Dish #8: Arancini (Italy)

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My husband and I recently celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. We went to Italy on our honeymoon, so I decided to make something from Italy for this dish in honor of our amazing trip. (The first of many from Italy, no doubt. To try to only pick one dish from a such a culinary Eden as Italy would be an impossible task.)

I had heard of arancini before (thanks Giada) but never gave it too much thought. We found a small café near our hotel on Piazza San Marco in Venice (I’m kicking myself for not remembering the name). It was our last night there and we had an early morning flight, so we went in and grabbed a few things to take back to our hotel room to eat. One of them was arancini and it was delicious.
Arancini are basically stuffed rice balls coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Although we had our arancini in Venice, the dish is said to have originated in Sicily. The name is from their shape and color, which is a bit like an orange (arancina means “little orange” in Italian).

The arancini we ate had a tomato sauce mixed in with the rice, which is pretty typical. When I make the arancini, I tend to leave out the tomato sauce and instead put it on the side for dipping. There are lots of ways to make this dish. You can really put whatever you like it in, but here is mine.

Start with Risotto

INGREDIENTS

1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup leeks, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano

In a saute pan, melt the butter and add the leeks and garlic, sauteeing until soft and fragrant. Add the salt and oregano. Finally, add the rice and mix it around, coating it with the leeks and butter, letting it get all toasty.
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Slowly, ½ a cup at a time, add the chicken stock. Stirring frequently, over medium heat. Don’t add the next portion until the rice has soaked up the liquid, usually only takes a couple minutes. Make sure the temperature is not too hot and you aren’t adding the stock too quickly. The low and slow method is best here, because you want your rice soft and creamy. Cooking it this way, the rice’s starches are released, leaving you with a creamy risotto.

After adding the stock ½ a cup at a time for the first 2 cups, I added the last cup altogether and let it simmer until done, another about 10-15 minutes. Keep stirring frequently, so it doesn’t cook to the bottom of the pan.
Once all the liquid has been absorbed, add the parmesan cheese and stir. Transfer the risotto to a bowl and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to tighten up. (SIDE NOTE: If you just wanted risotto, you can stop here. It makes a yummy side dish!)

After the risotto has stiffened up a bit, you can begin to make the arancini.

Set up a dredging station: 1 bowl with 2 cups flour, 1 bowl with 2 beaten eggs, 1 bowl with 2 cups bread crumbs (I used panko, but regular is fine)

Form the rice into balls. I just eye-balled it to the size I wanted, but you could use an ice cream scoop. Stuff the middle with a small chunk of mozzarella cheese (my secret? Just cut up string cheese!), and roll the rice around the cheese. Dip the rice ball in the flour, then the egg, then coat with bread crumbs.

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Put the balls on a plate until done.
In a deep skillet or pan, add enough vegetable oil to fry the balls. How much will depend on how big you make them, but you want the oil to come up at least half way (once one side is done, you can roll them over). The oil is ready when it starts shimmering and bubbling.

Fry the balls in batches. Don’t over crowd the pan. It usually only take just a couple minutes per side, but it goes fast, so don’t walk away. Keep an eye on them and when they turn a beautiful golden brown, take ‘em out!

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When they come out of the oil, put them on a paper towel-lined plate to soak up the excess oil.

Serve with a simple green salad and tomato sauce for dipping!

Tomato sauce (version 1)
I’m going to call this “version 1) because I will more than likely make another version of tomato sauce for another post. It’s just one of those things I don’t have just one of in my repertoire. This is just a basic version of the one I usually make. Not super saucy, per se, but good for a nice burst of tomato flavor for dipping and adding to simple pasta dish.

1 28oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
½ yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced (more or less depending on your affinity for garlic)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom of a pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft, stirring frequently. Add the oregano and basil. You can add a little salt and pepper here, but not too much. Wait until the end, that way you can taste it and see if it needs more salt or really any flavor you want. You can always add seasoning, but you can’t take it away.
Add the tomatoes and let simmer for at least 20 minutes. You can leave it chunky like this if you want, but I don’t like it this way, so I used my emersion blender. If you don’t have an emersion blender, you can use a regular blender or food processor. (I do suggest getting one, though. They are very useful if you like to make soups and sauces.)

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Enjoy!!

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Dish #7: Ropa Viejas with Moros y Cristianos (Cuba)

Ropa Viejas, which translates to “old clothes” in Spanish, is a common dish in Cuba. It consists of shredded beef (hence the “old clothes”) in a tomato-based criollo sauce. The Criollo people is the name of a caste system of the overseas colonies established by Spain. Like many Cuban dishes, this one originates from the Canary Islands, which is a chain of Spanish islands located off the coast of Africa (which also has some influence on Cuban cuisine).
There are probably numerous ways to make this dish since it is such a staple in Cuban homes, but I found this recipe in my Eva’s Kitchen cookbook. I remember when I first got this book when it came out, I remember thinking that it looked really good, but never actually got around to making it. When I decided to do this blog, I thought it would be perfect.

So far, most of the recipes I’ve made have been my own, but I followed this one to the letter, so credit goes to my friend Eva for this one. (See? Friends. My son wouldn’t stop staring at her…)

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Eva Longoria’s Crock-Pot Ropa Vieja (FYI: Doing this in the crock pot is AWESOME! It makes it much easier and it makes your house smell amazing…)

2.5 lbs Beef Flank Steak
6 Tbls ground cumin
4 Tbls Olive oil
2 cups Beef Broth
1 15 oz can or 2 8 oz cans tomato sauce
2 6 oz cans tomato paste
2 Tbls distilled vinegar
8 garlic cloves minced
1.5 tsp kosher salt
1 large onion chopped
1 green bell pepper seeded and sliced into strips
1 red bell pepper seeded and sliced into strips
1 bunch cilantro  (I loathe cilantro, so I only added a little bit. If you like it, add more)

Preparation

1. Take 3 Tbls of the cumin and rub on the steak all over. Take 2 Tbls of the oil and heat it over medium-high heat in a nice big skillet. Brown flank steak on both sides and then throw in crock-pot.

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2. In a large mixing bowl mix together the beef broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, garlic, salt, the rest of the cumin, and the remaining 2 Tbls of olive oil. Stir well. Add the onion, bell peppers and cilantro and again, stir until well blended. Add to the crock-pot.

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3 .Cover and cook on low for up to 10 hours (mine went for around 9) or on high for 4 hours. You know it’s ready when the meat falls apart after being pierced with a fork. When done, take meat out and shred with 2 forks. Return the meat to the sauce and let stand for 15 minutes.

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I served my Ropa viejas with Moros y Cristianos, which is a Cuban rice and beans dish that can be found in pretty much every Cuban restaurant and household. It’s name is a direct reference to the African Moors (black beans) and the Spanish Christians (white rice) as part of the Islamic conquest of Spain and the Reconquista, another period of fighting between the Christian and Muslim people. Cuban food is heavily influenced by Spanish, North African, and Carribbean cultures and this dish is a representative of that.

This is another one with a ton of ways to prepare, so for this one, I did make my own recipe based on what I read about it. Apologies if it isn’t traditional enough, but it was tasty!

2 cups of cooked white rice
1 can of black beans (alternately, you can buy Cuban-style black beans at Trader Joe’s, if so, skip everything and just heat and eat :0) )
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 a yellow onion, chopped
3 slices of bacon, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, mined
1 tsp oregano
3 bay leaves

In a skillet, cook the bacon and onion in the olive oil until the bacon is crisp and the onions are soft and slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook until soft (you’ll be able to tell by the fragrance). Add the can of beans with the liquid, rice, oregano, and bay leaves. Mix together and let simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Take out the bay leaves before serving.

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Serve together and enjoy. I promise you will. It was probably one of my favorite dishes I’ve made so far.

(Side note: add a little cheese and wrap in a tortilla and it makes a yummy burrito the next day!)

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Quiche (France)

I wasn’t going to turn this into a blog, but then I figured “Why not!?” I’m making them anyway, might as well share.

I love quiche and I don’t make it nearly as often as I should, especially since it is made up of items I almost always have in my cupboard/fridge. The two quiches featured here I made for a brunch we had for my mom’s birthday, but you can put just about anything you want in a quiche. I’ve also been known to make one for dinner because it’s easy and come on now, we all know that breakfast for dinner is the best.

Quiche—basically a pastry crust with an egg mixture that is baked—is known as a French dish, though it actually originated in Germany and is popular in many countries.

There are a ton of varieties of quiche, like quiche Lorraine (bacon), quiche au fromage (cheese), quiche aux champignons (mushrooms), Florentine (spinach), or provençale (tomatoes). Really, though, you can put anything you want in a quiche. Choose a meat, choose a veggie, choose a cheese. It’s entirely up to you.

Start with a basic pastry crust. You can buy one if you want, the store-bought varieties aren’t bad, but there is something so much better about homemade. Plus, it’s actually really easy.

½ cup of cold shortening (I use the Crisco sticks because it makes it much easier to measure)
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5ish tablespooons cold water

Using a pastry cutter (or a couple of butter knifes, if you don’t have one), cut the cold shortening into the flour and salt until it comes together in small pea size clumps. IMG_1648-0.JPG

Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork, until it forms a ball of dough. Cover with plastic and put in the fridge for a least 30 minutes.

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Tip: Cold is key to a flaky crust: Cold shortening, cold water, cold dough.
Tip 2: If you are worried about the crust edges not looking perfect, don’t be. I’m not good at it at all. Just call it “Rustic” and everyone will think it’s great!

While the dough is chilling, make your filling. I promise I did not mean to rhyme that, but I’m a nerd, so I’m not changing it. :0)

Like I said, you can put whatever fillings you want in quiche, but I’m going to give you the recipe for the two I made.

10 eggs (5 for each quiche)
2 cups milk (1 for each quiche; you can use whole, low fat, nonfat, heavy cream, half-n-half, whatever floats your boat)
salt and pepper to taste

For one quiche, I crisped up some chopped bacon and grated some cheddar cheese. Normally I would have put in some sautéed leeks as well, but one of the guests isn’t a fan, so I left them out of this one. I put in a dash (literally, just a dash) of nutmeg to the egg mixture.

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For the 2nd quiche, I browned up some breakfast sausage in a skillet. After I removed the sausage, I left the rendered fat and caramelized some diced purple onions and some diced sweet peppers. Add about 1 teaspoon of dried oregano to the egg mix. For this one, I used a mozzarella/provolone cheese mix.

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Tip: mix a small amount of flour in with the cheese. It will help thicken up the egg mixture when it cooks and it keeps the cheese from falling to the bottom.

Mix your fill-ins to your egg mix and set aside.

Roll out your crusts and put in a pie pan. Poke the bottom with a fork and bake at 450 degrees F for about 8 minutes.

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Add the filling to the parbaked crusts. At this point, I covered mine in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge because I made them the night before. Normally, though, you would turn down the oven to 375 degrees F and bake them for 50 minutes to an hour. They are done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

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Let me know what your favorite quiche fillings are. I’m always looking to try new flavor combinations!!