Quick Post about a Quick Meal

I’ve written about arancini, or Italian rice balls, before.  The way Nonna made them was a big production — they were things of beauty, perfectly round and evenly browned. They were also only made on rare occasions for those very reasons.  Works of art and love. 

I made a quick, down and dirty version from leftover yellow rice — yes, the bagged stuff with the seasonings already in, just add to boiling water and 20 minutes later, tasty, saffron infused bright yellow rice. I love it with chili (that recipe another day). But I made way more than I needed.

Yesterday I took about two cups of the chilled leftover rice, mixed an egg, some herbs, and a handful of grated cheese in; formed small (1-1/2 inch balls);  rolled them in breadcrumbs, and browned them in olive oil.  Yum!

They were small, lopsided, irregularly browned, and had no “surprise” filling. They were also quick, delicious and easy to make.

Voilá, a new favorite: yellow-rice arancini!


Artichokes? Really?

LOTS of artichokes

My lasting contribution to blogging seems to be artichokes. No. Really.

As many of my fellow-bloggers do, I track the number of visits to my site, and the search terms most frequently used to find my entries.

Hands down, the winner is some variant of “artichoke” — pictures of, photos of, recipes about, артишоки, globe, heart, artyčoky, Italian….

So on the theory that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…. I herewith give a short version of the history of my favorite vegetable (if you don’t count olives as vegetables).

Wild Artichokes are still found in north Africa, where they are said to have originated. According to Wikipedia, the “Arabic term Ardi-Shoki (ارضي شوكي)…means ‘ground thorny.'” While lot of other cultures ate them, naturally, it was the Italians who perfected their use [from the history of the universe, according to ME].

Globe artichokes are like the gorgeous guy pictured at right. They are a real pain to prepare, but are worth every pricked finger. Select heavy, compact heads, without a lot of discoloration. 

Wiki also points out that “When harvesting, [artichokes] are cut from the plant so as to leave an inch or two of stem. Artichokes possess good keeping qualities, frequently remaining quite fresh for two weeks or longer under average retail conditions.” 

Artichokes have been on the expensive side for the last few years, and thus fresh ones are something of a luxury around here. Maybe more home gardeners will begin to grow them — it would be lovely to pick them up at the local farmers’ market this summer!

Two real beauties

“Apart from food use, the Globe Artichoke is also an attractive plant for its bright floral display, sometimes grown in herbaceous borders for its bold foliage and large purple flowerheads (Wiki).”

And, as you can see, they are also attractive with cats.

One of Nonna’s ways of making artichoke frozen hearts (when fresh were out of season) was to batter and fry them.

I never made these, but I remember them well from my childhood. 

these look like Nonna's

Cook a package of frozen artichoke heart according to directions.

Pat them dry, then dip in an egg batter (I believe this was nothing more than an egg beaten with a little flour, grated cheese & breadcrumbs).

Fry in medium-hot olive oil, drain, and serve with lemon.

Happy eating!

A Wintry Mix

Penne Rigati

Just a quick post today. 

The plumber and his assistants are working under the house, replacing the water heater.  

The snow is spitting down, not enough to stop things, just slow them down and make it messy out there.  

I’m happily wasting time here while waiting for the plumber to finish before I head off to work 

I got a gift a couple of months ago of a special bag of pasta (pictured here). It’s “Fusco Pasta” made in Italy! My family’s name, of course, is Fusco. 

Carlos Fusco, Pasta Maker


Way back in the fifties, my father owned a company that imported Fusco Olive Oil. The story is that the groves burned down, and we lost the company. Now there’s a pasta bearing the family name. 

How fitting and fun.  I wonder if Carlos Fusco is a relative?  Either way, I just bet it’s delicious pasta!

Playing Around with Artichokes

Even though I’m in pre-surgery mental mode, food still can grab my creative attention.

I’ve been playing around in my head with artichokes — not the gorgeous and expensive whole globe guys, but the more mundane and accessible canned artichoke hearts. I’ve written up two simple recipes that I really enjoy.

The first needs a food processor to make satisfactorily, but it is so delicious on bread, or as a quick pasta sauce:

Artichoke-Olive Tapenade a la Laurie

1 can artichoke hearts
1 cup green stuffed olives
1/2 cup black pitted olives (can be kalamatas for a stronger flavor)
1 clove garlic (or more to taste)
a handful of basil leaves (fresh is best, but I have some frozen in vacuum bags that works)
1/2 can diced tomatoes or 1 medium fresh tomato
enough extra-virgin olive oil to mix
salt & pepper to taste
Start with the olives and pulse a little in the food processor. Add the remaining ingredients, pulsing briefly to achieve a semi-smooth texture. Use just enough oil to help bind the ingredients.  Keeps in the fridge for a few days,  but it never lasts long at my house.
You can vary this with other ingredients, like grated cheese, capers, or red peppers. 

You can tell I have a thing for both olives and artichokes.  Here’s number two. Equally quick to make.

Olive-Artichoke Macaroni Salad

4 cups freshly cooked elbow macaroni (still hot)
1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
3/4 cup green stuffed olives, halved  (quartered if large)
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup chopped marinated red peppers
1 tablespoon capers
1 glove minced garlic
Italian seasoning mix to taste
olive oil and lemon juice to taste for dressing
Mix all the ingredients into a large bowl, then stir in hot pasta and add any additional oil and lemon juice needed to make moist enough.  Serve warm or chilled.  Serves 4.
To make this a main dish salad, add a can of “tonno” which is italian-style light tuna packed in olive oil. 
To quote my Nonna, “mange, mange, tutti fa benne!” (Excuse the mangled Italian. It means, roughly, “eat, eat, everything’s good!”)

Corn Roasted in the Fire Pit

Yesterday I listed some of the great buys at the Farmer’s Market — but I forgot to mention fresh corn. Delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, squeaky-fresh white sweet corn. Roasted in the husk on the coals from a fire in the cast iron fire pit in the yard. Eaten at dusk, surrounded by incense, citronella candles, fireflies, cats, and the rumble of fireworks in the distance.

Little in life could have been better.

Prior to the feast, Josh trimmed some low branches around the place while I planted my new lavender, spread some compost and potted the last of the annuals in the patio containers. The air was just right, with a touch of moisture that has turned to rain this morning; the lingering heat from the afternoon keeping us moving slow and easy.

The breeze was just a touch, like a caressing hand on my face and neck, cooling and mellowing me.  I rested frequently, facing the back jungle of tree, scrub and vine. I watched a Downy Woodpecker as she skittered up and down a long trunk, stopping to tap here and there.

Cardinals, Jays, Mockingbirds, and Goldfinches were the main feeders as evening approached. They would scatter to the nearby trees and bushes when one of the cats strolled by, but they are largely blase at this time of year (ditto the cats). The Blue Jay calls the traditional warning, “Cat! Cat! Cat” and the cat twitches an annoyed ear and just walks slower, stretching insolently before leaping up on the next napping place.

It’s very quiet this morning. Just a soft rain, muted bird calls, and everyone else asleep. This is one of the loveliest holiday weekends I can remember. A perfect admixture of joy and quiet, serenity, laughter, good food, companionship, music, and only a faint nostalgic sorrow for what is gone.

Blessings to all this rainy Sunday.

And So It Is.

Rockin’ in the Kitchen (& Garden)

I am really rockin’ it today.

I’ve been on a doing binge — I went to the farmer’s market this morning and picked up some ravishing Swiss chard, baby beets, tomatoes, extra basil (pesto is calling me), little carrots, some Tuscan kale, and several bunches of flowers. Such luxury!

Then I caught up the dishes, which is a never ending battle for me. Small sink, big cooking (that says it all).  Finally, in and among the chores I’ve been weeding, cleaning up bits of trash, and getting set up for the next planting session.

Said planting is scheduled for right after I finish cooling off a little and posting this entry as my reward for all the hard work — and on a holiday, too. I may even take a few pictures to post later.

I hear the plants shouting my name. . . ciao!

New Pots!

Pots and pans are so central to enjoyable cooking that I can’t believe it’s taken me over 40 years to spring for a new set of quality cookware! I’ve been using some old but good Revere Ware — stainless steel copper-bottom saucepans that weren’t new when I was a child. I’ve had lots of nonstick skillets pass through my life, but nothing — pardon the pun — has stuck.

I recently bought a new saucepan, in an in-between size, and oh, what a difference it made! The pot heated more quickly, cooked more evenly, the lid fit tightly, and clean-up was a piece of cake.

So I splurged. I took a 20% off coupon to the nearest Bed, Bath and Beyond and bought a set of Cuisinart Greenware plus two additional sizes I use often.

I’m packing up all the old Revere Ware (except for my giant 12-quart stock pot), all the miscellany of yard sale pots, banged-up skillets and sauté pans with mismatched lids, and storing them until the right fate for them emerges. Somewhere among my acquaintances is a budding cook for whom slightly battered Revere Ware will be a happy step up.

Now… what can I cook?

Arancini Redux

I made them. They sort of held together. I used too much egg for the amount of rice, and they were too soft to hold their shape in the oil — gravity 1, Laurie 0.  However, lopsided nor not, they were delicious — though not perfect. I have enough egg & rice mixture left to fry up a couple more before bed.  There’s something missing in the seasoning. I’m not sure what is missing, since my taste memory of Nonna’s “orangini” is 30+ years old. I think perhaps a sharper grated cheese and perhaps a little touch of garlic, some paprika in the breading…. but I was close.

After I get the right flavor, I’ll worry about pretty.

More Artichokes

I started thinking how much I love artichokes. Fresh ones are an expensive treat, of course, and even frozen or canned artichoke hearts can be pricey.  But I do love to liven up quick dinners with them.  One of my favorite suppers is to make a veggie-filled tomato sauce for pasta:

While the pasta water comes to a boil assemble the following:

1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 can nice organic tomato sauce (if you don’t have homemade)
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
1/2 can sliced black olives
1/2 cup sliced green stuffed olives
handful of pignoli nuts
chopped basil
minced garlic
a little salt
a splash of each red wine and olive oil

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and saute pignoli nuts and minced garlic until golden, add wine and heat through, then mix in remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered until pasta is al dente. Serve with grated cheese.  Makes enough for leftovers!  Other vegetables such as diced zucchini, mushrooms, greenbeans, ccut up broccoli, cauliflower, etc., can be added.  Red Kidney beans, garbanzo beans, or others can also be included.

How about this one:

1 can quartered artichoke hearts
1 zucchini, diced
1/2-3/4 cup italian seasoned breadcrumbs
handful of grated cheese
enough olive oil to make breadcrumbs moist
paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley

mix together in an ovenproof pan, then toast in the oven at 400º for about 10 minutes, stir, then broil ’til top starts to brown.  Serve sprinkled with lemon.

This recipe is one of Nonna’s served at many a Sunday dinner.

2 packages of frozen artichoke hearts, prepared according to package and drained
1 clove thinly sliced garlic
sprinkle of salt
generous pouring of olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

Let artichokes marinate in the other ingredients until cooled to room temperature and serve.