Dinner with Diane

Written by: Diane Ferritto

When you think “Italian,” there are a few things that come to mind. One of the first is likely to be food. I like to think that my heritage has significantly contributed to my love of food. However, I didn’t grow up with Jersey Shore-style Sunday dinners, or a large family that constantly had something cooking on the stove. My upbringing was much different from yours.

My mother never made anything out of a box. My parents, younger brother and I didn’t live in the middle of nowhere. We had electricity and running water. We ate healthy, and we were on a budget. My brother and I would watch the food channel and scribble down recipes to test. Anything from microwaveable blueberry muffins to red beans and rice were fair game. We packed our lunches and helped make dinner.

When I was about two years old, my mother took a picture of me in my father’s garden. I wasn’t picking flowers or stomping on daddy long-legs. I was squatting beneath a ripe tomato and taking a bite out of it. I think that may be where my tomato obsession started. However, tomato season is over now, and anyone who tells you that a tomato from Market Seed or Aldi’s (or wherever you buy your produce) is just as good as one off the vine has clearly never grown a tomato in their life, or eaten a truly fresh tomato.

I’ll try to stick with what’s in season, or foods whose flavor isn’t nearly as altered by trucking it thousands of miles from where it was grown (which is another issue I’d like to address at some point). Each week, I hope to share a recipe with you that feeds your body and soul. My formative years planting tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, eggplant and kale will hopefully inspire, entertain, motivate and educate you — even if just a little bit.

Right now the leaves have fallen, frost is covering our car windshields, and comfort food is what’s for dinner! And since most of you reading this are college students, I want to share a recipe that you can make using the microwave or the stove. Just because you don’t have a full kitchen doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to eat great food!

One of my favorite foods to make when it gets chilly is loaded baked potato chowder. There are tons of variations out there, but the one I share here is a spin on the Pampered Chef’s. Be sure to make a batch before game day, because letting it sit overnight makes it even more flavorful and hearty. Yum.

Loaded baked potato chowder

3 baking potatoes, large (about 2.5 pounds)
3.5 cups milk, divided
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter
2-3 green onions (with tops)
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1.5 teaspoons salt
.5 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
Toppings: bacon (chopped and cooked), sour cream, steamed broccoli

Directions:

1. After washing the potatoes, chop them into bite-sized cubes (about the size of an ice cube). Pour ? cup of milk over the potatoes, and either microwave them in a covered dish until soft or boil them on the stove in water and then drain them. Either way, cook them until you can pierce them with a fork.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk the cream cheese until smooth in a separate bowl (you can use a whisk or a fork here). Add the remaining 3 cups of milk, whisking until smooth.

3. Remove the potatoes from the microwave/stove and mash them in the bowl with a fork or potato masher. You’ll want to keep the potatoes a little chunky so it’s “chowder.” Otherwise, you’ll have liquefied mashed potatoes (which are OK too).

4. Add the cream cheese mixture and the butter to your potatoes in their microwave bowl or stovetop pot. Heat the mixture until it’s hot.

5. While your chowder is heating up, slice green onions and grate your cheddar.

6. Once the potato mixture is hot, add the cheese, green onions, salt, and black pepper, and mix until the cheese is melted.

7. Serve with bacon, sour cream and broccoli, if desired.

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