A colleague at work has just abandoned we cubicle rats for a month to vacation in the hot Italian sun. She has spent the past two weeks reminding others of this fact; and although I keenly do the same when it’s my turn to escape abroad, I’m no less aggrieved and envious when left behind. But why be jealous, really? Sure, Frommer’s says nice things about it; but Italy isn’t all Sistine chapels, olive-skinned supermodels, or linguine heavenly enough to make Julia Roberts swoon. And I’m sure that more people die on wobbly Vespas in Rome than of bee stings here in Canada. So there.
Ok, this isn’t working. I’m obviously in denial. Admittedly, Italy has been on my bucket list for a while, even if my mother tells me it was noisy, dirty and full of pigeons and creepy men who stare. That sounds pretty much like where I live now, or at least no worse. Give me the Vespas. Give me the green pastures, luscious grapes hanging heavily from the vine, warm bread dipped in olive oil, or an impassioned, heart-wrenching Italian aria. Heck, give me lice from sleeping on a dirty hammock, if it means getting to bask in the Mediterranean sun for even one afternoon.
Apparently I’m in need of a holiday and thankfully I have one approaching…though not to Italy. While waiting for my credit card travel points to slowly accumulate enough to cross an ocean, I’ll travel in the meantime by other means: Tonight I made this Italian-inspired dish with pan-roasted chicken, kalamata olives and roasted cherry tomatoes, I savoured a glass of red wine, and listed to Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino while yearning desperately for another continent.
Risotto was one of the first “adult” recipes I ever attempted during my university years, back when even grilled cheese seemed ambitious. It’s not difficult to make by any means – in fact far from it – but it isn’t quick either. It requires constant stirring for a good 30 minutes, so if you plan to entertain your dinner guests with involved conversation, shadow puppets or pre-dinner juggling perhaps you should stick to rice or roasted potatoes as a side dish instead. I personally think it’s worth it and haven’t come across anyone yet who has passed up a plate of warm risotto topped with fresh Parmigiano Reggiano.
I had never even heard of risotto until being invited to a Slow Food experience at a friend’s house a few years ago. I’ve been known to eat like a prison inmate, purposefully focused on my food and quickly devouring, so I had my reservations about how I would cope with slow food. Unlike my misconceptions, slow food didn’t actually involve chewing each morsel for twenty minutes; but rather, sampling different dishes in different rooms over the course of five hours and pairing each dish with a glass of wine or aperitif. Or at least that was my friend’s take on it.
For Christmas one year I received a stacker cooking kit. It looks like a device that should have included Play Dough, though it is meant for food. It’s perfect for stacking veggies, rice – or in this case risotto – into shapes, and for layering various food like geological strata on the plate. I had some spinach and beets in my fridge so thought these would be good test subjects for stacking with the risotto. The result: a tasty and colourful tower of Italian delight. Enjoy!
If you like risotto, you may also like my Beet Risotto or Heavenly Dark Chocolate Dessert Risotto
This afternoon I went for a long walk around the lake and by kilometre six I was so ravenous with hunger that all I could think about was Italian chicken piccata and a cold Perrier. Despite how the name sounds to those that speak the Romance Languages, this dish isn’t spicy or piquant at all – piccata actually refers to the way the meat is prepared: sauteed and served in a sauce of butter, lemon, spices and parsley. This dish can be made with chicken or veal, though my preference is the former; and it uses four of my favourite ingredients in the pan sauce that accompanies it: freshly-squeezed lemon juice, cilantro, wine and capers. When all four are used together in one recipe, the aroma makes me delirious and misty-eyed. It is really that good, I swear. The other great thing about this dish is the heavy whacking involved in the preparation of the meat, to flatten it out before dredging it in batter. A perfect way to blow off steam, pounding the cutlets can be done with either a meat tenderizer, rolling pin or heavy Ayn Rand novel. Continue reading
One of my favourite things to cook when friends drop in for dinner is homemade pizza. Guests normally find it pretty entertaining to watch as I make the dough and then they each get to roll up their sleeves and earn some participation points while they add toppings to their own personal pizzas. Kids will enjoy this part as well. The fastest way is to pick up the already prepared pizza dough at the grocery store and merely add the sauce and toppings, but for what little additional work is required to make your own dough, I think it’s worth making it yourself and getting flour on your clothes – part of the fun! Continue reading
I’m not sure how, but shockingly I made it through 29 years of my life without ever tasting a beet. The day that I had one was a revelation to my taste buds. There is not a week that goes by now when my fridge is not full of these wonderful, healthy treats. There are so many delicious ways of cooking beets, though this combination of the dark red, flavourful beet with another of my favourite foods – risotto – is a unique and mouth-watering side dish. It also calls for cooking with white wine, which is always a great excuse to indulge a little in a glass while cooking. Continue reading
Cutting strips of pasta by hand - a little like zen sand art
Preparing fresh pasta by hand will likely be one of the more pleasurable cooking activities you’ll experience. Not only is this easy to make at home, but the fresh pasta will taste like it’s being served directly from a family kitchen in Italy. Molto Bene!
I’ve made pasta two different ways: by hand (more difficult and challenging to cut) and using a pasta machine (this is my preferred option, though you’ll need to pick up a machine – not to worry, Christmas is coming). If rolling and cutting by hand, the pasta will still taste great; it will usually just leave you with pasta strips that are thicker than you would get from a machine. Either way you make this though, this is much more impressive to dinner guests that emptying a store-bought package of pasta into a pot of boiling water.