Split Pea Soup with Ham and Insane Croutons

In our house, the minute it starts snowing is the tip-off to get the split pea soup going! This recipe is rich, thick, hearty and works as an entire meal, especially if you add these buttery croutons which are insanely delicious! Allow time to simmer on the stove-top, at least an hour or until the peas have broken down and the ham is tender. Enjoy!


2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
One package split dry green peas
Ham bone from smoked ham
Extra ham from leftover shank or butt half, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 small potatoes, cubed into 1/2" pieces
4 stalks celery, chopped (with leaves)
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups water
2 beef boullion cubes
Salt and pepper


1. Sauté the ham and ham bone, garlic, onion and carrot in dutch oven.
2. Add water, bouillon cubes and bring to a simmer.
3. Skim foam that comes to the top of the pot.

4. Add peas, carrots, celery, potatoes and bring to a simmer. Re-skim if necessary.

 5. Simmer and stir as vegetables and peas soften and break down.

6. Allow soup to simmer until well blended.

7. Serve with or without buttery croutons. (Recipe follows)

"Insane" Croutons!


3 cups day old Italian bread, cubed
2-3 tbsp. melted butter
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1. Line cookie sheet with foil.
2. In a large bowl, combine bread cubes, salt and pepper, olive oil and melted butter (and optional* herbs if desired).
3. Mix with your very clean hands to be sure the cubes are covered completely with the butter/oil/herb mixture.
4. Spread out on to cookie sheet.
5. Bake 10 mins @ 400F, until crunchy and golden brown.
6. Serve with hot pea soup and watch them disappear!

*Optional herbs: Can add thyme, rosemary, 

Mama's Tomato "Gravy" (Red Sauce)

It's holiday season, and time to make huge quantities of tomato gravy for holiday dinners ... this photo includes meatballs (see other listing on this site), but also for manicotti, spaghetti, chicken parm, and lots of other great menus.

Here's The Empty Nester Gourmet's recipe, adapted from my mom's (which was adapted from her mom's ... and on and on!).

Give yourself ample time to put this together ... choose a rainy or snowy day ... because it needs hours to simmer on the stove-top to come to its full flavor.

Cook ... and enjoy! Buon appetito!


1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 pork neck bones
Canned San Marzano tomatoes -- 90 oz.
One 6 oz. can tomato purée
1 c. sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Red wine (1/2 to 1 c.)
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 c. parsley, chopped finely
1/4 c. sweet basil, chopped finely
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. sugar
Salt and pepper


1. Heat olive oil in dutch oven
2. Salt and pepper the pork bones
3. Sauté the pork bones all over until browned and crispy on all sides.

4. Remove pork bones and sauté onion and garlic in fat renderings. Add olive oil if needed.

5. When onion is translucent, deglaze with red wine.
6. Sauté for a few minutes, until alcohol has evaporated.
7. Add one 6 oz. can tomato purée. Cook four minutes, add salt, pepper and 90 oz. peeled San Marzano tomatoes.

8. Add red pepper flakes, bay leaves, pork bones, oregano and parsley. Using a pair of wide tongs, squeeze tomatoes so they are crushed.
9. Add 1/2 c. red wine.

10. Simmer 2 or more hours, or until sauce is thickened and all ingredients have blended in flavor. Stir in basil.

At this point, you can serve or freeze or refrigerate ... or divide into batches ... freeze some, serve some!

Turkey Leftovers #1 -- Turkey Pot Pie

Rich and spicy, filled with turkey, vegetables, potatoes and a smooth cream sauce, topped with a crusty, buttery pastry, this turkey pot pie is a wonderful way to serve the leftovers from your Thanksgiving feast.

This recipe makes six-eight servings, so this is a perfect meal you can enjoy with house guests who stay past the holiday. Goes nicely with a crisp salad and a cold glass of Pinot Grigio.

1 pkge. refrigerated pie crust (two crusts)
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sautéed in 2 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. olive oil, until brown and all of their liquid is evaporated
1/3 c. butter
1/3 c. flour
1/3 c. onion, chopped finely
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. good quality paprika
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground nutmeg
1-1/4 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. heavy cream or whole milk
2-1/2 cups cooked turkey, cut in bite-sized pieces
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed - OR - 2 cups fresh peas, chopped carrots and corn kernels
Egg wash: One egg + 1 tbsp. cool water, beaten slightly with fork

1. Sauté mushrooms and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
3. In saucepan, melt 1/3 cup (remaining) butter, add onion and sauté until translucent but not brown.
4. Add flour, paprika, salt and pepper, blend to a light roux.
5. Add heavy cream (or milk) and broth, and cook, stirring, until bubbly and thick. Add parsley and a light grinding of fresh nutmeg. Stir to combine.
6. Stir in turkey, sautéed mushrooms and mixed vegetables. Set aside.
7. Generously butter a deep dish pie plate and gently fit one of the pie crusts into it, stretching over edges to form lip.
8. Spoon mixture into crust. Brush edges with water, top with second pie crust, seal and crimp.
9. Cut slits in top crust, and brush with egg wash. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. (If desired, to keep edges from darkening too much or drying out, cover with foil for last 10 - 15 minutes of baking.
10. Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

This Year's Turkey

Our turkey this year was a huge 20-lb. bird that took lots of stuffing and lots of cooking and basting.  We roasted it at 350 for five hours, and 425 for another 40 minutes, basting every 30 minutes with melted butter.  The seasonings ... interior, kosher salt and freshly ground five-peppercorn (from Williams Sonoma) ... exterior, garlic, salt and pepper.  Beneath the bird ... five carrots, five stalks of celery, two onions (quartered) and occasionally, a bit of hot water during roasting to keep veggies from browning too much.  After the bird was removed from the oven, we let it rest and pushed the veggies through a sieve to extract their flavor for our gravy.

Our son hovered in our kitchen this year, learning about cooking a turkey for his own newly-established home in New York City. Teaching him to cook is a true gift for the Empty Nester Gourmet!

We Give Thanks

The many things we give thanks for this year are the love of our family and friends, and the bounty on our table. As always, the turkey -- roasted to a golden brown and stuffed with savory bread and sausage stuffing -- is the centerpiece of our dinner table.

Next, the all-time, most-requested favorite -- sweet potato and pecan casserole -- again, from an old Southern family recipe. Both crunchy and smooth, sweet and savory, this casserole can be prepped two days in advance and cooked up in 45 minutes on Thanksgiving Day. Recipes below.

Here's our table, set for 10, before the food and guests arrive:
May you have a blessed Thanksgiving Day, filled with good things, loving family and faithful friends.

Grandma's Turkey Stuffing
(For 18 lb. bird)

1 package seasoned bread crumbs for turkey stuffing (Arnold)
1 stick butter
1 to 1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 lb. good quality Italian sausage, out of casing
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmegianno Reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 eggs, slightly beaten with fork
Onion and garlic salt -- approx 1/8 tsp each
1 cup white raisins (optional)

1. Sauté sausage until cooked, about 10 minutes. Drain fat from pan. Set aside.
2. In large deep sauté pan, melt butter and broth. When butter is completely melted, add breadcrumbs, stir to combine until all liquid has been absorbed.
3. Pour breadcrumb mixture into a large deep mixing bowl.
4. Add seasonings, cheese, eggs and spices, mix well to combine.
5. Add sausage. Combine.

Stuff bird, reserving any extra stuffing for casserole to bake separately @ 400 degrees for 35 minutes.

Southern Sweet Potato & Pecan Casserole
Preheat oven to 400F degrees.

For casserole:
6 cups cooked sweet potatoes
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs, beaten with fork
For topping:
2 cups flaked coconut
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 cups chopped pecans

Roast sweet potatoes for 40-60 minutes, or until soft. Cool, remove skin, and mash in a large bowl. Combine sweets with next five ingredients. Mix well. Spoon into a lightly-greased 13" x 9" casserole (or oval casserole of similar size).

Reduce oven temperature to 375F degrees.

Combine remaining ingredients, and sprinkle over the top of the sweet potato mixture. Bake @ 375F for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Yields 12+ servings.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving - Easy Turkey Gravy

It's almost Thanksgiving. Time to think about the turkey and the trimmings. One of the best parts of the meal is rich, creamy, roast turkey gravy ... on top of buttery mashed potatoes, savory stuffing and roast turkey.

This gravy recipe is a combination of the best Italian, French and American cooks in our family, plus my own contemporary additions.  Its complex flavor comes from deglazing the pan filled with the rich drippings of the turkey (which is stuffed with an Italian sausage stuffing ... more to come on that soon), plus a layering of seasonings and liquids (including white wine and chicken broth) ... and a hint of herbs.

Serves 8-10

Drippings from 18 lb. (more or less) turkey
2 cups chicken broth
3 tbsp. flour
1/4 c. white wine (good dry one)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tsp. Gravy Master
Hot water

Drain fat from bottom of turkey roasting pan.
• Over medium heat on range top, deglaze pan with 1/4 cup white wine and 2 cups chicken broth, making sure to scrape up brown bits.
• In small bowl, mix 3 tbsp. flour with hot water. Stir to dissolve flour. Add to pan drippings and broth.
• Let simmer 10 minutes over low heat, stirring continuously.
• Add Gravy Master. Stir in well.
• Add salt and pepper to taste, and if desired, herbs such as bay leaf, fresh sage, fresh rosemary and fresh thyme.
• Pour through sieve into a medium-sized saucepan, making sure not to leave any brown bits at bottom of roasting pan, but removing herb leaves.
• Allow to simmer over low heat for another 5-10 minutes until thick and creamy, adjusting salt and pepper seasonings as needed.  Serve hot with roast turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes.

Ah, to be in Italy in the Spring ... Risotto alla Milanese with Shrimp and Mushrooms

You can almost feel the pini of Rome swaying gently in the Borghese Gardens while preparing this lovely little dinner.  Fire up your iPod speakers with a selection from Respighi's classic, atmospheric symphony, Pina de Roma, and take a virtual trip to Italy while you put this easy and fast dinner for two (or more) together. The preparation is made all the more simple by the use of an excellent packaged risotto as well as pre-cleaned shrimp and sliced mushrooms. You can get this dinner from pantry to table in less than 1/2 hour!

1 package Alessi Risotto alla Milanese with Arborio Rice & Saffron (see photo at bottom)
1 lb. peeled and deveined raw shrimp
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges and chopped fresh parsley

1. Prepare Risotto according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, sauté shrimp in 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. olive oil, about 3 minutes; set aside.
3. Sauté mushrooms in remaining butter and olive oil; set aside.
4. Approximately 15 minutes before risotto is ready, stir in the shrimp and mushrooms into the risotto.
5. Top with fresh parsley and serve with a lemon wedge. Delicioso!

The Empty Nester Gourmet Recommends

Alessi Risotto alla Milanese ... Excellent, high quality product, and so easy to prepare.