Throughout the history of the church, many spiritual exercises have been introduced in order to help us stop what we are doing and reflect. In the course of a year, most of us find ourselves jumping from one project to another, one responsibility to another, and even from place to place without enjoying the fruits of our labors, the blessings we have been graced with, or the wisdom gained from reflection.
The new year gives us an opportunity to review our behaviors and reset ourselves for the year ahead, oftentimes following the hustle of a busy Christmas season and close of the calendar year. January presents us with a fresh beginning which, like a good starter dish at a dinner party, sets the course for what is to follow.
Before I answered God’s call to serve His people in the ministry of the priesthood, I attended the Culinary Institute of America. During my time in culinary school and my years of working in restaurants and hotels in Manhattan, I always placed special emphasis on the first course or appetizer. My theory has always been that while a fabulous entrée can make a meal memorable, the way you begin a meal can make the same old spectacular, and the everyday an experience. Too often in life we want to rush to the main course; some of us even want to rush directly to the dessert. However, if we start off with the right first course, it slows us down and allows us to enjoy all that follows with a renewed sense of appreciation.
As a chef I always must also keep focused on what is the purpose of the meal I am preparing. Am I cooking a meal to be healthy, to meet the taste of a particular individual, to feed someone who is hungry, or to mark a special occasion?
The first course is essential to helping me accomplish the reason for my meal. It should not be in opposition to the purpose, but assist in connecting where the diner is when he or she first sits at the table and where I would like them to be when they are finished. Once again, it is the way I start the meal which will allow the courses to lead the diner.
Whether you are hosting a party or preparing a simple chicken breast on a Tuesday night, beginning with something new, refreshed, or just unexpected may afford you the opportunity to enjoy the fullness of a meal which won’t leave you hungry. Similarly, if we begin this new year with a renewed sense of purpose, we can discover countless blessings we may have overlooked in our busyness the year before.
MONSIGNOR JAMIE GIGANTIELLO is the vicar for development of the Diocese of Brooklyn and host of the NET TV cooking show “Breaking Bread.” https://netny.tv/shows/breaking-bread/
Baked Artichoke Dip
3 Cans (14 oz each) artichoke hearts in water
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ Cup all-purpose flour
2 Cups whole milk, warmed
2 Tsp coarse salt Black pepper
1/8 Tsp cayenne pepper
1 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Cup grated Pecorino cheese
1 large onion (finely chopped)
1 Tbsp fresh thyme (finely chopped)
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 ½ Tsp lemon zest (finely grated)
¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
Chop the 3 cans of artichoke hearts well.
In a bowl, mix together well the chopped artichokes, butter, flour, whole milk, salt,
pepper (to taste), cayenne pepper, parmesan cheese, pecorino cheese, onion, thyme, garlic, lemon zest, and bread crumbs.
Spray a casserole dish with non-stick spray. Place the contents of the bowl in the dish and place in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 min.
Serve with bread, chips, or vegetables for dipping and enjoy!