Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Squashy Risotto

It's getting to be risotto weather.  Or am I crazy?   Fall just seems kind of risottoey to me.  Kind of like pot roast or stew.  And when you're making your risotto with butternut squash, well it just screams autumn.  I've tried making Butternut Squash Risotto before and the result was not what I had hoped for.  But this time, I had a new plan.  The previous time I made it, I peeled, seeded and diced the squash, tossed with a little salt, pepper and olive oil and roasted it.  Then I made a basic risotto and folded the roasted diced squash into it.  I'm not saying it was bad.  But what happened was, when I took the squash out of the oven, I had to taste it.  It was good.  So I had to taste it again.   And well, just to be sure, I had to taste it a few more times.  Quality control is very important.  So by the time I finished tasting and testing, there wasn't much left for the risotto.

This time I'm starting with an around 2 lb butternut squash.  Butternut just happens to be readily available, inexpensive and darn tasty.  But my fave of the winter squashes is by far, the kabocha squash.  But they are not readily available and they are not inexpensive.  But they are delicious.  So either way.  Hell if you want to use acorn or delicata, by all means, feel free.  Cut your squash of choice in half, take out the seeds and place cut side down on a baking sheet with either a little cooking spray or a light coating of oil.

Roast in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  These suckers are hard and they take a long time to cook.  When you take it out the cut side should be caramelized and all kinds of delicious.

Let it cool for a little while.  When it's cool enough to handle, scrape out all the yummy and discard the skin.  Then just mash it up with a fork.  You can puree it in a food processor if you must dirty this annoyingly difficult to clean appliance, but a fork or even a potato masher will do the trick.  And then set aside until later.  It might get watery while it's stilling there waiting to be added, no worries.

Now for the risotto.  It's pretty much standard.  One small onion or two shallots, diced.  I'm using a vidalia onion today because I was *gasp* out of shallots.  How could this be!  No worries, it won't happen again.  Add the diced onion to a heavy glorious pot that already has two Tablespoons of butter and three Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil heating up.  Cook the onions gently on medium heat, just sweating them out.  You don't want to brown them.

While the onions are sweating, in another pot you should have 5 and a half to 6 cups of chicken stock heating up.  If you make this yourself, bravo!   I don't always have time or inclination to make my own, but when I do I freeze it and us it as needed.  This time I'm using my favorite stock in a box, Kitchen Basics.  It's by far the best, has the least amount of sodium and is made right here in good old Cleveland (actually Brecksville) Ohio.

When the onions start to turn translucent, it's time to add the rice.  You will need 1 and a half cups of a short grain rice, preferably Arborio.  Add it straight to the butter/oil and onion mixture and stir it around to coat the rice.

Cook the rice for about 2 minutes on medium heat and then add 1/3 cup of white wine.  Stir the rice and wine until the wine has all but evaporated.  Now it's time to add your heated stock.  You don't want it to boil on that burner, but just come up to heat.   I use a large soup ladle and ladle in one or two each time.  After adding that amount, stir the risotto while the stock gets cooked in.  You don't have to stir constantly.  I know a lot of recipes say to do that, but I don't stir constantly and it turns out beautifully.  You want to stir a lot, don't get me wrong.  And you don't want to walk off and leave the risotto unattended.  But you don't have to give yourself that Tommy John elbow ailment from making risotto.

Don't forget to season as you go.  You know how much sodium you have in your own stock or in whatever store bought stock your using so be as aggressive or passive as necessary based on that.  This whole process should take about 20-25 minutes, adding another ladleful or two of stock after the last ones have cooked in.  And when you're down to your last ladle of stock, add it in and then add in your mashed butternut squash and stir it in.

Thinking about this dish had me going straight out to my garden and picking a nice big bunch of sage.  What says fall more than sage?   And it's a beautiful accompaniment to butternut squash.

Look how pretty my hand looks holding this gorgeous sage.  You would think I was in a commercial for sage the way I'm holding it.  I feel so Vanna.

Clean and chop the sage into ribbons and add to the risotto just about when it's done.

And then as the final step, add three quarters of a cup of grated Parmesan cheese to risotto and stir it in.  Now there is nothing left to do but enjoy it.  Buon Cibo mia Amici.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Food Feuds Comes To Akron

This past week, Michael Symon brought his new Food Network show Food Feuds to Akron and to Barberton.   I didn't hit any of the Barberton festivities but when I heard that the final scenes of the big burger battle between Swenson's and Skyway was taking place at Highbridge Glen park, literally five minutes from my house, I was so there!  So I made a quick call to mom around 9:30 am that went something like this:

Me:  Hey what are you doing?
Mom:  Sleeping.
Me:  Well get up!   Michael Symon is filming his show down the street and I'm coming to get you so we can go.
Mom:  OK!!  OK!!  I'm up, I'm getting ready!
Me:  Be there as soon as I can.

So, five minutes from my house turned into 40 minutes to go pick up mom, 40 minutes back. But she loves Michael so I had to take her.  Supposedly people were going to start gathering at the park around noon, with filming to take place at 2:30 pm.  We got there right at noon and there were maybe 10 people there.  A fireman stopped us and said that the time had moved to 2:00 pm.   I asked him what did.. the filming?  The time to show up?  What?   He had no clue.  So we hung out a little while, then decided to head back to my house and grab a quick snack then head back.  When we went back, there were a few more people than when we had left, but not a lot.  Foolishly, we didn't bring chairs so we had to sit on the grass while we hung out and waiting for something to happen.  Slowly more and more people started to filter in.  But it really wasn't looking good for a big crowd to show up. 

Some of the folks from Swenson's were around, putting up signs and handing out homemade signs to hold up during the show.

We sat there and waited and it seemed like nothing was going to happen.  There were no TV vans, no one was here to set up for a taping.  Nothing.  Then suddenly, Michael Symon was suddenly there, things were happening and it was on!  The crowd had suddenly grown too.

The crew took Michael down to the river where, presumably, they were filming some shots of him most likely introducing what the show as going to be about.  After about 20 minutes or so, we started getting instruction from various people and Michael Symon himself so we found a good spot to stand while the show was being filmed.

Michael is awesome.  I can't say that enough.  He's funny and personable and entertaining.  And come on, that laugh?  Who could resist that laugh. 

It's getting down to the nitty gritty in the battle between Skyway and Swenson's, to Akron institutions of burgerdom.  But first, crowd reaction is needed so we were instructed to cheer and clap on cue, then boo on cue, then act surprised on cue.  We did these takes several times, and then it was Michael's turn to do his.  He has to film each take a minimum of 3 times (more if he messes up, which they all assured us was very likely).  During one of the takes, he got it done absolutely perfectly, they called cut and said, "Perfect!  Let's do it again."  Michael's response to that was, "welcome to television!" 

Michael finally crowns the winner and that's a wrap!  All in all, it was a pretty fun day.  If you want to know who won, you'll have to wait to watch the show.  It airs sometime in October of November.   And if you already know who won, because I do know those beans were spilled already, don't post it here! 

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I'm always looking for new ways to dress up chicken breasts or pork chops.  I marinate.  I grill.  I roast.  I saute.  But more, more!  I want more.  I want more flavor.  I want more variety.  I want it all.   And a gremalota is a sure fire way to have an amazing amount of flavor.  You can put it on steaks, on pork chops, on chicken, on lamb...whatever you want.  It's all good.

So on this day I had averagely thick pork chops to slap on the grill.  And thinking about what I had on hand to dress them up lead me to gremalota joy.  I have tons of parsley in my garden.  I still have garlic from my garden and I always have a pretty big supply of lemons on hand.  And that my friends, is all you need to make a delish gremalota.  It's traditionally served with veal, but why discriminate.  Use it on anything.

Start with a large bunch of flat leaf parsley.

This was a big bunch and when chopped finely, which is what you want to do, it ends up being about half a cup of parsley.  Everything is going to be chopped very finely.   I suppose you can put it in a food processor but if you have a good knife why dirty a food processor?

You will also need the zest of two lemons.

If you don't already have a microplane, I highly suggest you get one.  It's not just for zesting (although it's worth it just for that), but you can also grate cheese, garlic, fresh ginger.  It's a great tool to have in the kitchen.

Then chop the garlic fine.  I used three cloves.  Gremalota is essentially a raw sauce so this garlic is not going to be cooked.  The finer you can chop everything the better.

Mix it all together with about two Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of half a lemon and salt and pepper to taste.  This is not a very drippy sauce.  In fact, I kept it drier on purpose.  The lemon zest already adds a lot of lemon flavor so it doesn't need much more and I don't want it too oily.  Just a touch of oil.   When you take your meat off the grill or out of the broiler or out of the pan, whichever method you use to cook it, spoon the gremalota over the top, and enjoy. 

And enjoy you will!   It is such a huge burst of flavor it will definitely wake up your taste buds!  Buon Cibo mia Amici!!