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Easy Culinary Delights

As the holidays quickly approach, some of us might be wondering what culinary offerings we want to prepare for family gatherings.  Now most of us prefer quick and easy, as we will likely be cooking multiple items; still, we do not want to sacrifice taste for simplicity.  The recipes below are easy-to-make and do not compromise on quality.

CookingSautéed Portobello Mushrooms.  Carefully wash about 5 or 6 large mushrooms and cut grainy tips off the stems: remove any blemishes.  Slice about 1/3 inch thick.  Coat a 10 to 12 inch skillet with Extra-virgin olive oil and add the mushrooms.  Sauté on medium heat turning frequently.  Sprinkle salt and a small amount of pepper onto the mushrooms; this is one dish that actually tastes pleasant with an extra measure of salt, but don’t overdo it.  (NOTE: If you suffer from high blood pressure or are on a sodium-restricted diet, then forego the salt and add a splash or two of balsamic vinegar).  Add a few sprigs of fresh parsley and continue turning.  Cook until the mushroom juices have evaporated and the mushrooms appear slightly brown.  Transfer to a decorative dish and drizzle the remaining pan olive oil over the mushrooms.

Breaded Bread With Capers.  Slice a thin French bread stick (about 1/2 inch thick).  Beat two eggs in a bowl with a tablespoon of water and dip the slices first in the egg mixture and then in a dish with unbleached flour and a couple of sprinkles of salt and pepper.  Fry the bread slices in a skillet with EV olive oil until both sides are slightly golden in appearance (do not burn).  Transfer the fried slices to a baking dish.  Spoon at least five capers on top of each slice, along with a little caper juice.  Bake at 350° for ten minutes and serve warm.  NOTE:  For an interesting variation, you can also add a small amount of sprinkled parmesan or Romano cheese before frying.

Easy Baked Ziti.  This dish is relatively simple and goes a long way, but the sauce takes a while to cook (use jarred sauce if you have time constraints).  Sauce: Slice an onion and sauté in EV olive oil until translucent. Add a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes (Pastene San Marzano are excellent).  Add one 6-ounce can of Hunt’s Basil, Garlic, Oregano tomato paste and one 6-ounce can of Contadina Roasted Garlic tomato paste.  Fill the large tomato can halfway with water and add to the saucepan.  Fill each tomato paste can with water twice and add (stir thoroughly).  Cook on high heat and continue to stir.  When the sauce comes to a boil (it will fairly quickly) reduce heat to low and cover (the cover should be somewhat askew).  Simmer for two and a half to three hours, making sure to stir to the bottom about every twenty minutes.  *The sauce should be slightly bubbly as it cooks; if it is not, slightly turn up the heat until small bubbles appear.  NOTE: (You may need to periodically add small amounts of water, typically in ¼ cup increments.  Do this when to the mixture looks thick and the taste is somewhat tart (the added water evens the flavors).  Ziti Dish.  When the sauce is done, mix a large tub of good-quality, whole milk ricotta in a sizable bowl with two beaten eggs, a little garlic powder, and several sprigs of sliced fresh parsley: set aside.  Cook one pound of ziti, penne, or rigatoni (al dente) and toss with a little EV olive oil (to prevent sticking).  Coat the bottom of a large baking dish with sauce.  Evenly disperse the cooked pasta, a 12-ounce bag of shredded mozzarella, and the ricotta mixture.  Top with a few ladlefuls of sauce and bake at 350° for 30 minutes (or until hot).  Make sure the remainder of the sauce is readily available if additional sauce is desired.  (This dish can be prepared and refrigerated one day ahead of time.  If going this route, you will likely need to bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes).  NOTE:  Leftover sauce freezes quite nicely for a month or two in an airtight container.  In January or February, you can have another tasty meal!

Buon Appetito!

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