But I suppose I should start at the beginning, shouldn't I, rather than in the middle ...?
In trolling through various blogs, I managed to bumble onto the Foodie Exchange site quite by accident; I signed up and thought I'd loiter a bit and sorta see how things progressed, read updates, etc.
Then almost immediately, a lovely and friendly woman from Milan wrote to me proposing that we do an exchange. Rossella and I traded emails, friended each other on Facebook, and agreed to send each other goodie packages with treats from our respective homelands.
Here's what I sent to her to represent Michigan:
- Al Dente pasta from Whitmore Lake, which is north of Ann Arbor
- dried tart cherries, which northern Michigan (especially Traverse City) is noted for
- caramel corn from Kilwin's, which has stores throughout the state
- spicy pumpkin seeds from Eden Organic, which makes snacks and canned beans south of here in Clinton, but which originated in Ann Arbor
- Better Made potato chips from Detroit
- Kellogg's cereals from Battle Creek (2 hours west of Ann Arbor)
- a catalogue from the famous Ann Arbor institution Zingerman's, to peruse
- a postcard showing the University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor's "raison d'etre"
- a postcard with a recipe for cherry pie, using those tart cherries we're so famous for
I had wanted to send all sorts of other fabulous items -- Vernors ginger ale, Mackinac Island fudge, Sanders milk chocolate hot fudge sauce, Koeze's peanut butter, for example; but they were prohibitively heavy, would explode, or would melt ... alas! Rossella is also a vegetarian, so no Jiffy mixes despite they're being very easy to use, small, and inexpensive; the large, heavy box of all-purpose mix is the only one that doesn't have lard in it.
And in return, Rossella sent me: a small bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, spaghetti, herbs and spices to cook in oil and toss spaghetti with, Arborio rice with bits of truffle, tomato paste, crackers, amaretti (which were sadly crushed, but will make a perfect topping for a dessert, perhaps), packets of Nutella (which unfortunately exploded all over everything), a recipe pamphlet, a tote bag, a placemat, and saffron. Wow ... truly, my glee and my gratitude are beyond my verbose capabilities to express!
So on Friday night, I put some of these goodies to use in making dinner. I drizzled some olive oil in a pan and sauteed some chicken breasts. And since I had to season the meat anyway, I used salt, pepper, and a sprinkle from the pasta herbs/spices. A drizzle of lemon juice to finish it off, and that was that!
And then I set about making a classic of Italian cuisine: Risotto alla Milanese, which Rossella's hometown is justly famous for. Simple ingredients -- rice, stock, saffron, cheese. But oh, what a glorious thing it is!!!
Risotto is not difficult to make at all, but it requires time and patience. A little bit of liquid is added to the rice, then the rice is stirred while it cooks; once the liquid has been mostly absorbed, you add a bit more and continue to stir. Continue this until an entire liter of stock has been used and the rice is exquisitely creamy. Arborio rice is absolutely required for this, as it has the requisite starch content; any other rice will not do the job properly.
So, on Friday night I converted my Ann Arbor kitchen into a "Cucina Italiana," complete with Pavarotti singing in the background. I invested a fair amount of time and a lot of love into my dinner, and was amply rewarded with compliments. Mille grazie -- 1000 "thank you"s -- Rossella!!! There are many more fabulous meals awaiting us with all the lovely, lovely gifts you sent ... :)
Lemony Chicken Breasts with Risotto alla Milanese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons Italian herb/spice mixture
2 large skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
juice of 1 lemon
Heat olive oil in a 10" skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle salt, pepper and herb/spice mixture over both sides of the chicken breasts, then cook for 5 minutes on each side until nicely browned. Squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken and turn heat to simmer.
2 tablespoons butter
1 small red onion, diced
300 grams Arborio rice
1 liter chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 cup cubes of Parmigiano cheese (cut into 1/4" cubes)
pinch of saffron
3/4 cup peas
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano
While the chicken cooks and simmers, heat the butter in a 2-1/2 quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat it with the butter; saute for 1 minute.
Very slowly -- about 1/2 cup at a time -- pour some of the stock over the rice. Stir until the liquid has mostly been absorbed, then add another 1/2 cup of stock and continue in the same manner, stirring constantly.
When half of the liquid has been used, add the salt and the cubes of Parmigiano.
Add the saffron to the remaining stock, then continue adding stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly. When the rice is very creamy, add the peas; cook for 1 more minute, then stir in the shredded Parmigiano and serve with the chicken. Serves 4 as a light entree, or 8 as a side dish.
Of course, this is a perfect addition to Cinnamon Girl's Side Dish Showdown, which I've been neglectful of in recent weeks with insufficient time to prepare proper dinners. This was a perfect meal for the end of a long and stressful week, for Shabbat, for family (which, of course, includes Jeremy in addition to both Tom and my very dear friend Wendy ... as far as I'm concerned, family is comprised of those who love you whether you share DNA or not).
I'm really at my happiest in the kitchen, so a dish that involves continual stirring interspersed with conversation and kisses (since Tom kept me company as I cooked, even helping to stir just because he's a sweetheart) ... well, who could ask for anything more??? I need to get back into this habit, make an effort to do this more often instead of rushing around quite so much ....