Tag Archives: italian sausage

Rich Sausage Rigatoni – Truly Scrumptious (serves 4)

This dish should not be overlooked!

If you are on the hunt for a dish that packs boatloads of sumptuous flavor with a minimum of ingredients and effort then your search is over. I am transported to a little Osteria in Tuscany by just looking at the picture below! It is so rustic and has that quintessential Italian peasant food feel; robusto!

Truely Scrumptious

truly Scrumptious

This dish is another great example of me butchering a recipe to suit my needs and tastes. It is from Mario Batali who was undoubtedly inspired by some dish or other he tried in some hole-in-the-wall jewel in Italy. My irreverence for his recipe doesn’t spring from the fact that I think I can do it better. I am so grateful for his prodding my imagination when my mind was blank.  I constantly make decisions as I cook, and if I don’t have something, or want to add something, I just go ahead and do it. If you cook as much as I do you learn that most dishes are variations on some sort of standard that can be endlessly changed.

key ingredient in this dish (along with the red wine)

key ingredient in this dish (along with the red wine)

The key elements in this dish was the combination of sausage and heavy-duty tomato paste which clung like a magnet to the pasta. That is something I didn’t mess with. I did however change the quantity of milk, used red instead of white wine, added garlic and thinned out the dish with hot pasta water, oh, and changed the bucatini-style pasta in favor of a textured rigatoni and chopped a little fresh basil as a garnish (just because I had it!); Splendid!

I couldn’t believe how good this tasted and was so relived that I had documented this recipe so I can make it again and again.

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You will need:

 2 tbs olive oil

1 tbls unsalted butter

1 1/2 lbs Italian sausage meat – mild or spicy (if they are links, remove from casing)

1 medium sweet onion – small dice

2 garlic cloves – finely chopped

6 tbs tomato puree

1/4 cup red wine (whatever you’re drinking!)

1 cup whole milk

1/2 to 1 cup hot pasta water (reserved from draining pasta)

1 lb rigatoni pasta (I use Barilla brand)

Several grinds black pepper

Parmigiano Reggiano  – grated for serving

A handful of chopped fresh basil leaves (if you have it, but not necessary)

Method:

*Add the pasta to the boiling water about 12 minutes before you want to add it to your sauce. This would mean adding it right around when you add the milk to your sauce (step 6 below). Reserve a cup of the hot pasta water before draining. Do not rinse pasta with cold water (the pasta will not “cling” to the sauce the way it should if you do!)*

1 – Put pasta water on for rigatoni and put large saute pan (big enough to hold the complete dish) on medium heat. Add the oil and butter.

Add butter and oil

Add butter and oil

2 – When it has melted add the onions and garlic and cook for about 6 or so minutes, stirring frequently.

Add onions and garlic

Add onions and garlic

3 – Add the sausage meat by pulling off with your hands or with a scissors into little chunks. Turn the heat up near high when it begins to release its fat.

Add sausage

Add sausage

4 – Cook, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes or until sausage begins to get nice and brown.

Cook until starting to get well-browned

Cook until starting to get well-browned

5 – Add the tomato paste and cook for another 6 to 8 minutes (again stirring frequently), before adding the red wine. Lower heat if necessary. Cook for another 2 minutes or until wine has mostly evaporated.

Add Tomato paste

Add Tomato paste, then wine

6 – Add the milk and stir. Turn heat down to low and cover with a lid for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Turn heat off if cooked before the pasta.

add milk

add milk

7 – Add the drained pasta directly into the sauce – DO NOT RINSE with cold water. MAKE SURE TO RESERVE 1 CUP OF PASTA WATER!

add pasta and pasta water

Add pasta and pasta water

8 – Stir the pasta into the sauce and add some or all of the pasta water if you want a “looser” sauce.

Serve with a few chopped basil leaves

Serve with a few chopped basil leaves

Serve in warm shallow dishes with fresh basil (optional) and/or freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (also optional).

Or, gild the lily with a grated of Parmiagiano reggiano too!

Or, gild the lily with a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano!

Tuscan-Style Sausages with Rich Onion Gravy, Mash & Spinach (serves 6-8)

The herds that are still thriving in my garden in late october

The herbs that are still thriving in my garden in late October (thyme, sage, rosemary)

I must be feeling the shiver of winter because my last few dinners have contained a hearty quality I am not drawn to when the weather is warmer. The changes in the season are visible to me every time I walk from the backdoor to my car via the garden. Right now my poor basil plants are all but dead and I am kicking myself for not getting that last good harvest picked for some extra jars of pesto to cheer me up when the bleakness of January hits. The earthier herbs are still determined to brave it out and it is their flavors that have influenced the kinds of things I have been feeling like cooking lately.

Sa

Sausages with rosemary infused onion gravy – nothing like it!

Yesterday I found a new style of sausage at my most favorite supermarket (I must write about it someday soon), an organic “Tuscan Style” sausage no less, and if there is any word that conjures up gastronomy in all it’s glory for me it is Tuscany! (there are some other words of course but this one is in the top five!). What made this sausage “Tuscan”? The words “spezza forte” on the package was a start but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t some marketing ploy intended for lovers of all things Italian like me!

Tuscan style sausages

Tuscan style sausages

So from my limited experience of living there last year and my determination to make a stab at learning or at least understanding the language I knew it loosely meant “strong spice” So what does that really translate into in North American? To this particular set of test/marketing chefs  it meant cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg but being that this sausage is made to please a huge cross-section of people the Tuscan flavor as I know it was rather mild (even thought they did get the spices right on). I am probably going to have to make the sausage myself if I want the real deal. What I am trying to say is that if you are going to make this any good quality sausage will do but if you happen to be lucky enough to go to a real Italian market where the meat is from the source then you will have the best dinner ever!

Romanesque church of in Lucca

Romanesque church in Lucca , Tuscany, a town where I had very good sausages

We had this with a big side of quickly sautéed spinach and it was the perfect thing! This dish was really all about the sausages and gravy so once you have that I’d say feel free to serve it with anything you like, or whatever you can scrounge from your fridge or pantry.

Spinach grwon from seeds from Naples

Spinach grown from seeds from Naples by my friend Catherine on her farm a few miles from me!

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You will Need:

for the sausage & onion gravy

2 to 2 1/2 lbs robust flavored sausages (I used a Tuscan-style pork sausage & a mild Italian style chicken sausage)

3 medium sweet onions – halved and sliced thin (not too thin however!)

3 tbs olive oil

1 sprig fresh rosemary, left whole

2 tbs unsalted butter

3 tbs all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups chicken broth (or 1 good quality bouillon cube & 3 cups water – it’s what I did!). *You may need more so have some on hand*

Sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

for the mashed potatoes:

3 lbs yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks (sometimes called Yukon golds or golden potatoes)

2 tbs unsalted butter

1/2 cup or more of milk or cream

1 tsp salt

lots of freshly ground black pepper

for the spinach:

10 or more cups roughly chopped spinach

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

1 – Put big saute pan on medium heat and add 2 tbs of the oil. Place the sausages in an even layer in the pan (there will be about 12 or so). If the sausages are large you can cut them in half if you like. Brown on all sides and then turn the heat down slightly and continue to cook until cooked through. This will take about 20 minutes (internal temp should be 165* if you want to check with a thermometer). Turn the sausages occasionally as the cook. When done, remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm (no need to put in a warm oven as they will be going back in the gravy)

Fry sausages

Fry sausages

2 – Add some more oil to the pan (about 1 tbs) and add the sliced onions and sprig of rosemary. Turn the heat up to medium and cook stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat, cover with lid and continue to cook until onions are nice and soft (about 10 more minutes).

cook onions with rosemary

cook onions with rosemary

3 – At this point the onions will have turned a lovely caramel color and picked up the scrapings from the sausages. Add the butter (*and the stock cube if you are using stock cube plus water instead of broth) and when it melts add the flour and stir very well with a wooden spoon. Add a cup of broth (or water)  and continue stirring into a smooth sauce. Add the next 1 1/2 cups of water and let it come to a boil. Turn heat down until it has stopped boiling and continue to cook and stirring on and off for about 5 minutes.

add butter to make gravy

add butter to make gravy

4 – If you want a thinner sauce add another 1/2 cup or so of water or broth and let it get hot. Add liquid until you are happy with the consistency. Next add the sausages back to the pan and turn down  heat to lowest setting. Keep warm until ready to serve.

add sausages to cooked gravy

add sausages to cooked gravy

for the mash: put the prepared potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water. When the pot comes to a boil, cover with lid and boil gently until potatoes are cooked all the way through (a knife should be able to go through a potato very easily). Drain water and add the butter, milk or cream, 1/2 tsp salt and several grinds of black pepper. Mash until there are no lumps and you have a nice smooth mash. cover gently with a tea towel and set aside until ready to serve.

mash and season potatoes

mash and season potatoes

for the spinach: Put a big pan on low to medium heat right before you are ready to serve. Add the spinach and sprinkle with the seasonings (salt, pepper, chili flakes). It will wilt quickly. Before it seems cooked turn the heat off. it will continue to cook while you get everything served.

saute spinach with oil and pepper flakes for 1 minute..

Saute spinach with oil and pepper flakes for 1 minute..

Sausages with onion gravy - nothing like it!

Serve with lots of gravy and spinach (or any green you like!)

Escape To New York and Wildly Good Bucatini al Ragu – Inspired By Pasta Bought From Eataly and Of course ITALY!

Chelsea Area, NYC

The Flatiron district, NYC

I escaped to New york City for 24 hours this week to soak up some much-needed cosmopolitan energy and culture. Being stuck in a provincial town as I am, I need to get away to satisfy that part of my that longs for something other than fields of cows, unexciting restaurants (an understatement!), and generic big box clothing and food stores. To have such a wonderful city so close by is a glorious comfort when I need that jolt of stimulation.

The Flatiron Building at the intersection of 5th Ave & Broadway (completed in 1902)

The Flatiron Building at the intersection of 5th Ave & Broadway (completed in 1902)

This trip was planned around not much more than where to have breakfast and where to have dinner while I visited my friend Bird on the Upper West Side. The worst thing you can do in a city like this when it comes to food is to wander the streets and hope you hit on something fabulous. This is a bad approach when it comes to any city, and yes, while it is true that you can stumble upon something great, you are more than likely to end up somewhere a little disappointing or lacking in one way or another.

Balthazar Bakery in Soho

Balthazar Bakery in Soho (established in 1997 and going wildly strong ever since!)

I lived in Manhattan for 8 years and have been visiting it ever since, and my friend has lived there over 20 years, so between the two of us the only problem we have is deciding between the great places we know and the great places we have heard about that are new. We settled on doing a bit of both, having coffee and sticky buns at Balthazar’s in Soho, and eating dinner at the pizza place in Eataly in the Flatiron District. I had never been to the infamous Balthazar’s and I wanted to revisit Eataly (This giant marketplace is the result of the collaboration between two rock stars in the world of food, chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich – press here to read about my last Eataly visit) to buy pasta and see how the pizza there compared to all of the wonderful pizza I ate in Italy (click here for that story!) last year.

Across from the Flatiron is lovely Eataly; one of my destinations this past monday

Across from the Flatiron is lovely Eataly; one of my destinations this past monday

Suffice is to say that the coffee and pastry from Balthazar’s on Spring Street was divine and I am in shock as to know how I had never been there before? In between lunch and dinner was spent helping my friend shop for clothes in the cool boutiques in Soho before hopping on the R train for my Italian fix at Eataly.

Lovely pasteries to devour with coffee from Balthazar's

Lovely pastries to devour with coffee from Balthazar’s

With time to kill before Pizza I took a gastronomic stroll through the many sumptuous displays of merchandise on offer in Eataly’s Market. I bought some great dried pasta from a company called Rigorosa di Gragnano which hails from the town of Grangnano in the province of Naples. The pasta variety I choose was bucatini, which looks like a thick spaghetti but has a tiny hole running through the center. It is extruded through bronze dies giving the pasta a rough texture which is marvelous for sopping up thick sauces and has a lovely toothsome bite. Of course the next day at home (last night) I had to cook it with just such a sauce, and it was heavenly (recipe below!). This pasta was really great and so worth it ($4.80 for 17.6 oz). My next visit will include more than 1 measly package!

Bucantini

Bucatini pasta by Rigorosa di Gragnano

I also found a pear juice, Succo di Pera, that I had not seen since being in Italy last year, and even thought it was a woefully ridiculous price for a bottle of juice (nearly $7!) I had to buy one as it was the drink my daughter ordered every time we were in an enoteca or cafe  (Which was quite often I’m happy to report). You should have seen her delighted face when I pulled it out of my bag when I arrived home. One would think I gave her permission not to do homework for a week!

Succo di pera Foto,  Succo di pera

Eating pasta in Eataly was delightful. The restaurant was located between the rows of dried pasta and the bakery area of the market. You still got the exciting buzz from the whole place but it felt intimate and cozy at our table (and our server Francesca was adorable!)

Getting rrady for Pizza in Eataly

Getting ready for Pizza in Eataly (the freshly baked bread comes to your table in neatly wrapped parcels)

 The pizza is classic Neapolitan style from their brick ovens, made with fresh mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes. My pizza was scattered with artichokes, black olives and mushrooms, and, as big as it was, I ate the entire pie without a modicum of guilt!

Eataly

Eataly

I returned thinking what I always think when I leave Manhattan: it was too short a trip. However I cannot even think about complaining as I am so lucky to have the chance to go there as often as I do. Stayed tuned for more vicarious visits to this wonderful city!

Wildly Good Bucatini al Ragu

Wildly Good Bucatini al Ragu (Dinner last night)

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Recipe for Bucatini al Ragu (serves 6)

You will need:

1 1/2 lbs sausage meat (I used a mild Italian chicken sausage, but you can use any sausage you like; a mild, sweet or spicy Italian pork sausage would work fantastic too), casing removed and broken into bite-sized pieces (you can break it straight into your pan as you cook this dish)

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, small dice,

2 celery ribs, including leaves, small dice,

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped,

3 tbs tomato pasta concentrate

42 oz of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes (3 14 0z can or 1 1/2 28oz cans OR 1190 grams)

1 1/2 cups veggie or chicken broth (or bouillon cube and water – my bouillon cubes by Rapunzel are large so I only used 1/2)

1 tsp sea-salt (more to taste)

freshly ground black pepper (more to taste)

1/2 to 1 tsp pepper flakes (optional, but great addition!)

1 lb bucatini pasta (spaghetti will also work)

Method:

* About 5 minutes before you turn off the sauce, put the pasta water on and cook according to instructions. Before draining pasta, scoop out at least 1 cup of the water and reserve to add to your finished sauce if need be*

1 – Put large pot or deep saute pan (mine is 3″) on medium heat and add the oil. add the onions, celery and garlic and cook for about 8 minutes. Add the sausage to the pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon when it is all in the pan. Cook for about 12 minutes, stirring frequently and breaking up meat into smaller pieces as it cooks.

cook sauce

cook sauce

2 – Add the tomato paste, tomatoes and broth (or water & bouillon cube) to pan and turn heat up. Bring to a bubble, then turn down to a simmer (it should still “tremble” on top slightly). Add the salt, pepper flakes (if using), and several grinds of black pepper and stir. Cover with lid and cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Turn off sauce and taste for further addition of salt and pepper. Let it sit while pasta is cooking.

cook pasta

cook pasta

3 – Right before or right when you turn off your sauce, cook the pasta. When it is cooked, add drained pasta (not rinsed and remembering to reserve some pasta cooking water) to the sauce and stir. Toss everything together gently. Add some of the reserved pasta water if you want to thin the sauce.

Add pasta adn stir gently

Add pasta and stir gently

Serve in shallow bowls or big dinner plates with extra pepper flakes and Parmigiano Reggiano if you so desire.

serve with Parmiagiano Reggiano cheese if you have it

Serve with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese if you have it

Serve in shallow bowls or big dinner plates with extra pepper flakes and Parmigiano Reggiano if you so desire.

 

The Slap-Dash Dinner instead of Eating Crap! (serves 4)

I just had to post this recipe, if for nothing else but to prove the point that you can make dinner without expending an ounce of energy or without dashing off to the supermarket for that missing ingredient!

yummy alternative to eating bad take-out

Yummy alternative to eating bad take-out

Have you ever been too tired to cook, but when you ordered out or drove 10 minutes each way for take-out, OR, stuck a frozen pizza in the oven and ending up being so dissatisfied with what you ate that you wished you had cooked something, or even settled for beans on toast: Of course you have!

The other night when it was time to make dinner my brain had stopped working and I started going through all of the ways I could get out of cooking dinner. Then I snapped out of it, that trap you get yourself into over what to eat and where to get it. If you live in a town as dismally lacking in food choices as I do, then you will have had the experience of settling for something, crossing your fingers it will be good, and then feel like you ate slop for dinner! That is when I figured out if I was going to eat slop, I might as well make it myself; it was bound to be better and I wouldn’t be charged for the pleasure.

It may look "thrown together" but don't let that fool you - it tasted delish!

It may look “thrown together” but don’t let that fool you – it tasted delish!

At that moment I put my trusty pan on the counter and started filling it with whatever came in contact with my hands. This is what we ended up with, a veritable smorgasbord of a feast, one I lapped up with immense satisfaction knowing I hadn’t wasted my money on what was sure to have been another disappointing dining experience.

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You will need:

freshly ground pepper

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 chicken breast fillets (or some chicken thighs or drumsticks)

5 Italian sausages (or whatever sausages you happen to have on hand)

6 stripes bacon

4 Portobello mushrooms, stems removed (but saved)

2 celery ribs, chopped or diced

1 cup matchstick, or thinly sliced carrots

6 cloves garlic, with skin on

1 cup chopped cilantro (if you don’t have this and you have flat-leafed parsley, use this instead!

3 tbs capers, rinsed (if you don’t have capers, don’t worry)

3 cups chicken broth OR 1 good quality stock cube and 3 cups water

Method:

Preheat oven 425*

1 – Place all of the prepared veggies in the bottom of a roasting pan or saute pan or low rimmed casserole dish. If you are using a bouillon cube, crumble it over the veggies. Wrap 1 stripe of bacon around each chicken bread and place on top. Place Portobello mushrooms and sausages in pan and put a stripe of rolled bacon on each mushroom. Grind some pepper over entire dish and drizzle with the oil. Place in oven for 25 minutes.

place on ingredients in pan

Place on ingredients in pan

2 – Remove dish from oven and turn the sausages, the bacon on top of mushrooms and the chicken breasts. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

slap-dash dinner is ready to eat!

Slap-Dash dinner is ready to eat!

Serve with whatever you like: pasta, bread, rice or on its own.

Sumptuous Saturday Night Sausage Sandwiches (serves 4, or as many as you like)

Sometimes there is nothing better than a lazy Saturday night, when you invite absolutely no one to your house and you hole-up with your family for the evening.

Sumptuous Sausage Sandwiches

Sumptuous Sausage Sandwiches

I had spent my saturday doing mundane stuff liking cleaning the house, helping with homework and then had to go grocery shopping. Grocery shopping is a thing I either love or dread. This particular day, I was in dread-mode. I had let my pantry dwindle down to crumbs and needed just about everything. This meant having to jostle with every other person in the supermarket in the same predicament.

juicy Italian sausages

juicy Italian sausages

I made it out alive and when I got home and everything was safety stored away I plunked down in the kitchen and wondering about DINNER! I poured a hefty glass of wine and opened the fridge door to survey what I could put together without too much trouble. Right there was a pile of Italian sausages and the clear plastic bin on the bottom shelf was packed full with all kinds of wonderful greens.

fresh tarragon

fresh tarragon

I pulled out the sausages, spinach and tarragon. Tarragon is my favorite herb of the month. It tastes of winter with it liquorice-y and mildly peppery flavor and I use it at every opportunity. All I could think of was frying the sausages and from there was stuck? Then I spotted the lovely fresh, practically still warm, loves of bread and I decided on sandwiches, piled high with fresh everything!

yummy sandwich

yummy sandwich

They were amazing, fun to make and took any pressure of cooking dinner off of my tired shoulders. I love Sandwich Night!

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You will need:

Olive oil

unsalted butter

8 slices of wonderfully fresh bread

4 big mild or spicy Italian sausages

Thin slices of good cheddar cheese (enough for 4 sandwiches)

fresh spinach leaves (enough for 4 sandwiches)

bunch of tarragon leaves (about 24 or so leaves)

slices of tomato (enough for 4 sandwiches)

Strong mustard (Grey Poupon or Coleman’s Mustard)

1 – Put some oil (about 2 tbs) in skillet/frying pan and fry the sausages on medium heat, turning to brown on all sides.

Fry sausages

Fry sausages

2 – Slice sausages in half (vertically) and fry with the cut-side down for a few minutes to brown. Remove to a plate and set aside.

3 – While sausages are frying, gather the rest of the ingredients and prep: slice cheese, wash and dry spinach leaves, slice tomatoes, wash tarragon and pull leaves from stem, butter bread on one side.

add cheese, sausage, tarragon

add cheese, sausage, tarragon

4 – Make sandwich: Place pan on medium heat (or a little higher) and place one slice of bread in pan, buttered side down. Immediately add a few slices of cheese, 2 sausages halves, greens, tomato, and lastly another layer of cheese.

end with a layer of cheese

end with a layer of cheese

5 – Add some freshly ground pepper and a little sea-salt. slather the mustard on the other side of the second piece of bread (a little tricky as it is buttered on the other side!) and place it, mustard-side down on top of the cheese layer.

turn sandwich and brown all over

turn sandwich and brown all over

6 – Check to see if the underside is browned by lifting a little of the sandwich with a spatula and turn gently when ready. Press the whole sandwich down with a flat spatula to get everything inside to meld together and become a nice solid unit.

7 – Fry until browned on the other side, then remove to a plate. Continue like this until all sandwiches are done.

Slice in half diagonally and serve with extra greens, or simply alone

Easter Dinner in the Breakfast Room

Good Friday Procession in Cortona, Italy

 Easter is a big deal in the United States but for different reasons than in Italy. I know this is a blanket statement, but after living in the United States for many years, combined with being born and raised in Ireland, and finally, being a witness to the Easter procession this past Good Friday in Cortona Italy, I have a definite opinion on the matter.

View from the wall outside the school

The reason I know Easter is approaching in the United States is I begin to see front lawns and yards decorated with everything from trees and bushes strung with painted plastic eggs, to giant blowup Easter bunnies tied down to lawns (not discounting wheelbarrows full of eggs, inflatable yellow chicks, and giant Easter baskets sporting colorful ribbons). North America takes on every holiday, religious or not, with a tacky kind of gusto that you either love, or hate.

The Breakfast Room

I came from a country where the only visible sign of a Holiday was during the Christmas season when sometimes you caught a glimpse of the neighbors christmas tree lights through a window. There was no question that anyone would decorate the outside of their house with bunnies at Easter time (in fact, I had never heard of the easter bunny!), giant plastic snowmen at Christmastime, big red hearts on St. Valentine’s day, shamrocks and leprechauns on st Patrick’s day, or fake turkeys and pumpkins during Halloween.

Flower arrangement by some of the creative students at UGA

I’m not saying that all of this hype is completely abhorred by me. It is just something I was not used to, and still find it a little odd, although it does make for interesting driving with plenty of stuff to distract your eyes from the road. My point is that the glitz and the commercial hype that surrounds a religious holiday suffocates the actual reason for the observation in the first place.

The door to the students living area and classrooms

The first sign that Easter was on it’s way in Ireland was when my teacher would ask what selfless act we were going to do during lent. From that day I knew it was exactly forty days to Easter Sunday. The purpose of Lent is to prepare you for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through acts of prayer, penance and self-denial. Good Friday was a day of fasting, with fish for dinner, and Easter Sunday was marked by a colorful mass and a great feast afterwards, usually involving a leg of spring lamb.

Chicken roasted with rosemary, lemons and white wine

It was not without it’s commercial side, because I also looked forward to being given (and devouring) a giant hollow chocolate egg after dinner. These brightly wrapped eggs were displayed in shop windows for the duration of lent, which was a painful temptation if you happen to deprive yourself of chocolate for the whole forty days as an act of penance and self-denial!

Wisteria at the Gino Severini Building

Here in Cortona the first sign of Easter was at the bakeries in the form of a bread made only during lent called Spoleto. This Umbrian spelt bread is considered a humble enough breakfast for devout Easter observers, which is a little deceiving as it is more of a treat than a punishment.

Potatoes roasted with rosemary, sea salt and olive oil

The culminating event in Italy is the Good Friday procession where massive statues of Jesus Christ are carried through town to the steps of the Commune Building in the main piazza. These statues represent Jesus on the day he was crucified, and the stations of the cross are reenacted. A statue of the crucified Jesus is laid on a bed in front of the steps (while also being reunited with Mary, his mother), and prayers are said by the officiating priests and cardinals, before the body of Jesus is removed in another solemn procession to his resting place, before rising on Easter Sunday. The whole community of Cortona either participated in the procession or was a witness in the piazza. It felt serious and sad, and whether I admit to being a good catholic or not, I was moved by the devotion and respect displayed by the entire country who were having processions like this one at the very same time.

Window in The Breakfast Room

The American students who had been studying abroad in Cortona for the past three months were also thinking about Easter, and, whether catholic or not, were sure to have been missing some sort of Easter celebration back home. From living there I know that many families have a big Easter egg hunt where eggs are hidden (egg could be anything from a real painted egg, to a plastic egg with a prize inside) and found. This is followed by a big Easter dinner, which varies from culture to culture.

The School Yard

So, there was something that these students were probably thinking about, perhaps making them homesick and a little sad, missing their families more pointedly. I had the idea that I could cook them an Easter dinner in their dining room, and have them all eat together as this new family. When I made the suggestion the response was an overwhelming “yes please!” and so I began to plan it out.

detail of beautiful ceramic sculpture set in an alcove at an outdoor altar on the school's property (by my friend Shawn Ireland)

We had a meeting to collect names, money for food, and to discuss the menu. I told them that they could help in certain important ways (set the table, wash the lettuce, show up!), but that I wanted to cook for them, just like their mother would have done. For this project, I wanted to treat them like my children and the task was to feed them, and hopefully make them feel like it was a special day, and they were being taken care of in a more maternal way.

The sausages were added to remind everyone they were in Italy for Easter

The worst part of the whole event was going to the town in the valley (Camucia) to buy the food from the giant supermarket there. I had become so use to shopping on a very local level that being in this place with aisles and aisles of food made me want to cancel the whole thing. I spent the most gruelling hour of my life since arriving here, pushing a giant trolley of food from one department to the next under the glare of hideous lighting, while dodging other tormented shoppers. I knew for absolute sure that cooking for over 20 people would be a breeze after that nightmare.

Cafeteria style

On sunday morning I went to the school to see what I could snag from their kitchen by way of pots and pans. My rental apartment was adequate enough but had nothing much when it came to baking trays and containers that could hold large vats of food. I decided to borrow four or so big oven proof tray and planned to cook in steady batches. When it comes to figuring our food, quantities and timing, I will admit to being experienced. I cooked for a solid seven hours and was ready exactly when a group of the students rang my doorbell to carry everything up the steep hill to the school’s Breakfast Room.

Tofu, spinach and puy lentil curry

After several trips the food was safely installed in their modest kitchen area. It was a challenge to keep everything warm, but I managed. The thing that took any stress that I might be feeling away was the atmosphere in room. All the students were milling about doing everything from making beautiful flower arrangements for the long clinical tables, to sticking bunny ears made out of white napkins on the handles of every fork. Another reason I smiled is that all of them dressed for the occasion. There was a parade of spring dresses, high heels, fancy scarves and sophisticated hairdos. I was delighted that they were genuinely excited, and not just happy to have a convenient meal.

Silverware bound with handmade paper and bunny ear napkin

Lettuce was washed, cheese was sliced and arranged on platters, and within an hour of my arriving everyone was ready to sit for Easter dinner. Each place mat was a piece of drawing paper, and each student decorated their mat with all sorts of Easter-themed doodles. When everyone was served I sat with them and experienced my moment of belonging to a group that had knit itself together into a family of sorts. I thought about the day I had met all these strange faces in Rome and felt daunted by the task of trying to get to know their names, forget forming any sort of connection beyond that.

A little bit of everything on this student's dinner plate

I was now sitting in the Breakfast Room on Easter Sunday with each of their names firmly in my mind, and also aware that despite myself, I had formed enough of a connection I was compelled to feed them like I do my own children, to make sure they were happy on this Holiday away from home. I will remember this Easter Sunday, not alone because I was here in Cortona, but because I got a chance to cook for a gracious group of college students, who found they were missing Easter more than they had realized.

The collage the students made from their place mats (which they hung on the wall in the dining room)


Roasted Chicken & Sausage with Sweet Potatoes & Parsley (serves 6)

 This dish was made solely because I had some lovely white sweet potatoes that needed to be used. I cannot stand when potatoes start growing extra appendages and become soft to the touch. I am loath to throw food away just because I am too lazy to cook.

Roasted Chicken & Sausage with Sweet Potatoes & Parsley

These potatoes were planted, cared for, and grew into beautiful tubers. The least I could do was to honor them by cooking something beautiful, instead of letting them rot, and eventually be thrown away.

I used what I had, and made a dinner that these sweet potatoes were proud to be a part of!

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You will need: 5 chicken drumsticks, 4 chicken thighs (with skin and bone-in), 4 Mild Italian sausages, 4 white sweet potatoes, thickly sliced, 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 vegetarian bouillon cube, crumbled, 1 cup white wine or prosecco, 1 1/2 cups water, sea-salt, freshly cracked black pepper, 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil.

Preheat oven 450*

1 – Toss potatoes, onion, parsley, thyme, and bouillon cube in bottom of pan or roasting pan. add the wine (or prosecco), along with the water to the pan.

add veggies & herbs to bottom of pan.

2 – Place chicken and sausage on top, season chicken with a little sea-salt and pepper, and drizzle everything with the oil. Place in preheated oven for 20 minutes.

add chicken and sausage

3 – Take out of oven and turn sausages, basting the chicken with pan juices. Return to oven for another 10 minutes, and then remove the sausages to a plate (cover to keep warm). Return chicken to the oven for another 5 or so minutes until the skin is nicely browned and the meat is cooked through. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

This is lovely on its own or with some mixed greens

serve with greens; very yum

my son choose to have sausage with rice and a nice helping of sweet potatoes