June 03, 2017

Jam Buns



Jam buns are such a quick and easy dessert (or lunchbox treat) to make that it almost seems too good to be true.

It's almost more of a serving suggestion than a recipe. You simply press unbaked plain biscuits into muffin tin holes, and dollop a bit of jam into the middle before baking as usual. You can leave them "open" style, or pinch the edges closed over the jam, however you like. Bake as if they were regular biscuits.

But, just in case you don't have a biscuit recipe handy, this is the one my mom used.

Jam Buns

Makes 12

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup jam

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients - to be fair, I don't really sift, I aerate them with a whisk, but do whichever pleases you most. Add raisins, herbs, cheese, or any other additional flavourings at this time. Using a pastry-blender or a fork (and a lot of patience) cut in the margarine until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of fat are about corn-kernel sized. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the mixture for up to a week before mixing up the biscuits.

Create a well in the middle of the mixture and pour the milk in all at once. Hold the bowl steady and, using a fork, stir rapidly and briefly until the dough comes together in a ragged mass. Quickly dump it out onto a clean counter, and knead very lightly and briefly until the flour is incorporated. You may need to add a little extra flour, but probably not. Go cautiously - too much flour makes tough biscuits.

Pat out the dough into a rough rectangle, no more than a centimetre thick (3/4 is better), and slice into squares. Push each biscuit into an ungreased muffin-tin well. Spoon a teaspoon of jam (whichever kind you like) into the middles. Don't over-fill them or the jam will boil over and make a mess when they cook (not the end of the world, but more work to clean up). You can leave them open, or pinch the corners closed, according to your preference. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until they have gotten tall and golden. Let them cool for a few minutes, and then use a fork or spatula to lever each one out and onto a rack to cool.



Oh, and one more thing? You don't have to do the whole batch (although they're sure nice to have around). If you're making biscuits anyway, why not make a big batch, and put a few sweet ones in the mix? Perfect for smaller families.

May 27, 2017

Coliflor a la Huancaína: Cauliflower with Peruvian Spicy Cheese Sauce


Salsa a la Huancaína, a spicy, Peruvian, fresh cheese sauce made with yellow Ají Amarillo chiles, is normally served over cold, boiled potatoes. It is a very popular appetizer, and like many Peruvian dishes, is often served with hard boiled eggs and black olives as a garnish.

The sauce itself takes very little time to whip together if you are using jarred Ají Amarillo puree, as it requires no cooking - just a brief stint in the blender or food processor (you could, of course, go full traditional and use a mortar and pestle). I used an stick/immersion blender.

As you can see, I've served it over roasted cauliflower instead of potatoes. This is partly because I had some cauliflower that was in desperate need of use, and partly because the potatoes in my pantry had started to grow, taking them effectively out of the equation. But we know that cauliflower loves cheese, so it seemed like a pretty good alternative to the potato. And it was. You could of course use cold boiled potatoes - one medium potato per person. Because the cauliflower was warm, the sauce melted a bit, becoming a bit thinner than it would be otherwise.

Coliflor a la Huancaína: Cauliflower with Peruvian Spicy Cheese Sauce

(sauce adapted from Peru Delights)

Serves 6

Half a head of cauliflower, separated into florets, roasted and let cool to room temperature.

Salsa a la Huancaína

1/2 cup Aji Amarillo yellow hot pepper paste
1 cup evaporated milk (⬅︎ not sweetened condensed milk!)
4 soda crackers
1 cup queso fresco (or substitute 1 cup Ricotta Cheese and 30 grams Feta Cheese)

Garnish

3 boiled eggs, quartered
12 mild black olives
Parsley and/or lettuce (optional)

Scoop the cheese into the bowl of your food processor/blender (I used a stick blender for this, and it was fine). Break up the crackers over the cheese. Add the chile paste, and slowly pour in about half the milk. Start to process, adding more milk as necessary (you might not need it all, depending on your crackers and your cheese) until you get a smooth, yellow sauce thick enough to generously coat the cauliflower (or potato). It should not be as thick as bean dip, but able to flow a little when poured. If not using right away, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to two days.

Plate the cauliflower (you can place it on some lettuce, if you like, for presentation purposes) and spoon the sauce over each piece. Garnish with eggs, olives, parsley (if you like), and enjoy.

While this is traditionally an appetizer, we had it alongside some pork neck in an escabeche sauce, and a baked sweet potato.

May 20, 2017

Kefta Mkaouara: Moroccan Meatball & Egg Tagine


The very first meal that we had in Marrakech was a wonderful feast prepared by the cook our our riad (traditional Moroccan boutique hotel), featuring a variety of salads, and this iconic meatball & egg tagine. Arriving late at night after a significantly delayed flight, we were extremely grateful for two things: first, that we had arranged a driver through our riad to bring us in from the airport, and second, that this meal was waiting for us when we finally staggered through the door.

There are a lot of recipes for this dish out there in the wilds of the internet, and I initially tried one I found that looked pretty good but ended up swimming in copious amounts of a sauce more reminiscent of a displaced marinara. So, I researched a little harder, and then dug into my notes from our trip to Morocco. This is the result, which feels much closer in spirit to what we had in Morocco. There is enough sauce to provide a condiment to the meatballs and also to cook the eggs, but not an excessive amount.

Tagines are traditionally served with bread, rather than rice or couscous, so I picked up a couple of khobz-like flatbreads from a local bakery, and served the tagine with lemony, Moroccan-style carrot salad and spiced olives on the side.

Kefta Mkaouara
(Moroccan Meatball & Egg Tagine)

Serves 4

550 grams mixed ground beef and lamb
1 large whole egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup panko-style bread crumbs
2-3 teaspoons Ras el Hanout* spice mixture, divided
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup parsley, divided
1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes (low sodium preferably)
1 medium yellow onions, diced somewhat finely
2 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chili flakes
4 eggs

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg and add the panko, a teaspoon of Ras el Hanout, and half the parsley. Stir together.

Break apart the ground meat in little pieces (I use my fingers for this), letting it fall on top of the egg/crumb mixture, and then season with salt and white pepper. Use a fork to gently (but thoroughly!) combine the ingredients into a homogenous mixture, being sure to distribute the breadcrumbs well throughout the meat. Shape into very small meatballs with a tablespoon or very small disher. You can leave them rough or rolls them between your palms to make nice rounded meatballs, each a bit smaller than a walnut. You should get 24 meatballs.



Heat the oil in a medium skillet (the one above is 23 cm) over medium-high heat, and brown the meatballs in batches (don't bother cooking them all the way through at this stage, and don't overcrowd the pan). Remove the browned meatballs from the pan to a plate, and add the diced onion and the garlic into the emptied pan. Sauté until the onions are translucent, then add the tomato paste and stir through. Sprinkle the turmeric, a teaspoon of Ras el Hanout, and the chile flakes over the onions, and stir through. Add the can of tomatoes with their juices. stir through. Cook altogether until it starts to resemble a sauce, about four or five more minutes. Turn the heat to low, and add the meatballs (and any juices that may have collected on the plate). Cover and cook for 10 minutes.



Make a "nest" in the meatballs to create space for each egg - one per person is usual. Crack an egg directly into each nest, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and cover. Continue to cook on low heat for 5 - 10 minutes more, depending on how done you like your eggs. If you plan to have meatballs leftover for a future meal, just cook the number of eggs that you need for the moment. The eggs can be freshly cooked when you warm up the meatballs and sauce the next day (or you can skip the eggs on the second pass, and just stuff the (warmed up) meatballs and sauce into a hollowed-out flatbread for a fantastic meatball sandwich. When reheating, you may need to add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen the sauce to an optimal consistency.

* If you are unable to find a premixed Ras El Hanout blend (we brought ours back from Morocco, but it is often available in grocery stores that stocks North African and/or Middle Eastern spice mixtures), you might want to make your own: This one, and this one both look like decent options.

May 13, 2017

Chicken Salad with Feta & Mint


The combination of yoghurt, feta and mint give a bit of Persian flare to this salad, and make it so fresh tasting. You can use leftover roasted chicken if you like, but I like to make this with chicken breast that has been steeped or gently poached in chicken broth (or stock) for the juiciest, most tender chicken salad imaginable.

It's important to use a yoghurt whose flavour you like. If you choose a very sour yoghurt, that will be reflected in the finished salad. If you think your yoghurt might be a bit too sour, you can always cut it half-and-half with a mayonnaise or crème fraîche, to soften the flavour - although that will of course make for a richer salad overall.

Chicken Salad with Feta & Mint

Makes about 2 cups

225 grams cooked chicken breast
50 grams plain feta cheese (not marinated)
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup julienned de-seeded cucumber
1/4 cup plain Mediterranean-style thick yoghurt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Salt to taste, if necessary
Ground sumac to finish (optional)

If you are freshly cooking the chicken just for this recipe, set it aside to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Finely dice the chicken breast and heap it into a mixing bowl. Crumble the feta over the chicken.

Cut a 5-6 cm piece of cucumber, and slice it into quarters, lengthwise (if it is a thick-skinned cucumber, peel it). Slice away the seeds from each quarter, and then finely julienne the remaining cucumber flesh (you don't want the pieces too long - very short lengths work best. I usually eat the seeds while I'm doing this, because they're tasty, but they are too wet to leave in the finished dish. Blot the sliced cucumber pieces dry with a bit of clean kitchen towel, and add them to the bowl with the chicken and feta. Sprinkle the white pepper over the chicken mixture, and use a fork to thoroughly stir everything together.

Add the yoghurt and the chopped mint, and stir through. Taste, to see if it needs salt (if your feta is very salty, it probably won't, but if it's milder, it might). Cover tightly and refrigerate for an hour or so to give the flavours a chance to meld. Use as a sandwich filling, or simply scoop it onto some greens for a light meal.

If you happen to have some ground sumac, sprinkle a bit lightly over the filling before closing up the sandwich. The lemony-earthy note of the sumac complements the other flavours very nicely.



While it works very nicely in a traditional two-slices-of-bread sandwich, it is also excellent as a wrap filling (I've used both tortillas and lavash to great success), or stuffed into a pita. As you can see, I fill my sandwiches quite generously, using about a cup of salad per sandwich, but if you are doing flatbread roll-ups to accompany a soup, you might want to make them a little smaller.



This salad keeps well overnight in the fridge, but you probably don't want to leave it longer than that, or the enzymes in the cucumber will start to break down the yoghurt, making it watery.



May 05, 2017

Spicy Cauliflower & Ground Meat Skillet Dinner


This is quick, delicious, and oh-so-easy. We use habanero peppers, because we can get them more easily than we can jalapeños, but you can use any chile pepper you like, really. Kind of a cauliflower hash, as it were, but not so...hashy?

What it is, is very filling and satisfying. It's also low carb, if that interests you, or are just looking for something different from the cycle of potato-pasta-rice-bread that make the foundation of so many dinner calendars.

Spicy Cauliflower & Ground Meat Skillet Dinner
Adapted from Gluesticks & Gumdrops

Serves 2

1/2 large head of cauliflower, separated into small florets
250 grams ground beef or beef/pork mixture
1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 large onion, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 habanero chile pepper, de-seeded
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or other powdered chile
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
60 grams cheddar cheese, grated
black pepper, to finish
cilantro, for garnish
Water, as needed

Do your mise en place first: separate the cauliflower, chop the onion, mince the garlic, grate the cheese, and de-seed the hot pepper (carefully). Wash and dry the coriander, and tear the leaves off of the thicker stems (you don't need the stem here).

Heat the canola oil in a large over medium-high temperature, and add the ground meat. If your meat is a bit fatty, you might not need the oil at all, or you might need to spoon a little off after it's fried. You want a bit of oil to thoroughly brown the meat, but not so much that it becomes greasy. If you are using lean meat, you shouldn't have to drain anything.

Break up the meat with a wooden spoon or spatula as it fries, and let it get some nice golden brown colour before you add anything else. Don't just fry it until it loses the pink - you don't get good flavour from grey meat. When it is satisfactorily browned, add the onion and garlic, and stir through. When the onion turns translucent, add the chile pepper and the salt, cayenne, cumin seasonings. Stir and continue to fry until the onions are tender and a bit browned at the edges.

Add the cauliflower and stir it through, coating it with the spicy juices already in the skillet. Add a couple of tablespoons of water, and stir through again. Continue to cook and stir, adding splashes of water where necessary to keep the mixture loose an not burning, but not enough to make a gravy. You can also put a lid on and turn it to low for a few minutes to make sure the cauliflower gets cooked through to your satisfaction.

When the cauliflower is tender, it's time to finish. Scatter the grated cheddar evenly over the pan, and put a lid on for a few minutes - just long enough to melt the cheese. Use a wide spatula to lift sections from the pan onto the plate, trying to keep the cheese top-most if possible. Garnish with black pepper and cilantro. Devour.

You can of course use more cheese to make this an even more deluxe dish, but it's lovely the way it is, and perfect for someone looking for a lighter (but still satisfying) meal.

Not hot enough? You can always top it with the fiery hot sauce of your choice.

April 29, 2017

Gored Gored: Ethiopian Spiced Raw Beef


I am a big fan of Ethiopian cuisine. Its richly layered seasonings can be searingly spicy or pleasantly warm, but are always complex flavours borne of a long, unique culinary heritage.

I also like raw beef dishes, generally: carpaccio, tartar, kitfo (another Ethiopian dish, as it happens) are all wonderful, but the intense seasoning and the richness of the butter lift gored gored into a class of its own.

While I've eaten gored gored many times in restaurants, when I decided to make it myself, I found very few recipes to work from, and even fewer in English. I set about watching cooking videos on YouTube and scouring cookbooks, but there didn't really seem to be a consensus on any sort of master recipe, so I've constructed my own based on the bits of information that I've uncovered, as well as hands on (quite literally) analysis through consumption of versions prepared by professionals. The dish is not always served raw - sometimes it is lightly seared - but I prefer it raw.

This was a full on Ethiopian meal, with the other dishes being shiro wat (recipe still under development), okra stew with onions and tomatoes, and of course, injera - that wonderful Ethiopian flatbread that serves as a literal foundation upon which the other dishes are served, as well as the utensil with which to eat them. My injera really, really needs more practice, but the gored gored turned out beautifully.



Berbere spice mixtures can often be purchased pre-mixed, but if you can't find it, there's a link in the recipe below.

Gored Gored

Serves 4 - 6 (as part of a multi-dish meal)

225 gram piece of high quality raw beef, suitable for tartar
3-4 tablespoons warm Ethiopian spiced butter (Nit'r Q'ibe) (I used a modified version of this recipe from Saveur: I added a teaspoon of Berbere seasoning)
1 (extra) teaspoon Berbere seasoning (I used this recipe from Epicurious) You'll also need this to make the Awase seasoning
3-4 tablespoons Awase seasoning (I used this recipe from Markus Samuelsson)

Once you've gotten all of the seasonings sorted out, this dish is extremely simple. On your extremely clean cutting board, using a very sharp knife, cut the meat into small cubes. I cut mine very small, for the best spice-penetration, but it's normal to cut them a bit larger than this.

In a small serving bowl, add the Awase and the extra Berbere seasoning, and stir well to thoroughly coat all sides of each bit of meat. Add the warmed spiced butter, one tablespoon at a time, stirring completely through, until the meat has a glossy sheen.

You can keep any leftover gored gored until the next day, covered well in the fridge, and either sauté it for the next day (if you must), or warm it very gently over a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, just until the butter loosens up and the meat approaches room temperature, and then swiftly plate to prevent it from cooking.

April 22, 2017

Pear and Arugula Salad with Pine Nuts & Pomegranate


Pears are one of my favourite fruits for flavour and texture. The fact they work so well in salads is a wonderful bonus.

The name of this salad was long enough already without mentioning the sherried walnut vinaigrette, but I really do think that's the element that really ties it together. It's quite fragrant, and the saltiness and hint of garlic and mustard nicely offset the sweetness of the fruit.

This recipe was developed to use what I had on hand, and I'm so happy with the result that it's now on my favourite salads list. If you have some pomegranate seeds leftover from making Harak Osba'o, this is a good thing to do with them.

Pear and Arugula Salad with Pine Nuts & Pomegranate Seeds

Serves 2

100 grams arugula, washed and dried well
1 Bartlett pear, cored and sliced
2-3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2-3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
Sherried Vinaigrette Dressing (see below)

You can clean the arugula, toast the pine nuts and prepare the pomegranate seeds in advance, but the slicing the pear is best left until just before serving.

To toast the pine nuts, I use a small dry skillet over low heat, shaking gently from time to time, until the kernels turn slightly golden and you can smell the toastiness. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to a small bowl to let them cool without risking burnt nuts.

I like to slice the pear in half, and then use a melon-baller to remove the core. Then, a couple of quick v-cuts with a sharp knife to remove the blossom-end and the tough stem-thread. Then you can easily slice into very tidy and elegant strips.

It makes sense to have the arugula on the bottom, but otherwise arrange however you like on a small plate or salad bowl. Spoon the dressing over just before serving. If you're making this for a crowd, and have one of those long, trencher-style serving plates, this would look very elegant served that way, too.


Sherried Walnut Vinaigrette

Serves 2

1 tablespoon walnut oil
2 teaspoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon Condimento Bianco (or white wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar)
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
pinch salt

In a small bowl (or small plastic cup with a securely sealing lid), combine all of the ingredients. Whisk well (or shake vigorously, holding the cup tightly closed) until emulsified into a pretty pale yellow. Taste, and adjust for salt (or more sherry!) as needed. Drizzle over salad just before serving.

I note that you can use sherry vinegar, if you're lucky enough to have some on hand, instead of the sherry and condimento listed above.

April 15, 2017

Harak Osba'o -- Damascus-style Lentil Noodle Stew


Lentils and rice are such a natural and common combination, that it's almost odd to think of them apart, let alone with an interloper. Lentils and pasta? You don't see them together all that often, outside certain soups (such as Harira), and the occasional vegetarian adaptation. However, the textures are surprisingly complementary, and these lentils definitely hold their own as a rightful ingredient that isn't a substitute for ground meat.

The name "Harak Osba'o" translates to "He burned his finger" suggesting an overeager cook who couldn't wait to tuck into an irresistible creation. The pomegranate molasses and tamarind concentrate give an enticing mild tanginess.

This version is adapted from a few different online versions, including one from The Food Obsessive and one from Taste of Beirut.

The garnish of cilantro and pomegranate seeds give a lovely burst of tart freshness to each bite.

Harak Osba'o
Damascus-style Lentil Noodle Stew

Serves 4

1 cup (200 grams) dried brown or green lentils, washed and drained
150 grams long pasta, broken into short lengths
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (more if using water instead of broth)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds to garnish (optional)
Ground sumac to garnish
Extra hot water (eg. from a recently boiled kettle) as needed (1 to 2 cups)

In a soup pot, fry the onion in olive oil over medium heat until softened and a little browned, about 10 minutes, then add the cilantro and garlic and fry a further few seconds, while stirring. Spoon out half of the onion-garlic-cilantro mixture into a small bowl and set aside to use as garnish at the end.

Add the lentils to the remaining onion-garlic-cilantro mixture, and add the water (preferably hot, from a recently boiled kettle, but cold is fine, it will just take longer to come up to a simmer). Add the salt. Salt won't make the lentils hard, but adding it now will help them keep from falling apart. Simmer the lentils on low until tender, 15 - 30 minutes, depending on the type, so watch them carefully!

Add the tamarind and pomegranate molasses and stir through. Add the pasta. You can use broken long pasta or short pasta such as small shells. There needs to be enough liquid for the pasta to absorb, resulting in a thick stew once the pasta has finished cooking, so you'll probably need to add a bit more water - start with about a cup - and then add the black pepper and other spices and stir them through.

Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the pasta is tender and the mixture is no longer watery. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid, and if it's getting too thick, add more water, a little at a time. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Turn out into a large serving bowl or tureen, and garnish with the remaining onion-garlic-cilantro mixture and sprinkled with sumac (or, individual serving bowls, topped with the onion-garlic-cilantro mixture, and sumac). Fresh pomegranate seeds are also a nice garnish, if available, offering colour, texture, and juicy freshness.

If you don't have tamarind or pomegranate molasses? Try lemon juice or a little apple cider vinegar to bring the tanginess to the party. The simplest versions that I found call only for black pepper instead of the mix of spices, so you can do it that way, too, if you're so inclined. There are probably as many variations as there are cooks.

April 08, 2017

Arancini: Italian Rice Balls


Aranicini means "little oranges", and you can find them in many parts of Italy, often as a bar snack. They can be served hot, or at room temperature. It is a way of upcycling leftover risotto into a dish that feels wholly different, while still packing all the same satisfaction. These arancini were made using leftover Risotto alla Milanese, and filled with fresh buffalo Mozzarella. You can make this with pretty much any leftover risotto, although if there are any large featured ingredients, you will want to remove them and either dice them finely and add them back into the rice, or add them to the filling. You can use any melty cheese you have on hand.

I don't deep fry things very often, partly due to the mess, partly due to general anxiety about deep frying, but I'll make an exception for these. As a killer bonus, once these are made, you can reheat them for 15 minutes in a very hot oven a day later with no loss of quality! Can you say...party food? Look at this one -- it's a day old, reheated, and is still fantastic:


Added bonus: you can make them any size you like.

Arancini

About 6 large or 12-14 small

About 3 cups leftover risotto, such as Risotto alla Milanese
1 egg, beaten
100 grams fresh Mozzarella, such as buffalo
About a cup of panko or other dried breadcrumbs
Oil for deep frying

While the oil heats to 175°C / 370°F, loosen the risotto gently with a fork. Add the beaten egg, and stir very gently to thoroughly combine. Turn the mass of risotto out onto a cutting board, and divide into the number of arancini you want to make. I've made 6 larger ones and one smaller one. Dice the mozzarella (or other melting cheese, such as Provolone or Fontina, for example) into at least the same number of arancini you are making. Don't make the cheese cubes too huge, or you'll have trouble closing the rice around them.

Set a clean cutting board or plate as a receiving plate for the completed arancini. Then, pick up the risotto for the first ball, and flatten it in your hands into a rough disc. Place a piece of mozzarella (or two, if you find you've chopped them quite small) in the centre of the disc, and curl your fingers up to start to enclose it. Get your other hand in there to help close the rice completely around the cheese, and shape into a nice round ball. Roll the ball in the breadcrumbs. Set aside on the receiving plate, and repeat until all of the rice has been formed into arancini.


Wash your hands, which will be sticky and coated with egg/risotto goo. Prepare a receiving plate for the fried arancini by lining it with a few paper towels.

When the oil is ready for frying, lower one arancino (singular) into the oil, using a mesh skimmer or spider. Let it cook for about a minute before adding another. Do not have more than four of the larger ones in the pot at the time, or the temperature of the oil will drop too far, and the arancini will not fry as nicely. Let each arancino cook for about five or six minutes, turning them from time to time, and then retrieve from the oil with your spider, and place on the paper towel-lined plate. They should be golden-y, orange-y brown and incredibly tempting. Repeat until all the arancini are cooked, and then serve and devour.


Arancini are often served with a dipping sauce - often a simple basil and tomato pasta-type sauce, but these ones are so creamy they don't strictly need it.

I served these with a lentil soup made from the leftover braised beef shanks that had accompanied the original risotto.

April 01, 2017

Risotto alla Milanese


Risotto (alla) Milanese, also sometimes called Risotto Giallo Zafferano, is a luxurious dish. It is not cheap to make, nor is it vegetarian; alongside its famously expensive saffron, the other signature ingredients include bone marrow and meat stock. The risotto kits that one can find on supermarket shelves tend to include only the merest whisper of saffron (if at all) and rely on turmeric or other colorants for the vivid yellow colour. They may make a serviceable side dish of sorts, but you would be in for a disappointment if you expected it to live up to the magic of a traditional Risotto alla Milanese.

I've made saffron rice dishes before, and while I've always enjoyed the flavour, I'd never achieved the deep, dark golden hue that is one of the signatures of this, one of the most famous Italian dishes. It turns out, it very much matters no only what kind of saffron one uses, but also how fresh it is. After recently making a saffron risotto that was underwhelming in colour, texture, and flavour, I decided to set aside what I've learned making other risottos, and learn how to do this one in all of its traditional glory.

I had used up the last of my good Persian saffron in the previous batch. While that saffron was indeed top quality when I received it, I had been eking it out over a few years, and gradually the remaining strands had greatly diminished in both their pungency and the amount of colour they provided. So I bought a new tiny tube of beautiful, dark red threads, and used them generously. Note that not all saffron is created equal. Don't be deceived by "safflower saffron", Carthamus tinctorius AKA "American saffron" or "Mexican saffron" or even "Dyer's saffron" (it has colour, but no flavour). It's not even from the same type of plant as true saffron. The one you want is Crocus sativus.

One departure from other risottos that I've made is that this one has you boil the onions in wine before adding the rice. This made the onions virtually disappear into the dish, adding a depth of texture to the sauciness of the dish. I note that Claudia Roden's other The Food of Italy (so, not the region-by-region version from which the below recipe is adapted) has a slightly different recipe given for Risotto alla Milanese, with slightly different proportions of some ingredients and, more importantly, with the wine added after the rice, following the more classic risotto-building method. Undecided at first, I eventually chose to go with the unusual version, which turned out to be nothing short of glorious.

Risotto alla Milanese

Adapted from Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy: Region by Region

Serves 4

300 grams rice for risotto - eg. Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano
30 grams butter
30 grams beef or veal bone marrow
1 litre (4 cups) beef or veal stock, warm
125 mL dry white wine or dry white Vermouth
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt (only if your stock is not too salty)
60 grams freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3/4 teaspoon saffron threads
50 mL hot water (from a recently boiled kettle)

As always, risotto is best (and the cook less harried) when the mise en place, the advance preparation of all necessary ingredients, is done before actually starting to cook.

Risotto needs near constant attention, but it does not require continuous stirring, no matter what you might hear. A stir once per minute will suffice. If you overstir, especially if you are making a drier, non-soupy style, your rice will be half way to congee by the time you've added all your stock. So: stir frequently, and gently, but not continuously.

Chop your onion very finely (try to match the size of a grain of rice), grate your Parmesan, warm the stock in a small pot on the stove, and prepare the saffron infusion: in a small mug or measuring cup, pour the 50 mL hot water from a recently boiled kettle, and crush the saffron over it, letting the dark red dust fall into the hot water. You can crush the saffron with a spoon, a mortar and pestle, or simply use your fingertips. Let the saffron steep in the hot water, which will gradually turn bright yellow.

Melt the bone marrow in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. When it has all melted, add half the butter (a tablespoon) and let that melt, too. Next, add your very finely chopped onion, and let it sauté for a few minutes, and then add the white wine. I used dry Vermouth for the wine, which is my usual risotto practice, but you could also use a nice Pinot Grigio or Soave. Let the wine boil almost dry, until the mixture of fat, onions, and wine looks syrupy, and then add the rice. Stir the rice around well, to coat each of the grains with the viscous liquid. Stir in the salt.

Add a ladle of stock to the rice, and give it a few stirs. Let it simmer, lid off, until much of the liquid has evaporated, and then give it another stir, and another ladle of stock. Stir again, and let it be for a minute. Repeat this process, stirring about once per minute or as needed (if you need to stir more often, turn the heat down), until half of your stock is gone, about 12 - 15 minutes in. You may stir more than once between each addition, of course.

When half of your stock has gone in, add the saffron and its steeping liquid and stir it through, marvelling at the abrupt change of colour, and intense fragrance! I like to add a bit of stock to the emptied saffron cup, and swirl it about to make sure I get every last speck of saffron into the risotto. Continue with the stirring and the adding of stock as before, until all of the stock has been added and mostly absorbed, and the grains of rice are just on the verge of being tender. Turn off the heat, and stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and the parmesan cheese. Partially cover with a cocked-lid and let it stand for a few minutes while you plate any other elements of your dinner (in case of the above, braised beef shank and cauliflower mornay), and then spoon the risotto onto the plate last. If you like a very wet style of risotto, you may wish to use a shallow bowl to serve, instead.


Should you be lucky enough to have any leftover, they make wonderful arancini (Italian rice balls). Coincidentally (cough cough), that is next week's recipe. Stay tuned!