My Favorite Risotto

Risotto is a traditional rice dish from Northern Italy, specifically Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto. It was introduced by Arabian people who dominated Sicily and parts of the Southern mainland in the late Middle Ages.  

A mainstay of Milanese cuisine, Risotto Milanese is prepared using beef stock and saffron which is served with Osso Bucco. When using rice to make a risotto, choose short-grained round or semi-round rice; among the best rices for making risotto are Arborio, Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli.

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I have enjoyed many excellent prepared risotto dishes. One of the most memorable was made my cousin Mauro’s wife Anna, while in Rome. Anna’s risotto is made with pesto and is meant for basil lovers like myself. Her combination is culinary kismet; the perfume-rich tasty herb coats every grain of rice. The other master of risotto is Chef Antonio Cereda, with his Porcini Risotto. Antonio, my friend from Northern Italy is the Executive Chef on Princess Cruises. His Porcini Risotto marries the mellow earthiness of fungi with creamy velvety rice.

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Shrimp Risotto with Asparagus

Makes 4 servings 

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1 lb. uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined 

2 teaspoons dried basil 

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil 

Fresh ground black pepper 

1 small onion, chopped 

4 slices Pancetta, roughly chopped 

1 cup Arborio rice 

2- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth, hot 

3 Tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped 

1 Tablespoon lemon juice 

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel 

1 cup half & half 

1 cup fresh asparagus tips or fresh baby spinach 

Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Pre heat a large sauce pan to medium heat. 

Season shrimp with basil, black pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add shrimp to pan, sear on each side for one minute and set aside. Do not fully cook. 

In the same sauce pan add 1 tablespoon Olive Oil, onion and pancetta. Cook onion and pancetta 4-5 minutes but do not brown. Add Arborio rice and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Slowly add 1/2 cup broth, stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Lower temperature to a low, gentle simmer. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently every 4-5 minutes or as rice absorbs all of the broth until rice becomes tender. 

Return seared shrimp back into pan with risotto and cook for two to three minutes, until shrimp is fully cooked or until shrimp turn pink. 

Cooking time will vary from 25-35 minutes, as will the amount of broth, depending on exact temperature of pan. 

Add half and half and fresh Parmesan cheese, to taste. Optional: Serve topped with steamed asparagus tips or fresh baby spinach. 

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Pumpkin Ravioli

Ravioli, a pasta whose name derives from the verb "to wrap" (ravvolgere).

George Hirsch Pumpkin Ravoli

A century ago stuffed pasta with vegetable-based fillings were eaten on Fridays and during Lent. The meat-stuffed varieties, on the other hand, were a day-after treat made with the leftover meats from Sunday dinners or festive meals. Autumn is the perfect time to stuff-it with fall squash or what has become a viewer favorite from my TV series - pumpkin.

TIPS: 

Uncooked ravioli will freeze well for a two months, when stored flat in single layers.

Make mini ravioli for soups.

Ricotta Pasta Dough

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3 1/2 to 4 cups all purpose flour, variable

10 ounces ricotta, well drained

2 whole eggs, beaten

1 egg yolk, add to beaten eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt 

To Mix By Hand:

Mound 3 1/2 cups of the flour and salt in the center of a large wooden cutting board or use a large deep bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour, add the ricotta and eggs. Begin to mix all ingredients by hand folding the flour round and round. 

The dough will come together when half of the flour is incorporated. At this point, start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands. 

Once the dough comes together, remove the dough from the bowl and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 6 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. If too sticky add a little more flour.

Wrap the dough in plastic, refrigerate overnight or allow to rest for at least one hour. Because of the eggs, the Ricotta Dough should be cooked or frozen within three days.

Roll or shape as desired. 

From here you can prepare ravioli, fettuccini, pappardelle, or endless variety of shapes. 

Divide the dough into four pieces. Lightly dust a large wooden board with flour and roll slightly by hand, repeat dusting with flour flipping dough over as you make it thinner and thinner. The trick is to use just the right amount of flour, too little it will stick, too much and the pasta will become tough when cooked. 

A pasta dough machine with metal rollers and cutters is ideal to give you variety of options. But with a little practice by hand, you’ll roll the dough like a pro. 

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George's Pumpkin Ravioli Recipe
Makes four-six servings
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4 pre-made pasta sheets or 1 recipe George’s Ricotta Pasta Dough

For the Pumpkin Filling:
1/2 cup can pumpkin
1 cup fresh ricotta, well drained
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Pinch fresh nutmeg
Fresh ground black pepper
Optional,  1 Tablespoon dried bread crumbs if filling is too moist

To Fill Ravioli: 
Lay out pasta sheet on a lightly floured board. Cut into two inch squares with a knife or pastry cutter. Put 1 Tablespoon pumpkin filling in the center using either a pastry bag or a small spoon. Leave a 1/4-inch border all around the filling. Moisten borders with water and top with remaining rounds of dough. Press all the air out and seal firmly by pressing all around with fingertips. Place raviolis on a lightly floured board or baking sheet and lightly sprinkle the tops with fine corn meal to keep from sticking. Repeat until you run out of dough and/or filling. 

Prepare the sauce, then cook the ravioli, by boiling in lightly salted water until tender, about 3 minutes. 

Butter & Sage Sauce:
6 Tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
3 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup pecan pieces
Parmesan cheese to taste 

Heat a sauté pan and melt butter. As butter begins to brown add garlic clove, pecans and sage leaves. Remove ravioli directly from water and place in sauté pan to coat with butter. Add about 2 Tablespoons pasta water to sauce. Serve on a warm platter with  with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. 

Summer Garden Pasta

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If you are looking for that under thirty minutes to-cook-to-table dish without compromising flavor for time, this is it. And, variations on this recipe are very easy to do. My summer garden sauce recipe is without a meat/protein in the ingredients, but feel free to add grilled sausage, chicken, or shrimp if desired. Adding fresh summer corn adds sweetness and a little texture to this fresh pasta dish.

This pasta sauce is great served warm or chilled added with a tube shaped pasta.

Chef George Hirsch Summer Pasta

George's Summer Garden Pasta

Makes four servings

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1 pound spaghetti or linguini

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 green zucchini squash, cut into small pieces 

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine

¼ sweet onion, chopped

1 pint grape tomatoes, split in half

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

1 cup fresh green beans, split and steamed

1 ear fresh corn on the cob, steamed and removed from cob

½ cup fresh ricotta

¼ cup parmesan cheese

pasta water, variable

4 fresh basil leaves to top pasta

fresh ground pepper to taste

Note: The amount of pasta water you will need to add to sauce will depend on the quality of pasta you use and how hot your pan is when adding water to pasta. 

Pre heat a large saute pan to medium heat while waiting for water to boil. Add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, green squash and cook for 2-3 minutes until light brown in color. Add onion, garlic, tomatoes, corn and ½ of the basil. Cook for about 5 minutes over a low heat, until the tomatoes cook down. Meanwhile, steam green beans al dente and reserve. 

Bring a large pot of water to a good rolling boil. Cook the pasta until it is al dente, reserving a small amount of pasta cooking water.

Remove saute pan from the heat and reserve. Drain the pasta, and immediately toss it into the saute pan, mix well. Immediately add the remaining olive oil to the hot pasta and blend using a large kitchen fork or tongs. Add a 1/4 - 1/2cup of pasta water and continue to mix well. Top with remaining basil.

Top with additional cheese, basil, and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately with a small scoop of fresh ricotta and a basil leaf. 

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Winter Pesto

It's still cold outside, even with a warmer than usual Winter. But that doesn't stop me from preparing one of my favorite dishes made with pesto. I have a solution—my Winter version of pesto has a robust flavored style pesto made with arugula + spinach mix. The peppery flavor from the arugula makes a nice and welcome flavor, also a bold way to serve an ingredient commonly available year round. 

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Winter Pesto

Makes one cup 

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1 cup packed arugula, washed and dried 

1 cup fresh spinach, washed and dried

4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled 

2 Tablespoon pine nuts, chopped 

1 ice cube

3 Tablespoon grated parmesan cheese 

6 Tablespoon olive oil 

Place garlic and pine nuts in a food processor or blender. Pulse gently. Add ice cube, arugula, spinach and slightly pulse. Do not over grind too long, or you will actually be cooking the tender leaves. Add the olive oil and cheese and process until it makes a paste. Refrigerate until ready to use. Keeps about a week in refrigerator.

Use for more than pasta. Pesto is a great addition to salad dressing, poultry, seafood and vegetables. 

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