Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onion, and Potato Sheet Pan Supper

Last fall, my friends, Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner, asked if I would develop quick and easy dinner recipes for their readers at Mason Dixon Knitting. Specifically, they wanted recipes for sheet pan suppers.

The first one I created was called Sheet Pan Supper Italiano. Here is a link.

Their introduction to the new column was generous and kind.

Knitters, we bring help. In the quest to increase time for knitting, we proudly present a new series devoted to cooking. Simple cooking. Beautiful cooking. Cooking that you can pull together faster than you can drive through the Burger Weenie. Cooking that cleverly requires a one-hour oven time so that you have a built-in hour to knit while your delicious dinner is roasting away.

Who is our guide to this life-altering way to cook? Our adored gardener, food blogger, and maker: Judy Wright.
—Kay and Ann

Ann and Kay know how to make people feel good. They do it every morning with a daily, upbeat post. It’s one of the reasons their blog/e-commerce website is so popular. You never know what they are going to write about. Take a look at this country music parody they co-wrote and starred in called Pardon Me, I Didn’t Knit That for You. They are a crack up!!

Ann and I are neighbors and have had a lot of fun cooking together at The Nashville Food Project, too!

The first recipe I wrote for their website was a spin-off of the Italian Sausage and Peppers I grew up eating. It was served over pasta at the dinner table and in an 8-inch crusty roll at cookouts and street festivals.

At the time I wrote the sheet pan version, I was on Whole30, a nutritional “reset” diet. To make the recipe Whole-30 compliant, I switched out the pasta with white and sweet potatoes.

This recipe is also a good one for feeding a crowd. I once quadrupled the ingredients and served it at Room in the Inn, a winter sheltering and hospitality program in Nashville. The men paid me the ultimate compliment when they exclaimed, “You put your foot in it!” When they saw me look a little disheartened, they laughed and said that was a good thing. Those men made my day.

Here’s how the piled high and deep ingredients looked when tossed together and spread out into four sheet pans. The key to getting the ingredients to cook evenly is to chop the potatoes into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Yield: Serves 4
Prep time: 15 minutes   Roasting time: 1 hour

Ingredients

3-4 sweet bell peppers (1 pound)
4-6 potatoes, a combination of sweet and white (2 pounds)
1 sweet onion (½ pound)
1 medium head of garlic (1-1½ ounces)
4 or 5 whole Italian sweet sausages (a 1¼ pound package) Do not pierce.
1 teaspoon fine salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400º.

Prep peppers: Remove pepper cores and seeds. Cut into 1 to 2-inch chunks. Add to parchment-lined sheet pan.

Prep onions: Remove the outer layers of skin. Trim off root. Slice thickly. Add to sheet pan.

Prep potatoes: Scrub potatoes. Do not peel. Cut into bite-sized chunks. Add to sheet pan.

Prep garlic. Smash the whole head with a meat mallet and remove outer layers of skin. Then smush each clove with the flat edge of a knife and peel off the loosened fine skin. Add to pan.
 

Sprinkle mixed vegetables with salt, pepper and olive oil. Toss together in the sheet pan. Add sausages and toss again. Spread ingredients uniformly. Place roasting pan in oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and turn ingredients with a spatula, including the sausages, for even browning. Roast for 30 minutes more.

Since there are only two of us in the house, I often have leftovers to scramble up with eggs for breakfast the next morning. Yum!
 

You can find instructions on how to roast various vegetables by clicking on one of these links: eggplant, cauliflower, beets, tomatoes, zucchini, butternutpatty pan, pumpkin, and spaghetti squashes.

Other Dinner Ideas:
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Yummy Shepherd’s Pie
Baked Ziti with Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Marinara Sauce
A New Take on Chicken Marbella
Chicken Cacciatore
Pot Roast with Herbs and Root Vegetables
Brooks’ Pork Tenderloin with an Amazing Marinade

Apples are in season and this is my absolute favorite apple pie recipe. The crust is made of crumbled cheddar cheese, butter, and flour. It is incredible. The recipe is from my mother.  Here is a link.

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Always check this website for the most up-to-date version of every recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Roasted Fig Preserves with Lemon and Thyme

This is what a lush, ripe Brown Turkey fig looks like. Notice the stretch marks. That means it is bursting with flavor.

During fig season, I can see these dark, plump jewels sunning themselves on the tree from every vantage point in my backyard. First, they tempt and then they taunt me until I finally find myself risking life and limb to get to them. Often, I  have to climb a ladder and use a long garden tool like a bow rake to grab and pull down a limb, and then reach even further to pluck one from a branch. This all happens first thing in the morning while the outside temperatures are still tolerable. My friend Linda calls it #pajamagardening.

There are others who desire the same figs. I am in constant competition with small birds, the squirrels in the neighborhood, and my chickens. They know they can eat figs to their heart’s content without fear of being seen by predatory hawks when under the canopy of the broad, palmate-shaped fig leaves.

Here’s a video of one of my chickens reaching for a fig. It is best watched in full screen mode. My friend Carrington calls it #rubberchicken.

 

Ina would use the big leaves to line a cheese platter. Just sayin’.

Growing Figs

Fig trees are native to tropical climates, but a few varieties, such as Brown Turkey and Chicago Hardy, have been cultivated to grow in cooler climes (zones 6-11). We planted our tree in front of a southern-facing brick wall so the heat stored in the bricks could warm the tree during winter. Additionally, and this was purely happenstance, our air-conditioner’s condensate pipe drips over the roots all summer long keeping the tree well-hydrated.

Our fig production and access capabilities quadrupled after I pruned the tallest limbs by almost half last March. Later, in April, my husband fertilized the roots with chicken manure. Now the tree is shaped like a sprawling ball and is loaded with figs.

Everything you wanted to know about fig reproduction, but were afraid to ask.

One of my hobbies is studying plant reproduction. All fruits and vegetables start with a flower that once pollinated starts to grow a pod with either one seed in it, like a peach, or many seeds, such as apples and tomatoes. Botanically, the seed pod is known as an ovary. Aggravating as it may feel when a squirrel or chipmunk runs off with a peach or a tomato you have patiently watched ripen, they are doing what nature intended — they are dispersing seeds. Mother Nature doesn’t care if we like our fruits and vegetables. She cares about plant reproduction and species survival.

With that in mind, the first thing I noticed when my tree started producing fruit was the absence of flowers. This photo was taken on April 7th as fig pods and leaves appeared. The pods emerged from the branches but were never preceded by a flower.

This begged the question, How does the fig reproduce without flowers? It turns out the flowers are inside the fig. Hundreds of them! The color inside a fig comes from its flowers.

Last summer, the producer and host of Nashville Public Television’s The Volunteer Gardener came to my garden to film a segment featuring Jeremy Lekich, an expert on edible landscapes and owner of Nashville Foodscapes.   In the show, Jeremy takes viewers around my yard and introduces them to many unusual edibles and explains fig pollination. You can watch the segment here.

By virtue of where the flowers are located, pollination needs to take place inside the fig. To move pollen from a male fig to a female requires the presence of specialized fig wasps who enjoy a symbiotic relationship with figs. The wasps get a place to reproduce and the figs get access to highly specific pollinators. I found this awesome video that shows how microscopic wasps crawl into figs. This other video from PBS’s Gross Science takes it from there describing what happens next in reproduction.

New varieties of common figs, like my Brown Turkey, have been cultivated to not need a wasp for pollination. The female trees are asexual, and the seeds produced are not viable — they are empty seeds. You will see lots of them when we finally get around to cooking the figs!

Every Christmas I make my grandmother’s Sicilian fig cookies. The recipe calls for dried Calimyrna figs. Calimyrnas are a Californian cultivar of the Turkish Smyrna fig (Calimyrna = California + Smyrna) that does require a wasp for pollination. They produce “true seeds” — seeds that are viable for reproduction. Fertile seeds are thick and crunchy, and have a nutty flavor preferred by bakers. They are the figs used to make Fig Newtons.

How to Make Fig Preserves

I cooked many not-so-delicious batches of fig preserves  on the stove before it occurred to me to try roasting them with herbs as I do my strawberry jam. The results were amazing. Roasting intensified the depth of flavor exponentially. They were so good, I took all my reject batches, mixed them together, and roasted two trays for about an hour. Suddenly, they were all tastier, too.

Ingredients:

4-5 pounds fresh figs (12 cups, once stemmed and quartered)*
5 cups granulated sugar
⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
one bunch of thyme sprigs (⅓ ounce) or 3-4 long stems of fresh rosemary

*Today, I saw four varieties of figs for sale at Trader Joe’s!

Instructions:

Remove stems and quarter figs.

Place in a lightly-greased heavy-bottomed pot.

Add sugar and acids and stir. The amount of sugar sounds like a lot, but you need sugar to preserve fruit. Acids help fruit release its naturally occurring pectin. Once mixed, place in refrigerator and allow to macerate for a minimum of two hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 175º. Add thyme or rosemary and simmer on low heat for about twenty minutes. If using thyme, strip leaves before stirring in. If using rosemary, do not strip leaves; leave stems intact and remove before bottling.

Pour hot figs into two rimmed sheet pans and roast for about 4-5 hours.

One way to tell if they have cooked long enough to gel once cooled is to draw a path through the figs and see if the two sides stay separated. If they do, they are ready. You should be able to smell them if they are sufficiently roasted. If you overcook them, they will become thick and gummy when cool. Better to undercook than to overcook.

Pour hot preserves into clean jars, wipe the rims, cover with screw top lids, and turn upside down while they cool. I store them in the fridge, where they should be good for two months.,

I’ll end this story with one last video of my chickens eating figs in the early morning hours.

 

What are my favorite ways to enjoy fig preserves?

By the spoonful — just out of the oven.

My cousin, Marion, served the fig preserves over a delicious blend of cow, sheep, and goat milk cheeses called Rochetta. It was delish. As soon as I got home, I bought a similar cheese called La Tur at Whole Foods.

I often have fig preserves spread over Homemade Ricotta on toast for breakfast, or I’ll make an almond butter and fig sandwich for lunch.

I love brie and fig paninis. Hard to get a photo of the finished product with these crazy-good sandwiches, though.

Please let me know if you make the preserves!

Related Posts:
How to Make Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta
Oven-Roasted Strawberry and Rosemary Jam
Homemade Grape Jelly
Crab Apple Jelly

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a subscriber and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow my stories about how to grow vegetables in your backyard, raise a small flock of chickens, or come up with healthy ideas for dinner on Instagram and Pinterest at JudysChickens

Always check this website for the most up-to-date version of a recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta

Dear Reader,

I’m back!

I made ricotta. It was so much easier than I ever imagined.

Here’s the crazy part — it takes only three ingredients, milk, salt, and vinegar, and twenty minutes.

I might never have tried this had I not been cooking in the kitchen of the non-profit, The Nashville Food Project the morning fellow volunteer cook, Ann Fundis realized there was no ricotta in the walk-in for the vegetable lasagna she was about to make. Never flummoxed about anything, Ann pulled out a gallon of milk, vinegar, and salt and made her own. While she was at it, she pulled out butter, flour, thyme, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and more milk to make a béchamel sauce. She is a rockstar.

I started taking notes as I often do when I cook with Ann. She brought milk and salt to a boil and then added vinegar “until the milk starts to break up.” She let it rest a few minutes and then used a spider (a wide and shallow, wire-mesh spoon) to scoop out the spongy curds that had floated to the surface of the milky-yellow whey.

I tried a spoonful while it was warm. Oh my goodness, the ricotta was moist, fluffy, and delicious. For me, ricotta is at its best when it is freshly made and still warm like this. As it drains and cools, the texture firms up. It has a different mouth feel — still excellent, just different.

Making ricotta was in my future. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to get a gallon of milk.

Ingredients for one quart of ricotta:

1 gallon whole milk (do not use old milk)
1½ teaspoons fine salt
⅓ cup white distilled vinegar or other acidifier (like lemon juice or white balsamic)
olive oil or cooking spray to coat bottom of the pot

Instructions:

Read the Cooking Notes below before starting.

Lightly grease a heavy-bottomed 8-quart saucepan. Pour in milk. Add salt.

Heat milk slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking, until the milk foams and starts to boil. This should take about 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

Add white vinegar, or whichever acid you have chosen to use, and stir. Once the vinegar has been distributed, stop stirring and let the milk curdle for 5-10 minutes without disturbing. It will separate almost immediately into curds and whey, and the curds will float to the top.

There are two ways to extract the curds. One is to use a slotted spoon or a spider.

The other way is to pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined colander or sieve and let the whey drain out. The longer ricotta drains, the drier and firmer it becomes.

I usually spoon it directly into a storage bowl and leave a little whey in the bowl to keep the ricotta moist until I use it.

Cooking Notes:

The pot needs to be large enough to contain the milk as it foams, rises, and comes to a boil.

A common problem that occurs when heating milk is it often burns the bottom of the pan. A scorched pan is a pain to clean and lends a burnt flavor to the end product, often resulting in having to throw the milk out and start over again. I found a solution on Cook’s Illustrated’s website. They suggest lightly spraying the bottom of the saucepan with oil to keep the milk from sticking. Their explanation follows: “When you add milk to a dry pan, it flows into the microscopic imperfections in the pan bottom. As the milk heats, its proteins coagulate and stick to the pan and each other. Misting the pan with vegetable oil spray prior to adding the milk creates a thin film on the pan’s surface, which acts as a barrier and makes milk proteins less likely to adhere.”

I found that when I cooked old milk, milk that was close to its “sell by” date, the ricotta had an unpleasant aftertaste bad enough that I had to throw it away.

Thinking more flavorful acidifiers like lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar would improve the flavor of the ricotta, I gave them each a try. I did not detect an appreciable difference in flavor and went back to using plain vinegar.

I experimented with varying amounts of salt and settled on 1½ teaspoons per gallon of milk, which is very neutral. Since I don’t always know how I am going to use the ricotta during the week, I prefer to be able to control the  saltiness by adding more as needed.

I used whole milk. You can add a cup or two of heavy cream to make the ricotta more deluxe, if desired. I was surprised to see, in some ricotta recipes, that buttermilk was used as the acidifier. I tried it and it worked.

By the way …

The word ricotta comes from the Italian verb to recook. Traditionally, Italian cheesemakers saved and recooked the cauldrons full of whey left over from making other cheeses. The reheated whey would produce clumped proteins, or curds, that were skimmed off and called ricotta. Some cheesemakers still make it this way.

Ways we use homemade ricotta at our house:

Tomato Cobbler and Ricotta Biscuits, a fantastic recipe from The New York Times. It has changed the method I use to make biscuits.

Spinach tortellini, a dollop of ricotta, and @JudysChickens Marinara Sauce

Toast spread with ricotta and a drizzle of local honey. This is what I often eat for breakfast.

Tomato and peach salad with a dollop of ricotta

Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies

Ann’s TNFP Vegetable Lasagna with Roasted Butternut Squash and Sautéed Greens

How do we use the whey?

This recipe makes one quart of ricotta and three quarts of whey. We save the whey and pour it over the dog’s food. She adores it.

Related Posts:
How to Make Yogurt at Home
Homemade Grape Jelly
How to Peel an Orange or Grapefruit Quickly
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
How to Make a Thaw Detector for the Freezer

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

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Follow my stories about how to grow vegetables in your backyard, raise a small flock of chickens, or come up with healthy ideas for dinner on Instagram and Pinterest at JudysChickens

Always check this website for the most up-to-date version of a recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Banana and Granola Multigrain Pancakes

This is my new go-to pancake recipe. You almost feel virtuous eating these carbs with their nutritious complement of grains (oats and cornmeal) and flax and sesame seeds.

The recipe is based on the banana multigrain pancakes I had at First Watch restaurant, my favorite of the breakfast food restaurant chains.  After ordering the pancakes two Saturday mornings in a row, I was taking notes on how to make them when I spied the First Watch, Yeah It’s Fresh cookbook on a countertop. I bought the book and made the pancakes the next morning with a few modifications.

These pancakes are delicious — light, crunchy and healthy. I love them!

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cup rolled oats
1½ teaspoons cornmeal
1½ teaspoons ground or whole flax seeds
1½ teaspoon sesame seeds
3 eggs, beaten
1¼ cups whole or 2% milk
½ cup butter, melted
Banana, blueberries, or strawberries
@judyschickens Granola

Instructions

In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Set aside.
In a larger mixing bowl, beat eggs and add milk. Set aside.
Melt butter. Set aside

Now you have three containers of ingredients.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and gently mix on slow speed until blended, maybe 20 seconds. Add the butter and blend briefly until ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Pour ¼ or ½ cup of batter into a preheated, ungreased, pan. Add thick slices of banana (or any fruit) and two tablespoons of granola to each pancake.  Smush the add-ins down into the batter a little. Cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side.

If you don’t plan to eat them right away, cook all the batter, cool the pancakes on a wire rack, and store in the refrigerator.

I recommend buying the cookbook and trying the Lemon RicottaPancakes too. They are scrumptious! You can buy the cookbook online here.

By the way, if you are looking for a few recipes for Easter dinner, check out this link where you can learn to make this bunny cake and my favorite ways to prepare lamb.

Oldest trick in the book …

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a subscriber and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow my stories about how to grow vegetables in your backyard, raise a small flock of chickens, or come up with healthy ideas for dinner on Instagram and Pinterest at JudysChickens

Always check this website for the most up to date version of a recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.