Creamy Broccoli and Fennel Soup with Cheddar, Gruyere and Crispy Onions

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Spring is here!  What a wondrous and renewing season it is.  Wait, that was a couple of weeks ago, Mother Nature seems to have other plans and has brought back the biting cold weather reminiscent of winter.  What a cruel, cruel, joke!  Yesterday I was so cold, with the wind and rain whipping outside of my window, all I craved was something warm to fill my belly.  So, soup was naturally a perfect choice for our dinner.

I remember when I tried Broccoli and Cheddar soup for the first time.  It was magical.  It was sublime.  It probably had no real broccoli OR cheddar in it.  I still love it though, but have now realized how easy and healthier it is to make at home.  My version has fewer calories too, because I swap full fat cream for 2% milk and a little bit of cornstarch to thicken it.  I added some fennel to make it sing, and I love topping soup with crispy things, mine with french fried onions, but you can use whatever your heart desires!  Silky, delicious, and filling, what more could you want?

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a small onion, chopped

2 tbsp of fresh fennel tops, chopped

1 small head of broccoli, chopped

1 cube vegetable stock

1 tsp salt

2 cups water

3 cups 2% milk

1 tbsp instant cornstarch

3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Crispy onions (or whatever you want)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot over medium high heat, add the olive oil.  Add the onion, fennel tops and broccoli, sauté for about 8 minutes or until soft.  Add the vegetable stock, salt, water and milk and lower heat to medium low.  Cook for about 20 minutes.

Take off heat and let cool for about 10 minutes before processing.  Place soup in a blender and pulse, for less time if you want it chunky.  I wanted mine smooth, so I pulsed for about 45 seconds.

Return to stock pot, add the cornstarch and reheat for about 2 more minutes.  Add the cheeses and stir.  Serve into bowls and top with a little more cheese, crispy onions and freshly ground pepper.

From my kitchen to yours,


Spaghetti squash, Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

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It’s been a looong time readers!  I apologize for my absence, but life gets in the way sometimes.   Over in our household, things have changed radically!  In November our little girl was born, and you know what newborns mean!  Amazement, happiness, wonder, lack of sleep and no time.  Yet, I have to say that we are lucky, she sleeps through the night already and is a pretty easy baby, so that has freed up some time for me to be able to cook again.  Granted, not much time, but on weekends I get to make nice comfort food because the hubby and my eldest daughter are around to give me a hand.

Since the birth of our little one, I have started to eat more vegetables, in preparation for starting her off on the right foot.  What I didn’t expect, is how much better I feel, and how heavy and bloated I get when I eat meat.  Now, don´t get me wrong, I looove meat, but I think I am going to do weekday vegetarianism and save the meat for the weekends!

Just recently I started seeing spaghetti squash at the market, and its been two weeks in a row that I cook it at home.  This recipe was inspired by a Jamie Oliver show I saw last week, but he used butternut squash instead.  This recipe is mine, because I know he didn’t use any béchamel and his was a sort of rotolo, like a rolled up pasta.  I don´t get to watch too much tv now and when I do, I usually don’t get to see the whole program!

I wasn’t sure about this combination of veggies, but it works marvelously and is going to be a repeat offender in our house!  My daughter who only ate spinach in spanakopita, now loves this dish and bonus she gets squash and  spinach!  This is a sunday type meal, since it does take a little bit of extra time to make it.  But please, do try it, I guarantee you will not miss the meat and will keep this recipe to use again and again!

Spaghetti Squash, Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

Serves 8

12 sheets precooked lasagna sheets

1 recipe garlic spinach (below)

1 small spaghetti squash, roasted and seeded, peeled and mashed

1 recipe tomato sauce (below)

1 recipe béchamel (below)

1 small tub of ricotta cheese

1 mozzarella, chopped

2 tbsp grated Parmigiano Reggiano

To make the lasagna, preheat your oven to 190C (375F).  In a large bowl, mix the squash, spinach and ricotta, try it to see if it needs any more salt or pepper. In a baking dish, spoon some of your tomato sauce on the bottom so the pasta sheets won’t stick.  Then lay 3 lasagna sheets down, and top each with a large spoonful of the squash mixture, a little bit of the mozzarella, béchamel sauce, and then some tomato sauce.  Repeat 3 times until you get to your last layer, which you only top with the remaining béchamel, tomato, mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Take off the aluminum foil, raise the heat to 200C (400F) and cook for another 10 minutes.  Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving (or you WILL burn your tongue off!)

For the garlic spinach recipe:

300 g frozen baby spinach

1 tbsp of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

water, to defrost spinach

In a large sauté pan, add the frozen spinach, garlic, oil and water (just enough to cover the spinach, like half a cup).  Over medium high heat, cook the spinach until it defrosts and the water has evaporated.  Add salt and pepper and then place in a fine mesh colander to strain the cooking water out of the spinach.  Place in a large bowl to cool, set aside.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce…

Tomato Sauce recipe:

2 400g tins of pureed tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 dried red chili pepper

1/4 tsp of oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp of olive oil

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic, chili, and oregano.  Heat until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, 3/4 of the can full of water, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile make the béchamel sauce….

Béchamel Recipe:

4 tbsp unsalted butter

4 tbsp flour

3 cups cold milk

dash of white pepper

dash of freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium low heat, add the butter and melt.  When foamy, add the flour and whisk until completely incorporated and let cook for about 4 minutes, whisking constantly.  In a constant drizzle add the cold milk and keep whisking until added.  Continue to cook, whisking to make sure you have no lumps until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.  Take off heat and add the pepper, nutmeg and salt.

From my kitchen to yours,


Penne Con I Broccoli – Penne with Broccoli

Penne with Broccoli


This is our second recipe from our cookbook “Italy, The Beautiful Cookbook”, and one that my daughter chose.  I wasn’t very surprised, as she loves broccoli, but then I read the rest of the ingredients and thought, she obviously only read the title.  I was quite perplexed at the combination of ingredients as well, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, raisins, anchovies, pine nuts…….in my brain, these ingredients really shouldn’t go together.  But they did, marvelously well, and we were all really surprised.  My hubs mentioned that he felt that it was because there were really no overpowering flavors, it was just the right amount of each ingredient for it to be harmonious, delicate even!

This recipe is from the southern Italian region of Apulia (Puglia).  As the south of Italy was conquered and influenced by the Arabs, this recipe started to make more sense, it was an obvious melange of Arabic and Italian cooking!  The use of savoury and sweet is very Arabic, hence the pine nuts and raisins, but then combining it with broccoli, tomatoes, garlic and anchovies is redolent of southern Italian cooking.  Many of you will want to omit the anchovies, as I know that not everyone is on that bandwagon, but I ask you to try it out, if my daughter, who hates all things fishy, couldn’t tell and was waxing poetic about this recipe, I am positive you won’t either.  Because the recipe calls for you to mash it and then fry it in the olive oil with the garlic, it basically melts in the oil, and adds just a hint of salt and umami to the dish.  If you are still hesitant, reduce the amount, but don’t leave it out!

So here is what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1 can (1lb/500g) whole, peeled tomatoes

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 head broccoli

500g Penne pasta

6 anchovy fillets in oil, mashed

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 cup pine nuts

Grated Pecorino cheese

Soak the raisins in lukewarm water to cover until needed.  Heat half the oil in a large skillet over moderate heat.  Add the onion and sauté until translucent.  Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for about an hour to reduce the sauce.

Meanwhile, separate the broccoli into florets and stems.  Peel and slice the stems.  Drop into a saucepan of boiling water and cook until the penne are al dente.

Fry the anchovy fillets gently with the garlic and pine nuts in oil, until the garlic is fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.  Add to the tomato sauce.  Mix in the strained raisins, broccoli florets and a spoonful of the cooking water from the pasta, cover and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender, stirring frequently.

Add the strained penne to the skillet, and raise the heat to high, stirring frequently to incorporate all the sauce.  Serve immediately with the grated Pecorino cheese.

From my kitchen to yours,


Tarragon, Mushroom, and Leek Tart

Tarragon, Mushroom, and Leek Tart


It’s starting to cool down a bit here, not enormously, but in the evenings there is a slight chill in the air;  for me, that means that I can start using the oven more often, and I love it!

I have an obsession with all the ingredients of this tart, but the most recent one is tarragon.  I had never tried it before a couple of years ago, it really isn’t an ingredient readily available in Miami or the Bahamas.  After moving to Spain I started noticing it in the market, and wondered if it tasted as good as it smelled.  I think it is a definite acquired taste, but I liked it more and more every time.

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This is a very simple tart to make, but just because its simple doesn’t mean it isn’t elegant enough to serve at a dinner party.  I love these types of meals, unfussy, rustic and über delicious.  Perfect to serve as a starter, or as a main with a simple lamb’s lettuce salad.

Here’s what you’re going to need:

For the shell:

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small squares

1 1/2 tbsp lard

2 – 3 tbsp ice water


For the filling:

2 leeks, thinly sliced

2 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced (cremini or white)

2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

3/4 cup tarragon, chopped

3 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup Gruyère or comte cheese, grated

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

Pre-heat the oven to 425F (220C).  In a medium bowl place the flour and salt, mix well.  Add the butter and lard, and with your hands or a pastry cutter, mix until all the fats are incorporated.  Add the water, one tbsp at a time, and mix with your hands to form a ball, and just until the dough sticks together.  Add more water if needed (but I only used 2 tbsp).  Wrap in plastic film, and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Roll out dough on a clean and floured surface.  Roll out to about 1/8 thick, and place in tart mold, trimming the edges.  Cover with aluminum foil and put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes.  Remove from freezer, and add pie weights or beans, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.  Uncover and bake for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium low heat.  Add the leeks and cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, thyme and salt.  Raise the heat to high and cook until the mushrooms have let out their liquids and it has evaporated.  Add the tarragon cook for another minute, then take off heat.  Let cool.

In a medium bowl, add the eggs, cream, cheese, black pepper and nutmeg.  Mix well.  Add the cooled mushroom mixture.

When your tart has finished pre-baking, lower the oven to 375F (190C).  Place the mushroom mix in the tart shell, and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.  Let cool 20 minutes before serving.

From my kitchen to yours,



Spinach and Four Cheese Baked Pasta

Spinach and 4 cheese pasta


The only way I can get my daughter to eat spinach is to pair it with cheese.  So, I did.  Pasta al Forno, or Baked Pasta, I guess could be considered the great granddaddy of Mac & Cheese.  My family adores Pasta al Forno, so whenever I can, I try to come up with interesting variations.  One of the most important parts of this recipe is making a great béchamel.  Bechamel is silky and creamy, if done properly.  The only thing it requires, is time, a good amount of stirring and a proper roux.

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Making a roux is easy, ruining it is even easier.  This part of the process requires you to be completely aware and not leave it for a second, because it can and will burn!  The key is cooking it over very low heat, and stirring constantly.  Another tip, is to always slowly stream COLD milk (or cream, if you’re feeling really sinful) into the roux, while stirring vigorously.

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Your béchamel should be perfect in about 10 – 15 minutes.  When it’s done, take off the heat, and add the salt, pepper and all the cheese you want!

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I used a mix of Gruyère, Ricotta Salata, Emmenthal (a.k.a. Swiss Cheese) and Old Amsterdam, which has a slightly nutty flavor, similar to a mild cheddar.

Whatever combination, I am sure this will be a winner at dinner!

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So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6 approx.

1 lb pasta, I used gnocchetti

200 g frozen spinach, boiled and drained

4 tbsp butter

4 tbsp all-purpose flour

3 cups cold milk

1 cup cold heavy cream

4 cups mixed, grated cheese

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1 cup bread crumbs plus 1 tbsp butter, melted

Boil pasta according to package directions, draining one minute before the time on package.  Set aside.  In a heavy stockpot over very low heat, melt the butter until foamy.  Add the flour and whisk.  Cook over low heat for about 5-6 minutes, whisking constantly.  Slowly pour in your cold milk (or milk and cream), whisking all the time to make sure there are no lumps. Now switch to a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring all the time, until thickened.  Take off the heat and add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and the cheeses.

Add the spinach and pasta to the cheese sauce, mix well.  Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Add the pasta to a large baking dish, set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the butter until thoroughly combined.  Sprinkle on top of the pasta evenly.

Place the pasta in the oven and cook for about 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and the breadcrumbs are nice and golden.  Take out of the oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

From my kitchen to yours,


Pesce al Acqua Pazza – Sea Bream in “Crazy Water” Sauce

Pesce al Aqua Pazza

Acqua Pazza is probably one of my favorite styles of baking fish.  I tried it in Positano for the first time, and I was so enthralled with it, it completely embodies what you want to eat in summer in the Mediterranean.

Acqua Pazza literally means, crazy water.  I guess the crazy part is that it has just a touch of chili pepper, but if that’s what crazy means, I am totally “loco” over it!

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Super simple to make, it will literally take you all of 40 minutes to make this.  Most of the ingredients you will probably have in your pantry already, all you need is some delicious super fresh fish.  We decided on this beautiful Red Sea Bream, very typical here in Spain.

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Easy enough for a weeknight meal, but spectacular for an early lunch now that the weather is warming up!   I hope you try it, cause I am sure you will be hooked too!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

1  2kg whole firm fleshed white fish, such as Corvina, Snapper, Sea Bream, or Sea Bass.  Ask your fishmonger to clean it for you.

Salt and Pepper, to taste

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp chili pepper flakes

1/2 large onion, sliced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp capers

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp lemon juice

Lemon slices, for garnish

Pre heat the oven to 200 C.  Wash the fish thoroughly, inside and out.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in a large baking dish.  Set aside.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the chili pepper, onion, and garlic, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the cherry tomatoes and raise the heat to high, stirring.  Add the white wine and capers, and cook for another 5 minutes, or until super fragrant.  Take off heat and add the 1/4 cup water and lemon juice.  Let cool for about 5 minutes, and pour over fish, add the lemon slices to the top.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,


Blood Orange and Ricotta Pancakes with Minted Strawberries

Blood Orange and Ricotta Pancakes


On the weekends, my tummy and daughter begs me to make pancakes.  It’s something I have done for, let’s see, 15 years.  That is a lot of pancakes my friends.  Needless to say, I need to vary the ingredients because regular pancakes, as good as they are, get a little boring.  Now, I’ve seen multiple recipes for Lemon Ricotta pancakes, but I have a stash of blood oranges, and decided to switch it up and see what came out.

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I didn’t use this many for the recipe, the juice from one was enough.  The rest were just juiced to go with our breakfast.  I was pleasantly surprised, the times I have made the lemon ricotta, I really didn’t taste that much lemon.  The blood orange juice gave it a sweeter, and slightly tart flavor.  Adding ricotta made them super creamy and just a little bit denser.  We all loved them, and as soon as blood orange season rolls around again, I know that I’ll be making this on Saturday morning!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

Juice from one Blood Orange

1/2 cup ricotta

1 cup sliced strawberries

1 tbsp mint, in chiffonade

1 tsp sugar


Maple Syrup

In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Set aside.  In another bowl, mix the egg, milk, orange juice and ricotta until combined.  Add to the flour mixture, and whisk just until combined.  Do not overmix, it’s ok if there are still some lumps.

In a small bowl, mix the strawberries, mint and sugar well.  Let them sit until you are ready to serve.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.  Add a tsp of oil or butter, and wipe the pan with a paper towel so there is just a film of the oil or butter.

Using a 1/4 cup measurement, or a small ladle, place the batter and cook until it bubbles, then flip over.  Repeat with remaining batter.  You should be able to make 6-7 pancakes.

Top the pancakes with the strawberries, butter and syrup.  Serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,