Monday, January 27, 2014

Pasta con Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

There's something about authentic Italian food . . . no fancy ingredients or spices, just simple, fresh ingredients that come together into a tasty and satisfying meal. On our recent trip to Italy, my mother-in-law prepared a dish called "pasta con ceci", which means pasta with chickpeas. It's healthy, tasty, filling and the perfect dish to serve on a cold winter day (which we've been having WAY too many of lately)!

I had never made this dish before, but I remembered how tasty it was when we had it at her house last month, and I really had a craving for it. I had a pretty good idea on how to make it, but just to be sure, we made a quick Skype call to her, so she could confirm I was on the right path. I was, and now I'm sharing her recipe with you:

Here's what you'll need: Dry chickpeas, onions, carrots, celery, baking soda, water, pasta, olive oil.

Place 8 ounces of dry chickpeas into a dutch oven along with a pinch of baking soda, cover with water and soak overnight. The picture on the right is how they will look after an overnight soak.

Drain the chickpeas and add them back into the pot along with the onions, carrots and celery.

Fill the pot with water to about 2" above the chickpeas. Add salt and pepper, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the chickpeas are tender.

Remove about half of the chickpeas and vegetables along with a bit of the water and puree with an immersion blender or food processor.

Bring the pot back to a hard boil and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente.

Add the puree, which gives the soup a creamy, smooth texture, but without all of the calories of real cream!

Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley (if desired).

<<Printable Recipe>>

Pasta con Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)
Serves 4-6
8 ounces dry chickpeas
1 pinch of baking soda
1/2 cup carrots (diced)
1/2 cup celery (diced)
3/4 cup onion (diced)
8 ounces of dry pasta (such as ditalini, small shell, elbow or orecchiette)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley (optional)
Grana Padano® or Parmeggiano Reggiano® (grated)

  1. Place dry chickpeas in a large pot. Add a pinch of baking soda, cover with water and soak overnight.
  2. Drain chickpeas and add back to pot, along with the carrots, celery and onions. Fill the pot about half full with water (about 2 inches above the chickpeas and vegetables). Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until the chickpeas are tender. This can take up to 2 hours depending on the chickpeas. Just keep checking them until they are still slightly firm, but mash easily between two fingers.
  3. Remove about half of the chickpeas and vegetable with a bit of the liquid and puree with an immersion blender or food processor. Set aside.
  4. Bring the remaining mixture back to a hard boil and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente.
  5. Add the puree to the pot and stir. Place into bowls and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, top with parmesan cheese and the parsley (if desired). Serve immediately.
Buon Appetito!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lemon Cream Cheese Fruit Tart

My husband and I love to entertain at our home, and prepare nice dinners for family and friends. We usually start planning a week in advance, and the menu pretty much changes daily. Sometimes it changes so many times, that unless we have it written down, neither of us can remember which menu we've decided on!

Last weekend, we had our friends Amy & Wolf and Michele & David and their families over for dinner on Sunday night. Amy brought a delicious crab dip appetizer, and Michele brought a beautiful tossed salad with mandarin oranges and feta cheese.

For the first course, we served mussels, followed by grilled tenderloin steaks with rosemary roasted sweet and white potatoes and marinated grilled red onions with a parmesan and bread crumb topping.

It took me FOREVER to decide on a dessert to make. I really wanted something with lemon, and my kids were asking for fruit pizza. I came up with this, which was the best of both worlds! 

I wish I would have gotten a picture of a single slice, so that you could see the lemon layer, but that didn't happen with eight kids anxiously waiting for me to cut the dessert!

I can tell you that it had just the right amount of tartness, and the sweet cream cheese and fruit topping brought it over the top! It was delicious!

<<Printable Recipe>>
Lemon Cream Cheese Fruit Tart
Makes (1) 11 inch tart

For the Pastry:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter (cubed)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1-1/2 tablespoons ice cold water

For the Filling:
5 eggs
3/4 superfine sugar (or process regular granulated sugar in food processor until fine texture)
zest of 3 lemons
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the Topping:
4 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup of powdered sugar
6 ounces of whipped topping (such as Cool Whip®)
Fresh fruit to decorate (such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries or kiwi) - sliced

  1. Place flour, butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add egg yolk and ice water and pulse until mixture begins to pull away from the sides and form a dough. Remove dough, forming into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness, and about 13 inches in diameter (to fit bottom and side of 11" tart pan). Line tart pan with dough, trimming any excess dough from the top edge.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pastry with foil, place some dry beans on top, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove beans and foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until light brown.
  4. While pastry is baking, in a mixing bowl with a pour spout, mix eggs, superfine sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and cream. Mix well, but do not overmix.
  5. Remove pastry from the oven and place on a baking sheet. Pour the lemon mixture through a strainer, directly into the pastry. Place baking sheet into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. The filling will be slightly runny in the middle, but it will firm up upon cooling. Do not over bake. Cool completely.
  6. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until creamy. Fold in the whipped topping. Spread mixture on top of the lemon tart and decorate with fresh fruit. Chill at least 1 hour before serving.
 Recipe adapted from Down Under Lemon Tart on

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Stracciatella (Italian Egg Drop Soup)

It took me a week, but I'm finally caught up on work emails, laundry, housework and grocery shopping after spending 17 days in Italy over the holidays. We had a great time, and I can't wait to share more about our trip in future blog posts.
 One of the things my hubby brought back with him was a nasty cold! There seems to be so much of that going around these days, and this recipe is perfect for cold and flu season. 

This recipe is from my sister-in-law (Maria's) mother-in-law (Rosaria).  Stracciatella is an Italian egg drop soup, very popular around Rome, in the Lazio region of Italy (which is where my husband is from). 
 You'll need some chicken broth. We always make our own - we buy the 2 pack chickens from Costco, and my husband removes the breasts and legs, and then we use the thighs, wings and carcasses to make broth. Just cover with water, throw in some onion, carrots, celery, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. Strain. If you like more chicken flavor, you can add a chicken bouillon cube to give it a boost of flavor (I do!)

 You'll also need some parmesan cheese, eggs, bread crumbs, fresh lemon juice and chopped parsley.

 Whisk eggs and parmesan cheese.

 Add bread crumbs.

 Bring chicken broth to a boil over medium high heat.

 Add the lemon juice to the boiling broth.

 Drizzle egg mixture into boiling broth while whisking constantly.

 Add the chopped parsley and continue whisking until the eggs cook and float to the top.

 Serve immediately.

8 cups chicken broth
2 eggs
2 Tbls grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp bread crumbs
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1 Tbls chopped parsley

  1. In a small bowl, whisk eggs, parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.
  2. Bring chicken broth to a boil over medium high heat. Add lemon juice.
  3. Drizzle egg mixture into boiling broth while whisking constantly. Add chopped parsley and continue whisking until eggs are cooked and float to the top.
  4. Serve immediately.
Buon Appetito!