Hope you are among the lucky ones blessed with big hearted friends who love to open their home for seasonal feasts where host and guests contribute their own favorite dishes, wines, conversations, music and stories. Ours are Giovanna and Tony DiBona—headliners and producers of the colorful, nationally popular, musical extravaganza, Roman Holiday.
Here are some of the dishes we’ve been sampling at the DiBonas’ over the years at Valentine’s Day, Christmas and other occasions. Hope to share many more party recipes with you in the future. We credit cooks who are willing to reveal their recipes and give us permission to tweak them into healthier versions (i.e. with less cholesterol; using fruits, herbs and spices instead of sugar and salt; and fresh—preferably organic— ingredients replacing processed foods, additives or preservatives).
Stuffed Jumbo Shells Stuffed with Spinach & Cheese
Lynda Lauerman created the original recipe of this happy-making dish. We tested the healthier version below, using organic ingredients. Adjust proportions to the number of servings you need.
1 box or pack of jumbo pasta shells
1 container of 15-oz Ricotta cheese (we prefer creamy goat cheese because it is lower in cholesterol and, because goat dairy contains different enzymes, much easier to digest—especially for those with lactose intolerance)
1 and ½ cups of shredded hard goat cheese (“Drunken Goat” cheese is delicious)
2 whole eggs
½ cup egg whites
½ cup olive oil
½ lb or more of fresh (or 1 and ½ package of frozen) spinach
1 large onion
6 cloves of fresh garlic
¼ cup dry basil or 5 sprigs fresh basil—leaves only, chopped fine
1 large jar of organic tomato pasta sauce (one that contains mushrooms and tomato chunks adds flavor and body)
½ cup vegetable broth
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon red (sweet) paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
• Cook pasta shells ‘al dente,’ following package directions. Strain & coat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside.
• ON LOW HEAT, sauté chopped onions until translucent
• Add chopped garlic & sauté for 30 seconds
• Add chopped spinach, sauté for 1 minute, then add vegetable broth (or water)
• Take pot off the burner and let it cool
• In a large bowl, mix well and blend the cheese, eggs, egg whites, 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, basil, cinnamon, nutmeg, Cayenne, paprika, ginger & Worcestershire Sauce
• Coat liberally with olive oil a Pyrex casserole or baking dish of appropriate size to the number of shells you have cooked
• Ladle a thin layer of the tomato pasta sauce and spread on the bottom of the Pyrex
• Now is the time to heat up the oven to 400º
• Combine and mix well the onion-garlic-spinach to cheese-eggs-etc. blend and the cheese-eggs-etc. mixture
• Stuff pasta shells with the above mixture and place in Pyrex
• Cover shells with pasta sauce—use 2 jars if necessary
• Spread shredded hard cheese on top
• Place into oven and bake for 10 minutes at 400º, then turn oven down to 375º and bake for another 40-50 minutes—or until stuffing is fully cooked.
(1) If the top is browning too early, cover loosely with foil to give the dish time to bake thoroughly. Make sure stuffing is hard enough to slice.
(2) Adjust recipe to your liking. We left out salt and sugar for health reasons, but it won’t spoil the dish or its health effect if you add a pinch of sea-salt to the stuffing and a teaspoon of honey to the tomato sauce (to cut down its tartness.
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Asparagus & Tomato Salad
Both the phallic-shaped asparagus and the luscious tomato that translates to “love apple” in many languages, have been favored as aphrodisiacs since ancient times. So it’s not surprising that my hot-blooded Transylvanian-Hungarian ancestors have come up with a recipe that combines both of these tasty—and nutritious—vegetables, while also giving them a spicy kick typical of their cuisine. The sweet, sour and spicy flavors symbolize the many variations and stages of love.
Dina Eliash Robinson
(Preferably, with organic ingredients)
10 Fresh Asparagus Spears
2 Large Heirloom Tomatoes
1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tablespoon Honey (or more, if preferred)
Pinch of Sea Salt
1 teaspoon Dry Basil—or the leaves of 2 sprigs of Fresh Organic Basil, chopped
½ teaspoon Sweet Red Paprika
1 cup hot (filtered) water.
Cut off hard ends of Asparagus and steam spears for 1-2 minutes
In a bowl, mix Apple Cider Vinegar with Salt, Basil, Paprika and Honey
Scald with hot water and stir well until all ingredients are fully blended
Place Asparagus and Tomato slices in a flat bottomed glass container and pour liquid over it—if not completely immersed, ladle liquid over veggies for 20 seconds or until it the latter has absorbed the former.
Cool, refrigerate for 2 hours and serve as an appetizer, salad or side dish.