Pasta Risotto & You

by Nancy Caivano


December—Not Just For Christmas!


As a child, I always looked forward to December for a number of reasons. First and foremost was Christmas, not just because of the gifts, but for the foods, music, beautiful lights and decorations—the whole package. Another reason I anticipated December was that it meant that my birthday was nearing (January 19). I loved my birthday almost as much as I loved Christmas. I still do, believe it or not.

Not Just For ChristmasThe one thing that I never really considered was New Year's Eve. It wasn't a major deal in my family. When my brothers and I were little, my parents would go out and we would spend the eve with my grammy, who lived across the hall in our apartment building. My mom would get us frozen appetizers (we adored those, they were very new and exciting to us) and we would stay up and watch Dick Clarke and drink ginger ale in champagne glasses. Then we went to bed. It was fun, but not anything major.

As we got older, we did the same thing, but at home. Sometimes my Aunt Judy and Uncle Boo would come with my cousins, and as my brothers got married, their families came over as well. It was always fun, but anytime we all get together is fun. After my dad passed away in 1987, New Year's was a little more poignant and not totally as much fun, although it has gotten better as time moved on. I have apparently instituted a new tradition: this past New Year's, my brothers and their families slept over and the next morning I made a huge breakfast. I have already been told we're doing that again.

We weren't always all together, sometimes I had to work the Eve when I was still a chef at Tavern on the Green, and my brother hasn't been home for New Year's in ages, usually working. We still manage to have fun, and I always try and make interesting food. I have always thought that if I ever get married, I want to get married on New Year's Eve. No, not like those people you see on TV getting married at the stroke of midnight, but say a 7 pm wedding followed by dinner, dancing, a champagne toast at midnight, then a breakfast. How cool would that be? Then, we would always have something extra to celebrate on New Year's Eve—our anniversary!

Instead of focusing on Christmas or Hannukah in this December edition, I decided to focus on New Year's. To me, New Year's Eve means appetizers, without a doubt. I have two appetizers for you, plus an "appetizer" dessert.

First, we have Seared Butternut Squash Ravioli with Cider Dipping Sauce. These are wonderful little ravioli, a great change of pace from the normal cheese variety. Tender homemade pasta is wrapped around butternut squash, brown sugar, maple syrup, spices and both ricotta and Pecorino cheeses. They are poached, then seared until crisp and served with a reduced apple cider dipping sauce, made with apple cider, a little chicken broth, shallots and butter. It is an interesting appetizer and your guests (or your family in their pj's) will be delighted.

For our risotto recipe, I have a risotto appetizer, Roasted Garlic Risotto Cakes with Spicy Tomato Sauce. These are terrific and very versatile. You can make the cakes bite size or larger ones that you have to cut with a fork. I know they are more work, but I prefer the bite size version, they seem to get crispier somehow. The recipe is a basic risotto recipe loaded with savory roasted garlic and tons of Pecorino Romano cheese. They are shaped into cakes, floured and fried, then served with a hot and spicy tomato sauce that complements the cakes perfectly. If you happen to have any leftover risotto, by all means use that instead of the recipe here, and simply follow the recipe from where the cooled risotto is used.

Now, I bet you were wondering what a dessert appetizer is. Well, to me, anything bite size is an appetizer. So, I made these Fudge Cupcakes in mini-muffin pans so they were just about 2 bites of sheer heaven. They are so full of chocolate I think they exceed the legal limit. The cupcakes can be made ahead of time and simply frosted the day you are going to serve them. The best thing about them is that the kids and the grownups all love them—no separate desserts needed. When I make them, I make a triple batch and freeze the unfrosted cupcakes. Then, when my niece or nephews advise me of the bake sale happening tomorrow, or when they're simply having a chocolate attack, I can take these gems from the freezer, nuke them and serve them with frosting or just with some powdered sugar.

I hope that you enjoy these recipes, have a blessed Christmas or Hannukah and a terrific New Year's Eve. May the upcoming year be filled with much love, loads of laughter, good health and of course...wonderful food! Come back in January when we try to work off some of those cupcakes.

Happy Holidays,
Nancy Caivano


Copyright © 2001, Nancy Caivano. All rights reserved.


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This page created December 2001