Tag Archives: Italian

Makin’ the Rice balls

I think it’s literally been about four years since I told my Aunt Ro that I wanted to learn how to make her famous rice balls. And as a 2012 Eating Resolution I finally made it happen! Rice balls, like pretty much everything in Italian food culture are made differently according to region. The main difference is the stuffing. In Italian, rice balls are called ‘arancini’ which translates to little orange, and no matter the variations on stuffing, all rice balls have the crispy golden fried exterior that makes it look like a little orange.

True to traditional family secrets, there was no recipe. So my senses were on high alert as I tasted the boiling salt water, felt the density of the rice as it cooked, watched as it cooled and checked for the gummy texture.  Aunt Ro makes a classic Sicilian rice ball with a stuffing that includes, ground meat, chopped onions, tomato paste, peas, grated Pecorino cheese, and ground pepper. The stuffing was the easy part, checking for seasoning as we added the cheese.  We waited for the rice to cool completely by laying it out in sheet trays. And finally, the time had come! Time to make the balls!

Here is a video of Aunt Ro explaining the technique:

Untitled from Allison Caruana on Vimeo.

Once the balls were done, we dipped them in egg, with a little bit of milk and seasoned breadcrumbs.  And then into the frier! We used a combination of olive oil and vegetable oil. Aunt Ro said you know the oil is hot enough when you throw a little rice scrap into the pot, it sinks to the bottom, does a little dance, and then floats up to the top.  We fried them until they were a nice deep golden brown and rotated them once just so the bottom didn’t burn.

The taste of a freshly fried rice ball is like no other experience! I’m used to eating them re-heated and they don’t have that crispy crunchy exterior like a fresh one. Quite a food nirvana moment for me!

I think the best part of the day, aside from the glorious moment of tasting a fresh rice ball was spending a day with Aunt Ro! She is true Brooklyn (if you couldn’t tell from her accent that video) and is a real ‘say it how it is’ kinda woman.  She’s pretty badass.  In fact she took me to get my first tattoo! And I was so happy I made her proud with my rice- balling skills, I was a natural!

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Piselli e Cipolle de Spaghetti Betty

This has been a recent favorite Italian comfort food of mine. Frozen peas are so easy to keep around and I pretty much always have an onion. My favorite part is when the little peas snuggle up into the shell pasta (in proper Italian the shell is called ‘conchiglie’).

2 strips of bacon, diced, preferably a nice thick slab or applewood smoked
1 onion, diced
A pinch of salt
1 package of frozen peas
1 cup of mini shell pasta
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Fresh cracked pepper
Grated Parmigiano cheese (optional)

Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat for several minutes, until you can feel the heat radiating off of the pan. Add the diced bacon and stir frequently until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan along with any excess bacon grease, but make sure you save a thin layer for the onions (I either pour into a glass jar or run a paper towel over it). Add the diced onions and a pinch of salt. Stir frequently until slightly brown and translucent.

While your bacon and onions are cooking you can multi-task and fill a medium sized pot with water and insert a pasta basket (or be prepared to reuse the water) and the bag of frozen peas. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then remove the peas from the water. At this point you can add the pasta and let cook until desired level of doneness.

Right before you pasta is ready add the bacon back to the onion pan along with the peas and give it a good stir so everyone gets to know each other. Drain the pasta and add to the party.

To finish, I drizzle with a little olive oil and some fresh cracked black pepper. If you are really feeling the need for extra comfort shave some Parmigiano cheese on top. And you are ready to mangia!


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The Year That Was Negroni

If anything has come out of my six-month commitment to the Food & Wine 2012 Cocktail Book it is a new appreciation for The Negroni. Quite frankly, prior to this project I didn’t even know what a Negroni was nor did I have a signature cocktail. I was leaning towards a gin-based cocktail, but it wasn’t until that fateful day in the test kitchen when the stars aligned and I found my one true love…cocktail love that is.

Unfortunately I’m a little late on The Negroni bandwagon. This past year was deemed ‘Year of the Negroni’ by the Camapri brand. Classified as an aperitivo, an amari or even a bitter, Campari is made from more than 60 ingredients, including herbs and botanicals like orange peels, rhubarb, wormwood, pomegranate, quinine, clove and ginseng. And for clever publicity they created a whole year to celebrate this supporting-role ingredient to the classic drink rising from the cocktail Renaissance.

The origin of The Negroni is said to have taken place in Florence, Italy around 1920 when Count Camillo Negroni asked his bartender to strengthen his Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda). The bartender subbed out the club soda with gin and a star was born. The Count loved it so much his family founded a distillery where they produced a ready-made version of the drink. One of the earliest reports of the drink came from Orson Welles while working in Rome in 1947. He described a new drink called the Negroni, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
Nowadays the all the cool kids are throwin’ ’em back. There is a bar called Jasper’s Corner Tap in San Francisco that even serves them on tap! Giada De Laurentiis was sipping on one at Meatball Maddess this past year as Campari was one of the sponsors to the event.

For me, the only way I can develop a taste for something is if I force it for a little while in the beginning and then I eventually come around. (For all who know me I will NOT be trying this technique with truffles. I do hope to one day try this with Whiskey.) In my early 20s  I went to one of those beer festivals and had to drink my $50 admission fee worth in beer. You just get on a line and hope it’s good. When you go through college drinking the cheap stuff it’s a little bit of a leap to find a taste for some well crafted beers, that I now can’t live without. Recently I’ve learned to drink coffee black, mostly because I can’t keep milk around long enough between one weekend to the next when I want a cup of coffee after rolling out of bed at 10AM. Also the milk situation at Food & Wine is a little temperamental and boy do they like their coffee strong. So alas my love for bitters is born!

A final contributing factor to my love of The Negroni is it’s Italian roots. There is something familiar about the bitter aromatics that soothes my soul. It brings me back to a former life when I lived on a farm on the Italian countryside and tended to chickens, rolled pasta by hand and had dried meats and peppers hanging form my porch. And the only remedy for a hot day in the Sicilian sun was a swig of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari with a fresh orange peel from the tree in the yard.

Below is the recipe for my hearts content. But let me warn you it is VERY easy to screw up an equal parts cocktail. A bad gin or a sweet vermouth that hasn’t been refrigerated or even the slightest mis-proportion can throw the whole thing off. I mean if you want a little more gin or whatever go for it, but be careful with the vermouth. Over New Years in Puerto Rico I had my fill of sweet rum cocktails and asked three times for the bartender to make me a Negroni. I was ready to jump over the bar in my mini skirt and high heels and take over. Also, The Negroni is best served with a large chunk of ice (as seen here) as to not dilute but still keep it cold. Happy Drinking!

1 1/2 ounce gin
1 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1 1/2 ounce Camapri
1 orange twist for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all of the ingredients except the garnish. Shake well and strain into a rocks glass. Serve over a large piece of ice and garnish with the orange twist.


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NY Wine and Food Festival 2011

Now that the dust has settled from all of the New York Wine and Food Festival hoop-la I’ve had a chance to reflect and do a blog post.  Each year that I participate I come away from the festival with a unique experience and renewed love for food discovery and elastic waistline pants.

Saturday night was spent celebrating ‘Brooklyn’s Bounty’ with the loveable Adam Richman from ‘Man vs. Food.’  You heard it here ladies and gentleman he is my new celebrity crush.  A good-ole Brooklyn boy who loves to eat, loves to laugh and likes to be challenged by his food.  What more could a girl and ask for.  Not to mention my mother would love shoveling food in his mouth!

The event was sponsored by Edible Brooklyn who I feel is just starting to get their feet wet in the big event planning scene.  Edible magazine has shot through roof with their recent James Beard win for their ‘Publication of the Year’ Award while only a few years ago sat collecting dust in the corner of neighborhood coffee shops.

A rumored 350 people attended this cocktail-party-style jammed into this beautiful historical Green Building with jaw dropping chandeleers in the middle of Carroll Gardens.  The good thing was there were no lines for food and by the end of three hours you were quite satisfied with selections.  The trick is to drink moderately to make more room for the food.  We did do one Jameson pickle back shot which was strategically located next to McClures Pickles.

Nestled in the back corner of the room was  D. Coluccio & Sons,  a fixture in my exsistence as an Italian-American.  The name Coluccio has been thrown around my house for as long as I can remember.  No holiday or family gathering would be complete without an antipasto spread from Coluccio’s.  There were countless Christmas mornings, fresh from opening gifts from Santa that I’d then move on to unwrapping and opening containers of olives, marniated mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and stuffed peppers to arrange on the antipasto platter.  Followed by rolling slices of provolone and cutting up my other love in this life, Parmigano Reggiano cheese.

I have to give credit to vendors who sign up for these banquet style events.  You really have to think about your execution and your audience.  As much as you want to impress your guests and make them remember you, head cheese and sardines aren’t a big seller.  Our biggest dissapointment was Bark Hot Dogs didn’t give us a hot dog!  Some lobster roll thing…c’mon guys.  Some of the best food came from the food trucks that were parked outside.  Food Freaks (only open 3 weeks!) had this insane grilled cheese and tomato soup with some crispy brussel sprouts.  And Papa Perrone’s rice balls were right on point.

An overall great event, but I’d tell Edible to set up more high-top tables – the drink in one hand and food in the other is still a challenge for most humans.

Link to all participants


Sunday was Carts in the Parc!  I remembered my camera for this one!  This was a truly great event possibly the best I’ve ever been to in my three year run.  The best of the best NYC food trucks parked along the curb of FoodParc at Eventi Hotel in Chelsea.  FoodParc is a modern-day food court and in the back is a really nice garden area with a huge big screen TV.  This event was hosted by Andrew Zimmern, another cool dude but I was happy stalking Adam Richman who showed up again as well as some other big name foodies like Chef Michael White from Marea, and Angelo Sosa from Top Chef.  I didn’t have one off-putting thing from this food marathon.  Our endurance was definitely up from the night before.  The NY Dosa Cart won my heart.  This is authentic street food and an original to whole food truck craze.  I did a little photo time lapse of the lentil pancake with the spicy potatoes and vegetable chutney.  The Biryani Cart another orignal authentic was also delcious and won fan favorite for the day.  The pictures say it all so enjoy!

Link to all participants

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Shel Silverstein liked Italian Food!

While the beloved childhood poet Shel Silverstein has been gone nearly twelve years now, a series of unpublished poems lives on in a new book called Every Thing On It that has  just been released by Silverstein’s family.

I remember as a child in grammar school the famous duo  A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, were the only books we’d check out from the school library.  His quirky characters and imaginative artwork translated to smiles and giggles for anyone who read his books.  I also like how many of the poems were short, and there was a sense of accomplishment to an eight-year-old when they could finish a big book like that.

The new book actually contains two new poems about food!  The first a hot dog with everything on it!  And the second entitled Italian Food:

(It’s funnier when you read it out loud)

Italian Food

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops—I think I split my jeani.

Check out the full article at NPR Books

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What I’ve been Up To


Butter: Celebrity Chef Alex Guarnaschelli has a gorgeous dining space and her restaurant week menu was very impressive and delicious.  I peeked into the kitchen and saw Ashley from Top Chef Season 6.  We asked the waiter if she could come out and say hi.  (I told him I was a famous food blogger.)  Apparently she was too slammed in the kitchen so we were denied.  Funny that the kitchen was slammed because she didn’t look busy when I peeked in earlier, and our dessert took so long to come out that the waiter gave us a free glass of wine.

Ciano: After my Meatball Madness event I have been anxiously awaiting the opening of Shae Gallante’s new place, the name taken from one of my favorite wine’s Montepulciano. I became friendly with the Sous Chef Tyler who I’ll always remember re-instated a famous lesson to me (in reference to plating the meatballs) Fingers were meant for burning. Ciano was amazing, rich Italian food with a dining room designed by Vogue.  Tyler also gave us a tour of the upstairs private dining area and wine tasting room.  Reminded me of how the Lion restaurant has these secrete little private dining room spaces.  Of course try the meatball appetizer but don’t get the Tiramisu.  The pastry chef isn’t Italian.  Go for the Pistachio Cake with cherries, butternut squash and farmer’s cheese gelato.

James: A seriously delayed attempt at me getting to Brooklyn.  Named after the owner’s grandfather this charming little spot was participating in Brooklyn’s restaurant week.  I know a place is good when I’m desperately torn between the pre-fix and ordering off the regular menu.   But the spinach and escarole soup with garlic chips and ricotta mousse was a fine first course followed by a roast pork loin with mushroom fennel stuffing and a been stew.



Is Local Agriculture Good for the Environment: The Hidden Costs of Food in New York City at the Museum of the City of NY

First of all I hate getting up to this place, dam you upper east side.  You have to walk through this seedy neighborhood on 106th street until you finally see Central Park in the distance.  Anyway, the lecture was packed.  The panel included:

Gabrielle Langholtz, editor of Edible Manhattan, and moderator

Peter Hoffman, chef and owner of Savoy

James E. McWilliams, author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little, Brown, 2009)

David Owen, author of Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability (Riverhead, 2009);

Jennifer Small, owner and farmer from Flying Pigs

The main point was the debate between using more land to raise better product and feed fewer people, or use less land (factories) to produce more food of a lesser, cheaper quality.   Moderator Gabrielle Langholtz, to me is a trusted news source of publishing and advertising wholesome and sustainable food.  Edible Magazine,  is a place I go for advice on trying to live locally and greener.  With all her might she tried to get hard answers out of the panel.  What do we do?  What is the answer?  All seemed to say, ‘It’s a complicated question’ and I’m not sure we really got anywhere.  There were a lot of environmental terms that got thrown around that went over my head.  But I did relate to Peter Hoffman when he said, (paraphrased) I can buy the local trout from Brooklyn, but it won’t taste as good as the salmon I could get shipped from Alaska.  But ya know what, I have a good relationship with that salmon fisherman, he comes from a long line of responsible fisherman and while the carbon footprint might be greater, I’m getting a better product with a responsible undertone.

It seemed on more than one occasion the answer was to eat more vegetables.  The pig farmer even chimed in and said after years of raising pigs she has found herself eating less meat.  Mostly because she savors it more.  And on a little tangent, there was an episode of the Fabulous Beekman Boys where they slaughtered two pigs.  It was obvious that they developed a personal relationship with Porky and Bess and have more respect for the meat and meals provided by them.  

Hopefully one of these days I’ll finish Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and move on to James McWilliam’s Just Food as there were multiple questions from the audience that seemed to be easily answered by reading a passage from the book.

Personally, I go half and half.  I look for cage-free eggs, but in these cold winter months I’ll buy produce from Mexico.  I support local farmers not only for the mission but for their entrepreneurial spirit.  I’m looking into joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and maybe buying some meat from the farmers market this summer.


An Evening With Amanda Hesser

Amanda Hesser was a food writer for the NY Times and has now started a new food blog called Food52. She is most noted for a piece she wrote where she bashed the food of Emeril.  Somehow I’m not surprised.  She’s been working hard at Food52 which is a place for people to share recipes.  The best community recipes are tested, awarded and then eventually made into a cookbook.  The first book was recently published The Essential New York Times Cookbook. I was able to get some answers out of her as an aspiring food writer.  She said the best writing samples to submit is your own original work.  Which would be my blog.  Also, she recommended reading material that is outside of your category to help you become a better writer.       


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Sausage Fest!

One of the first things my chef said when he was doing the sausage stuffing demo was, “There’s a pervert in every class, who’s it gonna be?”  Honestly, when it was all said and done, it was probably the most phallic cooking experience I’ve ever had…and kinda liked it!  First off, to learn how to make these little chunks of love was really interesting for me as the Bratwursts are always part of my Oktoberfest Celebration, and spicy Italian sausage is one of the pillars of my Italian food pyramid.  Also, after seeing the different varieties each team was making it was great inspiration to really be creative with your fillings.

Here are some photos from class:


The Spicy Italian Sausage mix, yes those white things are cubes of fat.











Grinding. The plastic over-top not only prevents your meat from flying out into unwanted areas of the table, but can also be fed through the grind to clean out the machine.











Getting the stuffer prepped with the casing...which is the lining of pig intestine.











Here he comes!! This was the Bratwurst, hence the pale pink color.











Sausage everywhere! Twisting them to create links reminded me of how you make balloon animals. I wonder if there is a connection...?











And our end product. A delicious sausage and pepper sandwich!

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Italian Eats in Boston

Thanks to some great recommendations from my culinary school friends I was able to take advantage of some fantastic food while visiting Boston.  We took a break from a historical morning on the Freedom Trail to have some lunch at Carmen’s in the North Square.  We walked in to a charming little dining room with a wine bar in the front overlooking the historic Italian streets with wine bottles lining the window sill.  While reviewing the menu I noticed the waitress unveil a pasta dish a few tables down.  Through the dim light I couldn’t quite make out what it was, but it looked like she cut into something to reveal the contents of the dish and steamy aroma of deliciousness.  The historical landmarks of the morning quickly took a back seat as I was captivated by this culinary wonderment.  The dish was a baked penne with little meatballs in a roasted tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella served in parchment paper or in the culinary world we call it – papillote.  basically, the pasta if half-cooked and then placed in this little parchment paper pocket with all the other ingredients and finished off in the oven.  The packed it served to the guest and then opened at the table by the server to make for a beautiful presentation as well as release the hearty aroma of the baked pasta and tomatoes.  An aroma that I wish I could bottle up in a perfume bottle!  Between the pasta and the wine I reached my culinary euphoria for the day and enjoyed the rest of the Trail rejuvenated.  Word of caution:  If you are thinking about going there for dinner be sure to make a reservation in advance.  I managed to catch a glimpse of the waitress opening the reservation book and it was packed!!

You may remember last year when I did my cannoli (My Trip to Boston) taste test and promised the next time I returned to Boston I’d have the Lobster Tail.  I never break a promise!  As a New Yorker, I’m programmed to have a high tolerance for waiting on long lines for things.  And this along with the cappucino was worth it!

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Curtain Opens on Eataly

For about a year now, I have been stalking the opening of Mario Batali and company’s Eataly.  A mecca for a little Italian girl living in Chelsea.  After writing a very thoughtful cover letter and sending my resume I received a call for an interview!  I diligently did my homework on all the Eataly’s across Italy and stepped into the wine cellar of Del Posto for my interview.  Armed with all the right answers the man who interviewed me was very interested in my background, but my majestic visions of this Italian wonderland deflated like a balloon after he called it a grocery store on more than one occasion and the best place he thought to put me was at a customer service desk.  The position I thought I was interviewing for was a sales job, and I figured I would be the cheese master, or the knowledge behind all olive oil or something like that.  Alas, they offered me a job at the pasta bar for $10 an hour.  I think at the time, what was holding be back the most was a complicated vision in my mind’s eye of what this place was going to be like.  And of course the $10 an hour and abandoning CitiField before the season was over.

As usual the universe has it’s way of intervening into my life’s decisions.  That very same day of my interview I was on the phone with one of my guests for the Brooklyn Cyclones and she mentioned the DDL Food Show a similar concept to Eatly, that crashed and burned in the 80s.  We talked about the major carbon foot print the store will have and not to mention some of the bad press Batli has received about underpaying his staff.  Personally from a marketing standpoint is there even a target audience for a place like this?  The price points will have a major impact on how well it does.  I can see it maybe doing well at lunch time in the cooler months when standing on line at the Shake Shack suddenly isn’t too appealing.  From a neighborhood standpoint a couple blocks away the new Trader Joes just opened and in the other direction there is Whole Foods.  And a lot of times for me, the little Garden of Eden is most convenient.       

Time will tell, and I will definitely follow-up next week when I visit the store first-hand.

Until then here is an article from Eater with some pictures.  The space looks nice and the thought of a vegetable butcher sounds fun!


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Meeting Chefs – I’m star-struck

I finally crossed ‘A Voce’ off my list of restaurants last night!  Missy Robbins has been all over the foodie press these days, even on the cover of Food and Wine Magazine!  I have been especially drawn to her as she is a graduate of the same culinary school as me!  Dinner was obviously amazing but I was more excited to get the chance to meet Missy!  I really didn’t think she would be in the restaurant but I caught her paying a visit to the table next to us.  My heart beating out of my chest and Scott, my dining partner looking at me like I was a nut job, I asked the waiter if she could come by.  With a slightly stained chef coat and blue jeans, the down-to-earth care-free chick was really friendly, modest and diplomatic about her favorite menu items. 

What we ate:

cows milk ricotta, extra virgin olive oil, mint
thyme, chilies

almond shaped pasta, guinea hen sausage,  morel mushrooms, pecorino 

Goat Cheese and Proscutto Ravioli with pistachio nuts, and shaved leeks

Dorade in a lite chili sauce over a bed of escarole

And dessert!!  Which we enjoyed outside with a glass of port wine on a comfortable lounge-style couch and the soundtrack of New York City’s Flatiron district.

Zuppa Inglese
gianduja mousse, chocolate cake, hazelnut brittle

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