Country Spoon

Garden to Table in Cayuga County

Category: Main Course

Spinach Meatballs

A childhood favorite of mine and the perfect comfort food for this bitter cold weather… Enjoy these meatballs loaded with salty cheddar and spinach.  My mother’s recipe calls for all ground beef, but I decided to add a little bit of a kick by substituting part of the meat with hot Italian ground sausage.  Happy New Year to all and stay cozy!

Spinach Meatballs:

Makes 12 meatballs

1 lb. ground beef

1/2 lb. hot Italian ground sausage

1 c. chopped frozen spinach – thawed and drained

1 c. cheddar cheese shredded

3/4 c. panko breadcrumbs

1 small yellow onion – finely chopped

2 garlic cloves – minced

1 t. salt

1/2 t. freshly cracked pepper

1 t. parsley

1  28 oz. can of whole San Marzano tomatoes in thick juice


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl with hands. Roll meatballs into desired size and set aside. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375. Heat a shallow non stick lidded pan over medium heat.  Drizzle pan with olive oil to coat the bottom.  Once the oil is hot, place meatballs in pan and sear, turning several times until nicely browned and almost caramelized. Remove from heat.

Using a pair of clean kitchen shears, cut tomatoes up in the can – no need to dirty another bowl! Pour cut tomatoes with juice over meatballs.  Place lid over meatballs and bake in oven for 30 minutes. Serve over hot fresh pasta with freshly grated parmesan reggiano cheese or with warm crusty bread.



Cheddar Butternut Squash Bake

Fall is just around the corner and comfort food is craved as temperatures start to drop. With an abundance of winter squashes in season, lighten up a heavy cheesy dish with a naturally creamy squash. Sweet butternut squash, earthy mushrooms and salty cheddar cheese are the perfect warm tastes for this hearty, but light pasta dish.  Bring on the fall foliage!

Cheddar Butternut Squash Bake:

1 large butternut squash

1 T. olive oil

1/2  t. fresh rosemary – chopped

1  1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. freshly cracked black pepper

12 oz. rigatoni pasta

1 sweet vidalia onion – roughly chopped

3 c. baby portabella mushrooms – sliced

1 T. butter

2 T. all – purpose flour

3/4 c. reserved pasta cooking water

1 c. skim milk

1  1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

fresh basil – chiffonade


Preheat oven to 425.  Cut squash in half and hull out seeds.  Chop squash into large chunks and toss with olive oil, 1/2 t. salt, 1/4 t. black pepper, and freshly chopped rosemary.  Roast squash flesh side down on a cookie sheet, turning once for about 35 minutes or until squash is tender. Set aside to cool and reduce oven heat to 375.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water (a generous pinch of salt will do), cook pasta according to directions – drain and reserve roughly 3/4 c. cooking water. Once the squash is cool, scoop squash pulp out of the shell and mash in a medium bowl.

In a dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until slightly golden and fragrant- about 7 minutes.  Add mushrooms and saute for about 3 more minutes.  Deglaze pan with 1/4 c. reserved cooking water. Sprinkle mushrooms and onion with 2 T. flour. Stir together and let cook for an additional 2 minutes, until flour smells slightly toasted. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in 1 c. milk, remaining 1 t. salt and 1/4 t. freshly cracked black pepper and let cook until bubbly and mixture starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.  Stir in mashed squash and fold in cooked pasta. Stir in remaining 1/2 c. pasta water followed by 1 c. cheddar cheese.  Top mixture with remaining 1/2 c. cheddar cheese and fresh basil.

Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly golden.


Italian Kale & Sausage Soup

Beneath the snow and ice, kale still strives on through the long winter months.  Its bright green color, crunchy texture and savory flavor make kale the perfect addition to this hearty soup. Loaded with juicy tomatoes, carrots, cannellini beans and sausage make this vitamin packed soup sure to warm the soul.  Think Spring!

Italian Kale & Sausage Soup:

1 T. olive oil

4 links of Italian sausage

1 T. butter

2 medium yellow onions – chopped

3 cloves of garlic – minced

1 c. baby carrots – chopped

1/2 lb. kale – torn and tough stems removed

2 c. chicken or vegetable broth

1  28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in juice

1  28 oz. can water

1  15 oz. can cannellini beans – drained and rinsed

In a heavy lidded deep pan or dutch oven, heat 1 T. olive oil over medium heat.  Add sausage links and saute until brown.  Remove from pan and set aside to cool.  Add 1 – 2 T. water to hot pan and use a rubber spatula to scrap the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.   Add 1 T. butter.  Once butter is melted, turn the heat down to low and add chopped onion and garlic and saute for about 3 minutes or until translucent.  Add carrots and continue to saute for about 2 more minutes.

Add 1 c. of chicken broth and half of the kale, covering the pan to allow the kale to wilt down.  Add the other 1 c. chicken broth and remaining kale until all is slightly wilted down and bright green in color, about 8 minutes.  Remove lid and add the can of whole peeled tomatoes.  I like to use San Marzano tomatoes in thick juice.  With your rubber spatula, press and break the tomatoes into quarters or smaller pieces.  Fill the whole tomato can with water, swishing around to get all the juice and add to the soup.

Slice sausage links and add to soup followed by cannellini beans.  Let soup simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes over low heat.   Serve hot with freshly cracked black pepper and shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese.






Chicken & Black Bean Chili

A delicious and healthy chili that will warm you up and is very simple to make.  Perfect for a weeknight dinner or a game day –  prepare ahead of time and keep warm in a crock pot for easy entertaining. 

Chicken & Black Bean Chili:

2 large boneless/skinless chicken breasts – cut into 1 inch cubes

1  1/2 t. cumin

2 t. chili powder

1/2 t. cayenne pepper

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. cinnamon

1 T. butter

2 cloves of garlic – minced

1 large yellow onion – chopped

1  24 oz. can of crushed or diced tomatoes

1  16 oz. can of black beans – drained & rinsed

2 c. frozen sweet corn – thawed

1/2 c. golden raisins

In a small bowl, combine chicken with cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and salt.  In a large heavy pan, melt 1 T. butter over medium heat.  Once the butter has melted, add the chicken and spices mixture.  Saute for 2 minutes then add onion and garlic.  Continue to saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in crushed tomatoes, black beans, corn and raisins.  Bring back to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to low heat.  Let simmer for about 15 minutes.  Serve hot as is or over wild rice. This is also great topped with shredded sharp cheddar cheese or diced avocado.  Stay warm! 




Spaghetti Bolognese

This simple bolognese has a depth of flavors with red wine, three meats and earthy porcini mushrooms. It is sure to please and in little time.  A flavorful and easy recipe perfect for elegant holiday dining or a quick week night dinner… let the festivities begin!

Spaghetti Bolognese:

1 lb. lean ground beef

2 links of chicken sausage

4 strips of bacon

1 c. dried porcini mushrooms

1  1/2 c. dry red wine

1 large yellow onion – chopped

5 cloves of garlic – minced

1 pint jar of tomato sauce

In a small pot, bring wine to a boil and add mushrooms. Remove from heat and set aside. Fry bacon in a heavy pot or large dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon and let drain on paper towels. Drain bacon grease, reserving 1 t. grease in pot. Over medium heat, add sausages to pot and cook until all sides are brown. Remove and set aside.  You can substitute any Italian pork sausage too.   Add ground beef to pot and brown, scrapping sides and bottom to remove any bits. Once browned, remove beef from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside with other meats. Return juices in pan to a low simmer over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Saute until translucent, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.

Drain wine into onions and garlic, reserving mushrooms and stirring constantly to de-glaze any remaining brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Chop mushrooms and add to the wine and onion/garlic mixture, followed by crumbled bacon, sliced sausages, ground beef and a large jar or pint of tomato sauce.  I use my own homemade garden tomato sauce, but any marinara or tomato basil sauce will do.  Let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Serve hot over fresh spaghetti.

Heirloom Tomato & Cheddar Galette

As the season winds down, but the tomato crop still ripens, combine them with cheese in a pie crust and call it baked heaven.  This is probably my favorite recipe for something savory.  Layers of tomatoes, cheddar cheese and herbs with a light tangy mayo vinaigrette bring a new taste to tomatoes.  The pie pastry just finishes it off… in sort of a pizza pie kind of way. This is the perfect toast to the end of summer and embracing the beginning of autumn. 

Heirloom Tomato & Cheddar Galette:

1 pie pastry – homemade or store bought

5 or 6 large heirloom tomatoes – thinly sliced & drained

2 c. sharp cheddar cheese – shredded

2 T. chives – chopped

8 to 10 basil leaves – chopped

1 T. apple cider vinegar

1/4 c. mayonnaise

1 t. salt

1/2 t. freshly cracked black pepper

Prepare homemade pie pastry – see Ripe Pear and Lemon Pie in my “Desserts” section for a classic recipe.  Start by slicing tomatoes and let them drain on a cookie sheet.  Any tomato will do too…I just happen to have an abundance of Brandywine tomatoes from the garden that did not make it into either sauce or salsa. Layer paper towels between the tomato slices to help with the draining process. Let tomatoes sit for about 20 minutes changing out the paper towels when needed.

Preheat your oven to 425.  In a small bowl, combine apple cider vinegar, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.  Lay pie pastry in a pie plate. Start by placing one layer of tomato slices followed by a light spread of the mayonnaise mixture. Top with cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of herbs and repeat these layers several times until you almost reach the top of the pie pastry. Roughly fold over the pastry to form a rustic galette top.  Bake on a lower oven rack for about 40 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Let cool for about half an hour before serving, holding back any temptations…

You can make many variations of this too by adding different cheeses, vegetables, herbs and meats.

Garden Basket Tart

I always collect my vegetables in this old basket, my garden basket. Every time I fill it, I admire how beautiful it looks – all of the colors and shapes.  I am always so tempted to use everything all at once. This garden basket tart truly is a tart of the garden and what is in season.

Garden Basket Tart:

1 small zucchini – thinly sliced

2 small yellow summer squash – thinly sliced

2 banana peppers – seeded and sliced

1 medium tomato – sliced

1 head of broccoli – trees divided

1 garlic clove – minced

1 puff pastry dough

1/4 c. pesto

olive oil

1/2 c. feta cheese

sea salt

freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  Lay puff pastry dough out on pizza stone or cookie sheet.  Prepare vegetables.  Spread pesto on pastry dough.  Start by layering zucchini and yellow summer squash, followed by banana pepper, tomato and broccoli.  Top with feta cheese.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Bake for 15 minutes or until puff pastry is golden.  Cool slightly and serve.