Arancini (Fried Rice Balls)


I've been waiting to make these for a long time. It's not that I don't make enough risotto. The real problem is that when I do make it, we never have any leftovers. So you can imagine my surprise when we actually had some risotto left on the stove after a lovely meal last weekend. I was so excited!


Arancini, or fried rice balls, can be made with any risotto you have. And if you think leftover night is less than appealing, think again. These little morsels are anything but boring. Especially when you melt some goat cheese with heavy cream to make a decadent dipping sauce to go alongside.


Fried Risotto Balls

Vegetable oil, for deep frying

2 large eggs, beaten to blend

2 cups Risotto, cooled

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1 1/2 cups dried Italian-style bread crumbs



Pour enough oil in a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees F.

Stir the eggs, risotto, Parmesan, and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs in a large bowl to combine. Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Using about 2 tablespoons of the risotto mixture for each, form the risotto mixture into 1 3/4-inch-diameter balls. Roll the balls in the bread crumbs to coat.

Working in batches, add the rice balls to the hot ail and cook until brown and heated through, turning them as necessary, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rice balls to paper towels to drain. Season with salt and Parmesan cheese. Let rest 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Israeli Couscous with Parsley


When it comes to easy side dishes, couscous is too good to be true. It's very pantry friendly, needing little more than a sprinkle of herbs to make it work with just about any main dish. My go-to flavors are almost always parsley and pine nuts—two ingredients I always have plenty of.  And the recipe? It came right off the side of the box.


Israeli Couscous with Parsley

2 Tbsp. butter

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 1/2 cup Israeli couscous

1 2/3 cup chicken broth

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

zest of 1/2 lemon

salt and black pepper, to taste


Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add couscous and saute until browned slightly, about 3 minutes. Add broth and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, pine nuts and lemon zest (I also tossed in some scallions because I had them). Season with black pepper to taste.

Risotto with Red Wine and Mushrooms

Oh, risotto. Creamy, subtle, and comforting. It might be the world’s perfect meal. Like soup, it warms you from the inside out, and is adaptable to endless flavor combinations. Tonight was the first time I used red wine, resulting in a beautiful, deep lavender color. Sliced mushrooms add heartiness, and combined with a good handful of Parmesan cheese, it was absolutely lovely. I’ve always wanted to try risotto balls – the fried dumplings using leftover risotto, but we never seem to have anything left.

One of the biggest misconceptions (stated by Mario Batali himself in this video), is that risotto must be constantly stirred. I gave into the myth for years, but tonight, my risotto was made with minimal stirring and it still turned out wonderfully. Mario serves his “almost soupy,” as he puts it. That is, when you spoon risotto onto a plate, it moves around, and the rice is suspended in the starchy broth.

Risotto with Red Wine and Mushrooms

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 medium Portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup red wine
8 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling
Fresh Italian parsley, for garnish


Bring broth to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the broth warm over very low heat. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the wine to the toasting rice, and then add a ladle of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Add several ladles of stock (enough to just cover the rice) and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is mostly absorbed. Continue adding stock until rice is tender and creamy, about 20-25 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese until well mixed. Add mushrooms and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mushroom-Barley Soup

In the next few sentences I'll be explaining why it’s been so long since I’ve eaten mushrooms, but please don't let this story deter you from making this wonderfully easy soup. I didn’t always have such a strong aversion, but one negative experience nearly ruined me. I was eating at one of my favorite Italian restaurants – the small, only locals know the address kind of place – when I decided to branch out (my fatal mistake). I always ordered the pumpkin ravioli but somehow convinced myself to try the mushroom polenta. I had recently seen an episode on Food Network that featured polenta as a lovely side dish similar to mashed potatoes, but what came out of the restaurant kitchen was not what I had in mind.

The polenta was a square block smothered in mushroom ragu. For me, it was actually inedible. I have never – never – had an experience where I couldn’t actually eat what was on my plate. I took one bite, maybe two, and was so repulsed by the smell that I just couldn’t put any more on my fork. My husband, who enjoys most foods, was equally repulsed. We still frequented the restaurant (avoiding all things mushroom, of course), but after that night I forgot about the vegetable altogether until I saw a picture of this soup in Everyday Food.

I realize this appalling story might not be the best introduction to the recipe being featured, but let’s be clear that it was this very recipe that pulled me out of my mushroom coma. This soup comes together very quickly (under 30 minutes) – perfect for Cooking After Five-types. My barley was not quick cooking, so before starting on the soup I cooked it according to the package directions so it would be ready when I was. And when I curled up on the couch and took in a big mouthful of mushrooms, I was very, very relieved.

Mushroom-Barley Soup

Recipe adapted from Everyday Food

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 1/2 cups canned reduced-sodium beef broth
1 cup barley (quick cooking or pearled)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 chunk (1 ounce) Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler


If barley is not quick cooking, cook according to package directions. In a medium pot, bring 6 cups water to a boil and add barley. Reduce heat and simmer for 50-60 minutes until barley is tender.

For the soup, in a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add broth and 2 cups water to pan; bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to a simmer; add barley (if quick cooking), and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. If barley is already cooked, add it now and stir together. Remove soup from heat; stir in parsley and lemon juice. Garnish with shaves of Parmesan cheese and serve.

Champagne Risotto

I love risotto! Here is another version of this versatile and delicious dish. Creamy Arborio rice is woken up with bits of salty prosciutto and crunchy asparagus. When I made this I pulled out our wedding china to make things extra special. I don't think fancy dinnerware should be saved for the holidays, so I try to use it several times a year "just because."

*Recipe note: This recipe makes a batch perfect for two when combined with another side like a fresh salad. If you're serving 4, or just want larger portions, double the amount of rice and liquid.

Champagne Risotto

Recipe courtesy Giada de Laurentiis

4 thin slices prosciutto
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
12 asparagus spears, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
¾ cup Arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
¾ cup Champagne
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the slices of prosciutto on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake until the prosciutto slices are almost completely crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. The slices will crisp up even more as they cool. Reserve for garnish.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Blanch the asparagus in the chicken stock for 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon. Set the asparagus aside and keep the chicken stock at a low simmer.

In another medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter. Continue toasting the rice, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes more. Add the Champagne and simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add ½ cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the asparagus, remaining butter, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Spoon the risotto into serving dishes and garnish by breaking the crisp prosciutto into smaller pieces over the top of the risotto. Serve immediately.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage Butter

When people ask me what my favorite meal is to cook, I always reply with risotto. It’s a dish that requires patience (risotto must be stirred continuously for 20-30 minutes) but the end result is worth every minute spent over the stove. Arborio rice is high in starch and the grain is small and rounded, like an oval. As it cooks, the grains become exceptionally creamy. It’s my version of curling up with a bowl of soup on a cold day – risotto is comfort food. Although traditionally served as a first course, I tend to offer it alongside meats like pork or turkey, or alone with an antipasto platter and a glass of wine.

I first made this recipe during my butternut squash "food phase." I define a “food phase” as a period of time when I go out of my way to find recipes that feature a particular ingredient I recently become obsessed with. About a year ago, at a corner table in the downtown Santa Barbara restaurant, Ca’ Dario, my butternut squash phase began. Before this meal I had rarely eaten butternut squash, but I was feeling adventurous and the sage butter sauce that would cover my ravioli sounded was extremely tempting.

(If you’ve never had sage butter, I urge you to make some immediately-scroll down for directions. Otherwise, please read on.)

I was officially enamored with butternut squash, and ready to attempt a recipe of my own. During a Food Network-filled afternoon, Michael Chiarello was making a butternut squash dish and I watched eagerly as he appeared to cut and chop the vegetable with ease, gently slicing off the skin and preparing the insides to be roasted. Off to the grocery store, I walked into the produce aisle spirited and confident, but my experience at home nearly turned me off from the vegetable all together. After hacking through the flesh with a butcher knife, and terrified at the force I needed to use in order to cut through the buff-colored skin, I wanted to give up.

Thankfully, the 2007 holiday season was nearly here, and I was saved by the Disneyland-for-consumers, members-only wholesaler that is…Costco! Here, you could buy bags of pre-cubed butternut squash. Jackpot! In order to save myself the certain disappointment of returning a week later to find them sold out, I made sure to take extra bags for the freezer. Problem solved. I could make risotto.

Since I adore many versions of risotto, it will certainly be featured more than once on this blog, but today we are starting with the subtle flavors of butternut squash and sage. I love this combination so much that I’ve gone out of my way to try them ("food phase" side effect) in every conceivable dish resulting in many successes (pizza and soup – posts pending) and several failures (chunky butternut squash puree is not appealing when tossed with penne, even if sage butter is involved). I can’t get enough.

Butternut squash and sage merry well. The smell of sage is so earthy and soft that it promotes a sense of relaxation. At a local restaurant called Sage & Onion (sadly it has closed), they wisely placed a single sage leaf on each customer’s napkin and I couldn’t help but bring it up to my nose and twist it between my fingers until the underside of my fingernails smelled of intoxicating sage.

Be confident that this recipe will make believers out of skeptics. If one of your friends has never tried butternut squash or is afraid of it for some reason, force them to take one bite and they will be craving seconds and/or asking you to make it again and again.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Recipe adapted from the Williams-Somona Kitchen

1 stick unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons

10 fresh sage leaves

6 cups vegetable or chicken stock

16 oz. butternut squash, cubed

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 medium onion

2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Steam butternut squash over boiling water until tender, about 12 minutes. Puree squash in a food processor and place in a large saucepan with chicken stock. Whisk together the stock and squash puree. Bring just to a simmer, 8 to 10 minutes; maintain over low heat.

While butternut squash steams, make the sage butter. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 stick butter. Rip sage leaves and add to butter. Heat until the butter browns, about 5 minutes. Strain the butter into a small bowl and place sage on a paper towel to drain, reserve. Cover bowl to keep warm.

In a large saucepan or risotto pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the caramelized onions and rice and stir until the grains are well coated with the oil and are nearly translucent with a white dot in the center, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed.

Add the simmering stock mixture a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently after each addition. Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed before adding more.

When the rice is tender to the bite but slightly firm in the center and looks creamy, after about 30 minutes, stir in the remaining 3 tbs. butter, the cheese, salt and pepper. Add more stock if needed so the rice is thick and creamy. Let stand for 2 minutes. Drizzle with the reserved sage butter and serve immediately.

Barley Salad with Roasted Tomatoes

If you need something to take to a picnic or BBQ this summer, try this. Barley salad can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature, making this a great option for travel.

Barley has existed for centuries, dating back to ancient Egypt when it was used to make bread and beer. Today, barley is available in most grocery stores, so it's easier than ever to enjoy this healthy, light salad.

I first came across a similar recipe in Martha Stewart Living under the guise of Roated-Tomato Tabbouleh. It called for bulgur wheat, which I couldn’t find (FYI – bulgur is in the baking aisle, not the grain aisle), so I substituted barley and found it to work just as well. After adding water, the barley takes care of itself on the stove for about 45 minutes.

While the barley cooks, you can prepare the other ingredients and roast the tomatoes. Many similar salads call for halved cherry tomatoes (which I also love!), but taking time to roast them brings out their sweetness and adds a depth of flavor that you wouldn’t experience by simply tossing in raw, diced tomatoes.

Barley Salad with Roasted Tomatoes

2 cups barley

1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 cup fresh parsley, chopped

10 large mint leaves, chopped

6 plum or Roma tomatoes, halved

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar

1-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Juice of 1 lemon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook barley according to package directions and set aside in a large glass bowl.

Combine chopped herbs in a bowl, reserving 2 tbsp. basil and parsley. Toss tomatoes with garlic, vinegar, 1 teaspoon oil reserved parsley and basil mixture, and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until tomatoes begin to soften, about 15 minutes. Let cool, and chop into smaller pieces.

Add roasted-tomatoes, remaining herbs, scallions, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oil to barley ad gently toss. Salad can be served warm, chilled or at room temperature.