Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pesto Turkey Meatballs with Marinara Magnifica

As you know, a lot of times I like to be adventurous with my cooking, trying out new techniques and ingredients. Other times, it's nice to make a classic like spaghetti and meatballs. And still other times, I enjoy making a classic with a special twist.

For instance, turkey meatballs with basil pesto mixed into them. Adding fresh pesto to meatballs is a fairly simple adjustment, and it takes the flavor up about eight notches. The basil in the pesto adds this kick of freshness that is delightfully tasty and pairs so well with the marinara!

Now, a few quick words on the marinara sauce. First, it looks like a lot of ingredients, but most of them are dried herbs and cans of stuff. The only things that have to be chopped are the onions and garlic. Second, for the best flavor, this is supposed to simmer for 3 hours. So be sure to plan ahead. Third, the recipe below makes a TON of sauce! I made a single batch of sauce, froze 10 cups of it, have already made two meals with this sauce, and still have probably two meals' worth left in the fridge.

The original meatball recipe from Elly Says Opa included a marinara sauce that sounded good--I simply wanted to try the Marinara Magnifica because a friend had recommended it. But if you want a smaller-scale recipe that doesn't require 3 hours of simmering, Elly's sauce recipe would be a good bet.

Without further ado, here's the Marinara Magnifica recipe, followed by the Pesto Turkey Meatball recipe. (Okay one more ado . . . neither of these recipes specifically mention cooking the spaghetti. So just be sure to do that! I started heating my water about the time I started rolling meatballs, and dropped the dried spaghetti into the pot after the meatballs were in the oven.)

Marinara Magnifica
Adapted slightly from Cooking Light
Yield: A ton!

Note: This is supposed to simmer for 3 hours, plus the onions need to cook for 30 minutes before adding everything else. So be sure to plan ahead!

1 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cups chopped onion (3-4 medium onions)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. Sunny Paris seasoning mix (or Italian seasoning)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes
2 (14.5-oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, minced

Heat oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sugar. Cook for 30 minutes until golden and slightly caramelized, stirring every so often. Stir in wine. Cook for 1 minute, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

If red wine isn't your thing, substitute beef broth, perhaps with some balsamic vinegar.

Pesto Turkey Meatballs
Adapted from Elly Says Opa
Yield: 4-5 servings (about 16 meatballs, depending on size)

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup red wine (or milk)
4 tsp. olive oil, divided
1/3 cup finely diced onion
1-1/2 Tbsp. walnuts
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil
1 lb. ground turkey
1 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan or Parmesan blend

Place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl and add the wine. Allow to soak while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Heat 2 tsp. oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until tender and translucent. Allow to cool.

Put walnuts, garlic, basil, and 2 tsp. oil into a small food processor. Pulse to combine, until the pesto is well combined and saucy, but not a puree. Add the pesto to the breadcrumb mixture, along with the onions, turkey, salt, pepper, egg, and Parmesan. Use your hands (disposable latex gloves are great for this!) to mix the ingredients just until combined, but don't over-mix.

Preheat oven to 375. Line two baking sheets with foil.

Form turkey mixture into roughly one-inch balls (a cookie dough scoop is great for this) and place on baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes. At this point, you could pull them out of the oven when they're not quite done, add them to the sauce, and simmer for a few minutes on the stove. Or you could cook them until they're done and serve them right away (particularly if you want to serve them separate from the sauce).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Creamy Corn Risotto

First of all, let me apologize for going so long without posting. The first week of July I moved and started a class that has been the most labor-intensive class yet in this graduate program. So lately I've been doing much less cooking than normal, even less food photography, and still less writing down what I made and what I thought about it.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about risotto. And more specifically Creamy Corn Risotto. Corn is one of my favorite things about summer, and ever since I successfully made Roasted Cauliflower Risotto last winter, risotto no longer scares me. So when I saw this Creamy Corn Risotto in the August Cooking Light, it quickly went on my recipe bucket list.

While I enjoyed this dish and think the recipe is a good starting point, I wasn't utterly wowed by it. I expected it to be bursting with flavor, but the only flavor that was really bursting was black pepper. Also, when I'd used up all the milk and corn mixture, my rice was still a little crunchy, but I was out of liquid. Finally, I thought it needed a bit of cheese. So I'm including the recipe below as I made it, and adding some ideas for improvement below the recipe.

Creamy Corn Risotto
Slightly adapted from Cooking Light
Yield: 3 servings

1/2 large red bell pepper
2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. milk (1%)
1 Tbsp. butter, divided
1-1/4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/8 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup sliced green onions

Discard the seeds and membrane from the bell pepper. If you have a gas stove, use tongs to hold the pepper over an open flame, until the skin is evenly blistered. (If you don't have a gas stove, preheat broiler to high, and place pepper skin side up on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 8 minutes or until blackened.) Wrap pepper in foil or a small paper bag; let stand for 5 minutes. Peel and chop.

Combine corn, milk, and 1/2 Tbsp. butter in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in stock and keep warm over low heat.

Melt 1/2 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; swirl to coat. Add onion and garlic; saute 3 minutes. Stir in rice, salt, and black pepper; saute 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in wine; cook 30 seconds or until almost all the liquid is evaporated, scraping the pan to loosen any browned bits. Reduce heat to medium.

Stir in 3/4 cup corn mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Add remaining corn mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of corn mixture is absorbed before adding the next scoop. This process should take about 20 minutes. When you get to the last 1/2 cup of corn mixture, remove the risotto from heat and stir in the final scoop of corn mixture, plus bell pepper and green onions. Serve immediately.

Ideas for Improvement

  • Add half a poblano pepper, roasting it along with the red pepper.
  • Stir in a bit of grated cheese right at the end. I think even 1/8 or 1/4 cup would make a huge difference. And I think Parmesan, pepper jack, Monterrey jack, or queso fresco would be excellent choices.
  • Use about half as much black pepper.
  • Have an extra cup or so of warmed milk and/or chicken stock, so that if your rice is still crunchy when you reach the end, you'll still have some cooking liquid left.
  • Sprinkle some fresh basil on top right before serving. I'm not sure how basil would go with poblano, so maybe do one addition or the other.