Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An Italian Christmas...postponed.

I had a long day yesterday, preparing and delivering cannoli, attending a friend's holiday dinner, delivering gifts to two other households, and finally, attending midnight mass which for Episcopalians, starts more sensibly at 11pm. Not only did I not have time to prepare a full-on Christmas feast, my roommate was rockin' a pretty nasty chest cold (I had it last week, so I might be to blame...sorry, Cyd), and she didn't have much of an appetite.

So we decided to postpone our special dinner until tonight. I did make one dish ahead yesterday afternoon, and the roast beast had an extra day to marinate, so it worked out great. I just sort of made up the meat marinade as I went along, starting with my usual--olive oil, balsamic, cracked black pepper, salt, and a ton of freshly-minced garlic. But then I added the juice of a lemon and a handful of rosemary twigs. It smelled very fragrant and distinctly Italian, which ultimately provided inspiration for the rest of the meal.

Last week, I was listening to my favorite Sirius radio program, "Cocktails with Patrick," and the host called his mom to chat with her on the air about her Christmas plans. At some point, Patrick's mother made an off-hand remark about this green bean dish that she makes with Boursin cheese that was really good, and that's all I needed to hear!

The problem was, I forgot to buy Boursin cheese, and I remembered that detail on Christmas Eve, after all the stores had already closed. So in desperation, I made a home version from Paula Deen that was actually a pretty close clone and very tasty and worked perfectly in my green bean recipe!

Homemade Boursin Cheese
(Source: adapted from Paula Deen via

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Put the cream cheese and butter into the bowl of a food processor. (You could use a mixer or blender if you don't have a food processor.)
2. Add the seasonings and process until completely blended and smooth.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving.

I found another recipe that I loosely followed for what is sort of a more upscale version of green bean casserole, though almost as easy to prepare, and without the mushy canned green beans and cream o'crap soup. This recipe is a keeper and could very well become a holiday staple around here.

Green Bean Mushroom Bake
(Source: adapted from

2 lbs. green beans
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 large shallots, thinly sliced 
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1 (5 1/4 ounce) package boursin garlic and herb spreadable cheese (or half of the homemade)
1/2 cup dry Italian seasoned bread crumbs (I used lemon and garlic panko)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1. Over high heat, bring pot of salted water to boil. Add beans. Cover and cook 4-5 minutes. Coat 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Drain beans; reserve. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  2. In large skillet, melt two tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, three to four minutes. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring, until softened, one to two minutes. Add wine; cook two minutes. Stir in Boursin cheese; cook until melted. Toss with beans; transfer to baking dish.  3. Melt remaining two tablespoons butter. Stir in bread crumbs and Parmesan; sprinkle over green beans. Cover lightly with foil*. Bake 20 minutes. Uncover; bake until golden, 10 minutes.
*At this point, you can refrigerate and bake the dish the next day. It might just take a little longer to heat through from cold.

It is usually my way to go an English route with the roast beast and make a Yorkshire pudding. But with the Italian-flavored meat marinade and the parmesan green beans and mushrooms (not to mention, cannoli for dessert!), it would seem the universe wanted me to round out the Italian theme with some risotto. However, after I had started to prepare the dish, I realized that I was out of arborio rice! Ugh. But I ran across something called "volcano rice" in my pantry (an Asian blend of white, brown, and red rices). Could I use it to make risotto, I wondered? As it turns out, you can!

The only downside is that it takes twice as long to cook, so you have to hang out by the stove for about an hour, stirring. But I used half vegetable stock and half beef au jus, and with the somewhat nutty rice, the risotto ended up tasting like a really delicious mushroom, beef, and barley soup, but the consistency was that of rice with a rich gravy that perfectly complemented the roast!

Beefy Volcano Risotto
1 quart vegetable stock plus 1 quart beef stock (low-sodium)
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup volcano rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable and beef stocks to a boil with the bay leaf. Keep the stock warm over very low heat.

In a large skillet or braiser, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about two minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring until opaque, about three minutes. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until completely absorbed, about one minute. Avoiding the bay leaf, add one cup of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock one cup at a time and stirring until it is absorbed between additions.

The rice is done when it's al dente and creamy, about 55 minutes total. Season with black pepper (and salt, if necessary).

No comments: