Nutella Banana Fold-Overs

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Sometimes you just want dessert. Warm, gooey, chocolatey dessert.

However you don’t have a whole afternoon to dedicate to making a decadent dessert. So in honor of a visit to a dear friend and fellow chef in training, I made these nutella banana fold-overs as the perfect finish to our meal.

As a young girl I grew up on Nutella sandwiches. All of the kids in the lunch room would ask me how I convinced my mom to make me “chocolate sandwiches” and at the time, I had no idea how I was so fortunate. But, later on I learned Nutella is a staple of many European households, and growing up Italian-American, we were no exception to this rule!

Although I don’t eat Nutella as often as I did when I was a kid, it is still such a special treat for me and this recipe is a great way to get your Nutella fix.

Nutella Banana Fold-Overs

1/2 cup Nutella

Frozen phyllo dough or pastry dough equivalent

Sliced Bananas

1. Defrost the dough, and cut into squares

2. Fill with nutella and a few bananas

3. Fold over into a triangle shape, bake on 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

4. Serve warm (be careful though, I wasn’t patient and burned my  mouth in the process since it was fresh out of the oven)

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Eat with all of your heart,

G

Protein Power Bites

Getting back into the swing of things with a workout regiment can be draining. Your body is eating up a ton of calories, and you need to refuel with the right stuff to make sure you can push through your workouts and have enough energy to go back for round two later in the week.

photo 3Lately I have been feeling exhausted after my workouts and I don’t feel like I’m ready to go full throttle into the protein shake and protein bar world quite yet. Holly of Eat Great BE Great made a post that inspired my recipe below. See Holly’s original post here.

Her collection of protein bites inspired me to make my own Pleadings & Pasta variation on these powerful and tasty protein bites for a post workout snack.

Protein Power Bites

By Pleadings and Pasta 2013

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup coconut flakes or crushed coconut chips

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/2 cup almond flour

3/4 cup natural salted peanut butter (I love trader Joe’s brand, the orange label)

1/4 cup honey

2-3 tbsp of cinnamon (depending on how much you like)

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Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Incorporate well. Form into balls and place in fridge. Will hold for up to one week. Note, the above measurements may vary a bit depending on how creamy your peanut butter is, so adjust as necessary.

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I’m warning you now, these are addictive! But they definitely cure the post workout hunger pangs, and give you a nice energy boost as a result of some healthy and delicious ingredients.

Work out with all of your might and eat with all of your heart,

G

The Litigator Lettuce Wrap

photo_4With no shame I admit I am a huge fan of lettuce wraps. PF Changs, the local take out place, it doesn’t matter where they come from, I adore them.

The reality is, a lot of lettuce wraps have delectable sauces but these sauces are very high in sodium, contain MSG, or other additives that may leave you feeling heavy after your meal. Plus, becoming a regular at the take out place by my house was enough of an alarm that it was time for me to learn how to make a healthy, quick, and equally tasty version of my own.photo_1

Hence, the litigator lettuce wrap. Easy enough that even after a day spent preparing and litigating in court, you could come home, and quickly whip this up as a meal with the last bit of energy you have left.

I was particularly fond of this recipe since it finally gave me the opportunity to pick the beautiful lettuce growing in my backyard and put the leaves to use as the starlets in a supporting role for this dish. There really is something outstanding about home grown lettuce. It’s not as bitter, and is so vibrant in color.

The Litigator Lettuce Wrap

by Pleadings & Pasta © 2013

photo_2Ingredients (double if necessary)

1/2 lb of ground chicken

1 can of water chestnuts

1 large roasted red pepper

6 scallions

3 cloves of garlic

Sesame oil

Several large lettuce leaves

For sauce:

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of honey

2 tablespoons of Sriracha

1 tablespoon of Teriyaki

2 tablespoons of water

1. Chop into small pieces the water chestnuts, red pepper, and scallions.

2. Sautee over medium heat the chopped garlic in sesame oil. Once lightly browned add the water chestnuts, red pepper, and scallions. Sautee for about 5 minutes until cooked.

3. Remove from pan and place in bowl. Add a bit more sesame oil and add ground chicken. Cook through until no longer raw. Add sauce and sauteed vegetables and sautee until incorporated (about 2-3 minutes)

4. Spoon mixture into each lettuce leaves. Wrap up, and enjoy!

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Gardening tip: The beautiful thing is, when you plant your own lettuce, it’s the gift that keeps giving. So once you take a few leaves off, your plant will produce more! That means there are a lot more lettuce wrap nights in your future.

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Eat with all of your heart,

G

Spicy Ginger Tofu

I have recently fallen in love with tofu.

Yes, I just said that.

It’s a wonderful staple to have on hand and can be added to so many recipes. I have been battling with tofu preparation since the very beginning, as I always want to get it to a restaurant quality consistency: firm, crisp, and full of flavor. This recipe I concocted uses dry frying and I highly recommend it for first timers attempting to cook tofu! Plus,I especially loved this recipe since it gave me an excuse to go into my garden and pick some of the fresh scallions growing in my backyard.

I am still a newbie to the world of tofu, so please, I invite you to share your favorite ways to prepare this versatile staple below.

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Spicy Ginger Tofu
by Pleadings & Pasta © 2013
Ingredients
Half block of extra firm tofu
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons fresh ground ginger (or frozen ginger you can get at trader joes, in that case 3 cubes)
2 tablespoons Sriracha (I like mine spicy so I add more!)
2 teaspoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons crushed black pepper
2/3 cup chopped scallionsSesame oil for frying
1. Chop up tofu into thin rectangles or triangles.
2. Please tofu in between paper towels and let drain for an hour in the fridge.
3. Get a nonstick pan and put at a very very low heat. This is the key to dry frying.
4. Place the tofu slices into the skillet without any oil and let cook slowly over the low heat until the tofu starts to brown on the bottom.
5. Flip the tofu and let cook for another two minutes.
6. Remove the tofu.
7. In a bowl combine all of the ingredients except the scallions and ginger.
8. In a skillet sauté the scallions in the sesame oil with the ginger until fragrant.
9. Add the tofu slices and the marinade at the same time and sauté on medium heat until the marinade Is fully absorbed by the tofu. The tofu should have a nice caramelized color.
10. Throw the tofu over some brown rice or quinoa and enjoy!This is a very basic recipe and you can add as many vegetables as you like or switch up the sauce a bit. No matter how you make it your own, it’s a basic enough recipe to start you off on your tofu cooking adventures!20130619-190843.jpgNew to tofu? No problem! Here are a few basics

  • There are different types of tofu. Silken, firm, extra firm. Depending on your recipe or preference one may be a better choice over the other. I am a huge fan of extra firm tofu because it seems to keep together better while you’re cooking.
  • Very wet tofu and very hot oil can equal serious burns. Always consider draining the tofu before throwing it in oil.
  • There are so many ways to cook tofu! Do a quick Google search and you will find ways to bake, sautee, and grill this fabulous staple.
  • Storing tofu is so easy. It can be frozen (this changes its texture a bit, though) and you can also take it out of the box you got it in at the store, put it in a ziploc bag filled with fresh water and it will stay just as long as the expiration date indicates. So you’ll always have it on hand for a last minute meal.

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Zucchini Flower Poppers

photo 3One of the delicious Calabrese traditions I grew up with was sitting down for a plateful of Nonna’s famous fried zucchini flower fritters before our main course. If you haven’t tried a zucchini flower before, you are missing out! These flowers are delicate, flavorful, and beautifully colored, and make for a great appetizer to any  meal.

Since my zucchini plant has been blooming with many flowers this season, I took it as a sign that it was time to fry up the delicious zucchini flower fritters I grew up on, but with my own Pleadings & Pasta twist.

photo 2So I took to reconstruct the traditional recipe but with a more modernized pub flair. I am a big fan of jalapeño poppers, but often find them to be a bit too heavy for my liking. So, instead, I took the concept of the jalapeño popper, “Mediterraneanized” it, and arrived at the delicious and comforting Zucchini Flower Poppers recipe below.

The great thing about this recipe is it’s customizable, easy to make, and is a perfect summer recipe to accommodate all of the summer blooming zucchini blossoms. Also, it gives you that to die for combination of warm gooey cheese in the middle of fried goodness, but with a lighter feel. Watch out though, that means you’ll probably want to (and be able to) eat more of them!

Zucchini Flower Poppers

by Pleadings & Pasta © 2013

Ingredients

  • 12-13 zucchini blossoms; delicately rinsed and stamens removed*
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil or your other favorite fresh herbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup of flour
  • 3/4 cup of beer (whatever is on hand, preferably a lighter or wheat beer)
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, grated
Instructions
  1. Rinse off your flowers and let them dry completely. This will help in the frying process. You can let them air dry on a paper towel or alternatively in the fridge to keep them fresh and prevent wilting
  2. Continue by mixing the goat cheese, chopped herb, salt and pepper together and set aside
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour and beer  together. Add a pinch of salt to the mixture. The consistency should be like that of pancake batter.photo 1
  4. Start filling the zucchini blossoms with a mound of the goat cheese mixture.. Be careful not to tear the flower petals. I noticed it was easiest to insert a rolled up ball of the  mixture right inside that wasn’t too large so it sat at the bottom inside of the flower. Push the petals together to close up the flower so the filling doesn’t escape during frying.
  5. Fill a pan or pot with several inches of olive oil or frying oil of choice. Heat to medium heat, or approximately 350 degrees.
  6. Place the filled zucchini blossoms into the batter until fully coated, then lay them into the hot pan of oil. After 2-4 minutes the first side will be brown, and you can flip them over for another 2-4 minutes. Remove from the heat once golden brown and let them drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
  7. Sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as a finishing touch and serve!

photo 2This Pleadings & Pasta original was by far one of my favorite creations, and it’s sure to become a favorite of yours too. And of course, wash down the delectable poppers with the beer you used for the batter to bring the pub atmosphere into your very own kitchen.

A quick gardener’s note for those using flowers from their own garden. I am a new gardener, and I was hesitant to start picking the beautiful flowers I worked so hard to take care of before they became bright green zucchini.photo 1 However, rest assured you can pick the male zucchini flowers (skinny stem with stamen in the middle) as they only serve the purpose to pollinate the female flowers and never will become zucchini. So once your female flowers are pollinated, don’t let them the male flowers go to waste and fry up a few with the recipe above!

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Rustic Mussels in a Light Tomato Broth

The beautiful thing about food is that we associate it so much with our memories, that just a single bite has the ability to transport you to a completely different place or time. Making a dish that we once enjoyed on a vacation or during a family holiday can bring back those fond memories and give us a quick “getaway” in the midst of a hectic work week.photo 1

When I think back to my time in Italy, what I remember most was sitting on the coast of Sicily eating some of the freshest mussels the world has to offer. In Italy, I had the “cozze” or mussels prepared a variety of ways, from a buttery garlic sauce to a fresh tomato broth. Italians prepare mussels in such a lavish and abundant style, and anytime I ordered them abroad they were alway served fresh in a gigantic black “cauldron” that spans the entirety of the table. Everyone digs in with freshly baked bread to sop up the delicious broth, and as you sit back in a food coma, you can’t believe that that wasn’t your meal but only the appetizer.

Once I got back to the states, it was hard to come by fresh mussels. A lot of the mussel offerings are frozen, which is fine, but I wanted to buy those that don’t have pre-made sauce packets with tons of sodium. I longed for the rich yet light broth I tasted in Italy, and so I set out to make my own Cozze.

So after much research, combining multiple recipes, and several taste tests, I found a delectable way to prepare your mussels that will make you feel like you are dining in a small coastal Italian city without a care in the world other than how many more mussels you will be able to eat in one sitting.

Rustic Mussels in a Light Tomato Broth

by Pleadings & Pasta © 2013

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of fresh mussels (make sure they are all closed, and if any are wide open they are bad and should be discarded. If you find partially open ones, tap them to see if they close. If they do, you can cook them)
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • One onion, chopped
  • Fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Several pours of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes OR 3 chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cup of white wine (Chardonnay or the like, and cook only with wine you would drink! High quality wine makes for a high quality meal)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Sourdough Bread

1. Clean the mussels. Make sure that all beards are removed, and rinse well.

2. In a large pot or deep skillet, sauté butter, olive oil, finely chopped garlic, and onion until fragrant

3. Add tomatoes, parsley, and wine and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. You may want to add a bit more wine or a dash of water depending on if you like your broth to be more liquified. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Try to contain yourself from dipping bread into this delicious broth before your dinner is complete. Trust me, I had to control myself several times because your kitchen is going to smell divine.

5. Meanwhile, toast slices of sourdough bread (in the oven or toaster). I particularly like to butter both sides of the sourdough and toast it quickly on the stove top in a skillet. It makes for a beautiful golden brown toast, and it’s a fantastic companion to the broth.

6. Add the mussels to the broth and immediately cover the pot. Let steam for 5-7 minutes or until all the shells open up.

7. Immediately serve the mussels in broth in small bowls and top with more fresh Italian parsley. Place one generously sized slice of bread in each bowl and enjoy!

Now remember, you can serve this as is, or mix it in with a pasta of your choice (preferably a linguine). The key to this recipe is to give the broth the time it needs to simmer on a low heat so all of the flavors can mix together. This gives the broth depth and will make for a much tastier end result.

Also, you can leave out the tomatoes and ramp up the garlic in the recipe and make a garlic based broth instead which you can serve with a few slices of lemon to compliment the flavor.

Pair your mussels with a nice glass of wine (the same wine you just used for the broth, since it’s open why not!) and enjoy.

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Tagliatelle fatte a mano (Handmade Tagliatelle)

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It’s only appropriate that my first recipe on Pleadings & Pasta be, you guessed it, a pasta recipe.

As a first generation Italian American, I grew up eating my Nonna’s fresh lasagna with homemade sheets of pasta that almost melted in between the layers of rich simmer-all-day tomato sauce, hand grated mozzarella, and fresh basil from our yard.

There was something notably different about the homemade pasta versus the store bought. It was lighter, richer, and seemed to dance off the plate and into your mouth.

I let far too much time go by before learning how to make my own pasta from scratch. However, I made up for that lost time once I started law school and realized cooking, one of my favorite past times, was actually one of the best stress relievers available to me. The beautiful thing was by the end of the creative cooking session,I was more relaxed, and got to eat the fruits of my labor! You can’t beat being full and relaxed.

Now let me disclaim: Making your own pasta is difficult. At least the first few times. Once you realize how the texture should feel, get a sense of the proper rolling techniques, and develop an eye for when the pasta is “al dente” (it cooks much faster than dried store bought pasta) you will proudly sit over your steaming bowl of tagliatelle with a smile on your face that says “I did it!”

Here’s the basic recipe adapted from a combo of Nonna’s recipe and Bob’s Red Mill Flour recipe:

  • 1/2 cup Semolina Flour
  • 1/2 cup Unbleached Flour
  • 2 eggs
  • A generous pour of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 table spoons of water

1. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. If you want to do this old school style, do it on your kitchen counter and make a small little canyon in the mound of flour. You can also do this in your bowl as well.

2. Crack the eggs into the canyon along with the olive oil and water.

3. Incorporate the mixture until the dough is stretchy. It may be a little sticky but avoid adding more flour at this stage.

4. Cover the dough or place in a plastic bag and let sit for 20-30 minutes.

5. Remove dough and lightly flour your rolling surface. Begin to roll the dough to the desired thickness and shape and cut. To make tagliatelle, I rolled the pieces thin and cut long strips in a larger width. (Readers…here’s where I made the biggest mistake over and over. Unless you are looking for an upper body workout, rolling the entire piece of dough is going to wear you out to the point of being too tired to enjoy your pasta. If possible, cut up the dough into smaller pieces so you can easily roll it thin with a rolling pin. Better yet, invest in a pasta machine! It will make for consistently smooth and even pieces of pasta)

6. Put a generous pot of boiling water on the stove. With fresh pasta you want the water to be nicely salted and in a big enough pot to give your beautifully rolled pasta space to cook.

7. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and once it floats to the top (approximately 2-5 minutes depending on cut) it’s done!

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Goat Cheese Herb Ravioli is so easy to make. Just mix plain goat cheese with freshly chopped herbs of choice, and spoon onto squares of dough. Place another square on top, press firmly with a fork to close and boil.

8. Drain well and add sauce of choice.

Yes, it’s that simple. The beautiful thing is you can vary this recipe with all unbleached flour, or all semolina. You can add dried basil or other herbs. You can make a beautiful goat cheese and herb mix and stuff your squares of pasta to make ravioli. I would love to hear what kinds of variations you all make on homemade pasta dough recipes. It’s basic enough that you can truly make it your own.

Go forth, be creative, and mangia la pasta!

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Benvenuti!

Hello all,

Benvenuti! Or “Welcome” in Italian. You’ve stumbled upon this blog because perhaps, like me, you find food more than just nourishment, but a reason to live. A way of life. A creative outlet for your expression.

I was brought up in a family surrounded by amazing cooks and professional eaters and raised under the theory that food brings people together. Needless to say, I was bound to grow up into a young woman who finds her greatest joy in creating her own dishes.

Now as I embark on my career as an attorney, I am committed to keeping this part of myself very much thriving. A long, exhausting day of work can be remedied with a delicious meal. I’m convinced it has healing properties, to be quite honest with you.

A lot of people shy away from cooking, or from cooking certain types of meals for fear it will take too long, or be too hard. I am here to debunk that myth for you. No, this isn’t another “30 Minute Meals” blog (no copyright intended, all rights are to Food Network, Rachel Ray, and any other interested parties.)* Rather, this is a blog where I let my imagination guide my creations. I find challenges, and I conquer them (and sometimes fail at conquering them) in the quest for feeding myself and those I love with delicious food that warms our hearts and fills our bellies.

So thank you for coming here today, and I hope you enjoy this journey. Perhaps this blog will never be read, perhaps it will be read by many. At the end of the day, I hope it at least can serve as a time capsule that I can share with those I love later on in life so that they can be inspired to create, and share these recipes with their loved ones as well.

Eat with all of your heart,

G

*I promise that’s the last bit of legal jargon you will see on my blog.