Posts Tagged ‘basil’

This classic rustic Tuscan tomato soup is called pappa al pomodoro in Italy.  Bright, acidic tomatoes are combined with onions, garlic and basil, thickened with leftover bread and finished off with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.  It smells heavenly and tastes even better.

I’ve made this soup many times before, but just recently stumbled across a wonderful toasted bread and basil topping to sprinkle over the top.  The topping adds another punch to an already great tasting soup.  Thanks to Ina Garten – I am including the topping too.

I’m just back from a glorious week in Tuscany.  The weather was perfect.  The wine sublime.  The food rustic, simple and delicious.  The villa stunning.  All shared with cherished friends.  About as close to perfect you can get this side of heaven.

Oh…in case anyone is worried the tractor barreling down the lane toward us in this picture stopped just in time.  No  one was injured.  Have you ever tried to photo-shop a tractor out?!?  I’ve decided it adds some “interest” to our picture.

I know if given the opportunity to shop in Italy, most of us would swoon over the fine leather handbags and shoes available in Florence.  However, my passions lie elsewhere:

  Two whole liters of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil bought straight from a charming and delightful heritage farmer.  He let us wander through the grounds of his villa and olive grove.  He proudly explained his organic growing methods and also the artisinal extraction approach he uses involving a centuries old stone wheel which produces hands down the best oil I’ve ever tasted.  Liquid gold.  A little tricky to get back to the states, but well worth it.

I used my newly acquired Italian olive oil to make this batch of soup….oh my it was good!  My post today celebrates all I love about Italy.  Simple food prepared using the freshest ingredients and shared with friends and family.  Wines that compliment and match the flavors of the food.  A little candlelight, a little laughter….perfect.

Tuscan Tomato Soup  pappa al pomodoro

this makes 3-4 servings but can easily be doubled


1/4 cup olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (try to get an Italian imported tomato like the San Marzano)

2 cups diced rustic Italian bread cubes, about 1 inch each

2 cups chicken stock.

splash of Italian red wine (about 1/4 cup)

freshly grated parmigiano-regianno

For the topping:

another 2 cups of diced rustic Italian bread cubes, about 1 inch each

10-15 fresh basil leaves

sea salt

3-4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil


Toss two cups rustic Italian bread cubes with 10-15 fresh basil leaves and layer on a sheet pan.  Drizzle with 3-4 TBSPS extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 20 minutes.

It will look like this when you pull it out.  The basil will get dark but still tastes delicious.  Set aside to sprinkle on the top of the soup right before you serve it.

  Meanwhile heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pan.  Saute the onions, carrots and garlic for about 10 minutes until tender.

Add the 2 cups diced Italian bread and saute for another 5 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock and red wine.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook it for 30 minutes.  Stir in freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and sprinkle the toasted bread crumb and basil mixture on top.



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I’m very challenged in the gardening department.   One year I even killed the mint plant.  That’s why I planted five heirloom tomato plants this spring, about four more than needed.  Better odds at a chance to harvest my favorite thing in the world…freshly picked homegrown tomatoes.

All five plants are thriving and a momentous, monumental crop is anticipated.  Prolific.  Visions of all the fresh tomato recipes I want to make when they finally ripen are dancing in my head right now.  It’s been really hard waiting.

I couldn’t help myself.  Well, one got “knocked” off the vine by my voracious yorkie puppy, but with the others, I couldn’t help myself.  Holding the warm tomato in your hand, the little twist of your wrist as it snaps off the vine and feeling the full weight of the fruit when it drops in your palm…it’s just so compelling.

Fried green tomatoes are rooted in southern tradition.  Lucky for me, I’ve read Fannie Flagg’s adorable southern novel titled  “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe”.…..and a while back I lived in North Carolina for two years to boot, so I know what to do with green tomatoes.

The flavors in this sandwich burst in your mouth.  The tomatoes are tart and tangy, pairing perfectly with the salty bacon, creamy mayonnaise and the bright flavor of the basil.  My wish for you is a similar tomato harvesting “accident” will occur in your garden and you will be able to enjoy this delightful sandwich.

Bacon, Basil and Fried Green Tomato Sandwich


3-4 green tomatoes

1/8 cup flour

1 tsp salt

dash of pepper

1 TBSP butter

1-2 TBSP olive oil

1 lb bacon slices, cooked

6-8 slices sourdough bread, toasted


6-8 large fresh basil leaves, washed and dried

Slice the green tomatoes about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick

Put 1/8 cup of flour, 1 tsp salt and a dash of pepper in a gallon sized plastic baggie.  Put the tomato slices in the baggie and shake them until they are covered in the flour mixture.

Melt 1 TBSP butter in a pan with about 1-2 TBSP olive oil over medium heat.

Shake the excess flour off the slices and place them in the pan.  Don’t crowd the slices in the pan or they will steam and get mushy instead of frying.  Do two batches if you run out of room.  Cook for about three minutes and flip slices over.

Cook the other side for about three minutes.

Drain on paper towels.  Cook the bacon and wash and dry the basil leaves.  Toast the sourdough slices.

To assemble, spread the mayonnaise on the toasted sourdough bread slices, add a few leaves of fresh basil, 3-4 fried green tomato slices and 2-3 slices of bacon.  Oh….this is so good, enjoy!!

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Quinoa has a hot ticket in the culinary world as of late.  It’s a gluten free, versatile and nutty tasting grain touted as one of the best complete sources of protein out there.  Plus it tastes delicious.  It’s quick and easy to prepare.  It’s great in soup and salads or by itself as a side dish.  Now be honest – how many of you out there know how to pronounce:


If you said “KEEN-Wah”, you are correct.

Second only to cooking I love to read.  A lot.  While deeply engrossed in a book, I rarely take the time to stop and look up the pronunciation and definition of any unfamiliar word I stumble across.  Just sound it out and contextualize it, then I’m good to go.  Over the years this has bitten me in the behind a few times.

Here’s how it works when I am with my sister (she communicates for a living and is much more adept at correct pronunciations):

1.  I confidently interject my new found vocab word into our conversation, very impressed with myself.

2.  In reply, my sister coyly uses the same word in her answer – except pronounced correctly.

3.  I get the hint.

Some of the recent culprits: segue, potpourri, omnipotent.  You get the picture.

That’s why my friend JoEll and I were cracking each other up a few weeks back because we both thought the way you pronounced  Quinoa was:


so it rhymes with Winona (as in Ryder or Minnesota).

We had seen the ingredient written in recipes about 100 times and didn’t know it was the same ingredient we had heard pronounced “KEEN-Wah” about 100 times.  What a revelation when we realized it was the same thing!  Silly us. So today you get a recipe…..and a vocab lesson all in one.

Quinoa Salad

inspired by my friend JoEll


1 cup dry quinoa

2 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 cup grape tomatoes

2-3 TBSP chopped fresh chives

2-3 TBSP chopped fresh basil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese


You can find Quinoa at most supermarkets now in the rice and grains section

This is what it looks like right out of the box.

This is what it looks like once it is cooked.  To cook it bring 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil.  Add 1 cup quinoa and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover and simmer until all liquid is gone, about 10-15 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and cool.

Make a quick dressing by whisking together 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/3 cup olive oil until it emulsifies.  Add the dressing to the cooked and cooled Quinoa.

Today I tossed bell pepper, grape tomatoes, basil, chives, garlic and feta cheese into the Quinoa salad.  But really….use your imagination.  Anything fresh and tasty will do.

This is great as a side dish or throw in some grilled chicken or fish for a complete meal.  Enjoy!!

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I originally got this Mozzarella Basil Tart recipe from my wonderful friend Michele years and years ago.  I love how it uses all the ingredients that are so fresh and tasty this time of the year.  It’s relatively simple to make, very versatile and tastes so fresh and wholesome.  I serve it either as an appetizer or side dish and often make it for breakfast (kinda like an egg-less quiche).  I couldn’t wait until the right opportunity came along to compose a post about one of my favorite recipes.

Some blog posts just burst out of me.  Some meander, lily-pad, noodle and wiggle their way out.  This one definitely would be the latter.  I’ve always said food is so much better with the stories, so here we go.

So…..my hubbie had business meetings in London on the Fourth of July this year.  Ughhh.  Yes dear, I do understand the Fourth of July is obviously not celebrated in England and it’s business as usual across the pond.  I did a great job keeping busy and occupied all weekend but had zippo plans on the 4th.  In lieu of a major pity party, I decided retail therapy was the answer.

I came across these great lime green place mats with a graphic print.  I’ve been completely obsessed with lime green and graphic prints lately so I had to snatch them up!  I knew the tart would look perfect with the place mats for a blog post – bright, crisp and clean.  I whipped up the tart, took my pictures and …..sigh, thought about the lonesome evening ahead.  No one to share my tart with.  I was completely delighted when an invitation to an impromptu neighborhood back yard cook-out came along.   (Thanks S&R!!)  I whisked my tart over and it was enjoyed by all.

Mozzarella Basil Tart


1 refrigerated pie crust

4-6 fresh Roma tomatoes

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup loosely packed basil, chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1/8 tsp white pepper


I really think the key to the success of this dish is extracting some of the liquid from the Roma tomatoes before you start.  I just slice them thin, spread them out on paper towels and sprinkle them with salt (this helps draw out the moisture).  In about ten or fifteen minutes they are ready to go.  I’ve tried to skip this step and the moisture from the tomatoes makes the tart kind of soggy, so it’s definitely worth it to take the time to drain the tomatoes if you can.

I’ve made this tart many, many times with a thawed out, frozen pie crust shell still in it’s flimsy, tin foil pan and it tastes great.  I’ve also made this tart many, many times with my Mom’s made-from-scratch pie dough recipe and it tastes really great.  Today I am using a refrigerated pie dough sheet (the rolled up kind) and my adorable tart pan from Williams & Sonoma.  I rolled out the refrigerated pie dough sheet, draped it over the tart pan and then rolled the pin across the top of the pan to cut and remove the excess dough.

       Mix 1 cup of the grated mozzarella cheese, mayonnaise, grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and white pepper in a bowl.  Set aside.

Layer the remaining cup of grated mozzarella cheese in the pie crust.

Top with the tomato slices.

Top with the fresh chopped basil and crushed garlic.

Dollop the mayonnaise-cheese mixture on top.

Gently spread it out over the tart.

Bake the tart for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Cut into pie slices and serve – hot or at room temperature.  Enjoy!!

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Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, the other is gold.

In college my sorority ended every chapter meeting with the girls spread out in a huge circle, all connected holding hands by placing our right hand over our left wrist and grabbing our neighbor’s similarly placed hands.  We sang the same song every time, the main verse quoted above.

At twenty I was way too cool for school, not super sentimental and partaking in quite a bit of dramatic eye rolling while engaged in this endeavor – what a sappy old-fashioned song we had to sing.

With quite a few years and tears under my belt, I did find myself humming this verse all weekend.  You see, we were lucky enough to spend the weekend with old, treasured (super treasured) friends and I am sentimental, old-fashioned and sappy thinking about how special these folks are to my hubby and I.

And one of our favorite things to do together is cook, which we did Thursday evening.  We made this salad.  I thought it would be fun to share.

This is a very robust salad with big flavors, especially in the vinaigrette.  If anchovies are out of your comfort zone, just trust me and give them a try.  I love the protein punch the garbanzo beans provide.  The Kalamata olives and Asiago cheese create an antipasto platter taste.  I also add sliced Genoa salami to make it an entrée salad.

Chopped Italian Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

inspired by Mother’s Best cookbook

Salad Ingredients

1 large head Romaine lettuce, washed and dried.  Cut core off the end and slice lettuce crosswise into very thin strips (about 6-8 cups)

1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

1 cup Asiago cheese, cut into match sticks

1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all salad ingredients in a large rustic bowl and toss with Italian Oregano Vinaigrette

Italian Oregano Vinaigrette Ingredients

3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled

3 TBSP dried oregano (yes – 3 TBSP, please buy a fresh jar – dried spices lose most of their flavor after only 3-6 months on the shelf)

6 oil packed anchovy fillets

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup extra light tasting olive oil.  (or you can use half regular olive oil and half salad oil)

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 8-10 times until emulsified.

Drained and rinsed Garbanzo beans, basil  and a can of anchovy fillets.

Asiago cheese cut into match sticks

See, the anchovy fillets aren’t too scary!

Put all vinaigrette ingredients in a food processor and pulse 8-10 times until emulsified.

This vinaigrette packs a powerful flavor punch!


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There is nothing like a blog post a-la-minute!  We are literally waiting to dig in and gobble up this de-lish salad as soon as I snap a shot.  Rosemary infused grilled lamb chops, summer corn saute and Tuscan Panzanella Salad all served “al fresco” on the patio for dinner tonight.  A great bottle of Pinot, candlelight and a cute hubby to dine with to-boot.  LISVG. (Thanks to JoJo for that acronym).

Panzanella salad is a bread and tomato salad originating in Italy.  The Tuscans don’t like to waste even a morsel or crumb of good bread, so this wonderful rustic salad was created centuries ago to use up all the day-old bread sitting around the villa.  There are loads of panzanella salad recipes floating around.  The basic approach is to get some great in-season summer vegetables (must include LOTS of tomatoes), make some homemade grilled croutons from the leftover bread and douse all with a simple vinaigrette.  Although I did not do it this evening – you can always add cheese and olives too – it’s a salad for heaven’s sake.

It’s really impossible to describe what happens when you pop a forkful of the homemade croutons and tomatoes soaked in the vinaigrette into your mouth.  I’ll just have to let you experience that yourself.

Tuscan Panzanella Salad


1 loaf rustic sourdough bread, rough cut into 1 inch cubes (about 6 cups)

2 TBSP butter

2 TBSP olive oil

salt to taste

2 bell peppers (red, yellow or orange) stems and seeds removed, cut into one inch pieces

1 small red onion, large dice (about 1/2 cup)

1 large cucumber, seeds scooped out and cut in one inch pieces

1 pint sweet, firm tomatoes, cut in bite size pieces

6-8 large basil leaves, chopped


2 cloves fresh minced garlic

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Start with a loaf of rustic sourdough bread.

Rough cut it into one inch cubes

Melt 2 TBSP butter and 2 TBSP olive oil in a saute pan.  Add the bread cubes.  Salt to taste.  Saute over medium-low heat for about 5-10 minutes until cubes are toasty and brown.

  If you start nabbing a bite to taste – be sure to leave some for the salad!

I like the way it looks to leave a little skin on the cucumber.  I just took a vegetable peeler and peeled off every other row.

Chop the vegetables and basil, whisk together all the ingredients in the vinaigrette, throw everything in a big bowl with the home made croutons and pour the vinaigrette over all.  Enjoy!!

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This buttery sauteed medley of corn, lima beans, red onion and red pepper finished off the heat with sweet grape tomatoes, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and basil makes the perfect side dish for grilled chicken and fish.  I often substitute edamane for the lima beans if I want to pack a bigger protein punch. I love the flavors meddling together and the colors are bright and vibrant.

I don’t think it’s much fun to talk about food without a story to go with it, but I have a bit of writer’s block today.  Luckily I can still cook.  When my golf swing gets out of whack I try to simplify, simplify, simplify.  So here is my attempt to apply this wisdom to my blog post today:

Succotash.  Inherited from native American Indians!  Try this!  Fresh!  Yummy!  The dish is infinitely better if you use fresh corn just shucked off the cob!  Grape tomatoes are ingenious and add an unexpected flavor burst in your mouth!  The basil matches perfectly with the sweetness in the corn! Gets your kids to eat vegetables!  Quick, easy!  Love, love love this dish!

Spring Succotash

loosely inspired by Cooking Light


1 cup red onion, large dice

2 TBSP butter (I always end up using a bit more)

2 TBSP olive oil

3-4 ears fresh shucked sweet corn, cut off cob (yields about 2-3 cups)

2 cups frozen lima beans, thawed (can substitute edamane)

1 red pepper, seeded and large dice

1 cup sweet grape tomatoes, cut in halves

4-5 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (click on link to my blog post explaining how to do this)

salt (generous) and pepper to taste

squirt of fresh squeezed lemon juice, to taste


Dice the red onion

Melt the butter and olive oil together in a saute pan over medium-high  heat.  Add the diced red onion and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Lightly salt and pepper.

Cut the fresh shucked sweet corn off the cob with a serrated knife.

Add the corn to the onions and cook another three minutes.  Some of the corn will get charred, which adds flavor.

Add the thawed lima beans and cook another three minutes.  Lightly salt and pepper again.

Add the diced red pepper and cook another minute.  Take it off the heat.

Add the grape tomatoes and basil.  Salt and pepper to taste a final time.  Finish off by squeezing fresh lemon juice over the dish.  Serve immediately.


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