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Cooking

Delicious Italian

This vegetarian menu is perfect for St. Joseph’s Day, celebrated on March 19, or any other special occasion.

The main course? Pasta shells stuffed with broccoli and cheese.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

The main course? Pasta shells stuffed with broccoli and cheese.

ROASTED BELL PEPPER SOUP

Serves 6

Adapted fromThe Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, by Jack Bishop.

6 cups vegetable broth

1 large Parmesan rind

1 bay leaf

5 yellow, orange, or red bell peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 large onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and black pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small russet potato, peeled and chopped

½ cup chopped fresh basil, plus 6 large basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, for garnish

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

Croutons, for garnish, optional

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the broth to a boil. Add the Parmesan rind and bay leaf, adjust the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 45 minutes to meld flavors. Remove the rind and bay leaf.

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Meanwhile, set the broiler rack 3 or 4 inches below the element and heat. Trim the bell peppers and cut into wide, relatively flat planks, pressing down on them to flatten. Place the peppers skin side up on a baking sheet and broil until the skin is charred and slightly puffed, about 13 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Place the peppers in a bowl, cover, and steam to loosen the skins, about 15 minutes. Peel the peppers, chop roughly (you should have about 2 cups), and set aside.

In another large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, carrot, celery, thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt, and saute until heated through, about 3 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-low, cover, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have released their juices, about 8 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-high, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the broth, potato pieces, and bell peppers and bring liquid to a boil. Adjust heat to very low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes begin to fall apart, about 20 minutes. Add the ½ cup basil and stir to mix.

In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree the broth and vegetable mixture until smooth and uniform. Return the mixture to the pot, if necessary, add the vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste, and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until soup is heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and black pepper, if desired. Serve at once, garnishing each bowl with a drizzle of oil, a few croutons, if using, and a few strips of basil chiffonade.

BROCCOLI-STUFFED SHELLS WITH TOMATO AND ONION SAUCE

Serves 6

1 pound broccoli, cut into 1½-inch pieces

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for baking dish

7 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and black pepper

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1½ tablespoons butter

1½ pounds onions, thinly sliced

128-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 eggs, beaten

1½ cups ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1¼ cups finely grated pecorino Romano

1 12-ounce box large pasta shells, cooked and drained

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for sprinkling

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In a large, deep, nonstick skillet or saute pan (with a cover) over medium-high heat, bring 2/3 cup water to a boil. Add the broccoli, cover, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the broccoli is bright green and barely tender, about 2 minutes. Uncover, add 2 tablespoons oil, and saute until the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Add half the garlic, the red pepper flakes, and ½ teaspoon salt, and saute about 40 seconds more. Off heat, stir in the lemon zest and set aside to cool. Once cool, chop roughly and set aside.

Wipe out the skillet, add 1 tablespoon oil and the butter, return to medium-high heat, and heat until the butter is hot. When the bubbling subsides, stir in the onions and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until the onions begin to soften and release some liquid, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, scraping the bottom of the skillet frequently (adjusting heat, if necessary), until the onions are sticky and golden, about 40 minutes more. Add the remaining garlic and saute about 40 seconds. Add the tomatoes, adjust heat to medium-high, and bring to a strong simmer. Adjust heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes, and set aside.

With the rack in the center position, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with oil, add 1½ cups sauce, and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, ricotta, nutmeg, ¾ cup pecorino Romano, and ½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Fold in the broccoli mixture, then spoon into the shells, arrange them open sides up in the baking dish (do not pack too tightly), and distribute the remaining sauce around the shells. Sprinkle with the remaining pecorino Romano and bake until bubbly and spotty brown, about 35 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve at once.

OTTOLENGHI’S SIMPLE ALMOND-ORANGE “FLORENTINES”

Makes about 18 3-inch wafers

Thin, crisp, and much easier to make than classic Florentines, these are adapted — barely — from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

They’re great plain or dipped in chocolate (see note below recipe).

Nonstick cooking spray, for the pan

2 egg whites, at room temperature

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 cups sliced almonds, toasted lightly

With the rack in the center position, heat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment, spray the parchment with nonstick cooking spray, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites, orange zest, vanilla, and salt to combine. Add the confectioners’ sugar and whisk until very smooth (take care to break up any small lumps), about 1 minute. Add the almonds and fold to combine and coat the solids evenly (take care not to crush the nuts).

Drop 1½ tablespoon portions of the mixture onto the baking sheet about 3 inches apart and, using a dinner fork, gently flatten the mounds (they should be as thin as possible but without gaps between the nuts) into roughly 3-inch rounds. Bake until lightly browned (about the color of light honey) and set, about 16 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. Cool the wafers on the baking sheet for about 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely and firm up. Re-spray the parchment and repeat to bake the remaining mixture. Serve or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Chocolate-dipping technique: Line a large baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and set aside. In a medium heatproof bowl set over a saucepan filled with 1-inch of barely simmering water over low heat (the bottom of the bowl shouldn’t touch the water), melt ¾ cup chopped high-quality bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips (about 4 ounces), stirring frequently with a heatproof flexible spatula until smooth and glossy. One by one, dip one side of each cookie in the melted chocolate, let any excess drip off, arrange them on the baking sheet, and allow the chocolate to harden, at least one hour, before serving.

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