Tag Archives: olives

Mexican Shrimp

This recipe I originally got from my former Weight Watchers leader many years ago. She was always giving us such wonderful easy recipes. Once I get back to Weight Watchers (when I save up some up some money from the new job) I will be sure to get more! I think the original recipe she gave us was good for one person so I am doubling the ingredients to make it enough for two people. I have made it before and it is delicious. Of course I do not have a photo but once I make it again I will add it to the post. So without any further rambling I will get to the recipe. I find I tend to ramble more these days now that I’m back to working and much more tired than before. Not sure if it’s a good thing or not. See, I’m doing it again.


INGREDIENTS:

½ cup brown rice, cooked

2 cups tomato sauce

2 cups diced tomato

4 tablespoons salsa (your choice)

1 chili powder (add more or less depending on how spicy you like it)

4 tablespoons chopped green olives

1 cup corn (canned is fine)

8 ounces shrimp, cleaned

DIRECTIONS:

1. Heat the tomato sauce, chopped tomato, salsa, chili powder, olives, and corn in a large saucepan.

2. Add the shrimp and cook until pink.

3. Add the rice and heat through.

Serve hot!

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Caponata (Eggplant Salad)

Eggplant is a very versatile vegetable. There’s more to eggplant than eggplant parmigiana. Caponata is served cold on pita bread triangles or crusty bruschetta. It can be used in antipasto as well, again many uses! One of the best things about this little dish is that it can also be frozen! So if you make too much it won’t go to waste. Caponata is primarily a Sicilian pheasant dish but there are many other regional varieties. This is also a great vegetarian dish and healthy one as well! Bonus!

INGREDIENTS:

1 large eggplant

½-¾ cup olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped red onion

8 ounces tomato sauce

½ cup kalamata or black olives, chopped

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS:

1. Cut unpeeled eggplant into small cubes after washing well. In a large skillet, heat ½ cup olive oil over medium high heat and add eggplant.

2. Saute until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the onion, celery, and red pepper. Cook and stir until the vegetables are crisp and tender.

3. Add more oil, if necessary. Stir in tomato sauce, olives, vinegar and salt. Simmer uncovered, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove from heat. Cool and refrigerate.

Makes about 4 cups

The Italian Kitchen (Part 3)

Today’s post is all about what should be in an Italian Pantry.  By stocking your kitchen with a few basic ingredients you’ll be ready to prepare most Italian and Tuscan recipes. Our supermarkets are much better at carrying the ingredients than they used to be. But if there’s still something you can’t find, there’s always the “pork store.” You know the place, it always smells so good when you walk by. Basically any Italian specialty store will have anything you need. Remember, using high-quality ingredients at the best price you can get them at is crucial. The better the olive oil, tomatoes and cheese, the better the simple dishes will taste!

This list is just a basic list of what is found in most good Italian kitchens.

Olive Oil: An essential in Italian cooking. Stick with extra-virgin olive oil for most recipes.

Dried Pasta: Use pasta imported from Italy such as Barilla and DeCecco. For the most part any imported pasta products made from semolina flour are good choices. For egg pasta, stay away from the so-called “fresh” pasta sold in refrigerated cases. They aren’t so “fresh” as they would have you believe. Either use homemade or buy the dried noodles packaged in nests.

Tomatoes: When fresh, ripe tomatoes are not available, use good canned tomatoes (unless recipe specifically calls for fresh). Choose whole, peeled tomatoes rather than chopped or crushed. Imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes are the best if you can find them.

Onions and Garlic: Generally, white or yellow onions for cooking and red onions for salads and dishes that do not need cooking because they are milder. Garlic should not be an overwhelming presence.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese: Expensive but worth it. Excellent grating cheese as well as a table cheese. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil over it and have it with some crusty Italian bread.

Cheeses: Cheeses are very important for Italian dishes. The basics like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, mozzarella, ricotta, and provolone are a good choice to have around.

Legumes (beans): Dried cannelini beans, lentils and ceci (Garbanzo/chick peas) are always good to have on hand. Canned beans work just as well especially if you’re in a rush.

Cornmeal: Use a medium textured cornmeal for polenta. Keep it in a tightly closed container and it will last for months. It’s also good for dusting the pan when making pizza.

Rice: Arborio is the most common in making risotto but others are used as well.

Balsamic Vinegar: There are many different balsamic vinegars. Depending on its age, it can be very expensive. You can use the inexpensive  one for salads as long as the quality is good.

Anchovies: (I love these salty little buggers!)It’s good to keep a jar of these in the fridge to add a special zip to certain dishes. You can also find anchovy paste in a tube, which is milder in taste and very convenient to have. (I use the tube)

Dried Porcini Mushrooms: Look for packages that have slices of whole mushrooms. They can be a little expensive but a little goes a long way. Keep it in an airtight container and they’ll keep for a long time. If you rehydrate them, keep the water, strain it and use it to add some flavor and depth to soups, sauces and stews.

Capers: (My husband’s favorite) You can find two kinds of capers. The smaller ones that are pickled in vinegar, and the larger ones that come packed in salt. The larger ones are very flavorful and need rinsing of the salt before using. They are also harder to find. A few chopped capers can add a nice flavor addition to dishes that seem to need just a little something.

Olives: Both black and green varieties are good. If they are packed in brine and imported from Italy, even better. We like the stuffed ones. Stuffed with bleu cheese, anchovies, garlic, peppers…

Herbs and Seasonings: For the most part fresh herbs are preferred in everyday cooking, but this is hard to do and they are generally more expensive and can go bad quickly if not used. So always keep on hand dried herbs and seasonings. Keep dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage. I also always keep garlic powder on hand. Whole black pepper to be ground at the moment of use, sea salt and red pepper flakes are also important to have in your pantry.

Flour: All-purpose flour is good to use for making pasta and pizza dough. Bread flour for cakes and semolina flour for pasta is also very useful.


The Italian Kitchen (Part 2)

Today’s  post on The Italian Kitchen is going to be a glossary of some basic Italian kitchen ingredients. Most of them will be familiar to everyone but this will give a little information about each of them.

Arborio Rice: Risotto is usually made with this Italian rice, though other rice can be used. Risotto is Arborio rice that is browned first in margarine, butter, or oil, then cooked in broth. The finished rice has a creamy consistency and a tender, but slightly firm, texture.

Artichokes: You should look for firm, compact globes that are heavy for their size. They should yield slightly to pressure and have large, tightly closed leaves. Sometimes you’ll see leaf edges that are darkened. This is because the plant got too cold but it does not affect the quality. To store, keep fresh artichokes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. To prepare an artichoke, cut off the bottom stem so it sits flat. Cut off about 1 inch from the top. Remove loose outer leaves. With a pair of kitchen shears, snip ½ inch from tips of leaves. Brush cut surfaces with lemon juice to prevent browning.

Balsamic Vinegar: This sweet, dark brown vinegar is made from the boiled-down juice of a white grape. According to Italian law, balsamic vinegar labeled as “aceto balsamico tradizionale” cannot contain any wine vinegar and must be aged at least 12 years. These vinegars can sell from $40-$350 per 4 ounces!! Less expensive balsamics blend wine vinegar with the grape juice. This is what most of us buy at the supermarket. If you can afford the expensive stuff go ahead and splurge.

Basil: My favorite Italian herb by a long shot! Love how this smells! The aroma and flavor of this herb range from peppery and robust to sweet and spicy. It’s leaves can be various shades of green or purple. The leaves can be used in dried or fresh form. The fresh form is amazing but always keep the dried on hand!

Garlic: The ultimate Italian ingredient! As I’ve said before, you can never have too much garlic! The plant  of this strong-scented, pungent bulb is related to the onion. Besides fresh garlic bulbs, you can also use dried. Some people use jarred minced garlic. I don’t recommend this. Garlic comes in the form of garlic powder, garlic salt, and garlic paste. Leave the bulbs whole, once you separate them they tend to dry out. Garlic should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place and used within 6 months. I planted garlic cloves once and they really grew! Pretty cool!

Italian Parsley: Italian parsley has flat, dark leaves and a milder flavor than the more familiar curly leaf parsley.

Mushrooms: Porcini– the most prized wild mushrooms in Italy, have large, meaty, slightly rounded caps that may be white or reddish-brown. The stems are fleshy and wider at the bottom. Another mushroom in Italy is the Crimini/Portobello (Italian brown or Roman), which has the same shape as a regular button mushroom but is light tan to dark brown with a deeper, earthier flavor. When the mushrooms are small they are Crimini. Once the Crimini is fully matured it is a Portobello. To clean, brush mushrooms with a soft brush or damp paper towel. Store them in a paper bag until ready to use. Serve within a couple of days. If you can’t find the fresh version of what you want, look for the dried form. You can add fresh or rehydrated mushrooms to soups, sauces, salads, appetizers, pasta dishes, and entrees.

Olive Oil: No Italian kitchen is complete without a bottle of olive oil. I remember my mother always had one of those gallon type cans in the kitchen when we were growing up. Too expensive now to buy that huge can! The quality of olive oil is classified by the level of acidity, taste, and aroma. Olive oils higher in acidity can be rectified or treated with chemicals to lower the acidity, but are called refined, not virgin.  Olive oil has the same amount of calories that other oils contain–120 calories per tablespoon. But olive oil is highly unsaturated and has been suggested as a healthier alternative to more saturated fat or oils. Additionally, olive oil is a highly flavored oil, so you can use much less than oils with lighter flavors.

Types of Olive Oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is the best grade of olive oil; it meets Italy’s highest standards for rich and fruity olive taste with very lowe acidity (less than 1%)

Virgin olive oil has an acidity between 1 and 3 percent and a lighter taste and aroma. It is considered to be slightly inferior in quality to extra-virgin olive oil.

Pure olive oil is filtered twice after a single cold-pressing to lighten the oil’s color and aroma and lessen the acidity. It has a delicate flavor and a low acidity.

Cold-pressed olive oil is obtained by pressing the fruit. No heat or solvents are used, therefore it is called “cold-pressed.”

Extra-light olive oil refers only to the oil’s flavor, not to the calories it contains compared to the other olive oils.

Olives: Italians prefer to use ripe olives rather than the unripe green variety. Although ripe olives in America are usually black, the color of Italian ripe olives can vary from purplish red and brown to jet-black. They are packed in oil or brine, which may be flavored with herbs or citrus pee. Taste olives before serving. If they’re too salty, rinse them under cold running water. They can become bitter if overcooked, so allow them just enough time to heat through when adding to a cooked dish.

Pancetta (pan-CHEH-tuh): Pancetta is the Italian version of bacon. It’s made from the belly or pancia of a hog. Pancetta has deep pink stripes of flesh similar to bacon. Pancetta is seasoned with pepper and other spices, and is cured with salt, but it’s not smoked. It comes in a sausage-like roll or flat and is used to flavor sauces, vegetables, or meats.

Pesto (PES-toh): I love pesto. It’s so easy to make yourself too. Much better than those jarred ones in the store. It’s a pasty sauce of olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese. It is usually served with pasta.

Pignoli Nuts (Pine Nuts): This is a unique and tasty little “nut”. They can be really expensive too but I’ve found it at a few places that won’t break the bank. The pignoli is a small seed from one of the several pine tree varieties. The pine nut, which has a sweet, faint pine flavor, is commonly known as pignoli or pinon. The small, creamy white nut can be slender and pellet-shaped or more triangular. Pine nuts turn rancid quickly, so keep them in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two months or freeze them for up to six months.

Polenta (poh-LEN-tuh): This is an Italian-style cornmeal mush (as I used to call it as a kid). It’s made by boiling a mixture of cornmeal or farina and water. Polenta usually is served with tomato sauce as a side dish, or it can be served without sauce as a bread substitute. It’s eaten as a thick porridge or can be molded, sliced, fried, or boiled.

Prosciutto (proh-SHOO-toh): I love prosciutto. Maybe it’s the salty flavor. (I am the Salt Monster after all, so my husband says!) Like ham, it’s from the hog’s leg. Salt curing draws out the moisture, a process called prosciugare in Italian. But unlike ham, the cured pork is air-dried, not smoked. (Probably another reason I like it so much). The result is a somewhat sweetly spiced, rose-colored meat that has a slight sheen. Parma ham is the authentic prosciutto of Italy. They are designated as prosciutto cotto (cooked) or prosciutto crudo (raw). The raw is cured, however, so it’s ready to eat. Use small amounts in pasta, sauces, and meat dishes. Add it to cooked dishes at the last-minute so it doesn’t get too tough. I love it around melon. Like most Italian weddings, prosciutto is served wrapped around a slice of cantaloupe or honeydew melon. Delicious!

Risotto (ree-ZHOT-toh): This rice dish consists of broth-cooked rice, butter, cheese and other bits of meat and/or vegetables. Risotto Milanese (from Milan) are always also flavored with a little saffron. I love risotto also. But it’s a treat for me because it’s so high in calories.

Tomatoes: Italian cooks mainly use two kinds of tomatoes. The long plum or Roma tomatoes are usually used for cooking because they have fewer seeds, firmer flesh and thicker juice. I use them is salsa also. The round eating tomatoes are best in salads, appetizers, or anywhere fresh tomatoes are needed. To ripen, store firm tomatoes at room temperature in a bowl or even in a brown paper bag. DO NOT PUT TOMATOES IN THE REFRIGERATOR!!!! This takes away most of the flavor and removes the helpful antioxidants. I only refrigerate when I cut them and have some left over. Though this doesn’t happen often!

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