Italian Delights

This past week involved lots of cooking, something I love to do and am hopefully becoming better at (besides that time I failed trying to make healthier pancakes…okay, two times).  What I really like is when I don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of new ingredients every time I try a new recipe.  You save $ and don’t end up wasting food!  So this week, that’s exactly what I did.

I have an obsession with Pinterest (I mean, who doesn’t?), so that is usually where I find my meal inspiration.  I saw a recipe for Grilled Caprese sandwiches, and immediately clicked on it because #1, they looked delicious and easy, and #2, I’m Italian, and anything close to what I have savored from both my Dad’s and Grandmother’s kitchen, and what I got to enjoy while studying abroad in Florence for a semester, I refuse to not try.

So I picked up some fresh Italian bread and basil at the grocery store before heading home from work.  Note to self, basil apparently comes in a large bunch so make sure you utilize it quickly because it goes bad.  I had the idea to make pesto last night, but as I suspected, fresh basil doesn’t usually last more than 3-4 days.  I’ll have to save that recipe for another time.

Anyway, this recipe was super easy.  Start with a chopped garlic clove, olive oil and balsamic vinegar (about 1 Tbsp of each per sandwich) .  Mix half the garlic with the oil, and half with the balsamic vinegar. Cut the bread into slices and brush each on one side with the olive oil mixture.  You’ll use the balsamic at the end.

Place slices face down on a grill rack (I put my grill rack on a baking sheet so the oil wouldn’t drip on the bottom of the oven) and bake at 350 degrees for about 2 minutes

While the bread is baking, slice tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (I used two slices of each on each sandwich)

After 4 minutes, turn oiled pieces over and place cheese then tomato slices on top.  Put back in the over for another 4 minutes.

When cheese is melted, lay basil leaves on top and drizzle balsamic mixture on top.

Voila!

These were amazing.  Light but full of flavor.  Here is the original recipe if anyone wants to see a slightly different way of doing it: http://peegaw.tumblr.com/post/2712611955/making-grilled-caprese-sandwich

I used basil and tomatoes as the base of my meals for the rest of the week.  Wednesday I made Bruscetta, which I have an addiction to as well.  Toasted slices of italian bread, mixed some tomatoes, onion, olive oil, balsamic and topped it off with basil.  As my girlfriend, Dee, would say, it was scrumptious (she’s the only person on earth that I know who uses this word).  But it really was just that.

Thursday night I threw together a quick concoction of tomato basil pasta with olive oil.  I used gluten free rice pasta, which I think tastes better than the whole wheat stuff I normally go with.  While the pasta was cooking, I sauteed  some garlic and olive oil in a pan until it was brown.  I added half a chopped tomato and stirred for about 4 minutes.  I drained the pasta and added it in with the tomatoes, and stirred in a little bit more olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped basil.  Mmm Mmm Mmm.

I have to say, I’m pretty proud of my abilities to make tasty and decently healthy meals for myself all week without having to spend much money at all.

What’s even better is when you have someone else to cook with and enjoy the food you prepared.  My boyfriend, Greg, is a trooper and will try anything I make or order at a restaurant, even if it looks questionable.  Sushi, sesame tofu, sweet potato burgers (which he actually liked); he will humor my occasionally strange eating habits. But Sunday we decided to use his grilling skills and make balsamic chicken and broccoli.

How many times can tomato and mozzarella show up in a meal?  Not enough, in my opinion.

So all we did was marinate the chicken breasts in an olive oil and balsamic vinegar mixture in a plastic bag.  We only marinated it for about 5 minutes, but the chicken surprisingly held a lot of the flavor even after cooking it.  Using the good-old George Foreman, Greg grilled the chicken to perfection while I cut the T&M, and steamed the broccoli.  When the chicken was cooked, we placed them on a foil-lined baking sheet, topped them with the mater and mozz slices, and popped them in the oven at 350 for 5 minutes until the cheese was slightly melted.  Sprinkle a little bit of basil spice on top (or fresh basil if yours ends up lasting longer than mind did), and pair with the steamed broccoli on the side and you’ve got a colorful, healthy dinner on your hands.

Who says cooking can’t be fun and easy?

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