No matter your winter activity, albeit ice skating, ice fishing (well, maybe I’ve got some fans in the frozen tundra), or just plain exhausting shopping and decorating, there’s nothing better than a piping hot bowl of soup. My recipe for Roasted Garlic Tomato Basil Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons comes from the “Pic Niques” chapter of SUNDAY BEST DISHES. If you’re lucky enough to live in Florida, this DISH OF THE DAY is perfect for a spur of the moment winter break picnic, and if you don’t live here with me in the tropics? A hearty tomato soup with cheesy croutons is just the best in a snowed in cabin, too! It’s the perfect meal to serve as you gather friends and family to decorate the tree.
Myself, I’m going to need a big warm comforting bowl of this soup, to finish wrapping gifts and signing my autograph. My beautiful bookplates are here! Email me soon for your signed copy of Santa’s favorite cookbook, and be sure to include your address so he and the reindeer can find you!
Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut off the top third of each head of garlic and discard. Place the heads onto a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle the cut side with olive oil, salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence. Fold up the foil around the garlic, leaving a small hole at the top. Place into the oven and roast until the cloves are golden, soft and popping out of their skins, about 30 to 40 minutes.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced, about 1 ½ cup
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped, about 1 cup
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large soup pot. Stir in the onion and carrots and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the veggies with flour and cook for several minutes more. Stir in the broth, crushed tomatoes and the tomato paste. Cook until the mixture is smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Add the roasted garlic and basil and cook for 1 minute more. Cool the soup. Transfer the soup in batches to a food processor (or blender) and pulse to emulsify.
Pour the soup back into the pot over medium heat. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat.
1 large hoagie roll
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded, about ½ cup
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°. Slice the hoagie roll in half horizontally. Spread the butter over the cut side. Lay the cheese on top of one butter-slathered slice of the roll. Place the top on the roll. Smush the roll down so that the cheese sticks to the butter inside. Brush the top, sides and bottom of the roll with olive oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Slice into 1-inch cubes. Bake until golden on all sides, turning every so often, about 3 to 5 minutes total.
Pour the soup into a thermos. Pack the croutons into an air-tight container. Serve the soup with a garnish of basil and top with 1 to 2 croutons.
With 20 days until Christmas, it’s time to get into the spirit! My recipe for Baked Eggplant with Ricotta Cheese is perfect for a veggie weekday meal. You can prepare in the morning, and finish it in the oven for Tuesday’s dinner.
Before I dish out the recipe, here’s a gentle reminder to order your copy of SUNDAY BEST DISHES today! It’s the perfect Xmas gift for the foodie on your Christmas list! Jorj.com subscribers — OR any subscriber who emails me, actually — gets a FREE autographed bookplate to insert into the book! Send an email to Jorj.com that includes your mailing address and the name you want me to personalize!! Oh, and get cooking!
The prep work on this one fills your kitchen with an incredibly pleasing aroma. See what I mean?
Another bonus is that the herbs have an almost Christmasy look – well, in my holiday kitchen they do:
Baked Eggplant with Ricotta Cheese
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
This vegetarian delight is every bit as filling as traditional lasagna, and special because of its closeness, yet differences to eggplant parmesan. It’s ooey, gooey and totally yummy!
2 (1-pound) eggplants, sliced into ¼-inch rounds, about 27 slices
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups Italian style breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 350°. Season the eggplant slices with salt. Place into a colander in the sink for 1 hour. This will take the bitterness from the eggplant. Rinse the slices and pat dry. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the eggplant in the breadcrumbs, pushing the crumbs into each slice. Add as many eggplant slices that easily fit into your skillet. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other side until golden. (As the eggplant cooks, it will immediately absorb most of the oil. As it continues cooking, it will start to exude that oil back into the pan. Watch carefully as you cook.) Remove the eggplant to a baking sheet, lined with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Continue until all of the eggplant slices are browned. Add more oil as you cook a new batch.
½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
¼ cup organic half and half
1 large egg
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about ½ cup
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 ½ cups marinara sauce
12 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
Whisk together the ricotta cheese, half and half, egg, Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Coat an 11 x 7 x 2-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spoon ½ cup of the marinara into the bottom of the dish. Place a layer of eggplant slices into the bottom of the baking dish. Top with 1 cup marinara sauce. Place ½ of the mozzarella cheese over the sauce. Top with another layer of eggplant. Repeat with 1 cup marinara and the remaining mozzarella cheese. Top with the last layer of eggplant. Pour the remaining marinara sauce over top. Spoon the ricotta cheese topping over all. Bake until the casserole is bubbling and the top is golden, about 30 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to the broil setting. Place the casserole under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the topping.
Let the casserole rest for 15 minutes before cutting into squares.
We all know it starts with the bird. But, how are you cooking your bird this year? Are you shooting him up with butter and seasonings, are you bathing him in an overnight brine? Are you getting him ready for the fryer? Or, if you are like me, are you rubbing him down, inside and out, with fresh herbs and olive oil and stuffing him with oranges and apples? Whichever way you plan to cook him, the bird goes on your menu plan as the shining star of the meal.
I have traditional appetizers that I have made for years, and that my mother and grandmothers made before me. I make a salmon mousse spread, and a garlic and sherry infused chopped liver pate. I think two appetizers are great, one that is lighter and one that is rich. Think crudité and bruschetta, cheese board and roasted veggies, savory onion dip, and blue cheese stuffed endive leaves. It’s about balance here. Appys are the lead up to the big event.
And then there are the desserts. Pumpkin pie, of course. We also include chocolate pecan pie, and good old-fasioned chocolate cream pie. All served with a heaping ladleful of bourbon and vanilla laced whipped cream.
Every year it’s the sides that get my imagination going. Here’s where I change it up a bit (much to the chagrin of the family). And, every once in a while I hit a home run! There are the standards: whipped potatoes and dressing. The accompaniments are as endless as your Thanksgiving Day waistband.
In place of a sweet potato dish, this year I’m making a savory carrot pudding served with creamed onions and peas. (You see, three vegies in one!). I’m also serving fresh green beans sautéed in olive oil, with thin slices of garlic and julienne sundried tomatoes (The recipe is below). I’m also considering creamed spinach and saucy succotash. It’s a dilemma. A good one! Here’s my recipe for changed up green beans.
With Sliced Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Serves 6 to 8
20 Minute Cuisine
Here is a really simple recipe that you can make in minutes, and is as perfect for a weekday meal as it is when company comes a callin’. You can make everything in advance, and then reheat just before serving. The best part is that leftovers are delicious in a pasta salad for tomorrow’s lunch!
1 (4-ounce jar) julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces, about 4 cups
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
Place the sundried tomatoes into a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is soft and golden, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Blanch or steam the green beans until crisp-tender. I use the vegetable setting on my microwave for this. I place the green beans in a bowl with a little bit of water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place into the oven. The green beans are usually crisp-tender in about 4 minutes. Drain the water from the bowl.
Place the green beans into the skillet and toss with the sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
You can find those fancy, skinny green beans in the grocery store, already cleaned and bagged. These are delicious in this recipe. The only change to make is that you do not have to blanch them first. To make this an even heartier side dish, add baby new potatoes, halved and blanched until they are tender. Green bean, tomatoes and potatoes all in one dish…. Well that’s good!