Photography by Tina Sargeant
Prop Styling by Lisa Malott
Food Styling by Keila Rivera

A few recipes to remind us of the beauty and freshness found in Mediterranean cuisine

The most expensive meal I’ve ever had was a giant bowl of cioppino at a restaurant called The Garlic in New Smyrna Beach. I can remember being overwhelmingly anxious about the price tag even as I was ordering. I almost tracked down our waitress to change my order to something more reasonable. There’s just something wildly disappointing about spending money on a meal that ends up being a dud. But my husband convinced me that it would be worth it, so I nervously awaited its arrival to the table.

The only reason I was brave enough to order it is because I used to make cioppino with my dad when I was a teenager. I don’t know if it was the flavors or the memories that enticed me that day. But once that steaming bowl was set before me, crowned with a perfectly cooked lobster, I knew that I wouldn’t regret a single penny spent on it.

Cioppino is an Italian-American fish stew, but to me that doesn’t quite encompass it. The broth is rich, with components like wine, clam juice, and tomatoes that give it a beautiful depth of flavor. It’s the sort of thing you can dunk crusty bread into and also want to sip straight from the bowl. It’s packed with seafood in a way that makes each bite feel luxurious. And the crazy part is, my parents actually let me and my four siblings partake in this meal when we were kids.

Lemony Chicken Piccata
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil for cooking
2 tablespoons butter for cooking
1/2 cup white wine
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 ounces jar of brined capers, drained
3 tablespoons grass-fed butter

In a bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and pepper. Slice each chicken breast in half, lengthwise. Gently pound each piece to uniform thickness. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge each chicken cutlet thoroughly in the flour mixture, and shake off any excess. Heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium heat. Cook the chicken in the pan for about 3 minutes per side, or until it is browned and cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the white wine, lemon juice, broth, and drained capers to the hot pan and bring to a simmer as your scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the liquid to reduce by half before stirring in the butter.

Serve the chicken with the sauce poured over it. It’s best served over warm pasta or with mashed potatoes and veggies!

The gorgeously crafted cioppino at The Garlic made me realize what a labor of love it must have been for my mom and dad to make such a meal for our big family. Not just because the dish takes time, but also because it required a financial sacrifice to provide it. I can remember my dad letting me sneak bites of crab meat from the fridge as we cooked cioppino together. And although it was one of my favorite meals at the time, I was completely unaware of the hard work it must have taken for them to be able to treat us to food like that.

I recently asked my mom why she and my dad let us eat such an expensive meal as kids. Her response was that when we did make it, it was one of those rare times that they were able to expose us to different foods and flavors. We ate like typical Americans most of the time. But when we made things like cioppino, they were giving us a taste of something beyond our usual. 

That stuck with me. My love for food started in that kitchen at home. I learned of the beauty and freshness of Mediterranean flavors by chopping olives for bruschetta and making homemade béchamel with my dad. So I plan to hold tight to that advice as my kids get older. Someday I’ll look back and remember that my children can only discover what they love if I am willing to let them have a bite of it. 

Pop’s Cioppino
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup red wine
2 cups water
1 cup clam juice
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound mild white flaky fish, cut into
2- to 3-inch pieces
1 pound scallops, cleaned
8 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
18 to 24 littleneck clams, cleaned
8 ounces crab meat (lump or claw)
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, for garnish

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper and cook until beginning to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves, oregano, wine, water, clam juice, and tomatoes. (Some would argue that red wine doesn’t pair well with seafood. In this application, it lends a deeper flavor to the broth and pairs wonderfully!) Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Add the fish, scallops, shrimp, clams, and crab meat, in that order. Let cook, covered and undisturbed, until the clams have opened and the scallops, shrimp, and fish are cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the lid and garnish with chopped parsley. Spoon into bowls and serve hot with toasted bread.

Mozzarella Bruschetta

1 baguette, plus olive oil for drizzling
8-ounce log of mozzarella cheese
6 ounces pitted Kalamata olives
4 Roma tomatoes
1/4 cup diced yellow onions
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Italian herbs
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil for garnish

First, make the bruschetta topping. Slice the Kalamata olives lengthwise. Wash and dry the tomatoes and dice them. In a bowl, mix together the olives, tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, balsamic, and herbs. Salt and pepper, to taste. Allow the tomatoes and olives to marinate while preparing the crostinis. 

Slice the baguette at an angle into long, thin slices. Place the slices on a lined baking sheet and drizzle each slice with olive oil. Broil in the oven for 1-2 minutes, until lightly toasted. Watch carefully so the bread does not burn. While the bread is still hot, cut a clove of garlic in half and rub each slice with the cut side of the garlic. Slice the log of mozzarella into 1/4-inch slices and place one on each piece of toasted baguette. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes. Again, watch carefully so that the cheese melts and begins to brown and bubble up, but does not burn. 

Spoon the bruschetta mixture on top of each crostini and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil. Alternatively, place the cheesy bites on a platter with a bowl of the bruschetta mixture for guests to spoon onto the crostinis and dip in the yummy marinade. 

Baked Falafels with Tzatziki Sauce

A healthier alternative to the traditional fried falafel

1 cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
1/2 medium cucumber
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked chickpeas (I suggest cooking them yourself instead of using canned)
1/2 cup diced yellow onions
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free if needed)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For the tzatziki, grate the cucumber. Using a cheesecloth or tea towel, squeeze all the excess moisture from the cucumber. Mix together the yogurt, drained cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the falafels, preheat oven to 375°F. Add all the ingredients to a food processor and chop until well combined and slightly smooth, with some texture. Using a cookie scoop or by hand, form the mixture into 12 equal rounds. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Alternatively, you can use a greased muffin tin to make perfect rounds. Bake for 35 minutes. Serve warm on a pita with fresh tzatziki sauce, pickled red onion, fresh tomatoes, and greens.