Merry Christmas! This year I decided it would be fun to have an Italian Feast for our Christmas dinner. We’ve done something different every year (stuffed chicken breasts, beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin to name a few), but I think this one might stick as our tradition. It was such a nice dinner! I was planning to make an orange almond cheese cake for our dessert, but the week was really hectic that by the time I got around to finishing my shopping, the grocery store was sold out of a couple ingredients I needed. By that point I was too exhausted from getting things ready for Christmas that I just decided to order dessert from our favorite place: Flying Star Cafe – they have incredible desserts!
Italian Greens and Herb Salad
adapted from FoodNetwork.com
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Mixed baby salad greens with herbs
- 1/2 c kalamata olives
- 1 c artichoke hearts
Blend the lemon juice, lemon peel, honey, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a blender. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil. Toss the salad greens, artichoke hearts, and olives in a large bowl with enough dressing to coat. Season the salad with more salt and pepper, to taste, and serve. (I just arranged the salad on our plates since it was just two of us)
Kale and White Bean Soup
adapted from Escarole and Bean Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 head kale, chopped
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1-15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (1-ounce) piece Parmesan
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- salt, to taste
- 6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- grated Parmesan for garnish
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the kale and saute until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, beans, and Parmesan cheese. Cover and simmer about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle the soup into 6 bowls. Drizzle 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil over each and top with fresh parmesan cheese.
Basic Italian Loaf
- 2 cups water, lukewarm
- 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 5 3/4 cups bread flour
- 1 Tbs dark brown sugar
- 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbs salt
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- 2 Tbs sesame seeds
Place the water and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer and allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes. Using a dough hook attachment, add the flour and sugar to the water and mix on low speed until a dough starts to form. Drizzle the oil and salt into the dough and beat on medium speed for 8 to 10 minutes, or until a smooth, firm, elastic dough is formed.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and spray the dough with a thin coating of cooking spray. Wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to proof in a warm, draft-free place for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
Remove the plastic wrap, punch down and flatten the rounded dough with the heel of your hand. Roll the dough up tightly, sealing the seam well after each roll. The dough should be elongated and oval-shaped, with tapered and rounded (not pointed) ends.
Preheat the oven lined with a pizza stone to 425 degrees F. Alternately, an inverted baking sheet may be used in place of a pizza stone.
Place the dough on a baker’s peel heavily dusted with semolina flour, or cornmeal, or alternately on an inverted baking sheet. Allow the dough to proof, loosely covered with a damp towel, for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size. Brush the dough with the egg white and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, score 3 (1/4-inch deep) slashes across the top of the dough at a 45 degree angle.
Spray the dough generously with water from a water bottle and place in the oven on the baking stone. Immediately close the oven and bake for 3 minutes. Open the oven door and spray the dough again with the water bottle. Close the oven door and bake for an additional 3 minutes before spraying the dough for a third time (the spraying of the dough will ensure a crisp golden brown crust). Bake the dough for 45 minutes, or until a hollow thud is heard when the bread is whacked with the bowl of a wooden spoon. Allow the bread to cool slightly before serving.
Sundried Tomato and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Italian Sausage and Pepper Sauce
adapted from CookingLight.com
- 1/4 c boiling water
- 6 sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)
- 1 c shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 c grated fresh Parmesan cheese
- 1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 14 ounces Ricotta Cheese
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 18 cooked jumbo pasta shells
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 3/4 c chopped onion
- 1 c chopped green bell pepper
- 1 c chopped red bell pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Cooking spray
- 3/4 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage (Johnsonville Brand recommended), casings removed
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 (28-ounce) can organic crushed tomatoes
- 2 Tbs grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Cook the shells half of the recommended time as listed on the product directions. This helps them keep form once they are baked. Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare stuffing, combine 1/4 cup boiling water and sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl; let stand 20 minutes or until tomatoes soften. Drain and finely chop. Combine tomatoes, mozzarella, and next 6 ingredients (through egg) in a food processor; process until smooth. Spoon 2 tablespoons stuffing into each shell. Set stuffed shells aside. (I like to put the filling in a ziplock bag and cut the corner so I can pipe the filling into the shells).
To prepare sauce, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell peppers, and garlic; sauté 6 minutes or until tender. Place onion mixture in a bowl. Coat pan with cooking spray; return pan to heat. Add sausage, and cook 6 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in onion mixture and next 5 ingredients (through tomatoes); bring to a simmer. Cook 30minutes or until slightly thick.
Spread 2 cups sauce over bottom of a casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange stuffed shells in a single layer in pan; top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over sauce. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until bubbly.