Chicken Cacciatore Casserole

February 19, 2015 Entrees, Menu, Pasta No Comments

Family recipes, whether followed to the tee or slightly altered, are a key ingredient to keeping family traditions alive. They are a major inspiration for many big weekend and holidays meals, and the backbone to my food blog. For this recipe, I’m taking one of my Grandmother’s signature dishes, Chicken Cacciatore (which you can find on my blog by clicking here), and am slightly adjusting some of the measurements to make it into a casserole. Although the presentation and serving size are just a bit different from the original – I made adjustments to better serve a large crowd – the spirit and essence of Grandmom’s dish is still the main highlight. There’s nothing wrong with adding a new twist to a classic family dish, and I’m sure that my Grandmom would approve of this recipe!

 

 

Chicken Cacciatore Casserole

4 chicken breasts, cut into 1″ cubes, lightly dusted with flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tspn rosemary
1 29-oz can tomato sauce (you’ll start off with about 2/3 of the can)
1 large red or green bell pepper (or two small), cut into small pieces
1 cup water
2 tblspn vegetable oil
pinch sugar
salt & pepper to taste
1lb cooked pasta (ziti, mini shells, or whatever you prefer!)
breadcrumbs
*although I don’t prefer them, you can also add mushrooms to this dish

Step 1: The Sauce
In a large frying pan, brown chicken and garlic in oil until chicken is golden brown. Add vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Simmer until liquid evaporates. Add rosemary, about 2/3 of the tomato sauce, remaining water, sugar, salt and pepper. Add peppers, stir together, cover slightly, let cook for 30 minutes.

Note – I’m suggesting that you start off with 2/3 of the tomato sauce. A full can may be too much to add to the pan. You can add in the remaining 1/3 of tomato sauce when stirring in the pasta. The added sauce will pick up the flavors while baking.

Step 2: The Pasta
Preheat oven to 350˚. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta until al dente. When pasta is done, mix it together with the sauce in a 13″x9″ baking dish. If the pasta doesn’t get fully coated, add the remaining 1/3 can of sauce, stir together. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs. Cover with aluminum foil, place in oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until slightly bubbling and hot.

Serve and enjoy!

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cacciatore1

 

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Amaretto Mascarpone Rice Pudding

February 10, 2015 Dessert, Menu No Comments

There are few desserts that come to mind that are as rich, creamy and elegant as a classic home-made rice pudding. This past weekend, I decided that I would make my own version of rice pudding by adding two of my favorite decadent dessert ingredients – mascarpone cheese and Amaretto liqueur. Since I have never made rice pudding, I put a little extra time into researching recipes online, to determine which method would work best with my additional ingredients. I came across a bunch of variations, including recipes made with egg yolks, whipping cream (heavy and light), milk and butter. One ingredient that was always consistent with the highly rated recipes was arborio rice.

Arborio is a short-grain Italian rice with a high starch content that is used when making risotto. When cooked, it plumps up and makes a creamy texture that blends well with other flavors. Creamy is definitely a texture that I wanted to go for with the pudding, so arborio rice was the way to go.

Because I wanted to add mascarpone cheese (an Italian cream cheese) to the recipe, I thought it would be best to use a recipe that did not incorporate other dairy ingredients high in fat. The first recipe that I attempted to make called for 4 cups of 2% milk, and 1/2 cup of pre-cooked arborio rice. Because I was adding the mascarpone, the idea of only using 2% milk seemed appealing. I was wrong. Whether it was the lack of fat in the 2% milk, or that the rice was pre-cooked in water and no additional starch was released in the milk, the pudding never thickened for me, even after adding the mascarpone. Even after letting it sit for a good two hours, the texture never got beyond a soupy consistency. It tasted great, but was way too thin to serve.

Back to drawing board, I decided to cut the liquid measurement down to three cups, but this time using two cups of 2% milk and 1 cup of light cream. The mascarpone would have added some thickness and fat to the dessert, so I didn’t see the need to use heavy cream. I also cooked the arborio rice directly in the milk/cream mixture, so that the released starch would help thicken the pudding.The results were much better and looked beautiful when I removed it from the stove. But once cooled, it thickened a bit too much. To help thin it out, I stirred in a bit of cream before serving and the taste and texture were perfect. But I came to the conclusion that 4 cups of liquid are indeed needed when using 1/2 cup arborio, using a 3-1 ratio of 2% milk and light cream (3 cups milk/1 cup cream). If you want to make a slightly smaller serving, stick with the 2/1 ratio of milk and light cream as I did, but reduce the amount of arborio rice to 1/3 cup.

If you’re adding Amaretto, you can simmer it in a sauce pan on low heat for about 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol to make it kid-friendly. Make sure to keep an eye on the simmering Amaretto, to make sure that it doesn’t evaporate.

Amaretto Mascarpone Rice Pudding
Serves 4

1/3 cup arborio rice
2 cups 2% milk
1 cup light cream
1/4 cup sugar
4 oz mascarpone cheese
1 tspn vanilla extract
*1/4 cup Amaretto (alcohol can be cooked off)
cinnamon

(To make a serving for 6, increase milk measurements to 3 cups and increase arborio rice measurements to 1/2 cup).

In a large sauce pan, place arborio rice, milk, cream and sugar. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Simmer for 35-40 minutes, or until milk and cream start to thicken and the rice is soft and plump. Remove from heat, fold in mascarpone cheese, Amaretto, vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Place the rice pudding in a covered bowl, refrigerate for 4 hours.

Serve and enjoy with an additional sprinkle of cinnamon!

* To cook off the alcohol in the Amaretto, place the Amaretto in a small sauce pan. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. You will be able to smell the alcohol cooking off. Be sure to keep an eye on the Amaretto so that it doesn’t burn or evaporate.

rice pudding

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