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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Tag: Italian

Basil Pesto Risotto

Marc J. Sievers

Risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods, and is probably one of the most versatile things you can make at home.  The base is always Arborio rice—an Italian short grain rice with a creamy and chewy texture—and brought to life with stock and other fresh ingredients.  If in your pantry you have Arborio rice, fresh herbs, left over vegetables (raw or cooked), and a bit of stock or broth, then an easy and cozy dinner can be ready in under 30 minutes (I love that!).  This would also make a fabulous side dish when paired with something like Crispy Eggplant - Oven Style.  

For my Basil Pesto Risotto, I chose to make a version of homemade pesto, swapping out some of the olive oil for heavy cream.  Using all oil made the finished dish too oily, but the addition of heavy cream made the risotto slightly creamy and more elegant.  Because fresh basil and peas are available in most grocery stores year round, take the extra time to make the pesto from scratch, and shuck the peas by hand—you will be amazed at the difference it makes when it comes to flavor and satisfaction!

Happy risotto-making!


Basil Pesto Risotto

Ingredients for the Pesto

  • Basil Leaves – 1½ cups, fresh, lightly packed

  • Garlic – 1 clove, peeled

  • Sliced Almonds – 3 teaspoons

  • Heavy Cream – 3 tablespoons

  • Olive Oil – 3 tablespoons

  • Parmesan Cheese – ¼ cup, freshly grated, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ¼ teaspoon, freshly cracked

Directions for the Pesto

  1. Place all of the ingredients into the glass jar of a blender and puree until mostly smooth. Set aside.

Ingredients for the Risotto (serves 2)

  • Butter – 1 tablespoon, unsalted

  • Olive Oil – 1 tablespoon

  • Yellow Onion – 1 cup, ¼-inch diced

  • Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ½ teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Italian Arborio Rice – ½ cup

  • Vegetable Stock – 1 ½ cups, barely simmering

  • Basil Pesto – *Recipe above

  • Green Peas – ½ cup, freshly shucked

  • Lemon Zest – ½ teaspoon

  • Parmesan Cheese – ¼ cup, freshly grated, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended

Directions for the Risotto

  1. Place the fresh (or frozen) peas in a bowl of very hot tap water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

  2. In a small Dutch oven heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, salt, and pepper. Cook for 5 – 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  3. Add the Arborio rice and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes, until lightly toasted.

  4. Next, pour the hot stock over the onion and rice mixture and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 18 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  5. Once almost all of the liquid is absorbed by the rice, turn off the heat and stir in the pesto sauce, peas, and lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Idea:  If you do not have a small Dutch oven, any 10-inch skillet with a tight fitting lid will work just fine. 

Tip:  If you want to make this ahead of time and serve it later, reheat over low heat with a few tablespoon of heavy cream.  This will allow the rice to be warmed through without becoming dried out.

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!

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Crispy Eggplant – Oven-Style!

Marc J. Sievers

Eggplant Parmesan was a dish my great-grandmother on my daddy's side would prepare what seemed like daily!  She was no taller than 4'11", wore big '60s framed glasses (think Sophia Petrillo) that teetered on the end of her nose, and she always wore a smock.  My great-grandmother was the matriarch of the kitchen, and beyond!

Crispy eggplant medallions pair perfectly with my Spicy Marinara Sauce!

I remember, when I was a little boy, she would always give me two things:  A crisp dollar bill, and these amazing hard candies that she kept in the front coat closet in a tin, tucked away on the top shelf.  She knew my favorite things to eat were Italian rolls smeared with butter, instant mashed potatoes (tinted yellow from all the butter), and her fried eggplant and homemade sauce!  She was a lovely woman with the heart and soul of an Italian saint.

While I do love to pan fry my eggplant, just as my great-grandmother did, I thought I would create a lighter (and perhaps a bit more healthy) version of this classic recipe!  The oven is the perfect alternative to standing over a pan on the stove top.  While I have a recipe for Crispy Eggplant Parmesan in my new cookbook, Entertaining with Love, that is a perfect indulgent meal, this baked version is a great weeknight entrée!  I've even included my recipe for a truly FABULOUS, yet super simple, spicy marinara sauce!  Cheers to all the great-and-grandmothers out there!


Crispy Eggplant

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • Eggplant – 1 large, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch think

  • Bread Crumbs – 1 cup, unseasoned

  • White Pepper – ½ teaspoon

  • Kosher Salt – ¾ teaspoon

  • Oregano – 1 teaspoon, dried

  • Basil – 1 teaspoon, dried

  • Olive Oil – 3 tablespoons

  • Egg – 1, extra large, lightly beaten

  • Milk – ½ cup

  • Parmesan – ⅓ cup, as garnish

Directions

  1. Start by preheating the oven to 475 degrees F.

  2. Combine the egg and milk in a shallow bowl.

  3. Next, add the bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and spices in another shallow bowl. Stir to combined.

  4. Pour the olive oil into the base of a half sheet pan, then spread the oil to cover the entire pan. Set aside.

  5. Dip each slice of eggplant into the dry mixture, then the wet mixture, and then again in the dry mixture. Place onto the prepared sheet pan. Repeat process until all slices of eggplant have been coated.

  6. Next, place the sheet pan into the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Flip the eggplant and continue baking for another 10 minutes or until the eggplant is browned and crisp.

  7. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.


Sauce

Ingredients

  • Yellow Onion – ½ cup, finely minced

  • Garlic – 3 cloves, finely minced

  • Black Pepper – ¾ teaspoon

  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – ¼ teaspoon, or to taste

  • Olive oil – 1 tablespoon

  • Basil – ⅓ cup, finely minced

  • San Marzano Tomatoes – 1 (28-ounce) can, crushed

Directions

  1. Start by heating the olive oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium-low heat

  2. Add the onion, crushed red pepper flakes, and pepper and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, so that the onions are tender and translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes.

  3. Stir in the tomatoes and basil and simmer uncovered on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  4. Serve immediately.

Tip: You can also store in an air right container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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