Bucket list: Cooking in Italy 

I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I went to Italy on our honeymoon 7 years ago. I absolutely fell in love with the country and have been counting down the days until we can go back. I don’t know when that will be, but I’m counting down nonetheless!

   
 I’ve already decided for our next trip to Italy, we are going to spend the entire time in the Tuscany region. Rome was great. Venice was beautiful, but Florence was just magical. Taking the train through the Tuscan countryside on the way to Venice was breathtaking. I want… No. I need to spend as much time there as possible.    

    
 The food in Italy is so pure and unpretentious. They use the freshest ingredients and create dishes that let the ingredients shine through and speak for themselves. I want to experience that. I want to do a foodie tour of Tuscany. That has been on my bucket list for awhile now.

  
   
I’ve been watching Giada DiLaurentis’ new cooking show on Food Network where she cooks in Italy. That has inspired my new bucket list item of staying in a place with a kitchen so I can go out and buy all the amazing fresh local ingredients and cook them up into yummy dishes. 

    
 I don’t know when this will happen but it definitely will happen!

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Pea and Parmesan Risotto 

You may remember back in October, I made arancini which was one of my favorite foods from my trip to Italy. I said you start with risotto. You can use that as your risotto recipe, but this is my go-to risotto recipe. And yes, I have to have a go-to risotto recipe because my husband loves the stuff and requests it frequently. Plus, it’s easy because it uses ingredients I pretty much always have on hand.

Pea and Parmesan Risotto

1 ¾ cups Arborio rice (this is important; it really needs to be Arborio)
4 cups chicken broth, warmed in a pan
½ cup dry white wine (optional. You can substitute for ½ cup chicken broth)
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
½ leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of frozen peas
1 cup of shredded parmesan cheese

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the leeks and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the rice and stir around until slightly toasted.

Add the wine to the rice and stir to combine into the rice. Turn the heat down to medium and about 1 cup at a time, add the chicken broth. Wait until each cup is absorbed before adding the next one. This is a low and slow process to allow the rice to absorb all the broth and release it’s starches, giving you a really smooth and creamy risotto. Make sure you are stirring frequently throughout.

After all the broth is incorporated, add your peas and cheese. The peas should thaw quickly and the cheese will melt into the rice.

And that’s it! It makes a great side dish, especially for chicken, which is how my hubby requests it.

Dish #12: Chicken Parmesan (Italy)

I love Chicken Parmesan. It’s so warm and comforting to me. I mean, you have pasta swimming in a rich tomato sauce topped with crispy chicken covered in gooey cheese. What’s not to like? And it’s easy to make, so even better!

Not surprising, this dish originates from Italy. While the exact origins are unknown, the northern town of Parma and the southern regions of Campania and Sicily all claim it as their own. The dish is referred to simply as parmigiana and is made with fried eggplant (aubergine). The version using a breaded and fried meat (veal, chicken) is popular in other countries, particularly those with a high Italian immigrant population.

My recipe is very basic:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast, butterflied so you have 4 thin-ish pieces
salt
2 eggs
1-1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use panko)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 sliced provolone cheese (mozzarella works great too)
Extra virgin olive oil (a couple big tablespoons is fine. Enough to cover the bottom of the pan)
Prepared spaghetti noodles
Tomato sauce (jarred or homemade ) /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_2889.jpg

In one bowl, beat up your eggs with a fork.

In a second bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, oregano, basil, and garlic powder.

Add your oil to your skillet over medium high heat. Prep the chicken while it gets up to a hot temperature.

Dip a chicken breast in the egg, covering all sides. Let the excess drip off.
Dip the chicken in the breadcrumb mix, covering all sides. Press the crumbs in so it really sticks.
Repeat with the other pieces of chicken.

When the oil is hot (flick a little water in the oil and it should sizzle), put the chicken in. Cook it for about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over to the other side. Ladle some sauce over the top and top with a couple pieces of cheese on each piece of chicken and put the skillet into a 350 degree oven (make sure your skillet is oven-safe. If not, you can let the chicken sit in the skillet for a couple minutes to crisp up and then transfer to a baking dish and add your sauce and cheese at that point). Let the chicken finish cooking in the oven, probably another 7 minutes, or until the cheese is all melted and gooey. (Check the chicken before serving to make sure it’s cooked all the way. The timing depends on how thick the chicken is).

Coat the noodles with sauce and put on a plate. Top the noodles with the chicken and serve, probably with a light green salad because it’s a pretty rich dish. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_28911.jpg

If you’re feeling particularly carby, serve some garlic bread on the side. Because, yum. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_2892.jpg

Go-To Tomato Sauce

So a few posts back I made a tomato sauce which I mentioned I don’t normally make. I promised I show you the way I usually make it so here we go.

This is a very simple sauce that can be used for pretty much anything you want. There is no need to buy jarred sauce anymore! Unless you want to, of course. And it freezes beautifully, so you can make a bunch and freeze it batches to keep for use later.

All you need are crushed tomatoes, diced onions, chopped garlic, olive oil, salt, oregano, and basil (fresh or dried. If I have fresh, I’ll use it, but I always have dried in my pantry so it makes it easy).

In pot over medium heat, saute your onions and garlic in a tablespoon or so of olive oil until soft and fragrant. Add about 1 teaspoon each of oregano and basil and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir together. Add cans crushed tomatoes and stir. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.

It is technically ready at this point. You can add other seasonings it might need or you might prefer. I usually add more basil (about 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons) and a pinch or two of salt, depending on my taste preferences that day. Mix well and serve with your favorite pasta or chicken parm or lasagna or…. the list is endless! It is very versatile.

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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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