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Recipes: Mary Ann Improta's Italian Bread, Sausage-Stuffed Portabellas and Low-Fat Eggplant

Here's three more recipes from Mary Ann Improta, the News April Cook of the Month. Her classic, crusty Italian bread is loaded with toasted sesame seeds; the stuffed mushroom is a rich treat, suitable for sharing, and her roasted eggplant uses cooking spray instead of lots of olive oil, to cut down on fat.

Mama's Bread

5 lbs of flour, plus a cup if needed
1/4 cup (less a teaspoon) salt
1/4 cup of sugar
1 2-ounce cake yeast
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups of shortening

In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast cake in 3 cups of lukewarm water and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flour, salt and sugar. In the center, make a well and put shortening in. Gently squeeze the yeast and shortening into the flour, and start to work the dough with your hands.

You may need more water so add until dough is workable, and you may need more flour until dough is pliable and doesn't stick to your hands. Knead the dough for at least 5 to 7 minutes. Cover with a clean towel and let it rest for 20 minutes. Knead again, and rub with shortening. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for 2 1/2 hours in a draft-free place.
When dough is ready, roll into a long rope and shape into rolls, twists or loaves, in appropriate pans. Cover and let rise another 20 minutes. Turn oven on to 375 F. When ready, brush dough with a beaten egg and add toasted seseme seeds on top.

Place in oven and bake for 1 hour for bread and 40 to 50 min for rolls. Remove and let cool on wire racks. You should make 5 loaves of bread and 2 dozen rolls.

Sausage-Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)
4 tablespoons olive oil ( plus a sprinkle olive oil for each portabella)
6 scallions, sliced
1 16-ounce tube pork sausage
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 large bag of baby spinach
1/2 cup of fresh parsley
6 medium whole portabella mushrooms (use the stems in filling chopped to saute)
2 to 3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
In large frying pan, place margarine (or butter) and olive oil. Add scallions and saute. Remove stems from mushrooms, chop and add to saute. Add sausage and stir until cooked.

Add cream cheese in chunks and stir until melted. Add spinach and fresh chopped parsley. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir, add salt and pepper to taste and if you desire, add crushed red pepper. Stir.

Place mushrooms on a foil-covered cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the inside of each one. Give the stuffing another stir and evenly distribute stuffing between mushrooms. Cover each mushroom with shedded mozzarella.

Cover with foil, tenting to avoid cheese sticking, and bake at 375 F for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and top is golden. Serve.

(Relatively) Low-Fat Roasted Eggplant
2 medium to large eggplant
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (any Italian grating cheese, such as Pecorino Romano, may be used)
10 fresh basil leaves (cut or torn)
Olive  oil to drizzle (about 1/4 cup or more if needed) 
Non-stick spray

Slice eggplant 1/2 inch thick and place on cookie sheet that has been coated with non-stick spray. Spray tops.

Roast at 375 degrees for 15 minutes until bottoms are golden. Turn eggplant over and spray again. Cook another 3 minutes. Remove. Serve warm or room temperature; it's great with fresh Italian bread.

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