Creamy Asparagus Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes that sounds super fancy–and it definitely tastes luxurious!–but is actually far easier to make at home than most people think. In fact, it doesn’t even need cream or milk to make it creamy. You just need to buy the right kind of rice and give it a little love and attention and you’ll be whipping up some restaurant worthy risotto in no time. Flavor it with your favorite mix-ins like roasted asparagus, caramelized onions, roasted butternut squash or more. Bon appetito!

Ingredients

  • Arborio rice, 2 cups — you must use arborio rice for this dish. Arborio rice has a super high starch content and this is what makes your risotto creamy and delicious!
  • Garlic, 5-6 cloves chopped
  • White wine, 1 cup
  • Chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want to keep it vegetarian/dairy), 4 cups — if you wanted to do a super rich and earthy mushroom risotto, you could make some mushroom broth by rehydrating dried porcini mushrooms for a truly luxurious risotto dish!
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan (or nondairy substitute such as nutritional yeast), optional but always worth it
  • 1 cup of Herb Roasted Asparagus (or your favorite mix-in)

Directions

  1. Heat the stock in a saucepan and add any flavorings you’d like to it such as herbs, lemon juice, spices etc.
  2. Sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant and slightly brown. Season with salt and pepper
  3. Add rice and toss to coat. Sauté the rice so it gets nice and toasty. This will give it a wonderful and deep flavor later on
  4. Add about a cup of white wine of your choice — you can also use champagne, sparkling wine etc. Just make sure it’s something you like. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it! The flavor will just concentrate as it’s cooking
  5. Stir the rice, and once it’s absorbed the wine, start adding about a cup of broth to the rice and stir it around
  6. Every time the rice absorbs the liquid, it needs to be stirred. As it cooks and gets stirred, it will start to release its starches which creates the creaminess that is characteristic of risotto
  7. After about 18 minutes, you will have added several cups of liquid and the ride should be creamy and have expanded. Give it a quick taste for seasoning and to make sure the rice is al dente (should have a little bit of chew left)
  8. Now would be the time to add anything to the risotto like some roasted asparagus, maple roasted butternut squash if you wanted to go sweet, or anything you like
  9. Turn off the heat and add some nutritional yeast (if meat meal) to give it some umami or a cup of grated Parmesan cheese if a dairy meal and stir.
  10. Serve while still warm. To reheat, heat risotto into a saucepan with a 1/4 cup of water and stir until steamy and ready to inhale

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Chicken Marsala with Mushroom Sauce

So I’ve recently started offering small group cooking classes through my catering company, J2Food, and the theme for the first session was all about love. It was a few days before Valentine’s Day, and it was a couples-themed class, It’s a Date! And what can be more romantic than cooking for your loved one? Or, even better, cooking together. So as I was considering what we should make for the meal, I thought we should have all foods that not only taste delicious but also look amazing and can be made by any amateur chef (and easy to clean to boot!).

Chicken Marsala is one of my favorite dishes to make for guests and even crowds. It sounds and tastes very complex, but is actually very simple to make and very impressive in its presentation and flavors. It’s a recipe that I teach all of my cousins when they go to college so that they have at least one quality trick up their sleeve to throw down. This dish is also great for a quick weeknight meal. Serve it over some herbed egg noodles, with creamy garlic mashed potatoes or even with a fresh arugula salad. Enjoy and let me know how yours turns out!


Ingredients

  • Chicken breasts, boneless – while I often opt for the more forgiving chicken thighs, it’s very traditional to use chicken breast in this recipe for texture and size
  • Mushrooms, halved – I like Cremini (mini portobellos), but button mushrooms or any variety are good to use. Sometimes I like to use a mix of mushrooms…you can never have too many
  • Bottle of Marsala wine – I would definitely use real Marsala wine (usually found in the dessert wine section near the Madeira or sherry). Resist the urge to use Marsala cooking wine found in the grocery store since those are loaded with salt and MSG.
  • Chicken stock
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried herbs – whatever your favorite flavors are (we used rosemary, thyme, and oregano)
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Garlic, 8-10 cloves chopped
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Pound the chicken breasts out to about 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. Doesn’t need to be super thin since these are getting twice-cooked
  2. Add enough olive oil to a heavy-bottomed sauté pan to coat and start to heat on medium
  3. Mix a heavy pinch of dried herbs, salt and pepper into about 1.5 cups of flour — you may need more later on, so don’t be skimpy now
  4. Dip the chicken pieces into the seasoned flour mixture one by one to coat then add to the hot pan — How hot should the pan be? You should hear a small sizzle or see some small bubbles form around the edge of the chicken 
  5. Cook the chicken pieces for 2-3 minutes per side so they both get a slight crisp and are golden to golden brown on each side
  6. Reserve partially cooked chicken for later to finish cooking
  7. In the same pan, add a heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic
  8. After the garlic has started to brown, add the mushrooms — it’s important that mushrooms have room to cook or they’ll steam instead of sautéing so don’t overcrowd the pan
  9. One the mushrooms have cooked, add a few spoonfuls of the flour mixture to the pan and stir to coat the mushrooms and so that all of the flour gets to cook off some
  10. After a couple of minutes, deglaze the pan with about half the bottle of Marsala — the pan should start to sizzle rapidly and this is the time for you to use your spatula/spoon to scrape up the good, crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. This is pure flavor…Yum!!!
  11. Add about 1 cup of chicken stock to the pan, and also season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Let the sauce mixture come up to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer and cook for a couple of minutes to get rid some of the sharpness from the wine and stock
  12. At this point, the floury mushrooms acted as our roux, and the sauce should be starting to thicken. Add the chicken back into the sauce and submerge.
  13. Cover the pan with a lid of tight aluminum foil and cook for another 20 minutes on simmer or medium-low heat. The chicken will get nice and tender and the sauce will thicken some more
  14. Once done, serve on a big platter with some risotto, egg noodles or mashed potatoes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley

Bon appetit!

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Recipe: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Sorry I’ve been away for a few weeks, but work’s been crazy! This recipe is actually inspired by all of the craziness. I wanted something that was not only delicious, but also comforting. This lasagna is packed full of roasted vegetables, so it’s also a healthy dinner to serve your family. This recipe might seem like it has a lot of steps, but all of them are simple and can be multitasked. So if you want to feed a crowd, or have a lot of leftovers–which are delicious!–try this recipe for Roasted Vegetable Lasagna.DSC00340DSC00341

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes—my favorite brand is San Marzano for its inherent sweetness, but any brand should be fine
  • ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 ½ teaspoons of dried oreganoDSC00369
  • 1 tin of anchovy filets—it’s important that the anchovies are packed in oil as opposed to water since you want to flavor and richness of the oil to help flavor the sauce. Flat filets are also easier for melting into the oilDSC00368
  • 4-5 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 pound of grape tomatoes—quartered whole tomatoes or cherry tomatoes could work in this dish too, but grape tomatoes are a nice size and roast beautifully in the oven
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound of cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on size
  • 2 small to medium zucchini, cut into half moons
  • 2 small to medium yellow squash, cut into half moons
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 large onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 pound of ricotta cheese—it might be tempting to use low fat here, but use whole milk ricotta—trust me, you’ll taste the difference!
  • 1 cup of Parmesan cheese—shredded or grated as long as you’d eat it on your pasta
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained—Make sure you squeeze as much water out of the spinach as you can
  • 1 box of oven ready lasagna noodles
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella—one of those Italian blends works too
  • 1 small ball of fresh mozzarella (optional)
  • Olive oil

To Cook:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degreesDSC00345
  2. Toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of oregano and salt, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  3. Spread tomatoes on a sheet pan and roast for 15-20 minutesDSC00343DSC00344
  4. At the same time, use a second, larger sheet pan for the zucchini, squash, pepper and onion and increase to 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of oregano, and 1 teaspoon of pepper
  5. Roast the veggies for around 30 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the components for the lasagna
  6. Drop the heat to 375 degrees when the veggies come out of the ovenDSC00363DSC00362
  7. While the veggies are in the oven, add enough olive oil to a big sauté pan to coat the bottom and heat on medium-high heatDSC00370
  8. Add anchovies to the pan and break them up with a back of a wooden spoon—Don’t skip this step! Even if you don’t like anchovies, the high heat will melt the filets into the oil and it will give needed background and depth to your sauceDSC00371
  9. Once the anchovy is melted, add the garlic and brown for about a minute or twoDSC00372
  10. Add the mushrooms—it’s important for mushrooms to be spread out for them to brown evenly. If they’re too crowded in the pan, then they’ll start to steam and turn rubberyDSC00373
  11. Once the mushrooms have cooked, season with a teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper,½ teaspoon of oreganoDSC00375
  12. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and stir—you want the seasonings to be evenly spread throughoutDSC00374
  13. Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the roasted tomatoes are ready to come out of the oven, and then transfer tomatoes to the sauce
  14. Continue to simmer for another 5 minutes
  15. While the sauce is finishing up, you can work on the ricotta layerDSC00364DSC00365DSC00366
  16. In a large bowl, add ricotta cheese, parmesan, eggs, and spinach, as well as a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepperDSC00367
  17. Whisk all the ingredients together for about 3-4 minutes
  18. Time to assemble the layers! In a 9×13 baking dish, spoon a bit of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish
  19. Add the lasagna noodles to the dish in a single layer all the way across—I shingled a little and also got creative by using one noodle that I cracked to fill in empty crevicesDSC00378
  20. The next layer should be some more tomato sauce
  21. Next up is a layer of the roasted vegetables
  22. After the vegetables should be a layer of the ricotta mixture—don’t skimp on the ricotta!DSC00377
  23. After the ricotta comes the cheese layer—add about ¼ of the bag of mozzarella cheese over the ricottaDSC00379
  24. Repeat the layering another 3 times, and top with a layer of noodlesDSC00380
  25. For the final layer, add a thick layer of tomato sauce all over the top, followed by the rest of the cheese, and a handful of parmesan—for my top layer, I actually like to use some fresh mozzarella since it melts so beautifully and makes for a beautiful presentation
  26. I place the whole thing onto a larger sheet tray so that if there’s spillage, it doesn’t go all over the oven floorDSC00383
  27. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes

DSC00384Let it cool for at least 5-10 minutes before you cut into it. In fact, lasagna is a great make-ahead dish that you can keep in the fridge for up to 2 days before heating it. If you plan to refrigerate, make sure you add an additional 10-12 minutes to the cooking time. Also, this makes for a pretty saucy lasagna, but if you want you can reserve some extra sauce and spoon it over the top of each piece as it’s served, and garnish with some extra parmesan. Now who wouldn’t want a piece of that beauty? Buon Appetito!

Scrumptious Italian Sandwiches in Astoria

Il Bambino
34-08 31st Ave
Astoria, NY 11106

My brother recently moved to Astoria in Queens, NY. Being the awesome, amazing and caring big brother that I am, I was helping him move some things into his new apartment, until we got hungry for some lunch. I think Astoria is a great neighborhood, and it’s a super hotspot right now. While it might have once only been known for Greek restaurants—of which there are still many—it is now a haven for artists, musicians, foodies and hipsters. All over Astoria there are gourmet eateries ranging in cuisine from spicy Thai cook shops, to brick oven pizzerias, gourmet grilled cheese, barbecue smokehouses, big beer gardens, Japanese ramen shops, and many, many more.

Photo Jun 20, 1 28 07 PMOne of these unique restaurants is Il Bambino, which opened in 2006. It is a cute, little hole in the wall place on the 31st Avenue block, specializing in old-school panini, and other Italian fare, with a second location in the West Village as well. It has a casual atmosphere with a big selection of panini and crostini, as well as salads, antipasto, and a special brunch menu on the weekends. It has an open kitchen in the front where there are multiple panini presses working at once sending out creative meat, cheese and veggie combinations. They use ciabatta bread that is freshly baked daily, local produce and handmade condiments. There’s also a great meat a mind cheese glossary available for perusal of those that aren’t familiar with some of the selections.

Photo Jun 20, 1 06 03 PMWe got there during the weekend lunch rush and luckily were able to snag a small table near the front. Everything on the menu looked amazing, and even though I was somewhat distracted by the giant salad being eaten by the woman next to me, we decided to save time and each went with a panini.

Photo Jun 20, 1 19 47 PMThe Bacon Butty ($12) has a powerful and pungent blue cheese flavor. There is a good amount of moist, chewy bacon—it had the perfect texture and amount of smokiness that have some oomph to the sandwich. The combination of avocado, scrambled eggs and blue cheese made for a great combo, and the creaminess from the spicy mayo added a certain level of unctuousness to the sandwich as well. The hot bread was nice and crusty, with a wonderful crunch as it was bitten into. It was also a pretty big panini—perfect for a filling brunch or lunch.

Photo Jun 20, 1 19 40 PMIn contrast to the Bacon Butty, which was slightly more traditional American, the Pass the Hash ($11) was very, very Italian. The eggs were cooked well and not dry at all. The garlic roasted potatoes provided some needed heft and the chorizo bumped up the meatiness of the panini. The whole sandwich had a great truffle flavor from the aioli that also perfumed the filling. The addition of Parmesan made the panini luxurious and really elevated the rather simple ingredients to something special, and tied it all together. The inside of the panini was creamy and contrasted with the crustiness of the grilled bread.Photo Jun 27, 1 27 15 PM

Photo Jun 27, 1 28 35 PMThose two panini were super filling and so delicious that a couple of weeks later we decided to pick up a panini to share as an afternoon snack—alright, I’ll admit…a big snack!—and it was the best takeout ever. The Porchetta ($11) panini was definitely made for the carnivorous at heart. Porchetta is a boneless pork loin that is stuffed with herbs, garlic, then rolled and roasted with the skin still on to keep then meat moist and delicious. In the Porchetta panini, the meaty pork loin was fatty with juice gushing out of the meat. It was topped with a fresh and spicy slaw that was definitely helpful in cutting through the rich, fatty meat. The pickle slaw were a nice surprise hidden in the middle of the panini, and the rosemary aioli also gave the sandwich a nice earthiness and deep woody flavor. The bread soaked up the pork juices and it was mouthwateringly delicious.

Photo Jun 20, 1 27 57 PMIl Bambino is the perfect spot for some lunch, brunch or anything in between. It has a ton of great Italian panini available and great beers and wines to pair with them. While the restaurant might be small in size, it makes up for it with big played and bold flavors. Buon Appetito!

An Italian Feast in Tel Aviv (What I Ate On My Israeli Vacation, Part III)

Piazza
Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar
99 Dizengoff Street
Tel Aviv, Israel

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FullSizeRender-5I have to admit, while I love trying new cuisines and sampling unique, ethnic flavors—I love me some comfort food! High up on that list of food that makes me feel good is Italian. Whether it’s a big bowl of pasta, a gooey, cheesy pizza, or a delicious fresh cannoli, I have a weakness for the heavy carbfest that comes from most Italian meals. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Piazza is one of my favorite restaurants in Tel Aviv, and a “must eat at” when I’m by Dizengoff Square.

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FullSizeRender-1Piazza is aptly named as it has a large outdoor dining area that is modeled after an Italian piazza—in fact there are trees and beautiful lights that only add to the magical trip to Italy that you’re taken on by the food. There is also an indoor seating area that is reminiscent of a trattoria or Italian bistro. The focal point of the indoor dining space is the large brick oven that has clearly been imported from Italy, as well as the Little Italy style white and red checkered table cloths—very “Lady and the Tramp.” There are English and Hebrew menus available, and the waiter brings a funky-looking bottle of cold tap water to the table as you sit down. Although I didn’t order one on my most recent trip, the Italian soda bar here is tasty and refreshing as well.

FullSizeRender-2I’ve eaten here a few times and have tried multiple dishes, but every time I come here I can’t resist ordering the Truffle Pizzetta (34 shekels, ~$9). The pizzetta is in actuality a mini pizza. The pizzetta is baked off in the brick oven so it maintains its crisp edges—even with toppings—as well as a wonderful chewiness only found from expert pizza makers. In fact, the crust reminds me of the one I’d get from a small, brick oven pizzeria in NYC. After it comes out of the oven, the crust is slathered with truffle cream, which is so important to this dish. The truffle spread is garlicky, pungent, earthy, creamy and oh so delicious. Then a soft-boiled egg—complete with slightly loose yolk—is cut into quarters and placed onto the pizzetta as well as a few thinly sliced radishes that are spicy and help cut through the richness of the dish. The cold egg and truffle cream atop the hot crust is makes for great temperature play, and the hot crust warms the cream and intensifies its unctuous truffle flavor. In addition, there is wonderful textural contrast between the crisp crust, the creamy egg yolk, velvety softness of the truffle spread, the crunch of the radish and the soft chewy egg white. Honestly, I could eat this everyday and be so happy. The dish is also playful and beautiful to look at. It comes with your own little pizza cutter so you can have it all to yourself—which I usually do—or divide among a few. The dish is garnished with some chives and micro basil before it hits the table, which is a classy touch and adds some freshness to an otherwise heavy starter.

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FullSizeRender-11For the main dish, I try to switch it up each time I come here. One of my favorite dishes, which is technically a special, but is served somewhat often, is the Seafood Linguine (64 shekels, ~$17.50), composed of shrimp, calamari and mussels in a crab and butter sauce. The shrimp was plump, perfectly cooked and moist, while the calamari was tender and not springy or chewy at all, and while most of the mussels had come out of the shells, they tasted good and looked very pretty and absorbed some of the spicy sauce. The linguine was cooked al dente so not mushy at all, and drank up the wonderful butter based sauce, and coated the noodles. The sauce was made with sweet green basil, rich butter, piquante raw garlic, and cherry tomatoes, which are a national specialty of Israel. In fact, Israel is known for their sweet cherry tomatoes since much of the water used to grow them is from the Dead Sea, which is so salty that it causes the tomatoes to become sweeter than usual—you could taste that sweetness in the dish, especially contrasted with the subtle heat in the sauce. There’s some sliced (almost) raw garlic, which perfumed the dish and enhanced the flavor of the pasta as well. The hot pasta tossed with the sweet tomatoes, some fruity olive oil, creamy butter, raw slivered garlic, earthy basil and plump, meaty seafood was a heavenly combination. This dish is so fresh tasting and the bounty of seafood is perfect for Tel Aviv, since it’s a beach city—makes you feel like you’re at the sea! I’d get a meal like this in a five-star Italian restaurant at home. Delizioso!

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Without chicken
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With chicken

Another great entrée choice is the Tripoline Carbonara (62 shekels, ~$16) or fettuccine carbonara, which I added grilled chicken to (7 shekels, ~$2). The chicken was grilled and had a nice crust develop on the outside of the flesh—probably from using flour in the coating of the chicken before it went into the pan. The result was some very moist meat that went well in the pasta.The fettuccine was cooked nicely and cooked softer than the linguine, but not chewy. The carbonara sauce clung to the noodles, and was creamy and thick. There was a nice kick of black pepper, and some saltines from the Parmesan and bacon, The bacon itself became soft and almost melted into the dish. This was a very decadent dish of pasta and very, very comforting.

FullSizeRender-10I’m usually so full by the time the waitress asks if I’d like to see the dessert menu, but I made it a point to have dessert on one of my visits here a couple of weeks ago. I’m a big fan of chocolate and was actually eying the appetizing Marscapone and Nutella Pizza, but ended up going with the Creme Brûlée (34 shekels, ~$9). The creme brûlée was cooked in a large, wide ramekin and had a perfectly bruleed top and a thin layer of custard underneath. The top itself was almost like stained glass and I performed the spoon tapping test and it passed with crunchy colors. As I ate this dessert, I sometimes got a little of a charred bitter flavor from the burnt sugar, which was wonderful in contrast to the sweetness of the custard. The custard was sweet, with a strong vanilla flavor, and velvety smooth. It had an almost pudding-like consistency but still very much set. The combination of the crunchy top and the creamy custard was also very playful. The ramekin was garnished with a sprig of mint—a lot of attention to detail was given to the dish’s presentation. Great way to end the meal.

FullSizeRender-5The dining experience at Piazza was and is always great. They have special discounted prices at lunchtime, and the service is always friendly and attentive. The food is delicious, and the portions super filling. Come eat here when you are in Tel Aviv, you won’t leave disappointed—or hungry!

Philly Food Fests

Sorry I’ve been a little MIA the last couple of weeks as I’ve been out of the country, but I have a special week’s worth of posts from my yep starting next week. In the meantime, I’m going to start the Summer season with some outdoor food market experiences. 

I am a big fan of food festivals since they’re a great way of trying out local vendors–especially with friends. Philadelphia has so many food events over the summer including Night Market and the Italian Market Festival. Night Market is a roving food market that moves to a new neighborhood once a month and has a ton of local food trucks,’carts and food artisans selling their products. From cupcakes, to cookies, to dumplings to sandwiches, there are so many foods to try. The Italian Market Festival is a once a year two day, weekend celebration of the Italian Market neighborhood of Philadelphia and features live music, local artists and artisans, and stalls for Italian market vendors. If you’re a fan of Italian food, this is one event to definitely pencil in! 

Although I couldn’t try everything, I think I got a good sampling of foods at both events. Night Market began in Philadelphia, in 2010, as an homage to outdoor Asian markets, and showcases hot Philly neighborhoods, and street foods. Each month it moves to a new area of the city such as Lancaster Ave, East Passyunk, Chinatown, Northern Liberties and more. 

 

  The Night Market season kicked off this year on South Street last month. The South Street area is funky, with a mix of cool restaurants, bars and shops. It’s a new area for the market–for me–to take place, but they were up to the challenge. 

  

We really started out the night Philly-style at the T & N Homemade Kitchen truck with Phried Hoagie ($6), which was exactly how it sounds. They took a quarter of an Italian hoagie, dipped it into a tempura batter made with Ginger Ale and deep-fried it. This dish was super messy, but in such a fun way. As you but into it there was a great thick crust that grew outward from the middle of the sandwich. It was thick, but still chewy. The meat on the inside stayed moist and semi-cold. The temperature play was a nice touch. The only real issue was the ratio of crust to filling — I wish there was a bit more meat. 

Next up we had a sample of some picked green beans from Brine Street Picklery, which were tart, sour, a little bit sweet, and so refreshing. 

Next up we stopped at Pbon’s Fresh Phood of Philly. Pbon sells sandwiches with an emphasis on crab. The Philly Melt ($8) with crab was calling our name. This sandwich was pretty unique. The crab cake was grilled and not fried, and the crabmeat was juicy and succulent. It was served on a chewy pretzel bun that absorbed a lot of the excess moisture. It was a perfect second course and was great to walk with.  

     

It was time for a drink, and luckily, Bistro Romano, in addition to selling food, were serving drinks. For $5 we each got a summertime cocktail – Limoncello Vodka Lemonade for me, and Vodka Watermelon Cooler for my friend. The drinks were light and perfect for the hot night air. There was a good amount of alcohol, and were more distinctive (and cheaper!) than a beer. The lemonade wasn’t too sweet and had a subtle lemony flavor.

   
  

  

 

After walking the length of the market, we had built up our appetite again and heeded to Mama’s Balls, a food truck that specializes in meatballs of multiple varieties. I’d been looking forward to trying this truck for a while and so we went with the 3 for $13 plate. The Rabe-Father meatball was made with ground turkey with a peppery spiciness from the broccoli rabe, which also kept the turkey moist. It was stuffed with asiago cheese that also helped keep it moist and garnished with pesto that helped elevate this meatball to deliciousness. The Spicy Sausage Ball had a nice kick from the hot Italian sausage and a nice cooling effect from the delicious marinara sauce that it was dressed in. The final meatball was the Blue Ball that was stuffed with blue cheese and bacon, and covered with a creamy blue cheese sauce. The meatballs were all served on mini, slider rolls which were easy to eat, but not always necessary. These meatballs were so moist and delicious, I wish I had like 20 of them. 

  

  

  

The Mac Mart Cart was (finally) calling our name. This truck specializes in everyone’s favorite comfort food, max ‘n cheese. We had to save this for towards the end since it’s so heavy, but also so delicious. It was the creamy noodle dish of my dreams. The Buffalo Mac and Cheese ($8) features their classic mac is topped with spicy buffalo chicken that is chopped into small pieces, tangy buffalo sauce, creamy Buttermilk Ranch sauce and a Parmesan-Panko crust. The portion itself was also huge and easily fed two people.      

 

At this point, we were ready for dessert. The first stop was Sugar Philly for some amazingly, appetizing French Macaron ($1.50 each). The strawberry was a bit tart and had a nice berry flavor that perfumes the cookie. The banana and chocolate chip flavor was a nice balance of sweetness from the chocolate and mellow banana flavor. The milk and honey macaron had the flavor of the best angel food cake, but sweeter. The final one was watermelon and mango and was awesome; it wasn’t too sweet but had a wonderful fruit flavor and a burst of summer in my mouth. All of the cookies had crisp edges with a wonderful chewy texture. The cream in the middle was just the right amount as to not overwhelm the delicate cookies. 

The macarons had only half satisfied out sweet tooth, so up next was The Baker’s Jar. Baker’s Jar specializes in miniature sized desserts of cakes, pies or puddings served in mason jars. They had a variety of flavors available at Night Market, but we went with the Carrot Cake and Dulce de Leche Brownie ($4 each). The carrot cake was moist and had a nice cinnamon aftertaste, with a good amount of cream cheese frosting. The frosting was velvety smooth and I could’ve eaten it by the spoonful. The brownie was intensely chocolatey with a deep cocoa flavor. The brownie was garnished with a thick caramel sauce, and was very fudge-y. The jars were small enough that I didn’t feel guilty eating two of them myself.

Next up was the Italian Market Festival the following weekend, which was celebrating the 100th anniversary, or Cent’anni, of the 9th Street Italian Market. As I walked towards South 9th Street, I was hit by the aroma of some sort of pastry in the air, which were cannoli shells maybe. I passed Twin Smoke Shoppe selling hand rolled cigars that gave off a heady musk, and there were food vendors going in both directions – pasta, pastries, meats, and more.

  

All the smells in the air was making me super hungry, so I started the afternoon off with a slice of Lorenzo’s Pizza ($2.50). The slice had a perfect cheese and sauce ratio, and became a blank canvas for the crushed red pepper flakes and garlic. The crust was doughy and chewy, and simply delicious to eat. Great way to start off the day. 

  

My next stop was at the Humpty’s Dumplings food truck for some Italian themed dumplings (3 for $5). I chose the sausage, spinach and pork. The pork dumpling went great with the tomato sauce and tasted almost like a mini-Stromboli. The spinach dumpling was super moist and reminded me of a spinach purse appetizer. I thought the pork dumpling would have ground pork, but turned out to be be stuffed with chopped up pork and spinach from a roast pork sandwich. It was my favorite of the three and super appropriate for Philly. The skin on the dumplings was not too crispy, and almost like puff pastry. They were good for walking and definitely unique. 

Villa di Roma Italian restaurant had samples of their homemade marinara sauce. The sauce was the same sauce they use in the restaurant and not sell by the jar. It was luxurious, thick but not too chunky. It was sweet and had a earthy Oregano taste. The other version was more basil heavy.  

 

I decided to take a small break from eating to explore some of the local market food vendors. Cardenas Oil and Vinegar Taproom is a specialty food store featuring various flavored extra virgin olive oils, vinegars and sea salts. There were flavors like lemongrass mint vinegar, basil oil, pink sea salts, and more. The Bordeaux cherry vinegar was dark in flavor and in color. There was an after note of spice–classic but modern. I wanted it to glaze my grilled salmon, but but also on a chicken liver crostini. It might even be good in a dessert! The garlic chili oil was also slight darker than a normal olive oil, and was spicy but not too hot. It had s building heat with a punch of garlic flavor. The sage onion oil was also tasty with a very strong sage flavor, appropriate for bold dishes . It would also be good for poultry dishes, especially a heavier bird like a turkey. The oil had an aromatic onion background flavor as well. I ended up buying the Grapefruit, White Balsamic Vinegar ($16). It was tangy, but not very acidic. It wasn’t too cloying, but had a perfumed sweetness and was syrupy thick. It would be delicious drizzled on a fresh mozzarella and tomato salad, or even used to make an Italian soda with some seltzer. 

My next eat wasn’t very Italian, but I couldn’t resist. There happen to be a few Latin shops in the Italian Market area, so I wasn’t that surprised to see the popular Mexican street corn ($4) being sold at a few stalls. The corn cob was slathered with mayonnaise and then covered with Mexican cotija cheese. The corn itself was so juicy, and every time I took a big bite, juice would go flying. The cheese wasn’t as salty as Feta, but gave each bite great texture. The mayo didn’t add much taste and mostly acted as the glue for the cheese and corn. The corn had that perfect amount of summer sweetness and was perfectly cooked, though it could’ve done with a bit more char for my taste. They were also selling some grilled, roasted mango in “mango flower,” so I took a sample. The mango was so sweet and delicious. It would have been perfect for salsa. 

No visit to the Italian Market is compete without a detour at Termini Bros Bakery ($5), a legendary Italian bakery making cookies, cakes, pastries and, of course, cannoli. Termini had a few stalls set up throughout the festival where they would pipe cannoli shells full of cream on the spot. So I had to get a cannoli for myself, and went with the classic filling with chocolate chips. Biting into a cannoli from Termini is heaven–the whipped ricotta was so amazingly light and creamy, but so filling. It’s not too sweet, and complements the crispy pastry shell nicely. There were chocolate chips hidden in the filing, but thy didn’t overwhelm the delicate ricotta. The shell was super crispy, and just big enough for scooping up extra filling with broken pieces as you bite into it. The filling to shell ratio was spot on. The slight dusting of powdered sugar wasn’t even needed. I needed a few moments alone with my cannoli. 

 

My final stop of the day was at the famous Talluto’s Authentic Italian Food that was selling their homemade pasta to long lines of hungry Philadelphians. It was hard to decide for me as to what I wanted, so I had a bit of a combo bowl ($8). The cheese ravioli were pillows of pasta surrounding a slightly grainy but creamy ricotta filling–much more savory and thinner than the cannoli filling. The ravioli presented a greater surface area for the tomato sauce which was very basil heavy, sweet snd chunky. The other half of my bowl was penne with vodka sauce, and the ridges on the penne allowed it to catch more of be sauce. The vodka sauce had a peppery bite that came off as spicy, but not hot. Overall the pastas were pretty saucy and pieces of the meatball would break off and incorporate into the sauce. It very much allowed for a cohesive eating experience. The meatballs were absolutely delicious. They have a generous portion of two big meatballs. They must have used a nest blend because not only could you see the different meats in the ball as it was split open, but the meatball stayed very moist and juicy. It didn’t suffer from the downfall of many meatballs where it dries out due to being in a larger piece of meat and sitting out. This pasta and meatball bowl was the perfect way to end my Italian Market experience and sent me home with a belly full of tasty Italian treats.

This was my first round of Philly food festivals this summer, look for Night Market – Callowhill coming up soon!

Recipe: Chicken Parmigiana Meatballs

I’ve been thinking about how to put a twist on some classic dishes lately. One of my favorites is Chicken Parmigiana. Who can resist the call of crispy chicken, hearty tomato sauce, and gooey cheese? Not this guy. But there are only so many ways to reinvent the wheel when it comes to a good chicken parm. So, I thought, “what about chicken parmigiana as a meatball?” and the idea for this dish was born. These meatballs have all the aspects of a plate of chicken parm that you love, without all of the work, and in a new, unique way.

Ingredients:

IMG_18891-2 lbs of ground chicken—I like white meat, but if you’re afraid of your meatballs drying out, then dark meat is delicious. Same thing with ground turkey

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

1 teaspoon of minced onion, dried

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of pepper

1 egg

IMG_18861/4 cup of wheat germ—breadcrumb lam work well too, but I think the wheat germ in the actual meatball gives it a little bit of sweetness that you often find in slow cooked chicken parmigiana dishes

IMG_18911 ball of fresh mozzarella

1/2 cup of Panko breadcrumbs

1/2 cup and 1-2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (use a sliding scale depending on your preference)

1/4 teaspoon of basil, dried

1-2 cups of tomato sauce (see recipe here)

To Make the Meatballs:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, mix ½ cup of Parmesan cheese with the Panko breadcrumbs, and set aside
  3. Cut a few slices of the mozzarella, about ½ of the ball, and cube all but 2 of them
  4. In another bowl, combine ground chicken, wheat germ, egg, salt, pepper, basil, garlic and onion together in a bowlIMG_1890
  5. Mix the meat mixture, but not too much, just until it becomes homogenous
  6. Grab about 1/8 of the meat mixture and form into a small patty
  7. Use your thumb to make a small well in the center of the patty and place a couple of cubes of cheese there
  8. Use your fingers to curl the meat around the cheese into a ball and your other hand to seal the edges. All do the cheese should be covered by meat so it doesn’t leak out
  9. Roll the meatball in the Parmesan breadcrumb mixture until coated all over
  10. Place the coated meatballs on a greased baking sheet, evenly spaced apart
  11. Put the meatball sheet into the refrigerator for about 30-60 minutes, or 15-20 minutes in the freezer to firm up
  12. Add a bit of olive oil to the top of each meatball before bakingIMG_1899
  13. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes
  14. Once they’re starting to brown, flip the meatballs and bake for another 15 minutesIMG_1903
  15. Remove the meatballs from the oven and turn the heat up to 425 degreesFullSizeRender-2
  16. In a small baking dish, or a large one, if you’d like to do them all at once, place your meatballsIMG_1902FullSizeRender-6FullSizeRender-7
  17. Cover with 1-2 cups of the tomato sauce and the remaining cheese
  18. Bake the meatballs again in the oven for 6-8 minutes. You just want to get the meatballs to absorb some of the sauce, and the cheese to melt nicelyIMG_1912

Serve and enjoy! I like mine with a nice Caesar salad on the side, but these would be great with some pasta tossed in the same tomato sauce, on a sub, as a topping for pizza, or even as an appetizer. You’ll love this twist on your normal meatball recipe. Go balls to the wall! 😉

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