Posts Tagged ‘garlic’

Spaghetti with Sicilian Meatballs

January 13, 2013

IMG_9502When we were in Italy, what struck me most is that there truly isn’t “Italian” food. Rather, their food is identified by the region you are in. Spaghetti and clams in the Italian Riviera. Boar in Tuscany. Pizza in Naples. That is why I was so intrigued when I saw a recipe for Sicilian meatballs in Bon Appetit.

The food of Sicily has a Greek and sometimes African influence, making it have more olives, capers and currants than you would find in the “boot.” So when looking at the meatball recipe, at first glance it seemed very traditional. Sausage meat (which was an interesting twist on the typical beef, veal, pork combo), breadcrumbs in milk, garlic, onion, etc. Yet, then they add pine nuts and currants to make it have a bit of nutty sweetness. They are baked, and then smothered in a traditional Italian red sauce.

This dish has that same warm, comforting result as typical Italian meatballs, but they do have an interesting sweetness to them that makes them have a “hmm, what’s that?” factor. It is a great alternative to a typical bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, and will be making its way to our dinner table as a great Sicilian (not Italian!) dish!

SPAGHETTI WITH SICILIAN MEATBALLS
Serves 4-6

Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Meatballs:
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 large egg
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons dried currants

1 pound spaghetti

For Sauce:
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion; sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juices and 2 tablespoons basil; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until sauce thickens, breaking up tomatoes with fork, about 1 hour. Mix in 2 tablespoons basil. Season with salt and pepper. Set sauce aside.

For Meatballs:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil baking sheet. Mix crumbs and milk in medium bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Mix in Parmesan, onion, basil, egg, garlic and pepper. Add sausage, pine nuts and currants; blend well. Using wet hands, form mixture into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place on baking sheet. Bake until meatballs are light brown and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Add to sauce.

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Mound in dish. Bring sauce and meatballs to simmer. Mix with and spoon over spaghetti.

Cheddar Chicken

April 25, 2011

Sometimes you want to make (and eat) something simple. Something humble. Something ungourmet. Something that uses ingredients you know taste amazing, but might not be best for your diet. Something that makes you feel warm, fuzzy and “oh so bad” for eating it. I found that dish last week, from a somewhat unexpected place.

In my Real Simple, I read an article about a woman’s comfort food that her mother made – a recipe found on the box of her mother’s new blender. The recipe was called Cheddar Chicken and only included 5 ingredients – chicken, Ritz crackers, cheddar cheese, garlic and butter. Now that you have read the list of ingredients, you can surely understand my sentiment at the beginning of this post.

The dish is so drenched in butter (from the pure butter and the crackers) with a hint of garlic and the sharp, gooey cheddar cheese. It tastes nothing short of amazing. Nothing gourmet. No rare ingredients. No need to spend hours in the kitchen.

So anytime you want something that makes you feel satisfied, a bit guilty and takes nothing more than 45 minutes with your pantry staples, put this one in the oven. Serve with rice pilaf and you have a simple, flavorful dinner.

CHEDDAR CHICKEN
Serves 4

16 buttery crackers (such as Ritz), crushed (about 3⁄4 cup)
6 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
wild rice pilaf and steamed green beans (optional)

Heat oven to 350° F. In a bowl, combine the crackers, cheese, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Dip the chicken in the butter, then in the cracker mixture, pressing gently to help the crackers adhere. Place the chicken on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Sprinkle any remaining cracker mixture on the chicken and drizzle with any remaining butter. Bake until the chicken is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Serve with the pilaf and green beans, if desired.

Spaghetti with Anchovy Carbonara

April 17, 2011

For those who have been reading this blog, there is no need to reiterate my love for carbonara. When you put pasta and bacon together, let’s face it, you just can’t go wrong.

It isn’t surprising that when we spent a few weeks in Italy last spring, this was the dish I was seeking out most. It is more common in the Umbria and Rome area (although you can find it many other places). So I knew when we arrived in that region, I wouldn’t need to look at menus very long.

We had spent a few days in our Villa by Spoleto and had decided to take a side trip to the religious mecca of Assisi (45 minutes away). It is a beautiful town, filled with amazing stone buildings, commanding views, and a spiritual aura. We had just visited Minerva and someone must have been scouring down on me because (I am convinced), because it was the one time on the whole trip that I didn’t cover my shoulders in the church. As we exited the building and went down the marble steps my clumsy feet just couldn’t get it together – and I slipped down the stairs. O Madon! No matter what country you are in – when you fall onto marble, it hurts like nobody’s business. So, after going to the pharmacia and showing the clerk, who got us appropriate bandages and some neosporin looking stuff (at least we think that is what it was), I needed a pick me up.

My husband joked that for me, carbonara, a glass of wine and a scoop of gelato will make anything better! (the truth is, he is right!) So we set out down some less traveled paths to find the perfect resting place. We saw a little restaurant, unassuming and filled with locals, and knew we had found the place.

The carbonara in Assisi, Italy

This was my first official carbonara of the trip and I barely needed to look at a menu to know what I would have. I took one bite and knew it was the best carbonara I had ever tasted in my whole life. The sauce wasn’t overly creamy, it had an amazing saltiness, and was filled with pancetta. There was something intangible in that dish – something that set it apart. Not sure if it was the state of shock I was in from my fall, the glass of wine I had to wash down lunch or the food itself.

So, when I started seeking out the perfect carbonara recipe upon my return, I did lots of research on the traditional way Italians make it. Much to my surprise, a common ingredient is anchovies – and I knew at that moment that it was the little fish that had made it into my dish that day.

Now, my husband claims to not like anchovies, yet I knew when you cook them in olive oil they actually disintegrate so you don’t bite into them, yet they infuse your sauce. So, I gave it a whirl.

Hands down it was the best carbonara I have had outside of Italy. I made my own tagliatelle (my new favorite past time) but you could surely use any spaghetti or fettuccine you would like. I also added a bit of pancetta – because let’s face it, everything is better with pancetta.

So nothing can quite compare to the throbbing pain in my knee, the refreshing wine out of a jug, the views of St Francis and the Italian language surrounding me. But, this dish at least transports me, just a little bit, to the land that invented carbonara.

Thanks to Food and Wine for this amazing rendition of an Italian classic. If you don’t like anchovies, still give it a whirl – just cut back on the amount a bit. They might just surprise you!

SPAGHETTI WITH ANCHOVY CARBONARA
Serves4

12 ounces spaghetti
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 2-ounce can flat anchovies, drained and chopped
Pinch of Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
Pancetta (optional)
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 large egg yolks
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil with the garlic and anchovies and cook over moderately high heat until the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 minutes. (If using pancetta, add and cook until cooked through.) Add the red pepper, zest, oregano and parsley, then add the pasta and toss to coat. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolks with the reserved cooking water and add to the pasta. Cook over low heat, tossing until the pasta is coated in a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Pimiento Mac and Cheese

April 4, 2011

Everyone has their own comfort food – the indulgence you turn to when you have had a bad day, the weather is glum or you just want to ignore calories and common sense. For some people it comes from a classic dish their mother made, for some it is the food of where they grew up. For me, it is the food that just makes me feel warm and cozy inside. Pasta. Spaghetti with a gravy that has simmered all day long or baked mac and cheese makes me want to put on my pjs, open a bottle of wine and watch terrible TV. And the best thing about comfort food, is it makes all of that ok – no guilt. Well, at least not until the next day…

So it is surprising, really, that I only have one version of mac and cheese on my blog so far. It has always been a go to – many types of cheeses with the salty richness of pancetta. But when I saw this unique version from Bon Appetit, I thought I would try it in hopes of finding another treat for the days I need a pick me up.

Oh. My. Goodness. There is something in this dish that is special – not your average mac and cheese. Yet it isn’t so gourmet that it loses the simple heartiness that makes the dish what it is. You taste this amazing pimento flavor, with a hint of heat and rich, gooey cheese.

Peppadew peppers are easy to find once you know where to look. In my grocery store they were with the pickles – but check around for where they might be at your store. There is something about the shells vs. elbows, as well, that really catch the rich sauce.

So, next time I have a bad day, the skies open up with some nasty weather or I just want to eat an amazing dinner, this one will be on my list.

PIMIENTO MAC AND CHEESE
6 Servings (although I think it is less)

1 7- to 8-ounce red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces 2 garlic cloves, halved, divided
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3/4 cup drained mild Peppadew peppers in brine, 1 tablespoon brine reserved
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chiles
1 1/4 cups (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella
8 ounces medium shell pasta

Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper, and 11/2 garlic cloves to boil in small saucepan. Cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pepper is soft, about 15 minutes.

Toast panko in skillet over medium-high heat until golden, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to bowl; cool to lukewarm. Rub 1 tablespoon butter into crumbs to coat. Mix in 1/4 cup Parmesan.

Transfer bell pepper mixture to processor. Add Peppadews and 1 tablespoon brine, 2 tablespoons butter, ground chiles, and 1/2 garlic clove; then add cheddar and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Blend until sauce is smooth; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter 8-cup baking dish (or 6 individual dishes). Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain; return to pot. Stir sauce and mozzarella into pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta into dish. Sprinkle with crumb topping.

Bake pasta until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes (15 for individual). Let stand 10 minutes.

Bacon Pierogi Bake

March 16, 2011

Since my husband is from Cleveland, he craves pierogis every once in a while. Pierogies are essentially Polish dumplings and can be filled with potato, ground meat, saurkraut or even fruit. The traditional pierogis are potato dumplings sauteed with butter, green onions and topped with a dollop of sour cream. For those observing Lent, it would make a great Friday night dinner.

But for every other night during this season, this recipe gives a great twist to a traditional favorite. Baking the pierogies gives you a nice break from standing over a stove – so would thus make a great company dish. The bacon really gives the sauce its flavor, along with the creaminess of the cream cheese. It comes out of the oven as comfort food at its best – baked dumplings satisfying potatoes and lots of cheese. It still baffles me that this recipe actually came from Cooking Light, but I will use that fact as a fuel for my denial.

I used these great individual baking dishes I got from Sur La Table but I am sure you can put them all in one dish together (although if you haven’t invested in individual dishes like mine, I recommend it since there are so many uses for them!).

Thanks to Cooking Light for allowing me to eat gooey cheese, heavy pierogies and a cream sauce without feeling like I am undoing my day!

BACON PIEROGI BAKE
4 servings

1 (16-ounce) package frozen potato and onion pierogies (such as Mrs. T’s)
Cooking spray
2 center-cut bacon slices, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup (3 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/2 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup thinly diagonally sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped seeded plum tomato
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.

Arrange the pierogies in an 11 x 7-inch glass baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cook bacon in a saucepan over medium heat until crisp; remove from pan. Set aside.

Add garlic to drippings in pan, and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add 1/3 cup cream cheese to pan, and cook for 1 minute or until cream cheese begins to melt, stirring frequently. Gradually add chicken broth to pan, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over pierogies. Top evenly with 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until bubbly and thoroughly heated. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with bacon, green onions, tomato, and pepper.

Brazilian Feijoada

February 26, 2011

Due to an upcoming trip to a land of spit- roasted pig and beans, this Brazilian dish felt like a good precursor. It is pronounced fay-zwah-da (my Brazilian friend says it MUCH better than I do!) and is traditionally served on special occasions. Thanks to the lovely invention of the slow cooker, this dish was possible with little hands-on time on a weekend.

At first I was a bit skeptical. There were no spices other than salt and pepper – and just onions, chicken broth, garlic and meat/beans. I felt like it had the potential to be bland, until I realized you sear all the meat in bacon grease before putting it in the slow cooker, add a ham hock for flavor, and let them slow cook for a full 8 hours.

I am still unsure how this dish came from Cooking Light, but I will turn my head in denial because it is AMAZING. The flavor is so rich and comforting. I put orange juice in my rice (since you serve the dish with orange wedges) and it gave a good light citrus flavor to balance out the heaviness of the dish.

I have never been to Brazil, but this dish alone makes me want to take a trip immediately and have this dish in the land in which it was invented. If my slow cooker attempt was this good, I can only imagine what the real thing tastes like!

Bon Appetit!

BRAZILIAN FEIJOADA
Serves 8

2 cups dried black beans
4 slices applewood-smoked bacon
1 pound boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 bone-in beef short ribs, trimmed (about 2 pounds)
3 cups finely chopped onion (about 2 medium)
1 1/4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (9-ounce) smoked ham hock
1 tablespoon white vinegar
8 orange wedges

Place beans in a small saucepan; cover with cold water. Bring to a boil; cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 1 hour. Drain.

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan; crumble. Sprinkle pork evenly with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Increase heat to medium-high. Add pork to drippings in skillet; sauté 8 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Transfer pork to a 6-quart electric slow cooker. Sprinkle ribs evenly with 1/8 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add ribs to skillet; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Place ribs in slow cooker. Add drained beans, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, onion, and next 3 ingredients (through ham hock) to slow cooker, stirring to combine. Cover and cook on LOW 8 hours or until beans and meat are tender.

Remove ribs from slow cooker; let stand 15 minutes. Remove meat from bones; shred meat with 2 forks. Discard bones. Discard ham hock. Return beef to slow cooker. (if your dish is like mine, the meat had already fallen off the bone and I could just shred in the slow cooker!).

Stir in vinegar and crumbled bacon. Serve with orange wedges and rice.

Walnut and Rosemary Oven-Fried Chicken with Toasted Garlic Escarole

February 20, 2011

In the winter, my tendency is to make tagines, baked pastas and all day stewed meats. It is a season of hearty food, rich food and the king of comfort food. The cold weather makes us craves rich, warm dishes that satisfy the belly and the soul.

But generally, around the end of February, I start to feel – well, large. Fortunately, this winter didn’t tag me with the extra 10 pounds it normally does (thanks to an upcoming beach vacation that keeps me sticking to my workout routine). However, I still get to a point where I want something a bit lighter. Something that I don’t eat with a glass of wine and fall asleep on the couch at 9pm.

And, with the uncharacteristically warm weather we have had as of late, this felt like a good dish that can transition to the summer months.

The chicken is so crispy and has a fried taste, without the added guilt (this dish has less than 300 calories). The rosemary and walnut give it extra flavor, and is balanced by the lemony salad. It was so delicious, light, and surprisingly very filling. This one will be making more appearances as the seasons change.

So, if you are like me and need to have a slight departure from your winter food rut, this recipe is a great one – and without the guilt. Thanks to Cooking Light for this one!

WALNUT AND ROSEMARY OVEN-FRIED CHICKEN
Serves 4

1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 (6-ounce) chicken cutlets
1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
Rosemary leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°.

Combine buttermilk and mustard in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk. Add chicken to buttermilk mixture, turning to coat.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko to pan; cook 3 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Combine panko, nuts, and next 4 ingredients (through pepper) in a shallow dish. Remove chicken from buttermilk mixture; discard buttermilk mixture. Dredge chicken in panko mixture.

Arrange a wire rack on a large baking sheet; coat rack with cooking spray. Arrange chicken on rack; coat chicken with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 13 minutes or until chicken is done. Garnish with rosemary leaves, if desired.
TOASTED GARLIC ESCAROLE
Cut a 1½-pound escarole head crosswise into 1-inch strips; place in a large bowl. Heat 1½ tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until golden. Remove from heat; add 1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle dressing over escarole, and toss to coat.

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhanwala)

January 22, 2011

One of the first dates I had with my husband, I surprised him with preparing Indian food (one of his favorites). At the time, I was in a tiny apartment and really hadn’t developed the love for cooking that I have know. Reflective of that yet to be discovered passion was my sadly barren spice rack. I had the basics – cinnamon, oregano, etc. – but no garam masala or anything that sounded remotely exotic.

I remember going to Whole Foods and buying little baggies of the “rare” ingredients, as I saw them back then. I spent all day cooking, figuring out how to put together a sauce reminiscent of our nights of Indian takeout.

At the time, I was quite proud of my newly learned skills. And Rob was too, since I had clearly hooked him into yet another date with me. But, he didn’t marry me for my Indian cooking skills, since I have rarely attempted the feat since.

But, when I saw this recipe for butter chicken (our favorite dish at the old Indian restaurant around the corner), I knew I had to give it a go – if nothing but for old time’s sake.

The total preparation takes a little over an hour (and overnight marinade), so it might be ambitious for a weeknight, but it was perfect for a Sunday night. The sauce tasted exactly like the butter chicken we knew – and the leftovers the next day were even better. The only alteration I would make is to maybe shred the chicken before putting in back in the sauce, so eating it isn’t so much work.

Cooking Indian this time around was a bit different, though. I had no need to buy special ingredients because I had them all in my well-stocked spice closet (with the exception of curry leaves which I didn’t seem to miss). I had more confidence in my cooking abilities than years before. And, I had the ambition to make more than one dish by making the accompanying raita (which I recommend to help cool the heat). But, one thing did remain the same – I enjoyed it with the man I will spend the rest of my life with.

Thanks, Saveur, for this great Indian recipe that will be made frequently in our home.

MURGH MAKHANWALA (BUTTER CHICKEN)
Serves 4

FOR THE CHICKEN:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. canola oil
2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. crushed red chile
flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 3″ piece ginger, peeled and thinly
sliced crosswise
Kosher salt, to taste
1 3–4-lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces,
skin removed

FOR THE RAITA:
1/2 English cucumber (about 6 oz.),
seeded and grated
1/2 medium tomato, seeded and finely
chopped
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh
mint leaves
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated

FOR THE SAUCE:
1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 green cardamom pods, cracked
3 whole cloves, crushed
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes,
undrained
1 3″ piece ginger, washed and grated
(skin on)
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″
cubes
1 tsp. garam masala
4 fresh or frozen curry leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black
pepper, to taste

Marinate the chicken: Combine all marinade ingredients except for chicken in a food processor; purée. Transfer marinade to a large bowl and add chicken, tossing to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 500°. Transfer chicken to an aluminum foil—lined baking sheet and spoon any marinade from bowl over chicken. Bake chicken until light brown but not cooked through, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack; set aside. Meanwhile, make raita: Toss cucumbers, tomatoes, and salt in a colander and let sit for 10 minutes. Press cucumbers and tomatoes to drain well and then transfer to a medium bowl along with yogurt, mint, lemon juice, coriander, cumin, and carrots; toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Make the sauce: In a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat, combine chile flakes, garlic, cardamom, cloves, tomatoes, ginger, bay leaf, and 2/3 cup water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often and crushing tomatoes with a spoon, for 25 minutes. Discard bay leaf and transfer sauce to a food processor; purée. Return sauce to pot and continue cooking over medium-low heat until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Add reserved chicken pieces and any marinade from pan, along with 1/3 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream, butter, garam masala, and curry leaves. Reduce heat to low and cook until flavors meld, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm.

To serve, transfer chicken and sauce to a serving platter and serve with the raita and basmati rice.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Sugared Walnuts

November 24, 2010

There are certain foods out there that scare me. The thought that I could prepare those ingredients, master that technique or turn out a complicated dish will sometimes prohibit me from even trying. My mantra as of late is “we can always get take out,” so I have been trying to go outside my comfort zone a bit more than usual.

I am actually embarrassed to say I have never made risotto. Me. Italian my marriage. A love of Italian food. A carbaholic. It is remarkable, really, that a rice could scare me so much. Until, that is, I saw Moreno in Perledo, Italy make it (still working on the Lake Como cooking class blog post, I promise!).

He made it look easy. Truly, the main ingredient you need is a bit of patience. He said you want to “mantecare,” which apparently means to “make creamy.” Add broth. Stir. Add broth. Stir. Seemed simple enough, as long as I could hold off waiting to eat it until it reached perfection.

So, in my seasonal cooking spirit, I tried a roasted butternut squash risotto with sugared walnuts from Cooking Light. Now that I have mastered how to butcher a butternut squash (if you need help, go here! It sure helped me! http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_peel_and_cut_a_butternut_squash/), I thought I would try this, and was anxious to taste the soft, rich risotto paired with sweet and crunchy nuts.

Oh. My. Goodness. This recipe alone is a reason to get over my resistance to risotto. Yes, it takes long, well over an hour, but the wait was worth it. It is so rich and creamy, and the nuts cut the richness with a perfect sweet crunch. I almost felt myself transported back to Italy where I truly fell in love with risotto. I could hear Moreno telling us to “mantecare” while we sipped our wine and watched in awe, all the while breathing in the sweet and salty smells of a strawberry balsamic risotto. Nothing could compare to Moreno’s technique and end result, but this risotto came as close as I have ever been since.

So, be brave, carve out some time, eat a snack to tide you over, then stir away. You will be glad you did!

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO WITH SUGARED WALNUTS
Serves 8

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/4 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/2 cup chardonnay
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemon thyme or 1 1/2 tablespoons thyme plus 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 400°.

Arrange nuts in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400° for 5 minutes or until toasted, stirring twice. Place nuts in a bowl. Drizzle butter over warm nuts; sprinkle with sugar and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Toss well to coat.

Combine squash and 1 tablespoon oil, tossing to coat. Arrange squash in a single layer on jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until squash is just tender. Remove from pan; stir in garlic. Set aside.

Bring broth and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add pancetta to saucepan; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Add onion; cook 3 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add rice; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook 1 minute or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next. Continue until the risotto is cooked (hint, you may need more chicken broth like I did!). Stir in squash, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Top with cheese and nuts.

Pasta with Basil Pesto

November 18, 2010

Until spending time in Cinque Terre, Italy, I hadn’t had much pesto in my life. Not sure if it was the intimidating color, the name’s meaning (means “to pound,” yikes!) or the fact that my husband claimed he was never a big pesto fan.

Yet, on our first night in Vernazza, sitting at a restaurant on the sea, we followed an antipasti plate of fresh fish with a big, heaping bowl of spaghetti topped with the greenest, freshest, most flavorful sauce I have never had. And it was, of course, pesto.

As you can imagine, upon returning from the trip when I contemplated making my own pesto, I had no arguments from my husband. We had found a new love and new appreciation for this sauce that originates in the Ligurian coast of Italy.

I pulled this recipe from La Cucina Italiana (have I mentioned I am obsessed with this magazine?). Seemed simple and authentic – pine nuts, basil, parmigiano reggiano and pecorino romano, garlic, sea salt and olive oil. But the mistake I made was trying to make it the authentic way – without authentic tools.

Pesto is made is a mortar and pestle. Why not? If that is how the Italians do it, then that is how I will do it. The small problem (well big problem) was, that I didn’t have one. My substitution was a muddler, and it was a sad replacement. So, alas, my pesto ended up in a food processor. The result tasted fantastic, but it made me put a mortar and pestle (authentic marble, of course) on my Christmas list so I can be a true Ligurian next time I indulge in this green goodness.

Authentic tools or modern luxuries – either way I encourage you to try this simple sauce next you want to vary your color palate and your culinary palate.

PASTA WITH BASIL PESTO
Serves 4

¼ cup pine nuts
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed, peel removed
Coarse sea salt
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb pasta of your choice

Place pine nuts in a medium skillet and heat over medium-low heat. Cook, occasionally shaking the pan back and forth over the heat, until nuts are toasted, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer nuts to a plate to cool completely.

Rinse basil and gently, but thoroughly, pat dry with paper towels. Place in a mortar with cooled pine nuts, garlic and pinch salt. Using the pestle with a rotary movement, grind ingredients against the wall of the mortar, until ground to a paste. Add both cheeses and grind into mixture to combine.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl. In a slow and steady steam, add oil, whisking constantly.

Pesto is best used the same day but keeps, its surface covered with a thin layer of olive oil and tightly covered, chilled, for 3 days.

To dress pasta, dilute pesto with a tablespoon or two of pasta cooking water, toss with hot pasta (just cooked and drained), add a tablespoon or two of butter and toss again. Serve at once.


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