One of my favorite memories of all times was dinner for six in the kitchen at the home of our friend, the famous French chef, Jacques Pepin, and his lovely wife Gloria. The other guests were the brilliant Morley Safer, journalist and host of CBS’s 60 Minutes, and his wife Jane. We sat around the center island, I feeling somewhat intimidated, sipping delicious French wine as we watched Jacque, this iconic world-renowned chef, whip up a magnificent duck with cranberry sauce. I was focusing so hard, I’m quite sure I didn’t even blink. The conversation was scintillating and intellectual, while the demonstration was a culinary excursion like no other. So much fun! From that point forward, my favorite thing to do is to have friends in for “dinner in the kitchen”.
It was here I learned that dinner in the kitchen can be as elegant as anywhere, that interesting people make for an interesting party and that a relaxed and fun host and chef makes for a relaxed and fun group of guests!
I’m an Italian food enthusiast. Okay, that’s probably putting it mildly. To put it another way, my mother-in-law used to laugh and say, “Penny would have cold rigatoni for breakfast everyday if she could!” And she was right. I love everything about Italian food, the romance associated with it, the traditions, the bright colors and the love that sits at the bottom of the pot of Sunday sauce! Whether we are in Florida or Nantucket, most Sundays begin with the Sunday sauce which I get up and start before my coffee. I love to smell the garlic sautéing and the sauce simmering for hours (with football on in the background all day!). Sunday sauce means different things to different people. Growing up, our sauce began by browning braciole (stuffed with garlic, parmesan and parsley and tied up with kitchen string), sausage and pork as the base. Today, we’re focused on a healthier approach to eating, cooking with less fat and fewer saturated oils, while still getting our robust flavors, but from herbs and spices, rather than from meats. Our Sunday sauce is a clean and simple Pomodoro sauce cooked with fresh plum tomatoes, basil, parsley, salt & pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic and olive oil.
NOTE: I like to use a combination of fresh tomatoes and can tomatoes for larger batches. If you want a bigger batch use the 28 oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes with a ratio of 1 can of crushed tomatoes to 1 can of plum and 1 can of paste. (1-1-1)
This sauce can be made quickly, if need be, but tastes even better when simmered for hours. And it is especially tasty the next day! Not only will your family and friends enjoy a delicious meal, you will reap the benefits of a whole day of the best a ”ROMA”therapy!
Total Cooking Time: 2-3 hours
Total Prep Time: 20 minutes
Yields: 4 servings
- 1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil (the best quality you can afford)
- 6 garlic cloves (peeled & cut into large chunks, not minced)
- 1 tsp Kosher or sea salt (better tasting than table salt)
- 1/2 tsp freshly crushed black pepper (better tasting than ground pepper)
- Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
- 6 Basil leaves (fresh)
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 24 fresh plum tomatoes
- ½ C grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Score tomatoes, and submerge into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and run under cold water. Peel and cut into halves. In a saucepan sauté the olive oil with 2 basil leaves for 5 mins to achieve a wonderful basil infused olive oil. Remove basil leaves from oil and discard. Add garlic, continue to sauté (do not let garlic brown! It should be soft and translucent) Add tomatoes, kosher salt, crushed black pepper & parsley and cover.
2. Cook on low for 15 mins. Uncover and stir and mash down the tomatoes. Cover again to keep moisture in. Repeat in 15 minutes. You want the tomatoes to soften and mashed to get all the liquid out.
3. Cook on simmer for another 15 minutes. Partially uncover to let some of the liquid evaporate. The more ripe the tomatoes, the more juice they will yield. I prefer my sauce to have the thickness of a puree, not too soupy. If need be add a can of tomato paste to thicken sauce.
4. Pour into food processor and puree until desired consistency.
5. Return to pot
6. Add 2 shredded bail leaves and simmer for 10 minutes more.
7. Add crushed red pepper to taste. I love spicy!
8. Cover for 5 minutes. Let sit.
For years, I've been carving artichokes to use as a candlestick holders.They look awesome in a small grouping with candles at different heights! Here, I carved two artichokes to use as vases, a sort of vegetable vessel if you will, and used water tubes for these beautiful South African Orange Star flowers. I filled a Tiffany ice bucket with Florida oranges to bring more of the color orange in.
Cook spaghetti in a pot of boiling water with a dash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook according to directions on package, as you don’t want it to be overdone. Al Dente is the goal! Return cooked spaghetti to pan and swirl in a tablespoon of butter.
Some like to mix the sauce and pasta together. I prefer to plate the plain buttered pasta and top with the delicious Pomodoro. You can sprinkle the whole plate with chopped parsley or simply garnish with a single basil leaf. Grated cheese is offered on the side, or can be mixed with the parsley and spread all over the plate like a garnish!
Tomato and Pepper Salade
- 2 Yellow ripe tomatoes (the color is beautiful)
- Box of red cherry tomatoes (halved)
- Baby sweet peppers (sliced)
- Balsamic fig glaze
- Basil garnish
This is served buffet style with the balsamic glaze on the side for people to help themselves.
Baked Thyme & Parmesan Chicken Breasts
- 3 Whole breasts
- 2c Italian Seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp Dried crushed thyme
- Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish
- ¼ C grated parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
1. Leave breasts whole and pat dry.
2. Mix bread crumbs with 1 tsp of dried, crushed thyme (rub in the palms of your hands and release!) and a pinch of cayenne.
3. Dip breasts in flour then egg, and dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Lay flat, sprinkle parmesan in the middle. Bring the sides up and overlap tight, turning over with overlap facing down.
4. Gently mold folded chicken creating a football shape
5. Heat oven to 325 degrees
6. Pour EVOO into the bottom of a 9X13 baking dish. Pop in preheated oven for 5 minutes.
7. Remove from oven and place football shaped chicken breasts in the warmed pan. Cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove foil return to oven and bake for 15 minutes more.
8. Remove from oven and let sit for half an hour
9. Slice when cool enough to touch
10. Garnish with sprigs of thyme
Delish drizzled with the balsamic fig glaze or topped with pomodoro!
Sipps Organic Sodas & White Wine
I love these 100% Certified Organic sparkling drinks to serve in addition to wine. They are Gluten free, fresh tasting and come in the most interesting flavors.
- Summer Pear with green tea & honey
- Mojo Berry with blackberry, mint & lime
- Pinot Grigio
- SO Delicious Dairy free Chocolate with mint leaf
- Garnish with Scharffen Berger shaved chocolate
- Moscato D’Asti
- White Platter: Home Goods
- Marble and wood Cutting Board: William Sonoma
- Sipps Organics: Home Goods
- Dishes: IKEA
- Wine Glasss: Crate and Barrel
- Ice Bucket: Tiffany
- Linen/Cotton Napkins: Williams Sonoma
- Rattan Napkin rings: Williams Sonoma
- Greenery: My Florida yard
- Fresh Artichokes carved and filled with South African Orange Star flowers: Publix