Necci: Tuscan Chestnut Flour Pancakes

Now, we’ll switch over to some lovey Tuscan dishes. Today’s offering is a nice, light dessert.

Necci: Tuscan Chestnut Flour Pancakes

These classic stuffed chestnut flour pancakes are a popular Tuscan dessert typically filled with a combination of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta cheese and honey.

Necci are often prepared on a special set of long-handled, flat iron paddles called testi. Both paddles are heated and the batter is then poured onto the bottom plate, while the other is placed on top. The two hot plates cook the batter evenly on both sides and make it easier to flip the tender pancake inside without tearing it.

Fortunately, this recipe can also be made without any special equipment. All you need is a large non-stick skillet and a spatula with a thin, clean edge to gently lift the fragile pancake prior to flipping it.

Tip: The addition of a little olive oil to the necci batter helps hold it together better, as well.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25-30 minutes
Makes 6 necci


1¼ c. chestnut flour, sifted
1 c. water
¼ t. salt
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, divided
2/3 c. fresh Ricotta cheese
3 T. honey
1 t. ground cinnamon (optional)

1. Prepare the batter by combining the sifted chestnut flour, water, salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large bowl. Stir batter with a fork until smooth with no lumps remaining. Cover batter and set aside for at least one hour.

2. In a small bowl, combine the Ricotta, honey, and ground cinnamon, if using. Cover and set aside until ready to use. (Refrigerate if wait time is more than 2 hours).

3. To prepare the necci, heat a scant tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swirl the pan to evenly coat the bottom with the olive oil.

4. Ladle 1/6 of the batter into the preheated skillet and immediately spread into a thin, round layer with the bottom of the ladle. Cook until the edges start to firm up and the bottom is evenly browned, approximately 2 minutes. Gently use a spatula with a thin edge to loosen all the way around the pancake before flipping. Cook the remaining side until evenly browned before removing from heat.

5. Transfer the cooked necci to a plate and repeat the process five more times with the remaining batter, adding a bit more olive oil to the skillet between each batch. Add a layer of parchment paper or plastic wrap between each warm necci to prevent sticking.

6. To serve, place one of the prepared necci on a clean, dry work surface and spoon 1/6 of the honey Ricotta mixture down the center. Wrap the edges of the necci around the filling to secure. If needed, add a little dab of honey and ricotta to the edge of the necci to hold the wrapped edges in place.

7. Repeat this process with the remaining necci and serve immediately. Enjoy!



Slow Cooker Mexican Shredded Beef

This is one of those super easy and incredibly versatile recipes that can be served in so many ways. For example, it’s perfect in classic tacos or lettuce wraps or paired with rice or roasted vegetables. Leftovers can also be added to vegetable soups or mixed green salads for a quick lunch the next day.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8 hours
Serves: 4

Tip: For best results, allow meat to cook on low for at least 8 hours.
Non-stick cooking spray
2½ lbs. beef chuck roast
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
½ medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium jalapeno, thinly sliced
1½ t. ground cumin
1 t. garlic powder
½ t. smoked paprika
½ t. chipotle powder
1 t. dried Mexican oregano
1 10-oz. can tomatoes with green chilies
1 c. beef stock
1 T. fresh lime juice

To serve:
1/3 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
2 large limes, cut into 8 wedges each

1. Spray the bottom and sides of 6-quart slow-cooker crock with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Generously season the beef with salt and pepper on all sides and place in slow cooker crock. Add all remaining ingredients, cover, and cook on low for 8 hours.

3. When done cooking, remove lid and shred beef with two forks while still inside the slow cooker. Allow shredded beef to marinate in warm cooking juices for 5 minutes to absorb more flavor.

4. Transfer shredded beef from slow cooker to a serving platter with tongs, allowing excess liquid to drain. Top with chopped cilantro and serve immediately with fresh lime wedges and additional cooking juices on the side, if desired. Enjoy!

Chicken and Black Bean Burrito Skillet

This healthy, one-skillet chicken dish can be on the table in just 30 minutes, so it is perfect for those busy weeknights when you’re tempted to grab some takeout. To round out the meal, try pairing this dish with Easy Refried Beans, steamed brown rice, or with a fresh green salad.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, diced
2 red or green bell peppers, diced
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized cubes
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. Mexican oregano
½ t. chipotle powder
1 14-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 c. frozen corn
½ c. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, divided
2 T. fresh lime juice

Optional, to serve:
½ c. Monterey Jack, shredded
1 large avocado, chopped
1 large lime, sliced into 8 wedges
1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and peppers and season with salt and black pepper, to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft and slightly caramelized, around 7-8 minutes.

2. Add chicken, ground cumin, smoked paprika, Mexican oregano, and chipotle powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is lightly browned on all sides, around 3-4 minutes. Season with additional salt and black pepper, to taste.

3. Stir in black beans and frozen corn. Cook, stirring once or twice, until everything is warmed through, around 6-8 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, as desired.

4. Remove from heat and stir in half of the fresh cilantro and lime juice. If using, sprinkle cheese on top and cover with until cheese melts. Serve immediately topped with remaining cilantro, chopped avocado, and fresh lime wedges, if desired. Enjoy!


Pozole Rojo de Pollo (Red Pozole with Chicken)

This hearty, classic Mexican soup gets a big boost of flavor from two dried chili varieties: Ancho chilies, the dried versions of the relatively mild poblano pepper, and guajillos chilies, the dried version of the hotter mirasol pepper.
Ancho chilies are more readily available in most grocery stores, but guajillo chilies can be much harder to find in many areas. Both can be found in many larger grocery stores, in Mexican specialty markets, or ordered online, however.
Although pozole is traditionally made with pork, this flavorful version features boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead. This brothy, flavorful soup is perfect served with classic pozole toppings, including sliced radishes, shredded cabbage or lettuce, diced avocado, red onions, and/or fresh chopped cilantro.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes (or up to 4 hours)
Serves: 4

3 large dried ancho chilies, stems removed and deseeded
2-3 dried guajillo chilies, stems removed and deseeded
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ medium yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1¼ t. ground cumin
1 t. dried Mexican oregano
½ t. smoked paprika
¼ t. ground cinnamon
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 whole bay leaves
4 c. chicken stock
1 25-oz. can hominy, with liquid
3-4 small radishes, thinly sliced
3 T. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 large lime, cut into 8 wedges
1. Place dried chilies and smashed garlic in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the chilies soften, around 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2. While the chilies are simmering, heat olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, around 4-5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper, to taste.

3. Add ground cumin, Mexican oregano, smoked paprika, and cinnamon. Stir to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes, or just until the spices become fragrant.

4. Add chicken and reduce heat to medium. Cook until lightly browned on all sides, around 2-3 minutes per side.

5. Add bay leaves, chicken stock, and hominy. Increase heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a rapid simmer.

6. Once simmering, transfer the ancho and guajillo chilies mixture to a blender or a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour chili mixture into the pot and reduce heat to just below medium. Partially cover with a lid and cook for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours to give the flavors more time to develop.

7. After at least 30 minutes, remove from heat and carefully shred the chicken using two forks while still in the pot. Remove bay leaves and discard.

8. Ladle hot soup into individual serving bowls and top with sliced radishes, fresh cilantro, or other desired toppings. Serve immediately with fresh lime wedges for squeezing. Enjoy!

Healthy Mexican Horchata

Today’s offering is a nice refreshing drink. Traditional horchata recipes are often incredibly sweet. In fact, many recipes call for more white sugar than rice. This less sweet, but significantly healthier, version skips the white sugar completely and relies on the natural sweetness of Medjool dates and honey instead.
Prep time: 15 minutes + time to soak (up to 8 hours)
Cook time: n/a
Serves: 4 – 6
1 c. long-grain white rice, rinsed and thoroughly drained
1 small organic cinnamon stick
6 c. water, divided
1 c. almond milk
1/3 c. Medjool dates, pitted
2-3 T. honey, preferably local
1 t. vanilla extract
½ c. raw almonds

Optional garnish:
4 long cinnamon sticks
Ground cinnamon
1. Add rice, organic cinnamon stick, and 4 cups of very warm water to a medium-sized bowl. Let soak overnight at room temperature, or until the rice softens and the cinnamon stick is soft enough to break into several smaller pieces.

2. Transfer the rice mixture to a high-powered blender and blend to combine. Add 2 cups cold water, almond milk, dates, 2 tablespoons honey, vanilla extract, and almonds. Blend until thoroughly combined and no large solids remain. Taste and add additional honey, if desired.

3. Strain contents of blender with a fine-weave mesh strainer and 1-2 layers of cheesecloth. When finished, discard remaining solids in the strainer and transfer the reserved liquid to a pitcher or other container.

4. Refrigerate until chilled, or serve immediately over ice with whole cinnamon sticks or a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, for garnish. Enjoy!

Instant Pot Pork Carnitas

This highly versatile and fall-apart-tender pork recipe can be served in so many ways. For starters, this seasoned, tender pork is delicious in lettuce wraps, tacos, salads, or served over rice.
The instructions for this recipe include a couple of optional steps that can be omitted to save time. For example, the aromatic blend of onion, jalapeno, and garlic does not need to be sautéed before cooking the pork, but doing so deepens and releases more flavor. In addition, the pork can be shredded and served as soon as it is done cooking. However, the extra step of tossing it with some cooking liquid and broiling under high heat delivers the delicious, crispy edges found in traditional carnitas recipes.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes + 20-25 minutes for natural steam release
Serves: 4

Important Note: Different Instant Pot models offer different features and buttons.  This recipe was made with the IP-Duo series in mind.
¾ c. chicken broth, preferably organic
¾ c. fresh orange juice (approximately 2 large oranges)
3 T. lime juice
1 T. chili powder
½ t. smoked paprika
1 t. dried Mexican oregano
1 t. ground cumin
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
2-3 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
3½ – 4 lbs. pork shoulder roast, trimmed and cut into 6-8 chunks
1 medium red onion, diced
1 medium jalapeno, diced
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together chicken broth, fresh orange juice, and lime juice with the chili powder, smoked paprika, Mexican oregano, and ground cumin. Season with salt and black pepper, to taste, and set aside.

2. Push the “Sauté” button on Instant Pot. Once the display reads “On,” add 1 tablespoon olive oil and half the pork shoulder pieces to the container. Season with salt and black pepper, to taste, and cook until pork is browned on all sides, approximately 1-2 minutes per side.

Note: DO NOT use lid while using the “Sauté” function on an Instant Pot!

3. Once browned, transfer seared pork to a plate and repeat this process with additional olive oil and the rest of pork. Remove browned pork from the Instant Pot and set aside.

4. *Optional Step: Add remaining tablespoon olive oil to the container, along with red onion, jalapeno, and fresh garlic. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, approximately 3-4 minutes.

5. Add browned pork back to the pot and pour chicken broth/orange juice mixture over top. Add lid and seal, making sure the steam release handle is positioned toward “Sealing.”

6. Press the “Manual” button and set the time to 30 minutes at high pressure. Once the cooking time is up, allow 20-25 minutes for the “natural release” of the steam inside the Instant Pot. After that time, perform a manual “quick release” to vent any remaining steam to release lid, if necessary.

7. A few minutes before the steam is fully released, preheat oven broiler to high and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Transfer pork to the prepared baking sheet and gently shred with two forks. Drizzle with ¼ cup juices from the Instant Pot and toss to combine before spreading into a thin, even layer.

8. Place pork under broiler for 4-5 minutes, then remove from oven and add a little more juice before turning the meat to brown the other side. Place back under broiler for another 4-5 minutes or until the pork is nice and crispy on the edges.

9. Once pork is under the broiler, press “Sauté” on the Instant Pot to reduce the cooking liquid by one half while the pork is broiling.

10. When finished broiling, remove baking sheet from oven and serve immediately with the reduced cooking liquid, fresh lime wedges, and chopped cilantro. Enjoy!


Mexican Chopped Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing

This fresh Mexican chopped salad is substantial enough to serve as a light main course on its own. Or, you can pair it with Pozole Rojo de Pollo or your favorite soup for a heartier meal. Either way, this delicious, healthy dish is packed with fiber-rich black beans and plenty of fresh herbs and vegetables.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
Serves: 4

*Tip: If fresh corn is not in season, substitute 1 cup prepared frozen sweet corn and skip Steps 2 and 3 below.
Creamy Avocado Dressing Ingredients:

1 large avocado, pitted
½ small shallot, peeled and cut in half
3 T. fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ c. plain Greek yogurt
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. fresh lime juice
2 t. honey
Optional: 2-3 T. water, if needed
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Chopped Salad Ingredients:

*2 large ears fresh corn, husks and silk removed
1 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
2 c. fresh arugula, chopped
¼ c. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
½ medium red onion, diced
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 T. fresh lime juice
1 t. ground cumin
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 large lime, cut into 8 wedges
1. To prepare the dressing, combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add a little water, if necessary, to reach the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

2. Brush corn with melted butter and place on a pre-heated gas grill over medium direct heat, or indoors on a grill pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray set over medium-high heat.

3. Cook corn until kernels are slightly charred, rotating one-quarter turn every couple of minutes until each side is done. Remove from heat and slice kernels from cob with a sharp knife. Reserve kernels and discard cobs. Set aside.

4. Add chopped iceberg, arugula, and fresh cilantro to a large salad bowl and toss gently to combine. Set aside.

5. In a large mixing bowl, combine diced bell pepper, red onion, black beans, roasted corn kernels, lime juice, and ground cumin. Season with salt and black pepper, to taste, and toss gently to combine.

6. Add the seasoned black bean mixture to the bowl with the chopped lettuce and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately with Creamy Avocado Dressing or your favorite salad dressing. Enjoy!