kid-friendly · Recipes

Classic Baked Ziti

I dread the onset of winter with its cold, dark, depressing ways, and anyone with little kids can tell you the havoc daylight saving time wreaks on family sleep schedules. We had an oddly warm fall here in New England; it was 70 degrees out Monday, when I started writing this, and as nice as that felt, I’m ready for the casseroles to start showing up again — even if Mother Nature isn’t. I’ve also been ready to dig into hibernation food for months now!

In that spirit, I’ve made this wonderfully simple Baked Ziti a lot this fall, including for potlucks, Sunday dinner, and for friends with new babies.

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This makes the perfect dish for visiting a newborn: it is comforting, filling, and reheats very easily, and can be eaten with one hand while holding a baby. It can also be frozen if your friends don’t have room to eat it right away. As a bonus, little kids like it, too, which is always an implicit goal of any recipe I post! Georgia simply gobbles this up, and it’s one of Mark’s, favorites, too. Win-win.

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This recipe was inspired by Smitten Kitchen with a few adaptations to make it my own.

Cook time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4-6

Classic Baked Ziti

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound ziti, cooked al dente
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning (I like Wildtree)
  • 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated
  • 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino (or parmesan) cheese
  • fresh basil slivers
  • optional: red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS

To start, preheat your oven to 400 F.

Heat a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta very al dente, or at least 2 minutes less than the normal cooking time stated on the box. Drain the pasta, reserving half a cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large skillet over  medium and add a swirl of olive oil until warm, then add the meat alongside the onion, garlic, seasonings and a healthy dose of salt and pepper over medium-hihg for up to 8 minutes, or until the beef is browned, stirring often.

Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for five minutes. Add in the reserved pasta water and then the spinach, cooking until milted (maybe another minute or two). Here, I like to add in some fresh basil, slivered, and maybe a couple fresh tomatoes from my garden if I need to use them up.

Stir in the drained pasta and mix together. Pour half into a 9×13 glass baking dish or lasagna pan, and sprinkle with half the two cheeses; repeat with another half of the pasta then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the heated oven for 30 minutes or until nice and crispy and browned on the edges. You can even run the dish under the broiler for a minute if you’d like it extra crispy! Enjoy warm.

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NOTES:

  • You can also use Italian sausage, casings removed, if you prefer the taste.
  • To cook al dente, shave 2 minutes off the cook time stated on the package of pasta. Taking care not to overcook is essential for this not turning mushy!
  • Seasoning the ground beef well with salt and pepper is essential; it’s less important if you opt for Italian sausage.
  • I like to serve this with more slivers of fresh basil and, if you have it, fresh ricotta. But that’s totally optional!
  • I have never tried this week meat substitutes, but it’s certainly possible. Other good substitutions to make it vegetarian would be mushrooms, beans, or lentils.

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Stay tuned for my first holiday shopping guides soon, and some inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner! I’m so excited Christmas is right around the corner. I basically live for the holidays once Halloween is over every year 🙂 Have a lovely, cozy weekend.

Holidays · Recipes

Split Pea Soup

OK, finding dried peas was IMPOSSIBLE this week, which is why this post is so late. Am I crazy, or is making Split Pea Soup with your leftover holiday ham bone not a thing anymore? At Christmas and Easter my relatives usually fight over the thing on their way out the door, and having pea soup for lunch all week is supposed to be a post-holiday treat, not a chore. Poor Mark went to three different stores for me before finding a one-pound bag of regular old Goya dried beans yesterday. Trader Joe’s and Target said they don’t even carry peas at all, so this isn’t a case of stores running out because everyone else wanted to make pea soup, too.

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My mom always made a wicked good pea soup, but her memory of the recipe was approximate, so I decided to use a good old fashioned Betty Crocker recipe for this Split Pea Soup. My mom does not use celery or carrots in hers, but I wanted to try that and see how I liked it. I think it worked, so I’ll probably do that again the next time I make it.

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It came out delectable, if I do say so myself!

SPLIT PEA SOUP

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried split peas, sorted and rinsed
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 ham bone (or 2 pounds shanks)
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch slices

Directions

Heat the peas and the water to boiling in a 4-quart Dutch oven. Boil uncovered for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Stir in the onion, celery, carrots and pepper. Add the ham bone. Heat to boiling and reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 1 hour 30 minutes, or until peas are tender.

You can either remove the ham bone trim and off the excess fat, and then chop some ham from the bone and place into the soup, or leave the bone in the soup and cut off some pieces with scissors, like I did, then remove and discard.

Heat to boiling again, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer about 30 minutes more or until the soup is your desired consistency.

Skim the fat at this point, or later before serving (that’s what I did). Serve warm with toast or a salad. IMG_9517

Start to finish, this took just over 3 hours, most of it simmer time. I started right after putting Georgia to bed Friday night and finished up right in time for ME to go to bed, at 10:30. I put portions into takeout containers for me to have lunches all week. If you make this in a cast iron Dutch oven, it may take quite a while to cool down completely, so I’d recommend storing in a separate container. It will look much more liquid-y when you first stop cooking and then it’ll solidify overnight, which is how long I like to let it sit before eating.

Betty Crocker’s Tips include:

How to sort and rinse peas. Preparing split peas for cooking is easy, BC says! “Just pick over the dried split peas and discard any grit or discolored peas. Place the split peas in a bowl, and cover them with water. After a minute or two, remove any skins or split peas that float to the top. Finally, rinse the split peas in a colander.”

What to do if you have no ham bone? “If you’re looking for another option for a ham bone, use 2 pounds of smoked pork hocks.”

How to eat this. Like you need the help. “Serve this hearty soup with warm crusty bread and a fresh green salad drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette. Mmm!” Adorable.

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Nutrition Per Serving: 170 Calories, Total Fat 2g, Cholesterol 15 mg, Sodium 30 mg, Carbohydrate 33g, Fiber 13g(!), Protein 17 g.
Christmas · Holidays · Recipes

Scalloped Potatoes

As promised, here’s my recipe for scalloped potatoes from Christmas Dinner! Usually, I serve mashed potatoes at the holidays using this make-ahead recipe, but I wanted to change things up. This is simpler because it doesn’t require peeling or boiling, and it can be made the day before. In fact, next year that’s what I plan to do in order to save myself some stress on Christmas morning.

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SCALLOPED POTATOES WITH ONION & CHEDDAR

also known as Potatoes Gratiné en Français 🙂

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 or 6 medium baking potatoes (about 2.5 lbs.)
  • 1.5 C grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 4 C whole milk
  • 3/4 C light cream
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt & pepper

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a large casserole/baking dish.

Slice the potatoes very thin. I am terrified of the mandoline and don’t own a large food processor, so I did this by hand, very carefully with a large, freshly-sharpened chef’s knife. Do not rinse. Set aside.

Prep the onions and garlic: slice the onion thin and smash the cloves of garlic with the side of a knife and your fist, or a meat pounder or heavy mug (I put mine in a plastic bag to contain the splatter).

In a good-sized Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium (medium-low if using a cast iron or enameled cast iron pot). Add the onions and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the milk, garlic and Dijon and bring to a boil over medium. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Add the potatoes and allow to simmer until they are nearly tender, about 10 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, and discarding the milk once you’re done, transfer half the potatoes and onions to your greased baking dish, then cover with half of the cheese. Repeat, seasoning generously with salt and pepper, then spoon the potatoes and onions into the dish in a second layer and top with the remaining cheese. Season again, then pour the cream evenly over the top.

Bake uncovered for 50 minutes to one hour, or until the cheese is crispy and golden. Let cool a few minutes and serve!

Recipe inspired by thekitchn

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This is actually easy enough to do for a regular weeknight dinner, and would definitely give you enough to use a second time in one week (unless you have a family of teenage boys, in which case, I can’t help you! And hats off, my friend). I used packaged shredded cheddar this time around, but you could grate fresh — I just can’t deal with that stress on my wrists, which still battle some carpal tunnel syndrome left over from my pregnancy. And, of course, another type of cheese (gruyere? hmm) will do just fine.

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If you prefer, you can use another kind of milk — almond, soy, etc. — and you can substitute 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of water for the full 4 cups of whole milk called for. Many recipes also call for heavy cream in scalloped potatoes, but I don’t find that to be necessary. You can still get a very rich effect by using light cream as I did here. Some recipes also call for cooking the potatoes on lower heat for longer in the oven, but I like how this recipe recommends par-cooking on the stove top before you place them in the oven to ensure they are adequately and evenly seasoned. You can always save the discarded milk for another culinary use. And, if you’re interested, I used russet potatoes here; I was looking for yukon gold, but they weren’t available so I decided to try my luck and I’m pleased with the result. These held up very well structurally. If you want a tremendously thick sauce in the dish, you could thicken your milk with flour at the par-cooking stage.

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I really hope you like this recipe and that it broadens your taste buds if you grew up accustomed to the boxed version! These made great leftovers with some of the spiral ham and casseroles we had on Christmas. Georgia ate them enthusiastically, but then again the main ingredients are cheese, milk and potatoes, so I’m not surprised. The onion and garlic lend a visible flavor but don’t overwhelm, making them perfect for picky eaters while still being a little more interesting than mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

Recipes

Breakfast Egg Muffins

These are my new “thing.” I make them on Sundays and have a whole batch for the week. Two muffins + Dunks coffee + my desk = Amanda’s weekday morning breakfast. 

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I have a resolution to eat more breakfast and lunch (and, heck, dinner) that I’ve made at home, because we are “modeling” good food habits for G, but also because daycare is really freakin’ expensive. These fit the bill and are pretty tasty.

Breakfast Egg Muffins

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • veggies of choice, chopped/diced (I use bell peppers)
  • 1 small onion, chopped (optional)
  • cheese of choice (I use sharp cheddar or feta)
  • milk of choice (I use almond)
  • Pam spray or oil of choice, to coat muffin tin

DIRECTIONS

Before you start: Decide whether you will be making 6 or 12 muffins. I usually eat 2 of these per day for breakfast, plus some fruit (and coffee!), so a dozen will get you through the week and then some. But you can make half a dozen just as easily, if you think you won’t eat them all within the week. They only keep about 5-7 days in the fridge. You can also make this with a greater ratio of egg whites to yolks, and if you’re using a deeper muffin tin (such as silicone) then you may want to use a couple more eggs. 1 egg fills roughly 1 compartment and therefore makes 1 muffin.

  • Spray the pan with cooking spray or coat with a healthy oil by hand using a balled-up paper towel. Pre-heat the oven to 375F.
  • Prep your veggies: dice the bell pepper(s) and 1 small onion into small pieces. Set aside.
  • Prep your eggs: using either all or half a dozen, crack them into a bowl and whisk. Add salt and or pepper if desired.
  • Add a few veggies, onions and cheese to each compartment, filling about halfway to 3/4 full.
  • Pour the egg mixture over each compartment, stopping at most a quarter of the way before it’s full. They taste worse if they are overfull and “blossom” too high above the pan!
  • Bake about 25 minutes or until they are just browning and the eggs are set.

These reheat great in the microwave, as long as you don’t overdo them (I’d say 30 seconds to 1 minute is best). If you plan to store them for later, in the fridge OR freezer, just make sure you let them cool first. They do well in a plastic bag or a glass container. You can customize this with any ingredients you prefer, including real or fake ham or bacon, and you can use muffin tin liners as well. And of course, feel free to add any additional seasonings you might enjoy. I hope you like them!

What else do you make for breakfast when you have to eat on the go, or are looking to save money? I’ve gone through phases of making smoothies — especially in summer — and also baking this vegetarian Egg McMuffin casserole every weekend to get me through the workday mornings. I’m also considering trying bake-ahead oatmeal in the slow cooker with nuts and berries. Have you done that?? If so, share!

Baby & Toddler · Recipes

Labor-inducing pizza

In honor of my sister-in-law and cousin, who both had babies this week (hi little Keon and Cedric!), I’m re-posting the homemade pizza recipe that I just had to make the night before I ended up having Georgia, prompting one of my good friends to dub this dish “labor-inducing pizza.” 

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Here’s the original recipe from 2012, which I’ll repost below. Little did I know when I made up this pie that it would become “the pizza that brings on labor.” If you’re past your due date and getting desperate … could it hurt?

Labor-Inducing Pizza (aka, my Pizza Rustica)

INGREDIENTS

  • One pre-made round pizza crust (I used Archer Farms ultra thin & crispy pie, from Target. You could try any brand you like.)
  • 1 large tomato or 2-3 plum/roma tomatoes, sliced
  • a handful of basil leaves, torn by hand
  • 1/2 ball of fresh mozzarella, broken into chunks by hand
  • 1 cup of pre-shredded parmesan/mozzarella mix (again I used Target)
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • non-stick spray for the pan (or use olive oil)

DIRECTIONS

Start by spraying your pizza pan with non-stick spray or olive oil. Preheat oven to 400.

In a non-stick saute pan, stir-fry the sliced red pepper and onion until translucent and browned, about 10 minutes. While this is cooking on the stove top, assemble the rest of the pie.

Place pizza crust on the non-stick pizza pan and dot with olive oil; spread around evenly to coat crust.

Place tomato slices evenly around crust, then top with torn basil.

Add the fresh mozzarella on top of the basil, breaking off chunks by hand.

When the pepper and onion are done, distribute onto the pizza; top with shredded mozzarella/parmesan.

Cook for 10 minutes at 400 or until browned. Serve with spinach salad and enjoy!

Beware: if you DO go into labor after eating this, as I did, be forewarned that there’s just enough of a kick to, ahem, hurt your throat coming back up. And if you’ve never had a baby and are just now learning that labor makes you puke…well, I’m sorry. But it’s better someone told you.

Did you like this recipe? Check out my other easy, homemade pizza recipes here and here. And, a new way to work with pizza dough. Looking for a good pizza tray to use in the oven? I like this inexpensive, non-stick version that cleans up easily and won’t scratch when you slice your pie.

Recipes

Apple Kielbasa with Sauerkraut

This is a great one-dish comfort meal. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve started occasionally eating meat again. This recipe satisfied both Mark and I, and is a very filling option for chilly fall nights. Make it in a big casserole dish and go oven to table with it!

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This recipe comes courtesy of the Boston Globe.
I mentioned it in my fall flavors post a few weeks ago and finally got around to trying it. I used turkey kielbasa to be a little bit healthier, a mix of Cortland and Mackintosh apples because they were in season in New England when I made this, and packaged mashed potatoes from Ikea, which saved time and was super delicious.

Apple Kielbasa with Sauerkraut

Served over mashed potatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 package turkey kielbasa, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored & sliced
  • 1 jar (16 oz.) sauerkraut, drained
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 TBSP grainy or French mustard, like Dijon or spicy brown
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil for sauteing the onions

20131024-043654.jpgDirections

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and prep your sliced ingredients.

In a flameproof casserole dish, such as this Le Creuset french oven I used, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and one apple. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until the onion starts to brown.

(Note: if using a cast iron pan such as Le Creuset, it is VERY important to start the heat on the low end. This type of cookware heats up very efficiently and you can’t cool the dish once it has gotten too hot.)

Stir in the sauerkraut, wine, mustard, salt and pepper. Place the sausage slices on top.

Bring to a boil then transfer to the oven (uncovered) and roast for 45 minutes, or until the sausages are pretty well browned.

If you are making the prepared mashed potatoes, place them in the oven a few minutes before the casserole dish as they require slightly longer to cook.

Remove the pan from the oven and stir in the remaining apple chunks.

Serve over the mashed potatoes with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer!

20131024-043633.jpgBy stirring in one apple before you roast the dish and another one right before serving, you create a sweet sauce that also has a touch of tartness. Otherwise, all the apples would turn to mush!

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To plate, spread a layer of the mashed potatoes on each dish and top with the kielbasa. You can obviously make mashed potatoes from scratch if you have more time than I did, and you could also serve over egg noodles or rice if that’s more your style.

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A little bit goes a long way. Yum!

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In other news, Georgia had her first Halloween a couple weeks ago! We went trick-or-treating with friends whose son was a bit more age appropriate for appreciating the holiday. Baby G’s age didn’t stop us from dressing her up, even if it meant Daddy had to carry her around in his arms all night. (We kept it to less than 10 houses and she still fell asleep).

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By the way, I feel like I owe a huge THANK YOU to everyone who reads this blog and has stuck by me through a challenging postpartum period (is there any other kind?) Even though I’ve only managed to post every other week (at best) since having Georgia, my readers have hung around, and the blog has had high traffic and plenty of new comments and visitors. In fact, I’ve recently started to get as many as 500 visitors a day, which is so much more than I ever thought would happen when I started OrganicGlory and hoped that anyone beside my mom would read it. My dream is to keep writing, trying new recipes, and sharing my life with you, and I’m honored that people I’ve never met have taken the time to visit my site and share it with others. That so many have stayed and shared some of themselves in return is truly amazing.

#blessed

Recipes

Mango Chicken Risotto

This risotto combines mango chicken sausage with roasted red peppers for a sweet, filling, simple meal. It comes together fairly quickly and will give you plenty of comfort-food leftovers! I make it often for Mark when his work schedule is nightly, because it’s easy for him to reheat when he has to eat dinner earlier than I get home from work.

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As I mentioned in my last risotto post, Springtime Risotto with leeks and peas, risotto makes great leftovers. It reheats very well and a little goes a long way ~ if you ask me, it actually tastes better a day old. In Italy, this is a popular lunch choice, especially for kids who come home between morning and afternoon classes to eat. (My springtime risotto post has great step-by-step risotto instructions for first timers, so definitely check it out if you’re new to making risotto and want a simple breakdown. There’s no reason to be intimidated by this dish ~ it’s simpler than people make it sound!)

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They key ingredient is real Arborio rice, not regular white or brown rice. Arborio is an Italian short-grain rice that is high in starch and absorbs lots of liquid to give you a creamy finished product. When I lived in Italy, I learned that risotto is truly a staple — you can throw just about any leftover veggies into it with whatever meat or seafood sounds good to you (if any).

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The second key ingredient is stock, which you’ll add warm to the rice in stages. I have used both vegetable and chicken stock when making risotto, depending on the crowd I’m serving (veg or otherwise). Both taste just fine; I’d only recommend that you stay away from low-sodium broth unless you absolutely have to for health reasons, because risotto needs all the flavor boost it can get, and seasonings are important.

Once the stock boils, you’ll want to keep it at a medium simmer — not so high that it starts to burn off, but not so low that it cools down, either. You need it hot to mix into the risotto properly.

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I cook the sausage and red peppers together when I have non-vegetarians eating the dish, and separately when it’s for folks who don’t want the meat touching the veggies. Since you’re adding it all into the pot at the end anyway, it doesn’t affect how the dish turns out. And you can use any kind of sausage you like! Real, fake, chicken or pork, spicy or sweet. I often make this meal with roasted red pepper sausage, which I find at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, when I want a savory version. I’m pretty sure you could find similar in the natural grocery section of any store.

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First you’ll saute the chopped onions until translucent (you can also use leeks) in a liberal amount of olive oil and butter; each helps the other not to burn. Then, by adding the rice to the buttery onions before adding any liquid, you help coat the risotto with fat which will prevent that mushy starchy thing from happening. Then, you’ll add a splash of white wine. You can also omit the wine if you need to, although most of the alcohol will burn off and very little is retained in the final dish. After the wine, you’ll do a cup of water before you start adding the simmering broth. When you add liquid, stir immediately until the rice absorbs it and before it can stick to the bottom of the pan.

By repeating over and over in small increments until the rice has absorbed all the broth in the pan, you’ll achieve that creamy yet slightly al dente perfection of authentic risotto! Add in your meat and veggies, then top with freshly grated parmesan and pecorino cheese (which is nice and salty), and serve warm.

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Mango Chicken Risotto

hands-on time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups arborio rice (1 package from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 large carton (or 2 cans) vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced and seeded
  • 1 package mango chicken sausage (or any kind you like), sliced thin
  • parmesan and pecorino cheese, roughly grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • water, as needed
  • olive oil and butter
  • splash of white wine (optional)

Directions

Set a sauce pan on medium-high and pour in the stock. Once it reaches boiling, reduce heat and keep the stock at a low simmer, so it doesn’t burn off  but stays warm. I usually add two cups of water to the broth a well, to help it go farther.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and add it to a large stock pot with equal parts olive oil and butter; stir until melted, well coated and translucent.

Chop the red peppers and slice the sausage and start cooking over medium-low in a saute pan on another burner. You can cook these separately if you have vegetarians eating this; that way, you customize each plate.

Add all the rice at once and stir to coat.

Pour a healthy splash of white wine into the pan and stir briskly to reduce. Next, add about a cup of water and stir until absorbed.

Then, start adding the simmering stock, one cupful at a time, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.

Once the stock is gone, taste test; if the rice is too al dente, add water gradually until it achieves the right texture — firm but not stiff, and before it gets soggy.

Grate parmesan and pecorino directly into the pan. Pick a not-too-small grater and be heavy handed with the cheese.

Taste; add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with white wine or a nice cold beer!

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