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Arancini – Rice Balls

Arancini Large Cropped

I have always loved all types of rice balls.  The plain kind with only rice and cheese and the kicked up ones with rice cheese and prosciutto are delicious.  However, my very favorite are the ones that have rice, cheese, meat and peas.  YUM! When I lived in Brooklyn my family liked to go to a restaurant called Joe’s of Avenue U (where I fell in love with eggplant caponata).  This little focacceria that had so many wonderful Sicilian specialties had us crazy for what they call the “Rice Ball Special”.  This was a large rice ball filled with ground beef and cheese and topped with fresh ricotta, tomato sauce and freshly grated parmigano cheese.  This dish was a meal in itself.  I have finally tried to make my own arancini and was suprised at how easy it was.  The first time I made it with regular white rice and had some issues getting them to stick together and the second time I made it using Lidia Bastianich’s recipe which uses arborio rice.  I was hesitant to use arborio rice because many recipes require you to first make risotto and this creates a much creamier rice ball which is different than what I grew up with.  Although, risotto balls or risotto cakes (which I have been making every Christmas eve) are delicious they are not what I was looking for this time.

I was very pleased with Lidia’s recipe because the texture was perfect and they held together very well. Although I don’t usually follow sauce recipes  since I make my own sauce,  hers is very similar with the addition of carrots and celery.  I added it this time.  Keep in mind that this should be a very thick sauce more of a meat mixture than a sauce you would put on pasta.

Did you hear that Lidia Bastianich has a new cookbook and television series coming out soon?  I can’t wait!

Visit Lidia’s Website to see this recipe and more!

Arancini – Rice Balls

Yield: 20-24 rice balls

Arancini – Rice Balls

Ingredients

  • For the Ragu
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • salt
  • ¼ cup celery , finely diced
  • ¼ cup carrots, grated
  • 14 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon hot red pepper, crushed
  • 1 cup fresh peas, or frozen peas
  • For the Rice
  • 5 cups chicken stock, canned reduced-sodium chicken broth or water
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups arborio rice, or other short grain rice
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups Pecorino Romano, grated
  • To Coat and Fry the Rice Balls
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups fine dry breadcrumbs
  • ? cup vegetable oil
  • ? cup olive oil, plus extra for frying

Instructions

  1. Make the ragu (up to 3 days in advance): heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Crumble in the meet and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until the water given off by the meat is evaporated and the meat and onion begin to brown, about 10 minutes.
  2. Season the beef and onion lightly with the salt. Stir in the carrots and celery and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, red pepper, and salt to taste. Adjust the heat to simmering and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes. If the sauce starts sticking to the pan at any time during cooking, stir in a few tablespoons of water. Stir in the peas and cook until they are tender, about 10 minutes for frozen peas and 20 minutes for fresh peas. The finished ragu should be dense and reduced. Remove and cool to room temperature.
  3. While the ragu is cooling, make the rice. Bring the stock or water and 2 tablespoons olive oil to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in the rice, return the water to a boil, then adjust the heat to simmering. Cook the rice uncovered, until al dente, about 12 minutes. Drain the rice and spread out on a tray to cool to room temperature. When the rice is cool, scrape it into a mixing bowl and beat in the 4 eggs and the grated cheese.
  4. Take a handful of the cooled rice mixture and shape it into a small ball in the palm of your hand. Make a well in the center of the ball and drop in 1 tablespoon of the ragu. Work the rice so that it completely encloses the ragu, and re-form the rice into a smooth ball. Continue forming arancine with the remaining rice and ragu.
  5. Whisk the 2 eggs in a mixing bowl. Spread the flour on one plate and the bread crumbs on another, in an even layer.
  6. Dredge a few of the rice balls in the flour to coat all sides. Tap off excess flour. Roll the rice balls in the beaten egg to coat, allowing any excess egg to drip back into the bowl. Finally, roll the rice balls in the bread crumbs, pressing lightly to coat evenly with the crumbs.. Remove to a clean baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining rice balls.
  7. If you'd like to serve the rice balls warm, heat the oven to 200 degrees F or to the lowest setting. Line a baking sheet with a double thickness of paper towels. Pour the vegetable oil and olive oil into a deep skillet. Insert a deep-frying thermometer into the oil and heat the oil over medium heat to 375 degrees F.
  8. Test the temperature of the oil by dipping a rice ball in. It should give off a lively but steady sizzle. If nothing happens, the oil isn't hot enough. If the oil around the bread-crumb coating boils and sputters, the oil is too hot. Adjust accordingly.
  9. When the oil comes to temperature, carefully slip about a third of the rice balls into the oil. Fry, turning as necessary with tongs or a slotted spoon, until golden brown and crisp on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove to the paper towel-lined baking sheet, keeping them hot in the oven if you like. Fry the remaining balls. The arancine can be served hot or at room temperature.

Notes

The ragu recipe made twice the amount needed for all the rice so next time I will double the rice and freeze some.

I used an ice cream scooper to get a uniform size.

Recipe is by Lidia Bastianich and is posted on her website. http://www.lidiasitaly.com/recipes/detail/820

 

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Chicken Sausage and Rice

I’m really loving this sausage that is fairly new to the supermarket.  It’s a chicken sausage and it has garlic and cheese in it.  I can’t always find it but when I do I really enjoy the flavor it adds to soups, pastas and now this yummy rice.  This is pretty simple to make and I’m sure it could be made as a one pot meal like my Aunt Maryann’s Chicken and Rice.  However, I decided to make this on a whim when the chicken breasts I bought turned out to have a terrible smell.  Don’t you hate when that happens?  I already started cooking a separate pot of rice for what would have been a different dish entirely. It all worked out and I really enjoyed it and will definitely be making it again.

 

Chicken Sausage and Rice

Yield: 4 Servings

Chicken Sausage and Rice

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white rice, prepared according to package
  • 4 links chicken sausage with garlic and cheese, removed from casings
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 container cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and cut into quarters or sixths (depending on the size)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ¾ cup frozen peas
  • ½ cup (or more) Romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat add oil and cook sausage breaking up with a spoon or potato masher. When sausage is browned well remove from the pan and add onions and cook until translucent. Add mushrooms and try your best not to touch them for a little while. When you see that the mushrooms and starting to shrink and brown give it a stir and add the garlic. When mushrooms are browned all over add tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Turn up the heat a little and then add the white wine. Stir to pick up all the browned bits of sausage and veggies that stuck to the pan. Reduce heat and return sausage to the pan. Let simmer until wine has reduced by at least half. Add peas and let cook for a minute to defrost.
  2. Add rice to the pan and stir to combine rice with veggies and sauce. Add cheese and taste. Add more cheese, salt and pepper as needed.

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Vegetable Ricotta Pancakes

This past weekend I went to dinner at my friend’s house for our monthly dinner group.  Her theme was All American Barbecue and I was responsible for bringing the appetizer.  I know what you must be thinking, this has nothing to do with barbecue.  Well I guess that’s true but growing up we always has fried zucchini fritters before many summer dinners.  Nanny’s vegetable garden was always full of zucchini and flowers and we never let them go to waste.  I don’t have my own garden (which makes me very sad!) and it’s not often you can buy zucchini blossoms at the store, maybe at a farmers market later in the summer.  So I used some zucchini, peppers, onions and corn to make a veggie version of this.  It came out quite delicious and we could not stop eating them! This is a great quick appetizer that can be eaten hot or room temperature.  Use whatever veggies you have on hand.  Chopped blanched broccoli and cauliflower would be a delicious substitution.

Vegetable and Ricotta Pancakes

Vegetable and Ricotta Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 zucchini shredded and squeezed in a towel to remove all water
  • 1 half red pepper, diced
  • ¾ cup of frozen corn, defrosted
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 eggs
  • Splash of milk
  • 1 cup bisquick
  • ½ cup fresh ricotta
  • ½ cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Heat large frying pan to medium heat. Add oil to pan. When oil is hot add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for about one minute. Add zucchini and pepper and cook until all the water has evaporated for the zucchini and the vegetables begin to brown. Add corn and cook for a minute. Season with salt and pepper then set aside to cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine eggs, milk, bisquick and cheeses. Combine with cooled vegetable mixture.
  3. Once again heat a large frying pan. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with vegetable oil. Using a tablespoon drop batter into the pan and use the spoon to spread mixture slightly. You can pan fry about 5 at a time depending on the size of your pan. When the bottom is lightly browned flip them and cook the second side for about a minute until cooked. Drain on paper towels and serve. Can be made ahead and warmed in the oven or eaten at room temperature.

 

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Orrechiette with Cauliflower and Prosciutto

This is a very simple dish to make on a weeknight and it shouldn’t take much longer than 30 minutes to make.  If you don’t have canned cherry tomatoes you can use diced or chopped if that’s what you have on hand.  If that’s the case you might not need to add much liquid. 

 

Orrechiette with Cauliflower and Prosciutto

Yield: 6 Servings

Orrechiette with Cauliflower and Prosciutto

Ingredients

  • 2 -4 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic. thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 head of cauliflower, florets separated and cut into bite sized pieces
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 6 Slices of prosciutto, sliced into small strips
  • 2 – 14 oz cans cherry tomatoes
  • About a handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 pound orrechiette pasta
  • ¼ cup grated romano cheese plus more for serving

Instructions

  1. Sauté shallot in 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet until it begins to soften. Add garlic slices and cook until it is lightly browned. Add Italian seasoning and cook for about a minute. Then add cauliflower and the rest of the oil. Cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add prosciutto and stir to combine. Add tomatoes and fill the empty can halfway with water and swish around to loosen the sauce stuck to the can. Pour the water into the second can and swish around. Add to pot and stir. Tear basil into pieces and add to pan (I usually keep whole basil leaves frozen in a ziplock bag in my freezer and add quickly crumble a handful over the skillet.). Cook sauce for about 15-20 minutes adding stock as needed if the sauce gets too thick.
  2. Meanwhile bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to about 1 minute shy of the recommended cooking time. Add pasta to skillet and reserve about a cup of pasta water. Add a little as needed. You don’t want this to be soupy or overly saucy but it should be coated well with sauce. Add ¼ cup of grated cheese and toss together. Cook for about a minute or until the pasta is al dente.
  3. Serve in bowls and pass cheese for sprinkling on top of each dish.

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Italian Chicken Salad

I love brunch.  I love being able to have all the breakfast foods that I love while also having some light lunch options.  Going to a diner always presents a problem because I don’t know if I should order breakfast or lunch.  Inevitably I want what the other person is having.  Brunch solves that problem for me. 

I like to serve brunch when I’m entertaining guests because there are plenty of things I can make the night before.  Some version of chicken salad usually graces my table.  I recently made this Italian version of the chicken salad and it was a big hit.  There are not exact measurements here because I made this up as I went along.  Adding a lot or a little bit of kalamata olives is really just a matter of taste.  This recipe makes a lot especially if you are serving other things.  It would be pretty served in a lettuce cup or a bread bowl. 

 

 

Italian Chicken Salad

Italian Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 6 split chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
  • Roasted peppers, diced or sliced into strips
  • Kalamata olives, chopped or olive tapenade
  • Artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • Fresh mozzarella, cubed
  • Baby arugula
  • Fresh basil, chiffonade
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Capers
  • Red wine vinaigrette, recipe follows

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place the chicken breasts, skin side up, on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside until cool.
  3. When the chicken is cool, remove meat from the bones and discard the skin and bones. Cut the chicken into a 3/4-inch dice or shred.
  4. In a large bowl mix with peppers, olives, artichoke hearts, chick peas, mozzarella, and capers. Set aside.
  5. Prepare vinaigrette and toss with chicken until moist (probably won’t need to use it all). Toss in basil, parsley and arugula right before serving so it doesn’t wilt.

Notes

This recipe is a guide and exact measurements are not really needed. Add more or less of any of the ingredients you like. If there is something you don't like, leave it out completely.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a bowl whisk the vinegar, garlic, dijon, honey, salt, and pepper. While whisking, gradually blend in the oil.

 

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Wordless Wednesday

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Adding Color to Your Tabletop

Look created by Willow House Design Team at Willow House Leadership Trip, January 2011

When setting up a buffet (or setting your table for a dinner party) it’s important to incorporate some color where you can.  Color can take your display from drab to fab very easily and can make a huge impression.  Here are some simple ways to add color to your buffet or dinner table.  Keep in mind that you don’t have to do all of these things but pick and choose one or two so it’s playful and not tacky.

  • Linens – this works for a buffet or even for a sit down dinner.  Adding a bright colored tablecloth will instantly add a pop of color and brighten things up.  This is especially helpful if your dinnerware/serveware  is white or neutral.  You don’t always have to use a tablecloth but any piece of fabric, scarves or burlap could work too.  (This will also add texture but that’s a topic for our next post.)
  • Serving pieces/Dinnerware- Use colorful platters and bowls.
  • Food – You’ve heard it before, we eat with our eyes first.  Serving colorful food in serving pieces that make the food pop is the way to go.  Think about what you’re going to serve and which pieces will show it off the best.   For example, serving greens in a green bowl could be a little boring but if it’s in a contrasting color you will notice a big difference.

I hope you will give these ideas a try at your next party.  Hope it helps you have a more colorful tabletop!

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Italian Easter Bread

 

I love having the ability to access millions of recipes online whenever I want to.  There are so many recipes I want to learn how to make, some that I remember from my childhood and others that are brand new to me.  This is something that Nanny made every year at Easter but I never learned how to make.  By the time I realized how precious these memories and recipes are it was a little late for Nanny to teach my everything.  She didn’t measure and practically everything she baked began with a 5 pound bag of flour.  That isn’t much information to help me recreate anything so a couple of years ago I began my research.  There are many recipes out there for Italian Easter Bread (Greeks have their own version) and they are all slightly different.  Some call for butter, others crisco, this one calls for oil.  Then there are whole eggs versus egg yolks, vanilla vs. anise.  So many options.  I tried this recipe 3 times now and my family says that this is close to Nanny’s.  I might still try to perfect it but right now this is pretty darn close!

Italian Easter Bread

Yield: 2 Wreaths

Italian Easter Bread

Ingredients

  • 4 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 ½ cups warm milk
  • About 10 cups or more unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 6 large eggs
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • To Decorate:
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
  • 6 colored uncooked eggs
  • Colored sprinkles

Instructions

  1. In a bowl, mix together the yeast and warm milk. Add 1 cup of the flour and stir until blended to make the sponge. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for one hour until bubbly. Once the sponge is ready, in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the sponge, sugar, oil, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and 5 more cups of flour. Use a dough hook and mix until the dough comes together. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 5-6 minutes or until the dough is smooth, adding more flour as necessary. Lightly flour the sides and bottom of a large bowl, place the dough inside and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm stop in your kitchen until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  2. Punch down the dough and divide into two equal pieces. From each piece roll dough into three long ropes and braid into a wreath. Carefully arrange three of your colored eggs evenly spaced into each wreath, covering the sides with the dough so the eggs are secure. Place each wreath on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for another hour. 30 minutes before the wreaths have finished rising, preheat the oven to 365 degrees. Once the wreaths have finished their last rise, brush them with the egg wash and lightly sprinkle the colored sprinkles over the top. Bake the bread for 30 minutes or until firm and golden brown. Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting.

Notes

Slightly adapted from www.italianfoodforever.com

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French Onion Mac and Cheese

I am a huge fan of french onion soup.  I’m actually a huge fan of caramelized onions.  I add it to a lot of things, pizzas, pastas, stuffed breads because I love the complex flavor it brings to the simplest recipes.  If you know me at all you know I am an avid collector of cookbooks and cooking magazines and any other way I can get my hands on recipes.  Recently I decided that it was time to go through the piles (pretty displayed piles mind you!) of the magazines and recipe clippings I’ve accumulated.  I discovered this one I pulled out years ago and decided it was time to give it a try.  It was delicious but of course, heavy as any cheese sauce is.  I love that this recipe is not baked in the oven so it remains gooey and creamy.  I like to add some crunchy breadcrumbs for some texture whenever I make any type of mac and cheese because I don’t bake it but like the crunch.  You decide if you want to add it or not.

French Onion Mac and Cheese

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large sweet onions, very thinly sliced
  • A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound penne
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 pound gruyere cheese, shredded
  • ½ pound Italian fontina cheese, shredded
  • Breadcrumb topping, optional – see note

Instructions

  1. In a skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the onions, thyme and bay leaf and cook for 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and cook until the onions are browned and softened, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a plate and discard the bay leaf. Reserve the skillet.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and return to the pot.
  3. In the reserved skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour for 1 minute, then whisk in the wine. Let the wine cook down for a minute, stir with whisk so mixture is smooth. Slowly add chicken stock and milk until combined and smooth and bring to a boil; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Lower the heat and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheeses until melted.
  4. Combine the onions and sauce with the pasta and toss well. If using breadcrumb topping add a sprinkle to the top of the dish and serve the rest in a bowl for passing at the table.

Notes

To add some texture to this dish I added a breadcrumb topping. I had some extra garlic and parmesan panetini crackers and pulsed them in the food processor and added them to the top. Alternatively you could sauté 1 clove of minced garlic in extra virgin olive oil. Add about ½ cup to ¾ cup panko bread crumbs. Toss with garlic oil and let get lightly browned. Turn off heat and toss with parmesan cheese.

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Sausage and Three Cheese Hot Cherry Pepper Poppers

If you like jalapeno poppers you will love this Italian version made with hot cherry peppers.  I was lucky enough to find a small bushel of peppers at a local famers market and I immediately snatched those up.  It isn’t often that I see these peppers in any market.  They are commonly found pickled or stuffed with breadcrumbs at some Italian delicatessens.  This recipe is simple and makes a great appetizer served hot or room temperature.  Enjoy!

 

 

Sausage and Three Cheese Hot Cherry Pepper Poppers

Ingredients

  • 20 hot cherry peppers
  • 1 - 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 rounded tablespoons marscarpone cheese
  • 3 tsp grated Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded swiss
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Instructions

  1. Using a grapefruit spoon, teaspoon or knife remove the core of the pepper and all seeds.
  2. In a saute pan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute onion and garlic. Once onion is softened add sausage and break it up with a wooden spoon or a potato masher and brown completely. Let cool.
  3. Mix sausage mixture with the three cheeses and parsley. Fill the cavity of each pepper with the sausage mixture and fill it well so it's coming out of the cavity (like you would do with stuffed mushrooms).
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the same pan you cooked the sausage in along with the peppers. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Peppers are ready when they can easily be pierced with a knife.
  5. Serve hot or room temperature.
 


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