Thursday, March 20, 2014


Eggplant, a beautiful hanging vegetable, shaped like an egg, (hence it's name), Aubergine, in French, a more elegant sound, is a controversial food.

It is a Nightshade vegetable, as are Tomatoes, Peppers and Potatoes (not sweet potatoes). Eggplant is actually a fruit and not always shaped like an egg!  Hmm…read on!

Purple Aubergine  courtesy James Barker
 In fact, it comes in many sizes, colors and shapes.  It can be purple (aubergine), white, green, lilac and striped. The Japanese variety is long and slender, the Sicilian variety is lilac and white hued, the more usual variety is deep purple and bulbous, often teardrop shaped.   I have tasted a tiny purple type, called Fairytale Eggplant which is miniature in size, but big on flavor, tenderness and sweetness.
Green Eggplant courtesy Nuttakit

Violet Eggplant courtesy Patpitchaya

Long purple eggplant courtesy Sommai

The good news is that eggplant is available most of the year, (although it's proper season is fall), and it is a relatively inexpensive and a versatile food. Low in calories and low glycemic, it is a good source of fiber, folate, Vitamins C, K, B6, Potassium and other beneficial minerals.

Now, some of the bad news:  Eggplant can have a bitter taste and is not one of the most popular vegetable/fruits. Often it is served soaked in oil, heavily breaded, drenched in sauce and camouflaged in some way. Some varieties have a bitter taste. When it is prepared carelessly, it is a greasy mess and counters its healthy, savory aspects! Eggplant has the ability to absorb enormous amounts of oil, so caution is advised when preparing it. It cooks well and tastes better without all the grease!

Eggplant  originally came from India and China, over 2,000 years ago. It arrived in Europe around the 14th century, then on to the Middle East and later came to the Americas.  In Europe it is a rich part of  Italian, Greek and Provencal cuisines, and is part of the Mediterranean diet. You will find eggplant served in various ways in Chinese, Japanese, Turkish and Indian cuisines. When prepared traditionally, it  makes a delicious dish in many forms, Baked, Sauteed, Stir-fried, Layered, Stuffed, Pickled and combined with other vegetables in ragouts and sauces. Think Babaganoush, Ratatouille and Caponata! Have you heard of Imam Bayildi,(The Priest Fainted)…?? A Turkish dish? It is worth investigating just why he fainted!! Eggplant and nutmeg play a starring role in this delight!

Eggplant is rich in  antioxidant phenols, plant chemicals, especially  Chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic Acid is a powerful antidote to free radicals;  it has anti-cancer, anti microbial, anti viral properties and anti  LDL cholesterol properties. So why the controversy?? Isn't this delicious health food??

As mentioned previously, eggplant belongs to a plant family called Solanaceae, or Nightshades. It has not yet been scientifically proven, but it appears that this type of plant aggravates inflammation and arthritis. Suffers often find relief when they eliminate them from their diet. Ancient lore hints that because they grow at night they are "poisonous". All Nightshades had a bad reputation at one time in history! Thank goodness men got brave and tried them! (and lived!)

Eggplant also has oxalates which can crystallize in the body, and  can interfere with calcium absorption.
People in good health and with normal digestive systems, do not have to be concerned. Only those with kidney or other issues need be cautious. Oxalates are also found in many green, leafy vegetables. Eating a variety of vegetables assures a balance and the benefits outweigh any concern about oxalates.

So make up your mind, Eggplant Parmesan, Moussaka, an Eggplant Napoleon? I vote in favor of the purple or other color fruit/vegetabl  

I love eggplant and eat it fairly often. I am sharing a recipe which is healthy, light, delicious and suitable for SOLA cooking. The recipe is an adaptation from La Tavola Marche.


Preheat oven 375 degrees

  • 1 medium purple eggplant
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic (large!)
  • 4 sweet mini peppers, red, orange and yellow (or 1/2 large pepper)
  • 1 celery rib
  • 4 shitatke (or other variety) mushrooms
  • 1 medium tomato
  • salt, pepper 
  • oregano (1-2 teaspoons)
  • stock or broth
  • Grated Asiago cheese (1/4 cup approx.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk or cream
Wash eggplant and cut in half. Cut again into quarters. Scoop out the flesh and chop. Chop the onion, garlic, peppers, celery and mushrooms. Chop the tomato.
Saute all the vegetables including the eggplant centers in olive oil for about 10-15 minutes until soft and well mixed. Add salt, pepper and oregano. Let mixture cool slightly.

Beat egg with a little milk and add to vegetable mixture.
Stuff eggplant pieces with mixture. Oil a baking dish and place eggplant in dish.
Add some broth or wine or tomato juice (about 2 tablespoons) to baking dish.

Ready to be baked
Sprinkle with cheese, cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Take off foil and bake for 15 minutes more until slightly browned on top. Garnish with fresh parsley and mint if desired or Basil.

Bon Appetit! Buon' Appetito! Sola!

Thursday, January 2, 2014


A dear friend, I want to say old friend, but we are not "old" only our friendship is old, came to visit
on New Year's Eve. Of course, I was busy, until the last moment, and had no time to prepare elegant hors d'oeuvres. The dinner I had planned was easy, yet special, but I knew dinner would be delayed as we had a lot of things to share about our lives…we have known each other as children, teenagers, young adults, married couples, and now, widows, all too soon.

 I prepared an old stand-by, a can of artichoke hearts with olives and capers. With that I made a bruschetta-like topping for crostini and threw together a Spinach Dip for some Pumpkin Cranberry Chips I had on hand, arranged it on a bamboo oval tray and we snacked, chatted and sipped champagne. it was wonderful!

My friend remarked on the artichoke concoction..she loved it and wanted the recipe. It is a delicious, and I had forgotten how good it tasted.

The next day, I combined the mixture with some Veganaise for a sandwich spread. Once again it was delicious, transformed.

During our conversation, I learned that she was expecting a visit from a family member who is a vegetarian, and I thought how appropriate this mixture would be for a vegetarian pasta, and my thoughts went on from there.

Bruschetta, sandwich spread, pasta, rice, quinoa, salad topping, stuffing for chicken, sauce for fish, base for shrimp or chicken entree, etc. etc. etc. This simple, old, staple became an answer to a busy person's prayer for delicious and healthy food! With a few variations or additions, it could be used for almost anything except dessert!

So, I am sharing. It is not a new creation, but it's versatility is a new inspiration for me, and I hope you will find it useful, simple, and delicious too!


    • 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, chopped
    • 1/4 cup Kalamata olives (or green Sicilian olives), chopped
    • 2 tablespoons capers
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon dried herbs such as Italian blend, Herbs de Provence or 2 tablespoons fresh herbs such as basil or oregano
    • salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together. That's it!! Serve with toasted Italian or French Bread rounds or crackers.

Add Roasted Red Peppers, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Green or Red Tomatoes, Jalapeños,  etc.

You get it…mushrooms, anything you like!!
Now, add Feta, Parmesan or Gorgonzola and put it on pasta, rice or quinoa…or
on top of a salad…or put it in a sandwich…or mix it with mayonnaise for a spread….or
stuff a chicken breast…or sauce for swordfish or mahi...or add shrimp… the possibilities are almost endless, but I don't think I would like it on ice cream!

Happy and Blessed New Year and Enjoy..
Sola Gina

Thursday, December 5, 2013

SAVORY STUFFED ACORN SQUASH: White Beans, Roasted Red Peppers and Greens

Thanksgiving is over (it was wonderful!), but suddenly it's Christmas, Christmas everything, music, red and green, snow, twinkling lights…
and I am left with an Acorn Squash….large.

I had planned to use it as a receptacle for a dip during Thanksgiving Season, but it didn't happen, and the season has passed, and the squash is here.  I've made sweet and rich stuffed squashes, squash soups, squash pie, squash ravioli, and am tired of it, for now;  but the squash is here.  It's presence is nagging me. It's a good, healthy, whole, nutritious food and I cannot let it waste away. Besides, it is tasty.

Flexibility is a good thing when planning dinner. I thought I was going to have Baked Panko Cod-, Zucchini "Pasta" with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Black Olives, Peppers, Spinach and Parmesan and some Roasted Squash, maybe with Maple Syrup and Cranberries (more ingredients left from Thanksgiving!)
Hmm..not right.

I reconsidered. Sweet squash is a jarring note in this meal and the cranberries and maple will be great with oatmeal in the morning… so,  I regrouped my ingredients and came up with this rather delicious, and pretty, and sort of Christmasy Stuffed Squash! The fish remained, the Zucchini "Pasta" simplified, and the Squash created!

The makings of a delicious dinner!!

First you bake the squash to soften it. While it cooks, you can make the stuffing in just a few minutes. Save it for later, or heat and bake just before eating.

It can be a complete meal in itself.  I made extra for another time (I said the squash was large), and I have some roasted squash left for salads or even another soup made with the roasted red peppers too (did I say the squash was large ?).  Cooking and creating is so much fun, and if you think it through, it can be very economical. A squash, a can of beans, a jar of roasted peppers, some greens and I have the makings of several meals.

Baked Acorn Squash quarters
  • 1 medium/small squash (or quarters of a large)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 1-2 cups greens (baby or chopped, swiss chard, spinach, arugula, kale, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons black Kalamata olives chopped
  • 1 cup cooked white beans, rinse if canned
  • 1/2 cup tomatoes or sauce
  • fresh herbs such as sage and thyme, parsley, oregano or basil, etc. to taste
  • Shredded Italian Cheeses (Fontina, Asiago, Provolone, etc.) about 1/2 cup
  • Breadcrumbs about 1/3 cup
Preheat the oven to 400.
Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. I am not posting a picture of this, as I think anyone reading my blog knows what squash seeds look like!
Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish with a little water on the bottom. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes until softened.

While squash bakes, sauté onion and garlic in oil in a skillet. until translucent. Add red peppers, greens, olives and tomatoes. Toss in beans and herbs to meld flavors. Stir in about half of the cheese at the end.

The stuff sautéing...

Stuff the baked squashes with this mixture.
and here is the stuffed squash 

 Top with some breadcrumbs and more cheese.
Ready for the oven..

Place in refrigerator if not using right away. Otherwise, bake for about 15 minutes until cheese melts and crumbs brown.
I used homemade croutons from sour dough bread toasted in oil and herbs.

for Vegan or Gluten-free, use toasted almonds or walnuts in place of cheese/breadcrumbs.

The transformed Dinner: Stuffed Squash, Zucchini Pasta and Baked Cod

Sola Gina

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

NOT FOR HEALTH COACHES! Homemade Fettuccine with Sausage, Herbs, Cream and Parmesan...for one, with memories..

I saw a copy of a recipe from the NY Times while at a friend's house a while back. It struck a chord within me and I said, "It sounds wonderful, may I have a copy?" I tucked it away, and this past week thought of it again. I was graduating from IIN and the date coincided with an important time for me to remember and honor my husband. This recipe was a good fit..the ingredients were things he loved and as I said, it resonated with me.

My mouth was watering at the very clear image in my mind of the finished dish. I hunted and found the recipe. In actually reading it  through, for the first time, I realized it was a little different from what I had been visualizing, but close enough to follow as a "guide" and "ad lib" to accomplish the dish I was eagerly anticipating!

While prepping the ingredients, I realized that what I was thinking about was something I had created in the past and nearly forgotten! Thirty or more years ago, I taught a series of Italian Cooking Classes and this sausage preparation with cream and and cheese and herbs was a filling I used for homemade tortellini. The memories of the small grocery where the sausage was hand made came flooding back. Trupiano's, a little Italian market in Gloucester, MA, was well known for it sausages, many varieties, all delicious and homemade.

Italian Sausages Grilling (photo courtesy Markuso, Free Digital Photos) 

In fact, later, when I was owner-chef of the White Rainbow restaurant, I used that same recipe idea for a sauce for the homemade fettuccine we served. THAT was the source of the image I had in my mind! The memories of the restaurant kitchen, the sausage, and the young prep chefs I taught to make homemade pasta came to mind. I believe they actually had fun doing it. We certainly laughed a lot, but that was part of managing the stress of running a restaurant kitchen!

Making Pasta dough

Rolling the dough  (photo courtesy Lemonade Free Digital photos)

Having fun in the restaurant kitchen

Now, for the  truth about this post that makes me zany. My camera is not working, I cannot post actual images of my delicious pasta, nor the green salad I devoured, nor the lovely wine I sipped to round out the meal and make it all special.  I don't want to wait  until I can recreate the experience in order to share it, so I pulled up photos of past meals, took a few from a photo source, and put them together to create a sequence. The actual finished dish will have to wait until I have a working camera and make it again..sorry, but I can share the recipe for you to enjoy along with some old photos!!

The Elegant White Rainbow Restaurant 


  • 4 ounces fresh pasta, fettuccine
  • 1 large hot Italian Sausage
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • sea salt, ground pepper, nutmeg to taste
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil
  • 8-10 fresh sage leaves
  • butter
Snip the sausage casing the length of the sausage and remove the meat.  Saute the onion and garlic in oil in a skillet. Add the sausage meat and break up into crumbly pieces. Cook until done. Pour in the wine and let evaporate a little.
Turn down the heat and stir in the cream. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer for a few minutes. Toss in the fresh basil.
In a smaller skillet or pan, heat some butter and fry the sage leaves until crisp, just a few minutes.

Sage frying

Drain on paper towels.
Cook the pasta in boiling water for 3-5 minutes until al dente. Drain.

Homemade Fettuccine and Spaghetti

Serve pasta in a hot bowl with sauce. Add lots of grated parmesan!!
This dish is so simple that you need to use the best possible ingredients to make it shine! Homemade pasta, sausage and Parmagiano Reggiano! It is rich and unctuous, don't skimp!

Enjoy a nice red wine..I had Nero D'Avola Sicilia. If you use a mild Italian Sausage, a big, fruity white wine would be fine...

Sola Gina

Saturday, June 22, 2013

TRADITION vs. CONVENTION: Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Cream and Calvados Normandy Style

A tradition is something of value entrusted to posterity. We need to preserve these! Convention is something popular everyone agrees to do or accept. We need to question these.

 Go to this link for my latest blog comments on this subject and recipe!!

In addition to my above mentioned comments on food traditions and conventions, another tradition comes to mind...that of passegiata in Italy. In the late afternoon/early evening, in most and especially southern, Italian towns an event called passegiata occurs. People take to the streets of the center of town and STROLL, leisurely and share in conviviality with their friends, neighbors and townspeople. They add a little sociability and get some exercise before dinner.

In our hectic world today, perhaps passegiata is no longer a daily event, but it is a tradition and something worth keeping. The Sunday passsegiata is in the afternoon and includes a walk in town or by the seaside for the family. Like our Sunday afternoon family "drive", a thing of the past, this tradition would be lovely to revive. The quiet time together or alone, dropping our daily routines and obligations, would be healing, nourishing and give us strength and optimism before heading back to the chaos in our lives.

Tradition is an important part of who we are. Keep it alive and well within you!

I just returned from a wonderful trip to France including a stay in Normandy.  The surroundings instantly felt familiar and friendly...what?  everyone spoke French, I did not, I was thousands of miles from "home", why this comfortable feeling?

Normandy is much like my native New England. It felt like Vermont on the Maine Coast! Lilacs were in bloom, Locust trees, roses, purple chive blossoms, flowering apple trees!! Traditons!

Cod, cold water lobsters, clams, mackerel, oysters, even smoked haddock!!  No wonder this distant land felt so familiar. The Norman character seemed familiar too, much like the New Englander...steadfast, real, down to earth and dependable. Traditons!

The Maine Coast

The Norman Coast

Lobsters, Clams, Oysters and Crabs in Normandy

Clams in Maine

Cooked lobsters in Maine

Enjoy the photos and go to my Cornucopia Blog for the recipe and more Tradition vs. Convention thoughts on food.
In France, tradition reigns, and in the USA it should! We have it all, but need to value it more!! 

Sola Gina..

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I just love Sunday night dinner. After a long week of work, study and the "stuff" of life, the inspiration and repose of church in the morning sets the tone for the week. What better way to jump back into the new week than preparing and enjoying a wonderful meal, full of the good things God provides.

Sunday night used to be Family dinner when we lived together as a family. It was always special regardless of the menu. Sometimes it was at the table, other times on the floor or couch gathered around the fire or at the kitchen island joking and playing as we ate. I still enjoy Sunday night dinner, Sola. I remember the good times in the past, but also enjoy and appreciate what I now have and celebrate it with making myself a nice meal!

So often I hear people say, "I love (this or that food), but I have no one to cook for." have YOU to cook for, so why NOT??  It is wonderful to give others pleasure with the food you prepare with love, but you and I also deserve this love and pleasure.

Tonight I enjoyed Fresh Caught Trout Almondine with Tumeric Scented Basmati Rice and Peas and a Kale Salad with Avocado, Roasted Pepper and Red Onion.

You don't really need a recipe to create a meal like this. It is simple and fun to put together.
I coated the trout with seasoned flour, I used lemon pepper from Penzeys; you can use anything you like.
The trout was sauteed in butter from grass fed cows,( beautiful, yellow and rich) for about 3-4 minutes a side. I removed it from the pan, added more butter to saute the almonds, squeezed in some lemon juice and tossed in some chopped parsley. Pour this over the trout and voila! Trout Almondine.

The rice is basmati and very fragrant by itself. I always like to add more veggies when possible, so first I sauteed some onion and shallot in butter, added some freshly shelled organic English peas, the rice and water and a dash of tumeric. The rice is 2:1 water to rice. Brought the whole thing to a boil and then turned down the heat and simmered for 20 minutes. At that point I started the trout as above.

Just before serving, I washed a few leaves of kale, chopped them and put them on a plate. Added a sliced avocado, some roasted red pepper from a jar, a few slivers of red onion and tossed it all in white balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

As simple as that...maybe a half hour total time and I enjoyed a relaxing, simple, elegant meal to end the week and begin another.

Happy cooking and eating, Sola

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I am serious. Artichokes are available, fresh, frozen and canned all year long, but spring and fall are the main seasons in California where most of the fresh artichokes here in the USA originate.

Fall is my favorite season most likely because on the New England coast, my home, spring was non-existent. We went from "winter is over" to "summer" suddenly one day in June or July. Of course, winter and summer definitions depend on where you live. Now, I am a Florida resident and our winter (a season I love except for the tourists!) is akin to New England fall and spring is in February through April or May if we are lucky. The rest is a blur to my New England weather sensitivities, and probably the reason I am consistently confused about what month we are in!

 Spring Bouquet  
(Ok, they're fake, but the colors brighten my rooms!!)

 Now to the subject, artichokes. Their history is long, known at least as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans in 300 B.C. The Roman poet, Horace,( who, incidentally tells us a lot about ancient food and agriculture including the use of "truffle sniffing pigs"), retells an ancient Greek myth about the origin of the artichoke. See, for interesting artichoke facts and lore.

In the USA we eat Globe artichokes, although there are many other varieties. It is considered a thistle, a  plant with prickly edges. In the mediterranean, artichokes are common fare and not too expensive. Here in the US, they are a bit feared due to their shape, price, thorns, and a lack of knowledge about cooking, eating and serving.  In truth, they are a simple vegetable to prepare, eating them is fun and not at all "elitist".

One simply cuts the top and bottom off, snipping the thorns if necessary, adds a squeeze of lemon to prevent discoloring, boils or steams it for 40-50 minutes and then removes the leaves, one by one, dipping into some wonderfully flavored sauce and enjoys! Of course, one has to remove the "furry" stuff before enjoying the best part, the heart, but it is worth the effort. All good things have to be earned!

Steamed, cut and hollowed out Globe Artichoke

In addition, artichokes are good for you. They have plentiful fiber, and are a good source of Vitamin C and Folacin. Even if you indulge by dipping them in butter or a fat based sauce, the time it takes and energy required to consume them, keep it a wise choice!

In our family, we ate artichokes, steamed, with hollandaise, butter, lemon, olive oil and garlic, pesto or any other sauce we could invent. Amanda always liked hot sauce with her butter! Sicilian stuffed artichokes or Romano style braised in herbs, garlic and lemon were other favored preparations.

In my cooking class, we all made a mess and thoroughly enjoyed, Grilled Baby Artichokes (they are chokeless) marinated and stuffed with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, parsley, basil, thyme, mint and breadcrumbs or pine nuts. No one spoke as we ate. All you could hear were muffled groans of ecstasy!

Now, Sola, I still want to enjoy the artichoke experience when they are at their peak. So I do, selecting a large, gorgeous specimen and stuffing it for an exquisite dinner.
Last night I made a stuffing with Sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, olivada, parsley, basil, garlic and panko  breadcrumbs. I licked my fingers and scraped the plate...yes, that good! And here is the recipe for you to try and do the same, sola, solo  or with friends...

STUFFED ARTICHOKE (sun dried tomato, olivada, feta)

  • 1 large, fresh* globe artichoke
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large clove garlic (or to taste) finely minced
  • 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped olives, kalamata and green mixed
  • handful each fresh parsley and basil, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • good quality fruity olive oil

Cut artichoke top about 1 inch down, and cut stem. Put in a bowl of water with lemon or simply squeeze lemon juice over the artichoke. Set in a pot and steam or simmer with the lemon for 40-50 minutes, until you can easily remove one leaf. Do not overcook.
When cooled enough to handle , separate leaves and remove the tight leaves around center. With a melon baller or spoon, remove furry inside which covers the heart. The artichoke is now ready to stuff.

While it is cooking prepare stuffing:

Mix crumbs and remaining ingredients together in a bowl. Use enough oil to moisten and make stuffing stick together. I used some of the oil from the sun dried tomatoes to give extra flavor. Also I had some muffaletta olive mixture left from another creation and used it, but the chopped olive combination will do as well. It should not need salt or pepper, but if you want heat, add some red pepper flakes. A dash of white wine is good too, but not necessary.

Ready to stuff the artichoke!

Fill the artichoke center cavity with stuffing. Then separate leaves around it and stuff. You are now ready for the last step which makes this incredible.

 Ta Dah! I put some of the extra stuffing on the inner leaves and "cheated" before the dish was done!

Mince another clove of garlic and place in a pot with some olive oil. Add a dash of wine and stand the stuffed artichoke in the pot. Cover the pot and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Do not let it run out of oil and wine (or use stock and water). You want this to reduce and absorb all the flavors of the stuffing mix, but not dry out. Remove and ENJOY!! Pour the extra sauce all over and all around..


How to eat this is another story..fingers and dipping and licking...fork and'll need and want it all. Lots of napkins too, or paper towels!

This recipe is for those of us "sola". If you plan to make several artichokes, you can put them in a baking dish with some oil, garlic and wine, cover the dish and bake at 350 for about 1/2 hour.

*look for artichokes that are green and "fleshy" and tightly compact and closed, not woody or with leaves opening. Also, this is an entree, so select a large artichoke. Save the small ones for a side dish.

Carnivore Variation:  Add some prosciutto to the stuffing mix.