Pumpkin-Shiitake Risotto with Pancetta and Pignoli Nuts

Recently I was looking around online for a recipe to use up some left over pumpkin puree and I found this. The name intrigued me. Pumpkin and Shiitake? Meh…I wasn’t sure about it.  But then as I read down the list of ingredients I knew that I had to make this and soon. And am I glad that I did! It was perfect. Crunchy pignoli nuts, creamy rice, hints of pancetta, onion and pumpkin and just a bit of tang from the mascarpone (which I doubled).  I had a double serving.

Many people think that risotto is difficult to make or easy to mess up. Lies. You can’t just let it sit on the stove but all that it takes really is attention and stirring. If you haven’t ever tried to make risotto at home I urge you to do so.  There’s almost no prep involved either-just chop up an onion and some mushrooms tops and that’ s about it. Easy peasy.

Risotto is like mashed potatoes. Some like it looser, some like it dryer. I prefer it looser and for to spread a bit when it’s spooned out. If you prefer it dryer continue to cook past when the liquid is absorbed. Be sure to not over cook it though-you do want it to be slightly toothy in the interior of the grain but creamy on the outside. Best to taste as you go.

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Pumpkin-Shiitake Risotto with Pancetta and Pignoli Nuts

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups no salt added chicken stock (I used the stock I made a few weeks ago)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4ozs pancetta, diced large
  • 2 cups shiitake mushroom caps, chopped
  • 1&1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed or put through a press
  • 1 cup Arborio rice, uncooked
  • 1 tsp fresh sage, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 4 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tbsp pignoli nuts
  • 2 tbsp scallions, chipped small

Instructions:

  1. In a small sauce pan bring stock and water to a simmer. Keep it warm over low heat.
  2. Heat a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook about 7 minutes or until crisp, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms, onion, garlic and cook about 5-8 minutes or until tender. Add the rice and sage, cook, stirring for a minute. Add the wine, scrape and brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, and cook until liquid is absorbed.
  3. Add 1 cup warm stock and, stirring continuously, cook until it’s almost entirely absorbed. Repeat with all of the stock.  You can use extra water if needed. About 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat, add the pumpkin and mascarpone and stir to evenly distribute.  Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
  5. Spoon 1 cup risotto into 4 bowls (warm them so that the risotto doesn’t seize) and top with pignolis and chives.

Note: do not use pumpkin pie filling.

Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2012

Serves 4 (or 2 of me 🙂 as a main dish or more as a side dish.

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My New Bolognese

If there’s one sauce that I choose more than any other to have with pasta it’s  bolognese.   During my visits to Italy I enjoyed a nice bowl of pappardelle alla  bolognese more times than I can count. The best, in my opinion, were all in Tuscany but the best of those were where they also include wild boar sausage in the sauce.  Just delicious.  Not to mention the many local Italian restaurants near me that each make their own fabulous version of the sauce.

I had a recipe that I had been making for a while but the last few times I made it I was underwhelmed.  Really disappointed even. To the point where I just threw it out.  I couldn’t tell if I had over cooked it or if the tomatoes I used had a different taste or what but I knew I didn’t like it.  So there has been a pretty long drought for home made bolognese in my house. 

And then Carrie from www.carriessweetlife.com posted this beauty oh her blog. Pancetta. Red Wine (chianti-always chianti for me). Parmesan Rind. I new that I would love it. And I did. It’s my new bolognese.  So a huge GRAZIE to you Carrie. My freezer is now full of yummy bolongese. I adapted it a bit and it’s just as delicious as it sounds.

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My New Bolognese

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • 5 ozs pancetta, diced
  • 2 lbs ground sirloin
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped small
  • 1 large carrott, chopped small
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 small can tomato paste (or half of one tube)
  • 1 cup dry red wine (chianti)
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 28oz cans Muir Glen Organic crushed tomatoes w/basil
  • 2 14.5 oz cans Muir Glen Organic diced tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Rind from Parmesano Reggiano wedge/wheel

Instructions:

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add the pancetta and cook until it’s cooked crispy.  Add the sirloin and sausage and cook, using a wooden spoon to break it apart, until browned.  Drain the excess fat from the pan.  Add the onions, carrot, garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened.
  2. Stir in the tomato paste until it’s evenly distributed throughout the meat and vegetables. Add the wine and cook, scraping the pan to get the bits off of the bottom, until the wine evaporates. Add the stock, tomatoes, baty leaves, oregano, pepper flakes and Parmesan rind. Bring to a bubble then reduce to medium low to just simmer gently.
  3. Cover and let it simmer for 5 hours. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaves and rind before serving or freezing.
  4. To serve place cooked pasta and desired amount of sauce in a pan over medium heat with some of the pasta water. Stir to coat the pasta with the sauce and serve.
  5. To freeze let the sauce cool completely then spoon it into quart-sized ziplock bags.  Give the bags a few shakes or gentle taps on the counter to get the air to the top. Leaving just a small portion of the zipper open lay the bag flat and gently push the air out.  Zip the remainder of the way and lay flat in the freezer. Don’t forget to label the bags!!

So this is how much sauce this recipe makes.  Those are quart-sized ziplock bags and smaller 1-3 cup containers. 

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I have a funny feeling that the different brands of tomatoes that I used before this recipe were the problem.  After cooking for a while they tasted bitter and made the sauce yucky.  I recalled seeing that America’s Test Kitchen had done one of their comparisons of canned tomatoes recently so I went to their website and they recommended the Muir Glen Organic higher than any other and gave them a stellar review.  They were right on! The tomatoes were perfect and tasted just like they should. I hightly recommend using them.

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Baked Parmesan Potatoes

It’s time for another Blogger’s Choice Swap! This month’s theme was ‘Vegetarian’ and I was assigned Katie’s blog www.sotastysoyummy.blogspot.com.  She has some really great recipes on there.  If you’re familiar with my blog or me you know that I love Parmesan cheese (and most other cheeses really) so when I saw this recipe I chose it immediately. Baked Parmesan Potatoes? YUM!! They’re super simple to make and are really delicious. I had one potato as a side to a fantastic salad that I made one night.  They come out crispy on the outside and fluffy and creamy in the middle. The parmesan and butter make a slight crust along where the potato sat in the pan.

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Baked Parmesan Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2 russet potatoes, scrubbed, dried and quartered
  • 1/4 cup butter (half of a stick), melted
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Pour the melted butter into an 8×8 baking dish and then sprinkle the parmesan cheese and garlic powder evenly over the butter.
  3. Place the potatoes, long cut side down, onto the butter.  Brush the skins lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes then turn the potatoes so that the short cut side is in the butter. Bake for another 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow 5 minutes to rest.
  6. Serve promptly.

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Thank you Sarah at http://tasteofhomecooking.blogspot.com for hosting these great swaps!!

Check out the other great recipes and blogs involved in the swap here:

Butternut Squash Chili with Queso Fresco-slow cooker

This vegetarian chili is a delicious mix of flavors and textures.  It’s a perfect dish to put in the slow cooker in the morning and then have it be ready when you go home after work. I prepped the onion mixture, washed the beans and peeled and cut the squash up the night before while prepping that dinner, kept them all in the fridge overnight and then just put everything in the cooker before I walked out the door in the morning.  So easy. Super delicious.

You could easily add chicken or beef or meatless crumbles or, for a vegan version, use soy cheese.

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Butternut Squash Chili with Queso Fresco-slow cooker

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1&1/2 cups yellow onion, chopped small
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1.5 tbsp chili powder
  • 1.5 tbsp ancho chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1 lb)
  • 2 16oz cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1&1/2 cups water
  • 1 16oz can sweet corn, drained
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 28oz (or 2 14.5oz) cans diced tomatoes (I used Hunts Fire Roasted)
  • 1 4.5oz can chopped green chilis (not drained)
  • queso fresco
  • scallions

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large, non-stick skillet. Add the onion and garlic, cook for a few minutes until tender. Add the chili powders and cumin and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly.   Set aside.  (If you’re cooking ahead allow to cool completely and place in an airtight container in the fridge.)
  2. Into the slow cooker put the onion mixture, squash, and remaining ingredients through and including green chilis.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
  4. Ladle chili into individual bowls and sprinkle with cheese and scallions.
  5. To freeze allow the chili to cool completely. Ladle into quart-sized ziplock bags,  get all of the air out of the bag, seal and freeze.

Adapted from Cooking Light Slow-Cooker Tonight! cookbook (which is very good)

Harvest Salad

This is such a delicious salad! Tart granny smith apple, crunchy toasted pecans, tangy dried cranberries, sweet pear and a zingy dressing make this one of my new favorites.  It came together very quickly.

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Harvest Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pecans, toasted
  • 1/4 cup shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 head romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 Bosc pear, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 granny smith apple, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • freshly grated cheddar cheese or crumbled goat cheese

Instructions:

  1. In a small non-stick skillet over medium heat toast the pecans, occasionally shaking the pan, until golden and fragrant. About 5 minutes.
  2. While the pecans are toasting put the shallot and next 6 ingredients  including the vinegar in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Continue whisking and stream in olive oil until emulsified.
  3. In a large salad bowl place the lettuce, follow with pecans, fruit and cranberries. Drizzle with the dressing and toss.  Place half of the salad on each of 2 plates, sprinkle with cheese, and serve.

I ate only half of this salad for dinner one night.  I did not dress the salad all together. I placed each different component in separate ziplock bags and brought them to work the next day.  I wrapped the halves of the pear and apple and brought those separately and chopped them up when I was ready for lunch. It came out perfectly.

 Makes 2 servings.  Adapted from All You, November 2013.

Crispy Parmesan Bread

Often when I make pasta or soup I’ll make up some of this delicious crunch bread to have on the side. It’s great to eat plain or to wipe up the last bits of a bowl of soup or sauce.

And it couldn’t be easier to make. You can use pretty much any bread.  You need to use freshly grated parmesan though-something that you should keep on hand at all times anyway.

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Crunchy Parmesan Bread

Ingredients:

  • Small baguette or other soft crust long loaf such as italian bread
  • Butter
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Cut bread into the desired shapes and put into the toaster oven to toast very slowly.
  2. When they’re just a touch brown remove the bread and spread a bit of butter over the bread.  Return to the oven and melt the butter.
  3. Remove and sprinkle the parmesan cheese and then put back in the oven for a few more minutes.  Watch it carefully-parmesan burns quickly. Remove when just melty.
  4. Enjoy!!

My Mom used to make these for me. She doens’t have a blog (but she should) so they’re originally her idea 🙂

Chicken Parmesan Soup (slow cooker)

Well here we are in November. The weather is chilly and it’s time to start making some of  the recipes for soups, stews etc.. that I’ve collected. 

This one was a recent find but fit perfectly for last Thursday night’s dinner.  A rainy chilly evening. Husband (huge chicken parmesan fan) was home. It was also going to have to be a fast dinner as I had to get to a meeting.

So I put everything in the slow cooker in the morning and in the evening the soup was ready and it smelled and tasted delicious!! I served it over elbow pasta and made some gorgeous crunchy parmesany bread to go with it.  This is a hearty but not heavy soup. The chicken and soup are very light-how much pasta you put in the bowl will determine how heavy a meal it is. Perhaps next time it will go under the broiler with a slice of mozzarella on top…..

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Chicken Parmesan Soup (slow cooker)

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 46oz tomato juice
  • 32oz chicken broth
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus extra for topping
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 8 ozs elbow macaroni (or other small pasta)

Instructions:

  1. Put everything but the pasta into the slow cooker and cook on low for 7-8 hours.
  2. Remove the chicken from the cooker with tongs and set onto a plate and let cook slightly.  Shred with 2 forks or your fingers if cool enough.
  3. Return the chicken to the slow cooker and keep on warm.
  4. Cook the pasta as per the box instructions. Drain pasta.
  5. Put pasta on the bottom of a soup bowl and ladle soup and chicken over the pasta, sprinkle with additional cheese if desired, and serve.  

This makes a lot of soup. The original recipe called for adding the pasta to the slow cooker but, in the interest of left overs, we opted to keep it out that way we could add fresh pasta each time.

Adapted from www.eatathomecooks.com

Fast Chicken & Cannellini Bean Chili

So what is chili exactly? Google that and you’ll find about 4 trillion different answers.  And how is it different from stew? And then what’s the difference between stew and soup?  Dizzying.

In any event the original name of this recipe did call it a ‘chili’ so I’ll keep that. I guess I’m just used to a tomato based chili with beef and beans and onion so for me having a chili that is not red and has onions and green chilis and chicken immediately makes me think its soup. But surprisingly it has the taste and consistency of chili. A subtle heat from the chilis, the beany texture, the chicken chunks and the yummy onions all make for one delicious bite.

This came together in less than 30 minutes making it perfect for a fast weeknight meal on a chilly night. If you used rotisserie or left over chicken it would be even faster.

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Fast Chicken & Cannellini Bean Chili

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1lb skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 small onion, halved then sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup water
  • 10 ozs canned green chilis
  • 14 ozs low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp chili powder
  • cilantro leaves

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle 1/4 tsp salt on chicken then add chicken to the pot.  Saute 4 minutes. Add onion through the pepper flakes and saute another 3 or 4 minutes. Add 2 cups of the beans and the water and, using a wooden spoon, be sure to get everything scraped and mixed thoroughly. Add 1/2 tsp salt,  7 ozs of chilis and the broth and bring to a boil.
  2. Mash up the remaining beans and chilies and add it to the pot. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and add ancho and chili powders to taste and simmer a few more minutes.
  3. Serve with cilantro.

Adapted from Fast Chicken Chili, Cooking Light, Sept 2012