A World of Flavors: Northern Italian tastes! — Passion for healthy Mediterranean dishes

Longtime Green Valley resident Margaret “Marge” Joan Silva displays some of her favorite Italian spices and cookbooks, including “Sharing Our Best,” featuring a wealth of recipes by members of Branch 425 of the Italian Catholic Federation, Green Valley, Arizona. “The Tucci Cookbook,” at right, is among her collection of recipe books, especially since Tucci is her maiden name.

Creating, sharing and enjoying Northern Italian cuisine is a heartfelt avocation for Margaret “Marge” Joan Silva, a former New Yorker who has called Green Valley home for more than 20 years.

Local folks may know Joan for her dedicated involvement with the delectable lasagna dinners in February and meatball dinners in November, both annual fundraisers for the Italian Catholic Federation Branch 425 of Green Valley.

Her family, including her three children and 10 grandchildren, and close friends will attest to Joan's skill in creating such signature dishes as Chicken Genovese or Sausage and Pepper Giambote.

Her self-described specialty: homemade Manicotti featuring fresh, delectable Parmesan and Romano cheeses seasoned with parsley and wrapped inside delicate, handmade crepes.

“I like Northern Italian cuisine, as well as French and German” foods, she points outs, noting that healthy Mediterranean cooking includes plenty of vegetables and fruits. Extra virgin olive oil also is key.

“I make my own dressings (with) red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar,” she says, and always has on hand a supply of fresh spices — garlic, basil, oregano, thyme and more.

When it comes to sauces, Joan enjoys whipping up a spicy Arrabbiata made with garlic, tomatoes, dried red chilies, and peppers cooked in olive oil. And then there's her fabulous Vodka sauce!

Joan and her husband Dick first starting visiting his mother in Green Valley in the late 1980s, and Joan was treated to some of her mother-in-law's favorite recipes. Now, in addition to hosting friends for dinner parties, she happily carries on the family cooking traditions and is proud that her daughter-in-law, Cindy Silva, now makes delicious Italian food as well.

A go-to compilation of mouthwatering dishes — from soups and salads to main dishes, desserts and more — was compiled in a book of recipes titled “Sharing Our Best,” printed in 1996 with a host of recipes from members of Branch 425 of the Italian Catholic Federation, Green Valley, Arizona.

Check out a few favorites here, courtesy of Joan Silva and Yolanda Del Corso.

Chicken Genovese

Cucina de Joan Silva

1 whole chicken, cut up (breasts should be cut into 4 sections)

1 10-ounce package mushrooms, sliced

1 large sweet yellow onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons parsley or parsley flakes

2/3 cup red or white dry wine

2 cups chicken broth

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Using a Dutch oven or a deep 8-quart saucepan, brown chicken in olive oil over medium high heat until lightly browned on both sides (about 3 minutes each side). Remove from pot and set aside.

Add garlic and onion and saute 5 minutes; then add mushrooms and saute an additional 5 minutes.

Turn heat to high; add wine and cook approximately 3 minutes to reduce some of the wine. Add broth, parsley and chicken parts. Season with salt and pepper. When liquid almost comes to a boil, lower heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes or until breasts are tender,

Serve over cooked linguine with plenty of grated cheese or alone with plenty of crusty Italian bread for dipping.

Sausage and Pepper Giambote

Cucina de Joan Silva

1 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

4 medium potatoes (Russet or similar), peeled and quartered

2 large peppers (red, green or yellow or any combination), sliced into 1-inch strips

1 very large sweet yellow onion, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices

2 teaspoons garlic, minced or the equivalent in garlic powder

1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes or whole chopped Roma-style tomatoes (if using fresh, blanch and dice)

2 teaspoons basil leaves, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

In a very deep baking dish or aluminum foil pan (makes for easy cleanup), place all ingredients and toss. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour until potatoes are soft.

Chicken Cacciatore

(Tried and True)

From Yolanda Del Corso

3 pounds fryer chicken, cut into pieces

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 large stalk celery

½ pound mushrooms, quartered or sliced

1 large carrot, shredded

1 (16 oz) can tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup dry red wine

1/3 cup chopped parsley

½ teaspoon dry rosemary

½ teaspoon dry oregano

½ teaspoon dry basil

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. In a wide frying pan, cook chicken until browned on all sides. Remove and set aside.

To the pan, add onion, garlic, celery, mushrooms and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft.

Return chicken to the pan and add tomatoes with liquid, wine and spices. Stir well and cook for 45 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.

Panzanella

From Yolanda Del Corso

2 tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces

1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces, plus whole leaves for garnish

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

salt and ground pepper to taste

6 to 8 slices coarse bread

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and torn basil. Drizzle with the olive oil and red wine vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Toss well to coat evenly.

Cut or tear the bread into bite-sizes pieces, add to the vegetable mixture and toss well.

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