Grilled Mozzarella and Red Peppers Sandwich

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This sandwich screams FRESHNESS, as it is made with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil pesto and oven roasted red sweet bell peppers drizzled balsamic vinegar. With layers of flavor, it is the perfect sandwich for a Meatless Monday lunch option.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 red sweet bell pepper
1 Fresh Mozzarella Cheese Ball
2 slices of Provolone Cheese
4 slices Italian bread
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Vegetable cooking spray

For the Fresh Basil Pesto:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt, more to taste
freshly ground black pepper, more to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 500° F .

Place the red bell peppers on a rimmed backing sheet. Lightly coat the peppers with the vegetable spray and place in the heated oven. Allow the peppers to roast for about 15 to 20 minutes. Rotate it at about the 7 minute mark and remove when all sides have charred black. Remove the peppers from the oven and allow them to cool. When the red peppers have cooled to the touch, remove the charred skin by using a clean tea towel. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds, then julienne the roasted peppers.

Using a sharp knife, thinly slice six pieces of cheese from the mozzarella ball.

To prepare the pesto spread: Pulse basil and pine nuts in a food processor: Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a several times.

Add the garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.

While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Stir in salt and freshly ground black pepper, add more to taste. cover and set aside.

Set the oven to 450 ° F.

Take 4 slices of Italian bread and spread the pesto on one side.

Lay a slice of provolone ontop of the pesto.

Take one slice and with the pesto side up and layer with the julienned red pepper first.

Use a brush and lightly coat the top of the red pepper with 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar.

Add three slices of Mozzarella cheese ontop of the peppers and close the with another bread slice. The pesto side should be touching the mozzarella. Repeat the process for the second sandwich.

Heat a cast iron skillet on medium high. Melt the butter until it is lightly foaming. Gently place the sandwiches in the melted butter.

Fry the sandwiches for about 2 to 4 minutes on medium heat, as it the bread become golden brown. Using spatula flip the sandwich over until the bread is crispy and golden brown, for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Continue to cook the sandwiches in the oven, by placing the skillet sandwich in the oven for about 5 to 7 minutes. Cook until the cheese is melted and slightly oozing from the bread. Remove from the oven.

Using a spatula, place a sandwich on a plate and serve immediately.

 

 

Cook’s Note:
Basil pesto oxidizes (darkens) when exposed to air, so to store, cover tightly with plastic wrap making sure the plastic is touching the top of the pesto and not allowing the pesto to have contact with air, making a complete seal. The pesto will stay greener longer that way. The pest will keep for about 2 weeks.

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Shrimp Risotto

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Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½-¾ pound shrimp, uncooked, peeled and deveined
½ cup diced onion
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
¼ cup frozen artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry Chardonnay
5 ½ cups chicken stock
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh  Italian flat leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Toss in shrimp and cook until pink. When done, remove and set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the same pan over moderate heat, then cook the onion, bell pepper and artichokes until translucent. Add the salt and white pepper. Pour in the rice, stirring to coat it with oil.

Pour the wine into the pan and turn the heat up to moderate-high, stirring gently to allow the rice to absorb the wine. After the wine evaporates, add stock in ½ cup increments and simmer while stirring, again until the liquid is nearly absorbed. Repeat for 15 minutes until rice is al dente, then remove pan from heat.

Stir in Parmesan, remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve,  place a 2 inch, greased ring mold in the center of the plate. Add risotto and smooth out the top with an off set knife. Remove the ring mold and place two interlocking shrimp onto of the risotto timbale. Garnish with a single parsley leaf.


Braised Chicken with Gnocchi and Artichokes

While the Italians may have invented gnocchi, the French arguably perfected it with their love of soups and braises. This warm and comforting recipe features chicken, artichokes and gnocchi slow simmered in white wine and chicken stock. Topped with crème fraîche and fresh dill, the braising renders everything perfectly tender and mouthwatering.

After making this dish the second time around, I found that using two 6-ounce jars of DeLallo Marinated Artichoke Hearts, drained and reserved about 4 tablespoons of the marinade and added it to the braising liquid, added instant flavor to this slow-simmered dish. I also left the skin on the chicken for more flavor in the dish.Although amazing as a stand alone main course, I also serve this dish with a rustic French bread and side dish of steamed asparagus.

And as I think about it, this braised chicken dish, it reminds of the classic Southern dish, Chicken and Dumplings my Grand use to make when I was child. And while many of us are still waiting for Spring to begin and the snows to melt, this dish really hits the spot and is so filling with the lemony taste of dill.

Enjoy!

Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 chicken thighs and 2 chicken drumsticks
1 yellow onion
1/4 bunch fresh dill
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup crème fraîche
2 cups artichoke hearts
8 ounces prepared gnocchi


Directions:

Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towel. Peel onion and mince. Rinse dill and roughly chop leaves, discarding stems.

Heat butter and olive oil in a large high-sided pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper. When oil is shimmering, add chicken and cook until bottom is browned and lifts easily from pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook until second side is browned, 3 to 4 minutes more. Remove chicken and set aside. Discard fat from pan.

Add onion to pan from chicken over medium heat and cook until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add white wine and chicken broth and scrape up brown bits from bottom of pan.

Return chicken to pan, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil over high heat. Then cover and reduce heat to medium low. Braise, covered, until chicken is cooked through and pulling away from bone, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove, reserving liquid in pan, cover with foil to keep warm, and set aside.

Add crème fraîche to pan with braising liquid and whisk to combine. Increase heat to medium high. Add artichoke hearts and gnocchi and cook, covered, until warmed through, about 3 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Return chicken to pan and turn to coat, about 1 minute.

Divide chicken, artichokes, gnocchi, and braising liquid evenly between two pasta bowls. Garnish with dill and serve.

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