In what has become a fun and deliciously pleasing tradition during Christmas week, we turn the Diversions page over today to some of our chef friends in Hernando County, who, in the spirit of holiday giving, graciously share some favorite recipes from their establishments.
Our thanks to chefs Udi Mekler from Besta One Italian Restaurant, Spring Hill; Dennis Hodge from Southern Ladies & A Gent, Brooksville; Kim Curtis and Joe Foster from BeckyJack's Food Shack, Weeki Wachee; and Brian Alvarez from Brian's Place, Hernando Beach.
You'll find that these recipes are fairly easy to make and use ingredients that can be found in the supermarket.
Good luck, and have a wonderful holiday.
French Onion Soup
From Southern Ladies & A Gent, 4 N Broad St., Brooksville. (352) 593-4165.
3 pounds yellow onions, peeled and thinly (julienne) sliced
3 pounds red onions, peeled and thinly (julienne) sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
8 cups of beef stock
1/8 teaspoon crushed basil
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 table spoons of olive oil
¼ teaspoon of sugar
Sliced Swiss cheese
In a large saucepan, saute the onions in the olive oil on medium heat until translucent (about 10 minutes). Add sugar to help caramelize the onions. Add garlic and saute. Add the beef stock and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 1 hour.
Serve hot with croutons and Swiss cheese on top. Serves 4-6.
BeckyJack's Clam Cakes
From BeckyJack's Food Shack, 8070 Cortez Blvd., Weeki Wachee. (352) 610-4412.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
6 ounces minced clams, undrained
1/4 cup onion flakes
Mix together ingredients. Use an ice cream scoop and drop the dough into oil heated to 350 degrees. Fry until brown. Remove the cakes from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Salt and pepper, plus whatever seasoning or sauce you like.
Italian Christmas Potato Soup
From Brian's Place, 3430 Shoal Line Blvd., Hernando Beach. (352) 597-5101.
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 large Russet potatoes peeled and quartered
3 stalks celery chopped
1 large onion chopped
4 garlic cloves minced
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel
½ teaspoon dry basil
½ teaspoon dry oregano
12 cups chicken stock (can be substituted with canned broth)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4 ounces diced fresh mozzarella
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Then add potatoes, celery, onion and garlic and cook, stirring until softened, about 8 minutes. Do not let vegetables brown; reduce heat if necessary. Stir in fennel, dry herbs and add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. Working in small batches, carefully puree soup in a home blender. (You can prepare the soup to this point up to one day in advance. Reheat over low heat when ready to serve). Add cream to hot soup. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, ladle soup in each bowl and garnish with fresh mozzarella and chopped Italian parsley.
From Besta One Italian Restaurant, 13103 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill. (352) 592-0878.
1 large yellow onion, cut into chunks
7 large ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and quartered
1 (1-ounce) package fresh oregano (remove leaves, discard stems)
1 (1-ounce) package fresh basil, leaves only
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large bay leaves
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
4 (14-ounce) cans chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed
1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 (15.5-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen mixed vegetables (we use Publix brand)
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) dry ditalini pasta (small tubes), cooked according to package directions
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine onions, celery, tomatoes, oregano and basil leaves and process until finely chopped. (You may have to do this in several batches if you do not have a food processor with a work bowl measuring at least 7 inches across.)
In a nonreactive large sauce pot or stock pot (at least 5-quart size), heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped ingredients and saute about 3 minutes or until vegetables are fragrant and soft. Add remaining ingredients except pasta and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so mixture is simmering and cook, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Check and add seasoning as needed. Add cooked pasta and return to a low boil. Serve hot. (This holiday soup keeps well for up to four days. If it thickens too much on standing, add additional chicken broth or water to bring it back to desired consistency.) Makes about 16 cups.