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Smoked Tomato Soup
Soup

Smoked Tomato Soup

Tomato soup is great on a cold winter’s day, but it can be rather boring. Add some chopped basil, crisp croutons, or, as I did this week, I served it with a pepper jack grilled cheese sandwich that I made on some homemade olive sourdough bread made with Castelvertrano olives from Sicily. Another way to elevate this iconic soup is by smoking the tomatoes first. I highly recommend the Cameron’s stovetop smoker for this task, it is an amazing inexpensive kitchen tool that works great for smoking foods from vegetables and salmon fillets to hanger steak and pork tenderloin.

Plantain-Crusted Halibut
Entrees

Plantain-Crusted Halibut

Halibut is one of my favorite fish and in this dish I pound it out gently and stuff it with a crabmeat mixture. Drawing on my Caribbean experiences, I then turn this New England combination into a hybrid by crusting it with crisp plantain chips and serving it with a tropical fruit salad.

Pappardelle Pasta
Pasta

Pappardelle with Pesto

Pappardelle is a wide noodle that creates a very rustic looking pasta dish. The sheer volume of pasta in each fork full makes pappardelle one of my favorite pastas to eat. Pesto is a perfect match for flat pasta since it will stick to anything, while a nice thin cream sauce would run right off. When tomatoes are oven-roasted, the flavors become concentrated and very intense.

Pistachio Cannoli
Desserts

Pistachio Cannoli

Fresh homemade Cannolis are hard to beat. The shells are relatively easy to make if you have the right tools, which include: a tapered rolling pin, pasta machine, 4-inch round cutter and Cannoli Tubes or Molds. The fresh ricotta filling is very special when it made with the Cream of Pistachio…think: Pistachio Nutella. Yes, it is that good! At room temperature, it makes a great spreadable garnish for any pistachio dessert. I also use it as a layer in my Pistachio Semi-Freddo.

Serrano Stuffed Mussels
Appetizers

Serrano Stuffed Mussels

Stuffed mussels make a great appetizer and even work as a nice Hors d’Oeuvres. They are rather simple to make, composed of two fillings. The cooked mussels are combined with chopped Serrano ham, garlic and tomatoes and spooned into the shells. They are topped with the second filling, a Mussel-White Sauce (bechamel) made with the reserved cooking liquid from the mussels. The mussels can be made a day ahead of time and finished at the last minute in a frying pan.

Torta della Nonna
Desserts

Torta della Nonna

Torta della Nonna in Italian literally translates to “Grandmother’s Cake.” It is a very popular dessert in the Tuscany region and is quite simple to make. A layer of lemon-scented pastry cream is enveloped by an upper and lower sweet pastry crust, covered with pine nuts and baked until golden brown. One of the things I love about this dessert is that the resulting Torta is not too sweet and the hint of lemon is refreshing.

Stuffed Eggplant
Entrees

Sicilian Stuffed Eggplant

Eggplant is such an integral part of Sicilian cuisine and can be found in many dishes from appetizers and pastas to sauces and main courses. On our Foodie Trips to Sicily, eggplant finds it’s way onto the menu most days. My stuffed eggplant is a rather rustic dish in which an eggplant is cut lengthwise in half and stuffed with an incredibly flavorful mixture of ground pork, spices, olives and raisins. My Fennel Spice Mix is also great on fish and shellfish.

Blueberry Crème Brûlée
Desserts

Blueberry Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée literally translates to “burnt cream,” which refers to the crunchy layer of caramel that floats over the creamy and smooth custard below. Many of the specialty cooking supply stores carry a small butane torch that can be used for caramelizing the sugar on the surface of the crème brûlée. Another option is to dig around in your basement to find a propane torch used for plumbing projects. Either piece of equipment works well.

Brussels Sprout Salad
Salads

Brussels Sprout Salad

Brussels Sprouts are one of Mary Jo’s favorite vegetables and they are showing up on menus more and more these days, usually cut in half and roasted as an appetizer. In this recipe, I shave them finely on a Mandoline and toss them with red apples, red onions and a Green Apple-Maple dressing. Mandoline’ s are essential in the kitchen to achieve a fine slice or efficient julienne, however, they are one of the most dangerous tools that home cooks use. Take your time, use the safety hand guard (or cut resistant gloves) and be careful.

Sweet and Sour Pork
Entrees

Sweet and Sour Pork

I learned to make this dish from a Chinese Chef named Mr. Chang during my years working for Hyatt Hotels. The cuisine we served in that restaurant is what I refer to as “Haute Chinese,” in which a traditional dish is elevated in quality by using premium ingredients. This dish is made with tender pork tenderloin and fresh fruit. The sweet and sour sauce recipe is very simple to make (not thick and corn syrupy like the commercial ones) as is the batter.