatoes, finely chopped

4 to 6 ounces fresh white mushrooms, diced

DIRECTIONS:

Wash and quarter the squash. With a spoon, scoop out seeds. Place wedges skin side down in a large skillet and fill it with two inches of water or just enough to touch bottoms of wedges. Cover and cook over low-medium heat 20 minutes or until very tender. Check occasionally to be sure water hasn’t boiled away. Remove squash from heat and when it is cool enough to handle, scrape flesh into a medium bowl. Add two tablespoons butter, salt and pepper; mash and mix thoroughly. Set aside to keep warm.  

In a medium skillet melt two tablespoons butter; add shallots and herbs. Sauté until barely tender; add tomatoes; sauté five minutes more until they are barely cooked. Add mushrooms and sauté another 5 minutes. Place squash mixture in a large serving bowl and top with shallot-tomato mixture and serve immediately as a main or side dish with poultry, beef, lamb or pork.

Chicken Salad with Chopped Gherkins and Walnuts on a Croissant

By Barbara Beltrami

When John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, purportedly commanded that a servant bring him some slabs of roast meat between two slices of bread during a gambling session, he unwittingly changed the lunch habits of the English people. 

While the story’s veracity lies on shaky foundations, its subject, the sandwich, lies on foundations that are unquestionably the staff of life. Although this versatile commodity undoubtedly takes its name from England, it had been the custom in France long before that to give field workers or travelers a meal of stewed or roasted meat between slices of bread. 

In fact, fish, sliced fowl and egg sandwiches were a recognized preparation in French cuisine long before the British invented, or at least, discovered them. Whether a wrap, petit pain, panino or pita pocket, the sandwich is certainly the greatest invention since sliced bread. On a baguette, bagel bialy, bun or brioche, on rye, pumpernickel, whole wheat, white or multigrain, the sandwich filled with just about anything is the staple and star of any self-respecting lunch box or lunch menu. 

And in case I’ve left any out, here are a few of my favorites that make ham and cheese ho-hum and peanut butter and jelly pedestrian. Each recipe is for one sandwich but can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.

Curried Egg Salad with Sliced Heirloom Tomato and Green Bell Pepper on Multigrain English Muffin

Combine 1½ tablespoons mayonnaise with ½ teaspoon of curry powder. Mix with one chopped hard-boiled egg. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spread on a toasted multigrain English muffin; top with sliced tomato and thinly sliced pepper rings. Season again with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Chicken Salad with Chopped Gherkins and Walnuts on a Croissant

Poach or broil half a chicken breast.  When cool, cut into ½-inch cubes, then mix with 2 tablespoons diced celery, 1 tablespoon chopped gherkin, 1 tablespoon finely chopped walnuts, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Pile mixture onto croissant halves.

Italian Tuna with Cannellini Beans, Red Onion, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Wine Vinegar on Sliced Tuscan Bread

Cut bread into two slices; toast lightly. Drain a 3-ounce can of Italian oil-packed tuna, flake it with a fork and then set it aside. Rinse and drain ⅓ to ½ cup cannellini beans. In a small bowl, mash slightly. Stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons wine vinegar, then season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle each bread slice with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, top with bean mixture, tuna and 1 tablespoon chopped red onion.

Smoked Nova Scotia Salmon with Sliced Radish and Scallion Cream Cheese on an Everything Bagel

Mix ¼ to ⅓ cup whipped cream cheese with two sliced radishes and one sliced scallion. Spread evenly on two bagel halves. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Place a slice or two of smoked salmon on each half.

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