Category Archives: Grilling

Melrose Peppers, Another Love Story

This is a story about Melrose Peppers. It is also a story about growing up in Melrose Park surrounded by family. Not everyone can claim that their hometown has a pepper named after it, but I can.

The Melrose pepper, an Italian sweet variety, came to Melrose Park along with many Italian Immigrants. My grandfather was one of those settlers and like so many others he had a garden. When I was little, I was fascinated with the garden across the street from our house. I remember my grandfather spending hours tending the tomato and pepper plants. There were lots of other vegetables, but those are the ones I remember most. I grew up taking for granted that everyone had a giant field of food within walking distance.

Sadly, my grandfather passed away and before long, so did his garden. The field became home to a trio of brick three flats. The tradition of garden fresh produce continued in Melrose Park, however. There was a converted school bus that came down our street several times a week in the summer. Inside was a veritable wonderland of fruits and vegetables. There always seemed to be plum tomatoes and Melrose peppers. That was a convenience that is no longer a reality.

If for some reason we missed the bus, there was always Tom Naples stand. To call it a stand is an understatement. It was huge (at least to an 8-year-old) and had every vegetable imaginable. There were fields of Melrose peppers growing behind his stand. I think he supplied the entire Chicago area Italian population with these sweet little beauties.

They were a staple in Italian kitchens in the summer. Fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt they crowned sausage and Italian beef sandwiches. They could simmer in tomato sauce and in a time when there was plenty of time they could be stuffed with sausage. My favorite treatment was when they were added to scrambled eggs for that Friday Supper Favorite, Pepper and Egg Sandwiches. Tucked into crusty Italian bread there was nothing better. It was delicious enough that I never missed the meat.

Years passed and access to the peppers did too. With all the bounty of produce we experienced living in California, there was never a Melrose Pepper. Once we moved back to Illinois it took some time before I re-discovered them. I have sung the praises of Caputo’s Fresh Market before, but I may love them the most because they reunited me with my cherished peppers.

This year my love affair reached a new level. I actually found Melrose Pepper plants and two have lived happily in my tiny garden plot. They have withstood heat, rain (and lack thereof), and rabbits and have given me if not a bounty at least some tasty meals.

Since I am always interested in the next “Can you grill it?” adventure I thought it was time to put my small bounty of Melrose beauties to the test. What better way then to pair them with one of their most popular partners, Italian sausage. I chose Scratch Family Chicken Italian Sausage because I got to talk to the creator at my favorite Caputo’s and his passion was as remarkable as his sausage. The sausage which is made with natural ingredients tastes remarkably like its pork cousin. The company is local, based in Montgomery, serving a limited market in the Chicago area. I think it’s due to get more widely known.

This sausage is also fully cooked which made it an even better choice for Mama D’s Grill Basket of Love.

While not traditional, I added a few red bell pepper strips for some color and some sliced sweet onions for a bolder flavor. Everything cooked together so the flavors really had a chance to blend. The result was a one dish meal that would have made my grandfather proud.

There isn’t much of a recipe to write. All you need is enough sausage, peppers, and onions to feed your family. Olive oil, maybe a bit of Italian herbs, and a sprinkle of some Pecorino Romano and you are good to go.

As my lead picture indicates, the last batch of peppers are turning their fully ripe crimson, an event that makes them even sweeter. The last peppers are waiting to be picked and I will miss them. A year is a long time to be without them. The season for these little guys is short and they may be hard to find but, keep an eye out for them, they are worth the hunt.

In Praise of Gas Grills…and Roasted Red Peppers

Summer is at its peak and fresh vegetables are overflowing their bins. Grills everywhere are fired up and working up a major sweat. Vegetables and grills have a special affinity that is at its best at this time of the year.

Purists will swear by charcoal and I do love me some char-grilled meat, but there are times when the convenience of gas has many of its own attributes. Disclaimer: I have no choice other than using a gas grill. Apartment living requires it for safety reasons (at least in my complex). That being said, I used gas long before I had to. It is at times a love hate relationship but, lately I love it and here is why.

The biggest plus (in my book) is how quickly it is ready to cook. Turn on the gas and press the button and you have a flame.  In a few minutes it is hot and ready to cook. What I love the most about this almost instant grill gratification is that it allows me to grill only the ingredients that I want. These ingredients can then come inside and become part of a pasta dish, frittata or salad. and yes all of those have happened this past week.

Woodman’s, a local mega grocery store, discounts their slightly sad produce. The discount is deep (think large bags of produce for 99 cents) and it is done daily with Mondays seeming to be the biggest day. While there are often some things that are sadder than others, there is usually enough usable produce to be well worth the under a dollar price. Quick processing then becomes the top priority. My bag of peppers, all of which were usable went in several directions. I chopped up a few and froze them for later, some where good enough for a salad and the rest went on the grill.

Grilling peppers accomplishes two things. The peppers cook into a silky textured scarlet bite of deliciousness and the charring allows the skin to easily be peeled.  This peeling step is a must do. For as silky as the pepper flesh gets the skin becomes tough, chewy and isn’t fun to eat.

As with peeling chili peppers, covering with plastic wrap and allowing the peppers to sit for a few minutes makes the skin easy to remove. The jewel like flesh that is revealed is a thing of beauty.

I opted to roughly chop the peppers for the recipes that I made, but slicing them into strips and adding some herbs, vinegar and olive oil create the perfect star for your next relish tray. As I said they made several appearances in the kitchen. My favorite was their co-starring role in a Panzanella Salad.

Cucumbers, cannellini beans, red onions, tomatoes, and whole wheat baguette joined the peppers and some kalamata olives to create a Mediterranean main dish salad that was wonderful. 

A Mediterranean Vinaigrette laced with lots of Rosemary gave a light yet zesty flavor to the salad. A sprinkling of Feta and it was ready to enjoy.

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Mediterranean Vinaigrette

A twist on the classic vinaigrette with plenty of lemon and more than a hint of garlic. Add any fresh herbs of your choice. This is wonderful on a Greek salad, but it would be equally delightful as a dressing for grilled vegetable or a pasta salad. It makes a great marinade as well.

Ingredients
  • 1 Medium Lemon Juice and zest
  • 2 Cloves Garlic Grated
  • 1/4 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes Optional, to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Herbs Parsley, thyme, basil, or you choice
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper To taste
  • 1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 Cup Olive oil
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until completely blended. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

As far as Panzanella Salad Recipes go…anything goes. Tomatoes and cucumbers seem to be a must and of course crusty bread has to be present as this is a “Bread Salad.”

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Cannellini and Roasted Red Pepper Panzanella Salad

Another variation on the classic Panzanella Salad.  This is totally open to your own interpretation. add or subtract what you want, just make sure the tomatoes and bread stick around.

Servings: 4
Ingredients
  • Can Cannellini Beans Drained and rinsed
  • 2 - 3 Roasted Red Peppers Chopped
  • 1 Cup Sliced Cucumber
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Red Onion Scliced vertically
  • 1/4 Cup Kalamata Olives Sliced
  • 1 Cup Grape or Cherry Tomatoes Halved
  • 2 Cups Crusty Bread Cubes Day Old is best
  • 3/4 Cup Mediterranean Vinaigrette Recipe above
  • 1/3 Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
Instructions
  1. If the bread cubes are soft toast them lightly in a 325 degree oven. they should be dry and lightly golden. Combine the peppers, tomatoes, onion, olives, bread, and beans in a large bowl.

  2. Add the dressing and toss to coat everything nicely. cover and chill for several hours.

  3. When you are ready to serve, re-toss the salad adding a little more dressing if necessary. Sprinkle with the Feta cheese and serve.

So now that I have “said my piece” about grills and peppers, I will leave you with this bit of philosophy: Grills and peppers come in all shapes and sizes. Kind of like everything else in the world. Find what works, find what you love, and make it your own.

Hail Caesar!! The Salad Dressing of Summer

This is shaping up to be the “Summer of Salads” in Mama D’s Kitchen. Posts here and those published directly on Facebook have definitely had a vegetable forward approach. It just feels right because here in the MIdwest we are experiencing a very warm June, in fact it has felt more like August for the better part of a week.

Salads can be easy to prepare and are the perfect light supper for those warm Summer evenings. This post is paying tribute to Caesar Salad Dressing as I make it. This is not the traditional coddled egg and anchovy version though these ingredient are present in slightly different forms. Even with these “shortcuts” the result is creamy, tangy, and worthy of reining over anything.

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Caesar Salad Dressing

This is a basic dressing that can be adjusted to your tastes. The recipe can be doubled and because it can be used in many different ways this is a good idea.

Ingredients
  • 1 Clove Garlic Smashed
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 1- 1/2 Tsp. Anchovy Paste More or less to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. Mayonnaise Olive oil based is nice
  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tsp. White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 Tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tsp. Cracked Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Tsp. Cayenne Optional, to taste
  • 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredient in a small food processor. Pulse until everything is nice and smooth.

  2. Give it a good taste and adjust the flavors to make you happy. Store, in the refrigerator  in a jar with a tight fitting lid. 

Once you have your dressing made, use it in whatever way you like. The two dishes I’m sharing are pretty basic, but they are a great place to start. First there is the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad. Classic, easy, and delicious. Marinate Chicken Breast in a bit of the dressing. Use boneless/skinless whole breasts or use tenderloins like I did. Threaded on a skewer they cook in no time and have more grilled surface which means more flavor.Torn Romaine Lettuce, the cubed chicken and a couple of tablespoons of dressing are tossed together. Once plated add some shaved Pecorino (or Parmesan) and a few croutons. Heaven on a plate. Swap the chicken for shrimp or salmon or even leave out the added protein and enjoy it as a delectable side.Caesar dressing is wonderful on any vegetable salad. It can turn grilled vegetables into the perfect accessory for grilled meat, poultry, or fish.

Toss your vegetables of choice with a little of the dressing and let them get well acquainted in the refrigerator for several hours. Cook them in a grill basket over medium heat. For this dish I used zucchini and yellow squash, asparagus. red onion, and Yukon Gold potatoes. You want everything to be barely tender so depending on how hot your grill is, this will take 15 – 20 minutes.

A note here: The potatoes take longer to cook. To even the cooking time out, steam them for about 10 minutes or cook them in the microwave for 3 – 5 minutes.

Toss the vegetables with a little more of the dressing and allow to mellow in the refrigerator for several hours. This type of salad tastes best slightly cool or at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge accordingly. You can add a few grape tomatoes, some chopped fresh herbs and a grating of cheese if you are so inclined. Take as many liberties with the vegetables as you would like. green beans, eggplant, or peppers would enjoy this royal treatment.

There is no need to stop at salad and marinade. Use it as an ingredient in burgers, drizzle a bit on a sandwich, or use it as a dip for artichokes. The possibilities are almost endless and summer is only just beginning.

Nonna’s Cookbook: Entry #1 Scampi

I’ve been sharing my cooking  (and life) adventures here for several years. Here, I’m Mama D, home cook and blogger. I answer to a few other names as well. I’m Mom to my sons, Wife to Papa Diehl, and proudly, I’m Nonna to my beautiful grandchildren. As the holidays draw to a close, the magic of family is the star on my Christmas tree.

Sitting under that tree right now is a small book that was a special gift from my grandson, Jakob. It’s a “fill in the blanks” book designed to preserve recipes. As a new year dawns, one of my “resolutions” is to use this book to record my favorite recipes. It is an exercise in an art that has been lost to me for many years, and perhaps something my grandchildren will look at one day.

I know in this day and age most of us preserve our recipes and many of our thoughts and ideas, for that matter, on the computer. We post them on social media to be shared with an audience of friends, family, and total strangers. It’s easy, it’s quick, but there is a certain amount of de-personalization in the whole process. We don’t write letters any more, and the paper trail we leave is in the “Cloud” wherever that may be. Most children aren’t learning to write cursive and struggle to read the few words that are written on a birthday card. I’ll get off my soapbox, now. I’m not against modern technology, far from it ( this blog is small proof of that). So, while I will continue to share my recipes here, many will also live on in that little book that’s under the Christmas tree.For the first entry in my cookbook I’m sharing my Scampi recipe. I’ve learned that the word Scampi in Italian means prawn (a.k.a. a large shrimp) thus making “Shrimp Scampi” somewhat redundant. Translations notwithstanding, this is my favorite way to make shrimp, no matter where they are going to wind up. In this recipe, the magic is in the marinade. The ingredients are simple and always available in Mama D’s Kitchen.Lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and parsley mingle with lemon juice, dry vermouth, and quite a bit more than a little extra virgin olive oil. This mixture gives the sweetly bland shrimp a culinary pair of big girl panties and prepares them for any kind of introduction to heat.After a few hours resting in-robed in plastic within the cool confines of the refrigerator, they are ready for anything; a hot grill basket, a quick bake in the oven, a turn in a skillet, or a brief visit under the broiler. Where they go after that is up to the cook’s imagination, but it is always delicious and never results in left overs.

So here without further ado is Mama D’s Scampi recipe.

Scampi
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Scampi
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Dry the peeled and deveined shrimp between paper towels, then place them in a zip top bag.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour the marinade into the bag of shrimp. Seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but no longer than 5.
  3. Grilling: Heat a grill basket over a medium high fire. Spray the basket with non-stick spray. Remove the shrimp from the bag and add to the grill basket. Cook stirring gently until the shrimp turn pink and curl slightly. This takes 7 -10 minutes.
  4. Broiling: Place the shrimp in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with a little of the marinade. Broil 3 - 4 minutes. turn the shrimp and broil for 3-4 minutes more.
  5. Baking: Lay the shrimp on the baking sheet as for broiling. Bake 3-4 minutes, turn the shrimp and broil 3-4 minutes more
  6. Frying: Heat a large skillet and add about 2 tablespoons of the marinade. Add the shrimp and saute, turning frequently until they turn pink .
  7. Once the shrimp are slightly curled and pretty in pink remove them from the heat source and serve as an appetizer or main dish.
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The recipe will live on as part of this blog post. It is also preserved as the official first entry in “Nonna’s Cookbook.”

Happy New Year!

Can You Grill It? Potato and Green Bean Salad, Revisited

Yes, the grill on Mama D’s balcony is still working its grates off. It is after all, grilling season and everything is fair game. That’s where my “Can you grill it?” test comes into play. Taking a recipe or food that is usually made in the comfort of the kitchen into the great outdoors can be an adventure. Sometimes the result is wonderful, every once in a while, not so much. This potato salad, however, was a rousing success.

I’ve made this salad before and I’ve even shared the recipe. I don’t know why it took me this long to realize that it would be awesome on the grill. Well, thankfully it did (dawn on me, that is) and I wanted to share it with you.

Baby red potatoes got steamed until almost tender and green beans were blanched before meeting up with some sliced onions.IMG_2057

Everything got tossed with a little salt and pepper and a generous glug of olive oil before diving into the grill basket. Can this really count as a grilled dish if some time on the stove was required?  Why yes, it can. Partly because I said so, but primarily because the potatoes would burn before they cooked through and the green beans would lose their beautiful green-ness if this step wasn’t taken. So there.

My original recipe used a vinegar based dressing featuring a combination of balsamics (white and other wise) with olive oil, garlic, and grainy mustard. For the grilled version I lost the vinegars and went straight to the lemon juice. I know they are available all year, but fresh squeezed lemon juice just says summer to me. I have a condiment crush on grainy mustard right now, so it played a major role in the dressing. Some garlic, olive oil and a few snips of rosemary from the herb garden and I called it dressing.IMG_2052

Once the veggies were suitably golden, I tossed them with the dressing and lo and behold, a perfectly delicious side dish was born. In this case, it was paired with some grilled chicken thighs, but I think that any protein would enjoy sharing a plate with this “Can you grill it?” winner.IMG_2064

Grilled Potato and Green Bean Salad
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Grilled Potato and Green Bean Salad
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Steam the potatoes for 5 - 7 minutes or until they are barely tender. Set aside.
  2. Blanch the beans in boiling water for 2 -3 minutes until barely tender. Remove from pan and plunge them into an ice water bath. Drain and set aside.
  3. Combine the potatoes, beans, and onions in a large bowl. Add a bit of the olive oil and some salt and pepper and toss to coat everything evenly.
  4. Spray a grill basket with non-stick spray and set on a grill over medium/high heat. Spread the potato mixture evenly in the basket.
  5. Cook, tossing occasionally until the potatoes are golden and tender and the beans are tender with a bit of crunch. How long this will take depends on your grill. Don't go too far away.
  6. When the vegetables are cooked place them in a large bowl.
  7. Combine the remaining olive oil and the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until blended. Pour the dressing over the veggies and toss to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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You can be sure that the grilling adventures will continue. There will be more “Can you grill it?” tests that will hopefully result in some fantastic recipes that will find their way into these posts. Until the next time, Happy Grilling!