Gotta have heart!: Recipes that don’t miss a beat


This salad features hearts of palm and avocado. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENDA KIEFFER

By Emily Ryan, The Mercury

This Valentine’s Day, celebrate with recipes from the heart — of vegetables, that is.

“I just love hearts of palm,” said executive chef Brenda Kieffer of Kieffer’s Appliances in Lansdale, who combines the low-calorie, high-fiber “fairly unusual ingredient” with avocado for “a very colorful salad.”

Another favorite: artichoke hearts — long considered a food of love. Evoke the romance of Italy with her marinated artichokes, capers and sun-dried tomato pasta sauce.

“Everyone likes pasta. And with the sun-dried tomatoes, you’ve got your red in there,” explained Kieffer, also an instructor at Cooking Spotlight in Phoenixville and Montgomery County Community College’s Culinary Enthusiast Program.

“Valentine’s Day is a good occasion to break that low-carb/no-carb diet!” she added.

And it’s the perfect time to splurge. On the menu at Paramour in Wayne: Maine lobster and artichokes, featuring artichoke agnolotti, snap peas and sauce Choron, a variation of béarnaise.

Artichokes “have a mild flavor and, but then again, they have a very distinct flavor,” described executive chef Eric Goods. “They’re versatile. You can do anything with them. You can fry. You can poach. You can puree. They make great soups, great sauces.”

For a more casual celebration or Valentine’s Day lunch, whip up some artichoke heart and spinach cream cheese spread — delicious with crackers.

“It’s great served warm,” suggested chef Bob Imperial of Imperial’s Catering in Trappe. “I use it as a spread for sandwiches” like hearts of palm and smoked turkey on ciabatta rolls.

This Friday, he’ll host a Valentine’s dinner show, where guests can’t help falling in love with two Elvis tribute artists.

And hopefully Kieffer won’t be all shook up after flying across the Atlantic for a 10-day cooking certification.

“I actually land in Italy on Valentine’s Day,” she said.

Ah, amore!

Hearts of Palm and Avocado Salad


Did you know artichoke is considered an aphrodisiac? PHOTO BY EMILY RYAN


I cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ red onion, cut into very thin slices

1 (14-ounce) can of hearts of palm, drained and sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 avocado cut into ½-inch pieces

1 small head of romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces

¼ cup flat-leaved parsley, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon grated lime zest

2 tablespoons mayonnaise (light)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon milk (low-fat)

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste


In a small bowl, whisk the lime, mayonnaise, canola oil, milk, salt and pepper until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine the romaine, tomatoes, hearts of palm, onions, avocado and parsley. Toss with the dressing until well coated. Serve immediately.

Recipe courtesy of executive chef Brenda Kieffer

Marinated Artichokes, Capers and Sun-dried Tomato Pasta Sauce


Hearty pastas like rigatoni pair well with marinated artichokes, capers and sun-dried tomato pasta sauce. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENDA KIEFFER


6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 largish garlic cloves, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon dried pepperoncino flakes or more to taste

1 jar of marinated artichokes, drained and sliced thin (about 1 cup)

2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil and sliced into ½-inch strips

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1½ cups hot water from the pasta pot

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaved) parsley

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano


Step one: Boil a large pot of salted water. Start the pasta cooking if you are using dry. If using fresh, begin cooking the pasta after step four. Step two: Pour 4 tablespoons of oil into a skillet and scatter the garlic around the pan. Heat over medium heat. Cook for about 1 minute or so, shaking the pan until garlic is sizzling. Step three: Add the pepperoncino to a hot spot and “toast” it for a minute, then stir to combine with the garlic. Step four: Add the sliced artichokes, tomatoes, capers, salt and lemon zest and stir well. Cook for about 4 minutes until juices thicken.

Step five: Ladle 1½ cups of boiling pasta water into the pan and cook on high for 3 to 4 minutes, reducing by half. Step six: Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the sauce and keep warm. Step seven: When pasta is done (al dente), turn up the heat on the sauce and scoop the pasta into the skillet with the sauce. Step eight: Toss until pasta is covered with the sauce and has cooked a bit more. If it is too dry, add a little more pasta water; if too soupy, turn up the heat and boil it off quickly. Step nine: Off the heat, add the parsley and the cheese and toss again. Pairs well with rigatoni, radiatori, penne or pappardelle.

Recipe courtesy of executive chef Brenda Kieffer

Artichoke Heart and Spinach Cream Cheese Spread


Artichoke hearts and spinach star in this deliciously simple dip. PHOTO BY EMILY RYAN


1 cup of canned artichoke hearts (drain liquid)

8 ounces of cream cheese (low-fat)

2 cups of cooked spinach

Salt and pepper to taste

½ teaspoon of minced garlic

1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil


In a saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and garlic; cook garlic until slightly brown and add spinach. Cook spinach until bright green, remove from heat and allow to cool in refrigerator. Place spinach in a colander and squeeze out the liquid until dry. In a bowl add cream cheese, salt and pepper. Using a hand mixer, mix for 3 minutes until the mixture is soft. Fold spinach and artichoke into the cream cheese mixture. Can be served cold or slightly warm. Great as a spread on sandwiches and as a dip.

Recipe courtesy of Imperial’s Catering

Hearts of Palm and Smoked Turkey Sandwich

Yields 2 sandwiches


¼ cup of hearts of palm, sliced ¼-inch thick

¼ cup of roasted red peppers, sliced into strips

10 ounces of smoked turkey

2 ciabatta rolls

Artichoke heart and spinach cream cheese spread


Cut open the ciabatta roll. Spread artichoke spinach spread on each side of roll. Layer the roll with smoked turkey, roasted red peppers and hearts of palm. Using a panini press on 400 degrees, place sandwiches on press and grill until warm. Enjoy.

Recipe courtesy of Imperial’s Catering

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