Fall brings with it a lot of root vegetables, which generally I like. Except for beets. I’ve never been a fan. They taste ok but they look like a mess to work with. After an over-zealous shopping spree at a farmer’s market, I found myself staring at two beets in my fridge wondering what to do with them. I was pretty much resigned to giving them to my mom, who loves beet salad, when I found a way to work them into one of my favourite Italian dishes – arancini – and it’s a win-win situation.
Arancini are balls of plain risotto, breaded and fried until crispy. You’ll usually find meat, cheese, peas and/or sauce in the centre. My favourite arancini from a bakery near my parent’s place are about four inches wide and are a meal on their own. I haven’t mastered that recipe just yet, but these arancini are a good stand-in as an appetizer or snack. The beet flavour is mellow and slightly sweet and the colour makes for a surprising first bite. Enjoy!
Beet Risotto Arancini
To make the risotto:
2 red beets
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup minced red onion
2½ cups arborio rice
7 cups chicken stock
5 tablespoons grated parmigiano cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
To make arancini:
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
oil for frying
When I was younger, I distinctly remember the days after Halloween as muted ones. They didn’t have the zest and excitement of the black and orange candy feast of October 31, that was for sure. And truly your stomach takes days to recover from that onslaught of goodies that, though it pains you, you must keep eating. For the record, I always left the Smarties behind.
But it was more than just the candy hangover and life in ordinary clothes that changed the mood. My grandparents, who lived just next door, would light a candle that would stay on for all of November. It sat on the dining room table and you could see it from the hall, the front door, the kitchen while we ate dinner. It became this haunting little light that I don’t think for years I understood properly. They would also gather up flowers and cemetery candles (the type surrounded by tall glass and bearing the picture of Jesus or a saint) and head to the graves of relatives. Unfortunately, with their passing, I understand more about the All Souls Day traditions that fall on November 2 which include attending church and visiting the cemetery to remember the loved ones we’ve lost. (more…)
Happy World Pasta Day! Ok, I’m a day early, but let’s say I’m celebrating all week! The cold weather has me craving some comfort food, and for Italians, that pretty much always starts with pasta.
In honour of World Pasta Day on October 25th, I’m trying a new pasta I’ve never made before: semolina cavatelli. I also whipped up a new pesto that I’ve fallen in love with. The result? Homemade cavatelli with roasted tomato pesto.
I’m still working on getting pasta perfect every time, so making a new dough was a challenge for me. In my first attempt at cavatelli the dough was way too soft and the pasta just smushed out of the machine. It was a mess. Now, I’ve figured it out and the key is to keep it simple and, for cavatelli, make it a harder dough. Many thanks to Aurora Importing for the lovely cavatelli maker I won from them in a contest earlier this year. Apparently you can make cavatelli by hand, but the machine sure did speed up the process. So did making the dough in the food processor. I know it’s not traditional, but dinner was ready in an hour and it was all homemade. Plus, the dough worked out great and the cavatelli were delicious!
Homemade Cavatelli with Roasted Tomato Pesto
1 pound durum wheat semolina flour (preferably fine grain)
1 cup very cold water
Roasted tomato pesto
1 cup roasted tomatoes or sundried tomatoes
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup grated parmigiana cheese
1 tablespoon dried Italian oregano
4 tablespoons olive oil
Should we always be looking forward? Is it a waste of time to look back at where we came from? Sometimes, in the process of doing this blog, I ask myself these two questions. How much of our community and culture is about looking back, preserving the old? If we focus on the future, what are we working towards? If you have any opinions on this, share them in the comments.
In the meantime, today, I’m looking at the past as I stumbled upon more vintage Italian-Canadian photos from Simon Fraser University of early Italian immigrants to Canada. If you missed my first post of photos from these archives, you can see it here.
Today we welcome our first guest writer, Jerry Buccilli, a 2nd generation Italian from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Growing up Italian
There are two very old proverbs, “La cucina piccolo fal la casa grande,” which means, “A small kitchen makes the house big,” and the second, “una buona mamma vale cento maestre,” which translates to “a good mother is worth a hundred teachers.”
I wanted to quote these sayings because they hold a particular meaning to me. We immigrated to Canada when I was seven and after moving from one apartment to another we finally found a house to settle in. It was small 1,100 square foot bungalow tucked away in an old Italian neighborhood in Welland, Ontario, but it was warm, cozy and it was home. It also had the tiniest kitchen you ever saw. But my mamma, who ranks amongst some of the best cooks I’ve ever known, would always be cooking up a storm in there. Using the little resources she had, she made due and created her little feasts. The food, the music and the good laughter and conversation that emanated from our kitchen was the focal point of our lives. It was like mamma was showing her love as only she could. Through food. It’s a romantic notion to be sure, but that’s exactly what it was. A love story.
For us Italians growing our own fruits and vegetables, making fresh bread and our own home-made pasta, making wine, sausages and canning our own preserves….or waking up to home-made Sunday sauce (the smells of garlic, tomatoes and braised meat were oh, so intoxicating)…this was about carrying on a love story with tradition. Handing down recipe after recipe, generation after generation. Each family had its own time-honoured secrets to share.