Comfort Food Risotto with Shitakes and Asparagus

When I haven’t been to the grocery store in, awhile this risotto is something I’ll whip up for dinner. I usually have the ingredients laying around (maybe not the vegetables, but I’ll do some sort of variation), and it’s simple to make. My grandmother taught me the secret trick of stirring in some cream cheese. You don’t even have to use too much, but it makes the risotto so deliciously creamy. I also tend to use brown rice just because it’s healthier, and I find the effect to be just as desirable. This dish warms up any cold day and can help cure a funky mood. It’s one of my ultimate comfort foods – my less guilty version of mac n’ cheese. Let me know if it’s just as good for you :).

Ingredients:

2 Cups of Long-Grain Brown Rice

1 Lb Asparagus

1 Large Sweet Onion

¼ Lb Shitake Mushrooms

4 Cups of Vegetable Stock

½ Cup Parmesan Cheese

3 Tbsp Cream Cheese

1 Tbsp Truffle Oil

S & P to taste

Directions

Chop onion, asparagus, and mushrooms. I like to leave the onion pieces as larger wedges for a dish like this.

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Pour truffle oil into a large pot and allow it to heat up. After two minutes or so, throw in your onion wedges to sauté. As soon as they begin to appear translucent, add in your mushrooms and asparagus to.

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Once the vegetables appear cooked (you can test them with a fork), lower the flame and pour in your vegetable stock. Then add rice and stir.

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Cover and let cook until the liquid has evaporated. Stir in parmesan cheese, cream cheese, salt and pepper.

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Let the risotto sit for about 5 minutes. Then stir again and serve.

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Fiery Sweet Potato Gnocchi

In reference to our Venetian theme this month, this week’s recipe is another of my favorite Italian-inspired recipes. Growing up my family made traditional potato gnocchi. It was always a huge production. My father and I would spend hours, rolling out hundreds of little gnocchi, preparing three different sauces, and, in the end, having a gnocchi fest with family and friends. Every person had to try the gnocchi with each sauce, falling in love anew with every bite. In the end, everyone was stuffed and happy…or uncomfortable from overeating – but – still happy…

Now that I’ve grown older and expanded my cooking experimentations, I’ve started making gnocchi with sweet potatoes. They’re a variation on the traditional version – a little healthier, and a little spicier. I don’t make hundreds, so it’s a bit less time consuming, but it still takes a while to make them. The following recipe will yield enough for 4-5 people – depending on how much you can eat. I made a homemade tomato sauce to go with them (I’ll can give you all this recipe another week if you’re interested), but they’re also good with butter & sage or any tomato/diavolo sauce you have.

Ingredients:

2 Large Sweet Potatoes

1 Baking Potato

1 Egg

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

½ Tsp Red Pepper Flakes

½ Tsp Dried Oregano

Pinch of salt

All Purpose Flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375˚F

Peel and dice sweet potatoes, then mix with olive oil, red pepper, and oregano in a roasting dish.

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Cover dish with tinfoil, and then place in the oven to cook until potatoes are extremely tender (approx. 1/2hr)

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Place baking potato to boil until it is also extremely tender (approx. 1/2hr)

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Let both potatoes cool. Once the baking potato is cool enough to handle, peel and dice it. Then throw both the sweet potatoes and the baking potato together into a large mixing bowl.

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Using a hand blender or rice mill blend both together until fairly creamy

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Using a wooden spoon, mix in egg & a pinch of salt.

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Still using a wooden spoon and working quickly, mix in flour until mixture reaches a doughy consistency. Towards the end I usually ditch the spoon and work it with my hands. It should still stick to your fingers a bit, but be thick enough to roll out once you’ve reached the right texture. It’s important to work fast so that you don’t have to add too much flour which will result in heavy gnocchi.

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You’re now ready to roll out the gnocchi. Set yourself up on a table, or with enough counter space. You’ll need flour and a fork. Pour some flour on the surface, and cover your hands so that the dough doesn’t stick.

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To roll out the gnocchi you first toll the dough into little logs about ½” thick. Then, using the fork, cut them into approx. 1” segments. Once you’ve done so, press the fork lightly on top to make little ridges. This is a little trick passed down through my family to help them cook just right, and it also makes them pretty.

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After you’ve rolled them out, you’ll want to place the finished pieces on a towel until you are ready to cook them.

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To cook the gnocchi you’ll want to set a pot of water to boil. Once it has reached a boil, drop in about 8 gnocchi at a time. Once they are cooked they will start to float, and you can scoop them out with a spatula or something with holes to let the water through.

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Each serving is about 15 pieces. Drizzle with your desired sauce, garnish, and serve!

Buon Appetito!