Butternut Squash Soup

img_1796While you may not think of Butternut Squash Soup in the category of Italian, part of being Italian is using everything that can be grown to strengthen and grow your own family. A garden is part of life and for my great-grandparents who were the first generation to come to the United States, the garden is what got them through the year and able to feed large families.

For the very first time last fall, I planted our family garlic. Garlic that has been passed down for generations. You know it first by it’s color-it has a purple shell on it- and then by it’s scent. It is a sweet garlic that doesn’t have the usual bite that most garlics can give.

Anyways, back to the soup at hand. If you do a random search for Butternut Squash Soup, garlic is not a typical ingredient you will find. Maybe it’s because we expect this soup to be buttery and sweet. Maybe it’s because the rest of the culinary world doesn’t think that garlic doesn’t need to be a main ingredient in everything. Or maybe it’s just a tradition.

But I’m about to break that tradition. I love garlic in this soup. I think it gives just the right balance and if you’re like me and don’t enjoy things too sweet, you’ll appreciate the addition. I hope you enjoy this soup during the fall months and that it brings you joy…after all…food is not just about consuming calories-it’s enjoying the flavors life has to offer.

Ingredients:
32 oz chicken broth
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
3 cups 90-100 calorie almond milk-lower calorie count is much more watery (keep some extra on hand)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium clove of garlic
3 small Yukon gold potatoes
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 large carrots, diced
Pinch of Thyme
Pinch of Nutmeg
2T. Butter/butter substitute
Pinch of Salt

Make the Soup:

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté until onions are translucent.img_1793
  2. Add carrots, celery and butter nut squash.Sauté for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add potatoes, chicken broth, almond milk and salt. Bring to a boil.
  4. Add Thyme and nutmeg. Stir, cover and lower heat, letting soup cook for 25 minutes.
  5. If you have an immersion blender, blend your soup! If you don’t have an immersion blender, scoop soup into a blender to blend all of the vegetables together.
  6. Your soup is ready to serve!

Dill Garlic Pickles

IMG_0130.JPGDid you ever have one of those memories as child that for some reason or another, always stayed with you? Sometimes you have no idea what is so special about it, but you can feel within your soul that it is. For me, one of those moments was standing in my grandmother’s kitchen after I had just eaten practically a whole jar of pickles when I was just a kid. She looked over at me and declared, “We should really just call you the Pickle Queen.” Something silly. Something meaningless. But yet, I can remember it as clear as day.
My grandfather loved pickled beets and my grandmother would make them for him often, so it’s no surprise that she loved my love of pickles as well. I wish that I had the opportunity to know my grandfather longer, but he unfortunately had an aneurism when he was in his early sixties and I was just a little girl. The night he died, my grandmother made him meatloaf. From that night forward meatloaf was banned in her house because it was deemed killer meatloaf…
Back to the pickle queen…My love of pickles has never faded and in my adult years, it’s grown into enjoying more than just cucumbers pickled. Beets. Garlic. Green beans…oh green beans! Since cucumbers were bountiful in the garden this summer (around 10-12 a day), I took the opportunity to try out several different types of pickling spices and methods.
Here is what I learned:
-Don’t smell boiling vinegar to test if you have enough spice. You will have no nose hair left when you’re done and you’ll smell only vinegar for days.
-Boil your spices with your vinegar brine. I tried it both ways. The batches where I boiled the spices with the brine more evenly distributed in the jar after canning. The batch that just had the spices in the jars with the cucumbers…well…all of that dill and garlic is just hanging out at the tops of the jars.
-I have no patience (or time!) for letting vegetables sit in salt for hours on end to ensure they stay crisp. Ball makes a wonderful product called “Pickle Crisp” that allows you to skip that step and still have crunchy pickles after you can in a water bath. Call it a short cut, but it helps the canning process going smoothly and quickly for pickles.
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Here’s my recipe for Dill Garlic Pickles:
-one and a half cups of white distilled vinegar in a saucepan*
-one and a half cups of water
-enough dill to cover the top of the of the vinegar in the saucepan with a thick coat so you can’t see through
-4 tablespoons of garlic. If you like a bit more bite to your dill pickle, keep on adding**
-three pint jars, processed and warm
-Cucumbers, your choice of cut. I’m not a master slicer, so I can fit more chips into a jar than spears.
-A pinch of cayenne (if you like an extra kick)
-1/8 tsp. Ball Pickling Crisp per pint jar
Prep your Jars:
If you haven’t sanitized your jars, this is an important step if you plan on keeping them for more than a week or two in the fridge.
Bring a large pot of water to a roaring boil. Submerge your jars and lids in the water, at least an inch under the water. Keep them there for 20 minutes to sanitize them.
Once done, add your cucumbers to the jar, leaving a half an inch space at the top of the jar. Then add 1/8 tsp. Ball Pickle Crisp into the jars. If you’re using larger jars, just follow the instructions on the jar for amount of Pickle Crips to use.
Prep your Brine:
Add your vinegar, water, dill and garlic to a saucepan and bring the mixture to a full boil. Boil for 10 minutes to give the flavors time to infuse into the vinegar.
Make Pickles:
Ladle your brine into your pint jars, leaving half an inch on the top. Using an oven mitt on your hand (I promise you’ll be sad and possible drop a hot jar if you don’t), pick up the jars and tap lightly a few times on the counter to get the air bubbles out.
Once you have all of the air out, seal the jars using a finger-tip tight strength. The canning will vacuum seal them for you.
Bring that big pot of water that you used to sanitize the jars back to a boil. Boil the jars of pickles for 20 minutes.
I let them sit a couple of weeks to really soak in the flavors. Once you’ve canned them, they don’t require refrigeration until you open the jar.

*A note on vinegar-you’ll find major differences ratios of vinegar vs. water in pickle recipes across the board. Here’s my non-scientific advice for finding your ratio. Doing 50% water, 50% vinegar will get you a nice smooth pickle-BUT these don’t keep for very long outside of canning them. You’ll need to eat them within a few weeks. The more vinegar you add to your mix, the more bite you are going to get. I don’t claim to be any expert on this.
**If you’re not that into garlic, you may want to cut back on the garlic you use, or don’t use any!

Long time, no cook?

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve posted anything here…far too long. I promised Christmas cookies and Fall soups…lots more Italian Deliciousness sans dairy and gluten coming your way.  And believe me, I was baking and cooking my heart out getting ready to bring you all an Italian Christmas. 

That cooking plan that I had, however, took a course that I didn’t see coming, and one that took me a while to get back to. The funny thing about being Italian is that cooking is healing. For me, it brings a sense of joy and life to even the simplest of moments. 

So although I’ve been quiet on here, I’ve been cooking… I’ve been cooking a lot. I also grew a massive garden with my sister and her family this summer…one that produced so much, I was constantly asking, ‘Are you sure there aren’t magic powers in this soil?’ 

I’ve been creating new sauces. Testing out 10 different pickle varieties (I mean, what else do you do when your garden produces 10-12 cucumbers a day…for a MONTH straight!), and testing out recipes that are even kid approved…

Oh ya…when you’re cooking for three little boys under the age of seven as part of your taste-testers, they are not afraid to tell you their thoughts. Like really tell you their thoughts-good or ewww-worthy. 

I guess it’s a good thing that I have a sense of humor and want my recipes to appeal to even the youngest of diners so that they appeal kids with allergies too. If not, I might never cook again when three firm, ‘Can you make boxed mac n cheese…’ requests quickly happen. 

So stay tuned…there’s much more to come this fall and I’m excited to bring new recipes and funny anecdotes along the way. 

Lisa

Gluten and Dairy Free Crab and Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo

IMG_1594Alfredo is always something that has held a special place in my heart. Though it is not a recipe that I learned from my family, it’s still something that I ate often during childhood.

Anytime we went out to eat, I would beg to go to an Italian restaurant just so I could get Fettuccine Alfredo. Some people like mac and cheese, but I prefer Fettuccine Alfredo. The combination of salty sweet that the cheeses make is delicious and I think it really is an Italian comfort food.

I have the same amount of love for seafood as I do for Fettuccine Alfredo, so crab and shrimp just make the experience all the more better. As usual, I didn’t make my friends a separate sauce, so when they said, “If you hadn’t told me it was gluten and dairy free, I never would have known,” I knew it was a home run.

If you’re not into seafood, just leave that part out and you’ll enjoy a delicious Fettuccine Alfredo.

Ingredients (this makes enough for about 1 & 1/2 pounds):

  • 1 cup of dairy free butter
  • 6 small to medium cloves of garlic, minced
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups of original almond milk
  • 2 Tb of cornstarch, mix with 1 T warm water right before use
  • 1 compressed cup of daiya mozzarella style shreds
  • 1 cup of Go Veggie! grated parmesan style topping (break the lumps)
  • 1 pound of shrimp, uncooked
  • 2, 6-oz cans of crab, drained
  • 1 & 1/2 pounds of gluten free fettuccine, cooked al dente
  • Additional pinch of parsley for garnish

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, but don’t let the garlic brown.IMG_1590

Add the parsley. Let cook another minute.

Add milk to the pan. Once mixture starts to bubble, add the cornstarch/water mixture and whisk continuously for two minutes.

Add both cups of cheese to pan, continuing to whisk so that it becomes an eveIMG_1591n, smooth mixture.* (It may get a little stringy for a bit, but it will smooth out!)

Once your mixture starts to bubble again, add the shrimp** and the crab. Stir the sauce every 30 seconds until the shrimp have become nice and pink. This can take anywhere from 8 to 14 minutes depending on how hot your sauce is, so watch for the pink in the shrimp.

Once the shrimp have turned pink all the way around, your Alfredo sauce is ready! Mix with the fettuccine and sprinkle with some fresh parsley for garnish. Mangia!


*If you don’t want to add the seafood, let the sauce bubble for five minutes while stirring and then your Alfredo is ready!

**If you are using cooked shrimp, first add the crab to the sauce and let bubble for five minutes while stirring. Then add shrimp until heated through and you’re done!

Sunday Sauce

DSC_1059Pasta, macaroni, spaghetti-whatever you call it-I don’t have a memory that doesn’t include it. Pasta was, and still is, a large part of my life. Growing up, we ate pasta on Sundays and Thursdays. It’s what we did. Twice a week. Every week. A habit that not even a gluten allergy can break.

I call it Sunday sauce, because regardless if we were eating at our house or my Nonni and Pap’s on a Sunday, Sunday’s pasta always had a delicious, simmered on the stove all day, red sauce on it. The kind of sauce that cooked on the stove for hours, filling the whole house with a delicious, intoxicating smell. The kind of sauce that I used to get chased out of the kitchen for for “tasting” once an hour while it was cooking. The kind of sauce that gets three kids running to the family dinner table on a Sunday night to recap the weekend before a busy week.

Sunday sauce has been in our family for years. My Nonni is Sicilian and232323232-fp93232-uqcshlukaxroqdfv;596=ot-232;=68-=3-8=XROQDF-27747--826247ot1lsi I would guess that if you tasted her Sunday sauce and compared it with another Sicilian’s sauce, they’d probably have a pretty similar taste. It’s classic and simple.

After watching my mom and Nonni make sauce for years, sometime in college I decided it was time for me to learn as well. One of the most important things that I learned is that infusion is the key step to any good sauce. You take your garlic, basil, parsley, onion and meat, and you let it infuse the olive oil with a delicious flavor before you even think about adding any tomato into that saucepan. Try not infusing it one time and you’ll taste the difference.

One thing I do a little differently than both my mom and Nonni, is that I use bone marrow for my meat base whenever it is available at the deli. Beef bone marrow, after simmering in the sauce for hours, creates a buttery, smooth flavor that is unlike any other. My mom uses ground beef and my Nonni uses pork ribs or pork butt. They all work great, but some of my best batches of sauce have come from a bone marrow base.

Below is my recipe for Sunday Sauce that comes from generations of practice, lots of children happily fed and amazing times spent around the family table. Remember that you can use any meat for a base and if the harvest is overflowing at the end of the summer, you can also use zucchini as your “base meat” and get just as delicious of a flavor.
If you go that route, just make sure to add a little fennel to your veggie mix-it’ll give it a bold flavor and help bring out the other spices.

Sunday Sauce Recipe:

  • 1 and a half small onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • a good swirl of olive oil (probably 2T)
  • 2 three-inch pieces of bone marrow or a 1/2 pound of pork ribs or ground beef
  • handful of chopped parsley
  • 8 basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 29 oz (big can) tomato sauce
  • 1 29 oz (big can) tomato puree
  • 1 28 oz (big can) diced tomatoes
  • 1 28 oz (big can) crushed tomatoes
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • pinch of oregano

In a large sauce pot, heat up your swirl of olive oil on medium/low heat. Add garlic, onion and meat and simmer for about five minutes until the onions are translucent. Don’t forget that this is when the infusion really takes place, so make sure those flavors have time to sink in!

Add the parsley and basil. Let cook another five minutes.

Add sauce, crushed tomatoes, puree, and diced tomatoes and stir really well. Add salt, pepper and oregano. Stir well again. Reduce to low heat.

Let sauce simmer for at least three hours on a low heat. This sauce doesn’t use any sugar because simmering it all day on the stove will remove the acidic taste from the sauce. Stir about every half hour to 45 minutes to keep the flavors infusing.

Then, you’re all done!

Clam Linguine-Because it’s Summer!

DSC_0681My cousin Henry is one of the most loving and intelligent people I know.  He’s a retired history teacher and in my world, a master gardener. Our family spent a week at the beach with his family growing up, and that’s the first time that I had clam linguine. It should really be a staple of summer food, along side crab and corn-on-the-cob.  It’s light, delicious and goes great with any white wine and really… any beach setting! It’s super easy to make…anything under 10 ingredients is a win in my book, and it’s a crowd pleaser. You’ll learn as you read this blog, that I’ll show you how to make easy updates for friends that may not have food allergies. I’ll always note the differences, which really usually come down to the type of pasta. For the clam linguine, we both cleared our plates and there were lots of “Yummmms” to go around. Also, always know that I cook what works for me. If you find a product that doesn’t make the cut, don’t use it! I’m allergic to casein, the protein in cow’s milk and I read every label. In the U.S., casein is routinely used as a binding agent in products that are marked “dairy free.” While I don’t have a “take me to the ER” reaction, I still manage to get hives from these products.  So, cook for you. Don’t worry about labels, etc. That’s the best part about food.  You can make it work for you and make it delicious! Ingredients:

  • One pound of Linguine Pasta-your choice! I LOVE Wegman’s Gluten free fettuccine (See? I’m already making the food work for ME!)
  • 4-6.5 oz cans of clams in juice (rinse the salt off of those bad boys and save the juice for the pasta sauce ingredients)
  • 1/4c or 1/2c Parsley depending on how much you like parsley (I LOVE parsley, so I’ll always use the high end in my recipes)
  • 1 stick of non-dairy butter (I used blue bonnet Lactose free, but there are a lot of DSC_0666these out there now)
  • 1 large white onion
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced, chopped (However you like to see them in your pasta)
  • 1 and 1/4 cup of white wine (table white works great, along with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc-again-this is one of those things, use a white that you like!)
  • 2 T Sour Cream (Tofutti makes a great sour cream alternative)
  • A pinch of black pepper
  1. Cook the Linguine to Al Dente as you’re cooking the sauce. Add a little salt to the water when you put the pot on the stove. Once you add the pasta, add a few drops of olive oil toDSC_0670 help keep the pasta from sticking when you drain.
  2. Add the butter to the pan at a medium-high heat to melt. Add the garlic and onion to the pan and cook until tender. During this few minutes, you’re infusing the flavors of the onion and garlic into the butter-one of the key steps to keep the flavor throughout the cooking!
  3. Once that’s cooked through (3-5 minutes), add the wine and let simmer. I turn the heat down to medium low. Keep it there for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients and turn back up to a medium heat for 20 minutes. You should see the boil bubbles come back during this 20 minutes.
  5. Pour the sauce over the linguine and garnish with some extra parsley.
  6. EAT!

My friends and I tried the pasta with and without Parmesan and we both agreed that the Linguine has enough flavor without parmesan, but feel free to keep on the side for guests who are not the biggest clam fans. Also, I made My friends whole wheat pasta for this and it was still highly enjoyed! Mangia! Lisa