Italian week 3

I had a very busy last week in the kitchen. Last Saturday & Sunday, I spent all day at Sur La Table (my side hustle), and then obviously came home and spent more time in my own kitchen. I had grand plans for more progress toward my #itsamorefebruary and #hbh2020challenge goals!

Last week I shared that I made a metric ton of Parmesan risotto, knowing I wanted to repurpose the leftovers. I present to you…Arancini! Fried risotto balls, stuffed with cheese, and served with homemade vodka sauce. Hands down, my favorite Italian appetizer. Originally I started with 1.5 cups of arborio rice, which turned into about 67 cups of risotto. My husband and I each ate some, and I had the other 65 cups (not really) leftover.

Christine’s Cheesy Arancini

  • Leftover risotto
  • 1/2 – 1 lb Italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Smoked mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, or mini pearl mozzarella
  • Vegetable oil
  • Pesto for drizzling
  • Vodka sauce or marinara
  1. Cook the sausage, making sure to break up the meat into smaller crumbles.
  2. Add crumbled sausage and peas to leftover risotto, mix to combine.
  3. Using a large cookie scoop, scoop golf ball sized scoops of the mixture.
  4. Take a small cube of smoked mozzarella, or one mini mozzarella pearl and push it into the center of the ball. Then roll the ball as firmly as possible.
  5. Next, dip each risotto ball into egg, then into panko bread crumbs to coat.
  6. Using either a deep fryer or large saucepan, heat oil. Test readiness by dropping a few crumbs of panko into the oil – if it sizzles, you’re ready. If it burns, turn down the heat. No sizzle – let the oil continue to heat.
  7. Fry each risotto ball until deeply browned, and flip as needed so all sides develop dark color. Remove from oil and set on paper towel to cool. Frying took several minutes per side
  8. Serve with a drizzle of pesto and vodka sauce (recipe below) or marinara for dipping.

Chicken Parmesan with Vodka Sauce

When I asked my husband what he wanted me to make for Italian month, Chicken parmesan and Vodka sauce were at the top of his list. It’s a favorite meal in this house and while it’s not a new challenge for me to cook, I couldn’t possibly get through February without some chicken parm.

The very first time I remember having chicken parm was in Belgium, where I spent Thanksgiving 2004. There were no turkeys readily available, and the group I was with wanted a nice meal together. One of the guys decided to make us chicken parm. I was utterly amazed he just knew what he needed, and how to make it, BEFORE PINTEREST. Now that I’ve learned how, it’s almost like a no-recipe recipe, that can be adjusted for however many servings you desire. I did use a new recipe for vodka sauce this time! If you’re going to use jarred vodka sauce, at least use fresh mozzarella and fresh grated parm! How I make it:

  1. Butterfly a chicken breast (or several) so that you have 2 thinner pieces – pounding with a mallet to even thickness if needed. One split chicken breast is enough for 2 people.
  2. Dip each piece of chicken in flour, then into a lightly beaten egg. One egg is usually enough per 1 split chicken breast.
  3. Last, dip the chicken into breadcrumbs (I used fresh) with oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and a little freshly grated parm. I use at least a half cup or more of breadcrumbs per chicken breast. Resist the urge to use too much parm unless you want to spend the evening scrubbing your pans.
  4. Heat a large frying pan and heavily coat with vegetable oil. Once the oil is simmering, add the chicken, being sure not to crowd the pan.
  5. Watch carefully as the oil spatters and makes a mess of your stove. This is worth it. When you see the edges becoming brown and the meat becomes a little white (what you can see through the coating), flip it over and brown the other side.
  6. Add a little vodka sauce to the bottom of a baking dish, then your browned chicken. Top the chicken with a little more sauce, and FRESH mozzarella.
  7. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and your chicken is 165 degrees.
  8. Serve with spaghetti noodles that have been cooked & tossed with more vodka sauce, and sprinkled with fresh grated parm.

My last Italian meal of the week, and #8 for the month, was Gnocchi with fresh pesto. I’ll save that write up for another week – but after many failed batches of Gnocchi, this time, they came out light and almost pillowy – perfectly textured! The key, I believe, was using a potato ricer. I made fresh pesto, with basil, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, fresh grated parmesan cheese, and just a little lemon zest. After the gnocchi boiled, I sauteed them in the pesto, which made for a giant mess in the pan BUT slightly crispy, cheesy potato dumplings. I served the gnocchi with steak (which was not as good as last week’s) and salad. I even used the pesto to make a tasty salad dressing.

Mocha Cannoli

Annnnd I decided we needed dessert with the same meal, so I made Mocha Cannoli (we’ll call this meal 8.1). Cannoli are not my first pick of Italian desserts, but I wanted to try a little variation. I did buy store bought shells, since I don’t own cannoli tubes. They’re not expensive; I just likely won’t make them often enough to justify the kitchen cabinet space. Cannoli shells are crispy sweetened batter that includes wine! The filling is typically made of ricotta cheese. I chose to make mocha ricotta, with a little cocoa powder and espresso, along with heavy cream. I loosely followed a recipe from The Pioneer Woman, choosing to dip just the ends of the shells in chocolate. Overall, these were tasty – I still prefer tiramisu or gelato for an Italian dessert but they were fun to try.


I made 3 things from Half Baked Harvest this week! My favorite thing about the HBH recipes is that none of them were complex or required ingredients I don’t normally have on hand. Except maybe lavender – which was optional – but I happened to have. All of Tieghan’s recipes take simple flavors to the next level.

  • White wine braised chicken with artichokes & orzo: This dinner was so flavorful with juicy boneless chicken thighs, tangy lemon and artichokes. I rarely use orzo – it was the exact right carb for this dish! I made a half recipe and it came together in one pan. A sprinkling of feta on top added another dimension of flavor.
  • Cheesy oregano chicken & broccoli pesto panini: Overall, this recipe and the ingredients are pretty simple. Broccoli, chicken, Greek yogurt, seasonings and cheese to make for a broccoli salad of sorts. A little pesto (I used Trader Joe’s) on ciabatta, plus the broccoli mix, and grilled in my panini maker. Nothing unusual, but also different than anything I’d made before. The pesto really took this sandwich up a notch. Next time I’d probably use sourdough slices.
  • Blackberry lavender buckle: I made this cake for dinner with the family – specifically for my niece who does not like chocolate. Turns out the majority of dessert recipes in HBH call for chocolate, as do most of my favorite cookie recipes. Since I happened to have fresh blackberries on hand, this fruity cake with a crumb topping was the perfect option. I am pretty sure my brother is enjoying the leftovers with his coffee this morning. And my niece requested this with raspberries, and served with ice cream, for her birthday. So I’d consider that a success!

This week is the end of Italian month! I have 2 more meals to go, and I’m already planning March’s theme. Plus, 2 more Half Baked Harvest meals AND my Sally’s Baking Challenge, so there will be no shortage of tasty treats coming out of my kitchen.

Any last minute Italian ideas I MUST make?

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