String Bean Salad for 4th of July

July 4th signifies an important day in American History – It’s known as Independence Day, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, PA and declaring independence from Great Britain.

I was recently asked if Independence Day is celebrated in Italy. The answer is NO. It IS an American Holiday.

That doesn’t mean that my family didn’t celebrate; we did. We ate hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad; but we also ate sausage and peppers, pasta salad, string bean salad, followed by Italian pastries, such as cannoli and drank espresso.

Growing up in Brooklyn, NY was especially fun because of the different nationalities living on my block. As children, we had sparklers; our parents set off fireworks on the street, and we ran through the water from the fire hydrants. It was a happy and simpler time.

If you’re planning on having a barbecue this year, I’d like to suggest something Italian to add to your menu.

Italian String Bean Salad

Ingredients

1lb. fresh string beans – be sure to remove the ends.
2 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
1/2 finally chopped small onion
1small can of pitted black olives
1 tbsp. fresh chopped basil
1 tbsp. oregano
Salt and pepper 
to taste
1/4-cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2-cup balsamic vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Preparation

Rinse fresh string beans to remove any dirt.
Fill a 10 qt. pot halfway with water and place a metal steamer in bottom of pan.
Layer string beans on the steamer.
Turn heat to a medium setting.
Steam until slightly crisp, and bright green in color (7-10 minutes).
Remove steamed string beans from pot and plunge into very cold water (5 minutes).

Construction

In a large bowl, add finely chopped garlic, onion, oil, vinegar, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and sugar and whisk vigorously.
Add string beans and mix together.
Add olives and mix again.
Place string bean salad in the refrigerator and let it cool about 30 minutes, taking it out to mix again before placing it back in the refrigerator for a final 30 minutes.
Be sure to mx it again when you take it out of the refrigerator to serve. 

* You can also substitute red wine or white wine vinegar for the balsamic.

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Chicken Risotto for My Dad Who Hated Chicken

Today is June 6, 2014 – D-Day. It marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied Invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France; and a day that changed the course of World War II.

Today also marks what would have been my dad’s 86th birthday. It’s been more than 23 years since he died, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of him. What I remember most is his quiet ways; his laid-back, non-assuming personality; his amazing intellect and common sense.

My dad loved Italian food, and despised chicken. He’d go to great lengths to avoid eating it. The other day, my mother and I were reminiscing how he’d mutter under his breath his disdain for the bird while carving it.

When Daddy was going for his treatments for his throat cancer, he spent Monday through Thursday with Jeffrey. Jeffrey would accompany Daddy to his treatments and then they’d have lunch together. Since Jeffrey was a vegetarian, it was easy for them to avoid chicken at all costs. Thursday afternoons, I’d go to Manhattan where Jeffrey lived to pick up my dad and bring him back to New Jersey to my house.

He’d spend the weekends with me, playing with the boys, listening to his beloved classical music, reading his beloved New York Times and trying to avoid chicken.

One time, I made Chicken Risotto. I knew how much he didn’t want to eat it, but I also knew that if I prepared it in such a way as to mask its taste, he just may go for it. So I made sure to cut the chicken so small that it was completely blended, so that all he tasted was the rice and cheese. I’m happy to say that he enjoyed it and mentioned it to my mom when he talked to her on the phone.

And now, here’s the recipe in honor of my Daddy who hated chicken!

CHICKEN RISOTTO
.    2 tbsp. olive oil

.    1/2 lb. mushrooms, cut into thin slices any kind

.    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into cubes

.    5 cups low-sodium chicken broth

.    1/2 cup chopped onion

.    2 cups Arborio rice

.    1 cup grated Italian cheese (Locatelli, Parmesan)

.    3 tbsp. Italian seasoning

.    Salt & Pepper to taste

.    OPTIONAL: 1/4 cup white wine

In a large 12” skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent

Next, add mushrooms and cook until light brown

*You may need to add another tablespoon of olive oil at this point

In the same pan, add the Arborio rice and sauté until coated with oil.

Finally, add the chicken, and Italian seasoning; stirring until chicken is cooked

Now, add 2 cups of chicken broth and lower heat to simmer.

This is where it gets hairy!

You need to continue stirring this mixture to be sure the rice doesn’t stick and the broth doesn’t get absorbed too quickly.

Keep adding the stock, a little at a time; keeping the rice and chicken moist.

Once all of the broth has been added, turn the heat off and let it sit until all of the broth has been absorbed, continue stirring.

Once all of the broth has been absorbed, add the cheese and mix completely.

Add additional seasoning to your taste

  • Have additional grated cheese on the table for those of us who are cheese addicts.

Serve with warm Italian bread

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