Suppli con Prosciutto e Basilico

I recently bought a shiny new deep fryer and couldn’t wait to try it out on this dish. This is my variation on a classic Italian offering called Suppli al Telefono, which are deep-fried croquettes of risotto stuffed with mozzarella, typically served with tomato sauce. The name, I am given to understand, translates as “telephone wires” and derives from the way the melted cheese looks as you pull these beautiful creatures apart. They make amazing appetizers or even the centerpiece of your dinner plate.

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For this version I decided to add some prosciutto and fresh basil (pardon me if I butchered the Italian language as I tried to name the recipe), but you’re free to choose whatever fillings make you happy. Maybe try them with some other kinds of fresh herbs, or some crisp-fried pancetta, or some seasoned chicken, or maybe a different cheese like fontina, or something more robust like gorgonzola. Use your fertile imagination. Just one small caveat – if you put meat in them, you will want to pre-cook it because the deep-frying process may not do that sufficiently from a food safety perspective. Also, whatever you decide to use for your fillings, be sure that the size and amount allows you to enclose them completely when you shape the suppli.

This recipe involves three distinct steps: 1. Making a risotto; 2. Filling and shaping the suppli; and 3. Deep-frying. Here are your ingredients to make an even dozen of these little beauties, which I am going to call 4-6 servings, depending on how hungry your guests are.

  • 2 tbsp. whole butter
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ½ cups Arborio rice (or similar risotto-style rice)
  • 5 cups chicken stock, hot
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • ¾ cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 12 cubes of fresh mozzarella, about ½” each
  • 6 leaves of fresh basil, cut in half
  • 4 oz. small-diced prosciutto
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • Tomato sauce for dipping

Step 1 – Make the Risotto

In a deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Sweat the onion until tender, then add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds until aromatic. Next add the rice and mix it thoroughly so that the butter coats it evenly. Using a ½-cup ladle, start adding the hot chicken stock one scoop at a time, stirring thoroughly each time until all of the stock is absorbed into the rice before adding more. After all of the stock has been incorporated, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook another 10 minutes or so, until your risotto has reached a creamy al dente consistency. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the fresh herbs and grated cheese, and season to taste with the salt and pepper.

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Lastly, stir the beaten eggs into the mixture until completely blended. As you can easily imagine, this recipe would be a perfect use for leftover risotto if you happen to have some on hand – just be sure to blend in the eggs as a binder so the rice holds together for you. The next step is to transfer the cooked risotto to a clean flat surface such as a baking sheet or large cutting board, where you will need to spread it out evenly to cool.

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Step 2 – Filling and Shaping

While your risotto is cooling, prepare your fillings. Since I am using prosciutto I decided to pre-cook it – a simple sauté to render some of the fat and add a bit of crispness. Otherwise it was just a matter of cutting up some cheese cubes and plucking a bit of fresh basil from my outdoor planter.

Divide the risotto into 12 equal portions. Using a large flat spatula, lift a portion into one hand, then use the other to add the fillings and shape it into a ball, taking care to enclose all the fillings completely – especially the cheese since that will foul your oil if it leaks out when you deep-fry later.

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Technically true Italian suppli should be egg-shaped croquettes, but I found it easier to just keep them round. As each one is shaped, roll it in the bread crumbs until fully coated, and set it aside. When all 12 are done, you’re ready for the final step.

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Step 3 – Deep Frying

Although there’s no hard rule that says you must use a deep-fryer for this recipe, let me heartily recommend that you do – it’s just easier and will give you better results. If you don’t have one, use a deep straight-sided skillet with enough oil to completely cover the suppli when they are immersed. Either way, you will want your oil preheated to about 350°. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding, and cook the suppli in the hot oil for about 4-5 minutes until they reach the desired level of coloration. Pull them out and let them drain while you finish the others. It’s not a bad idea to keep them warm in a low oven while you continue to work.

When the frying is done you will want to serve these delicious babies up fresh and hot. I used a favorite tomato sauce for this dish, but a nice garlic-butter-herb sauce would also make an amazing accompaniment. Whatever you choose, dive right in and munch them down with a big happy grin on your face. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Steak Monticello

Very recently a dear friend took a vacation to Virginia. While there she visited the Thomas Jefferson estate at Monticello – which, by the by, is a very cool place to visit if you’ve never had the privilege. Anyway, since she knows I love to cook she brought me back a packet of Monticello Herb Melange, a dried herb mixture from the same plants that have been cultivated at the estate for generations. My cook’s mind immediately set about trying to decide on a fitting use for such a worthy gift, and I believe I found it with today’s offering, Steak Monticello.

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As a preliminary matter I thought it would be good to let you know what is in this particular dried herb blend, at least to the best of my ability to reconstruct it. The proportions may not be exact but this should at least get you into the ballpark. The following should make about one-half cup of the dried mixture:

  • 2 tbsp. parsley
  • 2 tbsp. summer savory
  • 4 tsp. basil
  • 3 tsp. majoram
  • 2 tsp. tarragon
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. mint

For this recipe I chose a pair of New York strip steaks, and used about half of the herb mixture (about ¼ cup or 4 tbsp). I did two different things with it: a wet rub for the steaks to apply before cooking, and an herb-butter sauce to pour on prior to serving.

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To make the wet rub, use 3 tbsp. of the dried herbs. In a bowl, mix with 3 tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 tsp. of kosher salt and a few turns of cracked pepper.

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Preheat your oven to 400.  Dry the steaks thoroughly with paper towels, and preheat a cast iron skillet with just enough oil to coat the bottom, until the oil is nearly at the smoke point.  Rub the oil-herb mixture onto the top and bottom of the steaks, then place them in the hot skillet to sear.

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After 4-5 minutes a nice crust should form on the bottom. Flip the steaks, sear for a couple minutes on the bottom, use tongs as you also sear the edges, then toss the skillet into your hot oven until the steaks reach an internal temperature of about 135 – about 10 minutes depending on how thick your cuts are.

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While the steaks are finishing in the oven, make your butter sauce. For this I used:

  • ¼ cup whole butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. dried Monticello herb mixture
  • 1-2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 small sprig of fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste

Just combine all of these ingredients in a small saucepan and melt the butter over low heat until everything is well blended and the flavors are thoroughly infused, and hold it warm.

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When your steaks are finished in the oven, remove them to a plate and tent them loosely with aluminum foil to rest for about 10 minutes.  Then you’re ready to serve with some of the butter sauce on top.  We plated up with a side of pan-fried russet potatoes and some oven-roasted eggplant and zucchini. Let there be no doubt that we munched these beautiful babies right down with a big happy grin on our faces. Many thanks to Brenda for her delicious gift. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Cloud Eggs – A Cool New Way to Brunch

During a recent bit of web-surfing I stumbled across a supremely cool technique for making eggs that I had never seen before. Evidently it’s all the rage in Britain these days. I thought it would fun to share it briefly, because it’s super easy to make cloud eggs.

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To make brunch for two people you’ll need:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400, then separate the egg yolks from the whites and reserve them. The whites will go into a mixing bowl, where you want to whip them until they form stiff peaks – basically a sugarless meringue. Gently fold in the chopped green onions.

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Next, line a baking sheet with foil and give it a light shot of nonstick spray oil. Spoon the egg white mixture into four equal mounds, and make an indentation in the top of each one. Bake the whites until they begin to turn a light brown on top, which takes about 6-7 minutes.

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Pull them out of the oven, carefully place an egg yolk into the indentation on each mound, then put them back into the oven for another 6-7 minutes – just long enough for the color to deepen a bit and to heat the yolks while still leaving them nice and runny.

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That’s all there is to it. Gently use a spatula to transfer the cooked eggs to a plate, season to taste with salt and pepper, and then munch it down with a big happy grin on your face. Who knew delicious and creative could be so simple? Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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North African Brunch

If you have even an ounce of culinary curiosity in you, chances are very good you have encountered something like today’s dish along the way. There are a variety of cultures, especially in the Mediterranean region of the world, that each have their own version of baked eggs over a bed of sautéed vegetables. I have, for example, both Greek and Italian cookbooks that include some form of this recipe, but you can also find it in Lebanon and much of the Middle East. This particular adaptation is called Shakshouka, and is common in North Africa as a breakfast or light lunch.

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Here are your ingredients to serve 4 people:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 red onions, sliced into thin crescents
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp. red chili powder (cayenne or Kashmiri chili)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. za’atar spice
  • Toasted bread/crostini for dipping

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 1-2 minutes until they become aromatic. Toss in the onions, garlic, chili powder and salt, and sauté until the onions are tender, which will take 5-10 minutes. Next add the peppers and sauté them for a few minutes, then reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and let the mixture cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the pepper/onion mixture is very tender, add the tomatoes plus a generous pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper. Continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes, then use a spoon to make four holes in the mixture, and crack an egg into each one. Sprinkle with the za-atar spice and another pinch of black pepper, then pop the skillet into the oven to bake until the eggs are set – about 10 minutes. Be careful not to overbake the eggs, because you will want the yolks to stay runny for optimal dipping pleasure.

A quick note about za’atar spice: it sounds exotic but it really isn’t. It’s just a name for a blend of commonly available dried herbs and spices like thyme, oregano, sesame seeds and sumac. You can find it at some stores, or just look it up online and make your own.

Anyway, here’s what you get when your skillet comes out of the oven. Dip some crunchy crostini or thick toast into the runny eggs and munch it down with a big happy grin on your face. Until next time: happy brunching, and eat well, my friends!

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Dave’s Chicken Marsala

For years I have been on a quest for the perfect Marsala sauce.  Often it is my test dish to evaluate any new Italian restaurant – although admittedly I go to precious few of those anymore because frankly I like my own stuff better.  Anyway, to borrow from the old U2 song, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  Once about 7 or 8 years ago I thought I had it, or at least close enough, but I was never able to recreate that sauce afterward – like a dumb [bleep] I was so enraptured with my own handiwork that I didn’t think to write the recipe down at the time.  So, perfection continues to elude me, although tonight’s dish is a worthwhile stab at it.

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What follows is my own concoction, born of years of searching and experimenting. No perfect by any stretch but I think you’ll like it, and it’s pretty simple to make. Here are your ingredients to make a lovely dinner for two:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, pounded to ½” thickness
  • Kosher salt
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • 2 tbsp. whole butter, divided
  • 1 cup cremini or portabella mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup beef stock
  • ¾ cup Marsala wine
  • Chiffonade of fresh basil for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium flame. While the oil is heating up, season the chicken breasts with kosher salt and dredge them in flour – this will keep them moist when you pan fry them. Place the floured breasts in the skillet, top side down, and cook to a light golden brown, which should take about 5 minutes, maybe a tad more.  Turn them and cook for a similar amount of time on the other side, then remove them to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.

Next add 1 tbsp. of the butter and saute the mushrooms until they are well browned and most of the water in them has released and cooked off. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about two minutes, then add the garlic and continue sautéing about 30 more seconds. Deglaze the skillet with the beef stock, using a wooden spoon to scrape all the fond (the brown, tasty crunchy bits) off the bottom – that’s pure flavor that is not to be wasted. Next add the Marsala and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Turn off the heat and finish the sauce by swirling in the other 1 tbsp. of butter.  Return the chicken to the skillet to reheat.

With that, you’re done and ready to plate it up.  Make sure you pour the sauce and shrooms over the top, and garnish with the fresh basil.  We served with a side of capellini pasta and oven-roasted asparagus. The result was delicious and we munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces. This may not be the perfect Marsala sauce (if such a mythical creature actually exists), but I think you’ll be pleased nonetheless. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Thai Night Redux

So Lolly’s naturopathic doctor put her on a rather annoying elimination diet aimed at determining whether she is allergic to dairy, gluten or any number of other nefarious substances.  She brought home a list of all the things that she has to avoid eating for 30 days.  Holy mackerel!  My initial response when I read the list was “How in the world do you expect me to cook around that?”  (For the record, Lolly can eat mackerel, holy or otherwise – it wasn’t on the list).  Being the ever-dutiful hubby that I am, I started combing through cookbooks looking for suitable options to accommodate my sweetie for 30 long, dark, dreary, culinarily-stunted days.

It didn’t take me long to conclude that Thai food actually lines up pretty well with her dietary restrictions, in part because instead of dairy products it makes liberal use coconut milk in soups and curries.  If, like us, you spend any amount of time in Thai restaurants, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve sampled tonight’s dish, Massamun curry chicken. It’s a long-time favorite of ours.

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This is actually a supremely quick and easy option, as long as you can lay hands on a few off-the-beaten-path ingredients that are most likely available at your local Asian market. Luckily, we denizens of the Cincinnati metro area have access to Jungle Jim’s International Market, so I can find pretty much any weird thing you can think of (including fresh emu eggs at $45 a pop, if that’s your thing).  Anyway, here are your ingredients to make 4 hearty servings.

  • 3 tbsp. coconut oil
  • ½ cup Massamun curry paste
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1 lb. boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced across the grain
  • 12 oz. potato, cut into ½” cubes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • ½ cup roasted, unsalted cashews
  • 1 cup water or chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp. tamarind paste
  • 2 tbsp. sugar or agave nectar
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh Thai basil for garnish
  • Cooked jasmine rice

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In a deep skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium flame, and stir in the curry paste. Whisk in the coconut milk until the paste is completed blended.  Add the chicken slices and bring the mixture up to a boil, then back it down to a simmer.  Stir in the potato cubes, onion, cashews and water/stock, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, which should only take about 15 minutes.  Finish the dish by stirring in the tamarind and the sugar/agave, and adjust the seasoning with Kosher salt.

Now you’re ready to plate up with some cooked jasmine rice (or wicked, nasty, foul, heinous brown rice for people on annoying elimination diets – just sayin’).  Either way, sprinkled some chopped fresh Thai basil on top, and do what we came here to do – munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  This recipe has a pleasant blend of sweet and spicy, with enough chunky goodness to satisfy.  By all means give it a try – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Until next we meet: Eat well, my friends!

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A Pair of Thai Classics

A couple months ago Lolly and I took a Caribbean cruise. On the night before departure we were in Cocoa Beach and visited a charming little family-run Thai restaurant called Thai Fuku. While there, Lolly sampled a pair of classic Thai dishes, one a soup and the other a salad. She found herself enraptured with the amazing array of complex but well-blended flavors, and has been bugging me ever since then to make them for her at home. So for tonight’s offering I present to you Tom Kha soup and Nam Sod salad.

There are probably as many different variations on these recipes as there are grandmothers in Thailand, so what follows is not intended to be the definitive pronouncement on the subject by any stretch of the imagination — just one of many possible interpretations of these dishes.  Let’s start with the soup first. Here are your ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. red curry paste
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 large stalk of lemongrass, cut in several pieces
  • 6 thin slices of fresh ginger
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 lb. boneless chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 cup white mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh Thai basil, chopped

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium flame and stir in the curry paste, cooking until the aroma releases. Whisk in the stock and coconut milk, making sure the curry is well blended. Add the lemongrass, ginger, chilies, lime juice and fish sauce, and bring it up to simmer. Add the chicken and simmer another 15 minutes. Lastly, add the mushrooms and basil, and cook another 5 minutes. Remove the ginger and lemongrass, and you’re ready to serve.

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While your soup is cooking you can work on the salad, which consists of three main components: the bed of lettuce, the cooked chicken, and the dressing. Here is what you will need to make 2 hearty, satisfying salads:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
  • ¼ cup thin-sliced red onion
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp. chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup shredded fresh ginger
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, seeded and chopped
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups water or chicken stock
  • 8 oz. ground chicken breast
  • ¼ cup roasted cashews
  • 6 leaves of Boston lettuce

For the chicken, I recommend that you get half of a boneless breast and chop it up in your food processor. Alternatively you can buy ground chicken at the store, but that will have been run through a meat grinder and will have that signature stringy look that doesn’t work great for this presentation.

In a large bowl, combine all but the last four ingredients, and mix well to create your dressing. In a deep skillet, bring the water or stock to a boil and add the chicken. Cook it through, which should only take a few minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked chicken to the dressing bowl and toss well. Add the cashews and stir through. Arrange three lettuce leaves on each plate, spoon half of the chicken mixture onto each plate, and garnish with some fresh cilantro leaves.

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There you have it, a pair of delicious traditional Thai dishes that will have your taste buds dancing with joy – assuming you’re not to averse to a little spice. If so, you can back down some of the ingredients in that category to balance things more to your taste. We munched these down with big happy grins all around, and look forward to doing it again soon.  Until next time: Eat well, my friends!