Baked Ziti a la Comfort Food

Baked Ziti

Ingredients
1 pound dried ziti pasta
Sea salt
3 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce, recipe follows
1 pound fresh mozzarella, half cut into 1/2-inch cubes and half thinly sliced
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously, and boil the pasta until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain.

Baked Ziti

Toss the cooked pasta with the marinara sauce, cubed mozzarella, half the Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and pepper flakes. Transfer the pasta to an oiled baking dish – again, I used my Le Creuset. Cover the top of the pasta with the sliced mozzarella, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake until lightly browned and hot, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tomato Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/4 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 1/2 cups whole, peeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (one 28-ounce can), roughly chopped
Sprig fresh thyme
Sprig fresh basil
2 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add anchovy paste and dissolve. Add the sausage and cook until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well.  Add the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Baked Ziti

What Do You Get When You Cook With a Portuguese Girl Who Loves Italian Food? Chicken Cacciatore with Sweet White Yams!

chicken cacciatore

While Jason and a friend watched movies on Netflix and my sixteen-year-old busied herself in her usual way, texting and taking photos, I sought my own solitude by cooking Chicken Cacciatore in the kitchen.

This dish was absolutely one of our favorites in 2014.  My only regret is that I didn’t make it more.  But hey, better late than never.  I love the colors of fresh green herbs and red bell pepper glistening in the Greek extra virgin olive oil, and their aroma, along with the garlic and Greek Oregano filled the air.  (Jason’s brother-in-law from Greece brought us the oregano and oil.  It is to die for)!

I prepared the Cacciatore in my Le Creuset French Oven – slow cooking it of course; set it on top of the stove and when it was done, family and friends were invited to serve themselves. The chicken was so tender and juicy; no knife was needed.

Ingredients:

6 boneless chicken  breasts, halved crosswise
2 large white yams, halved crosswise then quartered
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 celary stock (optional)
8 baby carrots, halved (optional)
3/4 cup dry white wine (or 50/50 water to apple cider vinegar)
1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon drained capers
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves (I had to substitue flat-leaf parsley this time)
1 sprig of thyme

Directions:

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly. I do this by using a large vegatable plastic bag from the grocery store. Just add the chicken, salt, pepper and flour and shake!

In a large heavy sauté pan, (again I used the 9 1/2 Ct Le Creuset Oval French Oven) heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and sauté just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, sauté it in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the bell pepper, onion, garlic and white yams to the same pan and sauté over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth, capers and oregano. Return the chicken pieces to the pan, include any juice resting in the plate, and turn them to coat in the sauce. Add the sprig of thyme.  Bring the sauce to a simmer.

Stop.   Wait!  Here is where I change it up.  Because I started cooking in the morning, rather than simmer for 30 minutes as the directions say to do, I turned the oven to 250 degrees and let the stew cook for approximately two hours.

Now, if you need this dish to be ready in 30-40 minutes, just pretend I didn’t say the above and follow accordingly:

Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 30 minutes for the breast pieces, and 20 minutes for the thighs.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter. If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the basil and serve.

Kale, Chicken and Lentil Soup: Highly nutritious and warming in cold, winter weather

Kale, Chicken and Lentil Soup

Kale, Chicken and Lentil Soup

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olivie Oil
1/2 Cup Chopped Celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (I made mine from scratch)
1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed (or other leafy herb, such as Italian flat-leaf parsley)
4 cups coarsely chopped fresh kale (about 8 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (about 8 ounces)
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup dry red lentils (I used one 15 oz can of Westbrae Natural Organic Lentils)
Directions:
Coat a large saucepan (I prefer my Le Creuset round French oven) with extra virgin olive oil (non-stick spray works too). Preheat over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic to saucepan. Cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are nearly tender, stirring occasionally.
Add *chicken broth and dried basil (if using) to vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in kale, salt, and pepper. Return to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Stir in chicken, tomato, red lentils, and fresh basil (if using). Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more or until kale and lentils are tender.
Makes 6 servings.
*I made my chicken broth by boiling the 8 ounces of uncooked chicken breast in 6 1/2 cups of salted water.  Then used the chicken in the soup.

Grilled Eggplant Preserve

SUMMER SEASON’S BEST!

Eggplant is beautiful and at it’s peak in the summer time.  I love to grill them with  extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice,  sea salt and black pepper.  But, since I’m the only one,  other than my 16-year-old,  crazy about this summer starlet,  I usually have left overs.

Grilled Eggplant

Grilled Eggplant

This weekend I did a little research on the best way to preserve them in the fridge.  Mostly I found pickling recipes. This was not what I had in mind.    So I did a little improvisation and this is what I came up with.

I took an old jar,  perfect for such a dish, and gathered a few ingredients.   More extra virgin olive oil,  (from Jason’s brother-in-law’s family farm in Greece) three cloves of garlic and five or six fresh basil leaves from my Window Herb Garden.  Here are the images.  I think we’ll item it up this week when Gigi is home.  We’ll most likely enjoy them with her nana’s roasted peppers and mozzarella on a nice Italian bread for a summer picnic.

I’d live to know how you prepare yours so please share your ideas with  me!

A little this and a little that

Layer Fresh Basil, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Garlic and Crushed Red Peper

Layer basil, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, lemon juice and salt and black pepper

Layering the Eggplant

Top it off with two or three more leaves of basil. Fill the jar, getting into all the nooks and crannies, with olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

IMG_7408

This also makes a great gift.

Delish Dish by Dena

I decided, last minute, to add two thin slices of lemon to give a little more acidity to the preserve.

Eggplant with Lemon

Basil Pesto: So Simple & Savory For Summer Dishes

Basil Pesto by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Basil Pesto by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Ingredients

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (I triple wash them first then dry)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (I often use walnuts or a combination of nuts)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add a little more than 1/3 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Great over pasta dishes, tomatoes, fish, beef, sandwiches, salads and crostinis.

Basil Pesto Preserve by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Basil Pesto Preserve by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography