Recipes, Small Bites

Arancini -Risotto Balls

Risotto is one of my favorite things to make, which is why this is one of my favorite Sicilian appetizers. 

To make these Sicilian cheese-filled appetizers, you first have to make risotto, then use the risotto to make cheese-stuffed balls, then coat them with breadcrumbs and fry them. 

It’s definitely a labor of love but they are absolutely worth it. 

These are the perfect appetizer for the holidays or if you have left over risotto. 

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE RISOTTO

¼ cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)

½ medium yellow onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

¾ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning 

Salt and black pepper

1 cup arborio rice 

⅓ cup white wine 

2 cups chicken stock, warmed

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish

FOR THE ARANCINI:

½ cup Mozzarella, shredded

½ cup Fontina cheese, shredded

⅓ cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1 cup panko bread crumbs

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated  

Salt and black pepper

1 ½ quarts vegetable oil

1 cup tomato sauce (fresh or store-bought), warmed

INSTRUCTIONS

Prepare the risotto: 

In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium. 

Add onion, garlic and Italian seasoning. 

Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice until coated, about 1 minute, then add wine. 

Cook, stirring frequently, until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Stir in 1/2 cup stock. Cook, stirring frequently, until stock is almost absorbed, about 4 minutes. Repeat with remaining stock, adding 1/2 cup at a time and stirring until absorbed before adding the next cup, about 15 minutes.

Once all the stock has been absorbed, the rice should be tender and creamy. 

Stir in the Parmesan, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and seasoning. 

Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Pour into a large bowl and let for at least 20 minutes. 

In the same bowl, mix in the mozzarella, fontina cheese. 

Cover tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour or up to 2 or 3 days.

Once the risotto is chilled, use a cookie scoop and gently roll each into a ball. Repeat with remaining risotto balls. (If you’re not planning to fry them right away, arrange them on a small baking sheet in a single layer, cover and refrigerate until cooking, up to 2 or 3 days in advance. If the risotto mixture isn’t cold, it can fall apart in the hot oil.)

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. (If you have a candy thermometer, now is a good time to use it: Heat the oil to about 350 degrees.)

Prepare the breading: 

Add the flour to a shallow bowl, then add the eggs to another shallow bowl and beat the eggs to combine. In a third bowl, combine the Panko, Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir to combine.

Working with one arancini, roll it first in the flour, shaking off any excess, then in the egg, then in the bread crumb mixture, taking care to coat it on all sides with each roll. Transfer to a clean baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining arancini.

Fry the arancini in batches, leaving at least one inch between each ball, until golden and crisp on the outside, about 5 minutes. (By the time the crust crisps, the cheese filling will melt.) 

Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining arancini. 

Spoon warmed tomato sauce onto small plates or into bowls and top with warm arancini, or set sauce in a bowl for dipping and arrange arancini on a serving platter. 

Sprinkle arancini with finely grated Parmesan.

Recipes, Small Bites

Pizza Dip

We all love pizza! Well how about a pizza dip! Less carbs with all the same delicious flavors! This MEAT LOVERS’ pizza dip is next-level good. It is super simple to make, and everyone will love it. I used sausage, bacon, and pepperoni but use whatever types of meat and toppings you like!

Ingredients

12 oz. bacon, cut into 1″ pieces 

1 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed 

1 (8-oz.) block cream cheese, softened 

2 cup shredded mozzarella, divided 

1 cup ricotta 

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning 

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 

1 1/2 cup pizza sauce 

1/2 cup pepperoni slices

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375°F

In a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat, add bacon and cook until crispy, 8 minutes. Drain on a paper towel–lined plate. 

To the same skillet, add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 6 minutes. Drain fat. 

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, 1 cup mozzarella, ricotta, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. 

Add bacon, sausage, and cream cheese mixture to skillet and stir to combine, then spread in an even layer. 

Spread pizza sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Top with pepperoni and Parmesan. 

Bake until bubbly and cheese is melty, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with baguette slices.

Recipes, Small Bites

Fresh Eggplant Bruschetta

Bruschetta is easily one of my all-time favorite appetizer!

It’s eggplant season! I love this pretty, versatile vegetable and coming up with new ways to use it. Once you make this bruschetta, it will become an easy go-to for using up summer tomatoes and eggplant for years to come.

If you’re looking for a more substantial meal add this as a topping to your favorite pasta!

INGREDIENTS

  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Two 1-pound eggplants, chopped
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/4 cup packed basil leaves, coarsely shredded
  • One pint cherry tomatoes 
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 loaf French bread, 1/2 inch slices
  • Freshly grated Parmesan

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. 

Add in the diced onion and eggplant and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the eggplant is tender, stirring frequently. Add in the garlic, red pepper flakes and basil leaves half way through cooking.

Add the cherry tomatoes to the eggplant. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. 

Cover the pan, wait for the tomatoes to burst for about ten minutes. Squish any whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon and let the tomatoes thicken, about 1 minute. 

Stir in the capers and stir to combine. 

Taste and add the salt & pepper if needed. 

Heat the broiler. 

Brush the bread slices with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese on both sides. 

Char the bread on both sides.

Spoon the bruschetta onto the bread and top with grated Parmesan and remaining basil leaves. Dig in!

Small Bites

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers

These bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers are baked instead of fried! Who can resist fresh jalapenos stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon and baked to crispy perfection? Not me, that’s for sure. This is the ultimate party snack!

The jalapenos are sliced in half and the seeds and ribs get removed. Removing the seeds and ribs removes most of the heat from the peppers; if you like it spicier, leave some of the seeds and ribs in. The peppers are stuffed with a combination of cream cheese, cheddar cheese and spices. Then wrapped in bacon before baking in the oven. 

I like to serve my bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers with a side of ranch for dipping, but honestly they’re great as-is too.

Ingredients 

  • ½ cup cream cheese
  • ½ cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • ½ teaspoon paprika 
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 12 jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds and membranes removed
  • 12 slices bacon

Instructions 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Mix cream cheese, seasonings and cheese together in a bowl until evenly blended. 

Fill each jalapeno half with the cheese mixture. Put halves back together and wrap each stuffed pepper with a slice of bacon. 

Arrange bacon-wrapped peppers on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven until bacon is crispy, about 15 minutes.

Recipes, Small Bites

Portobello Fries with a Lemon Garlic Aioli

The first time I had portobello fries, I was in downtown Tampa at a restaurant called Gin Joint. After my first bite I was in love and knew I had to recreate them! 

Soaked in buttermilk and lightly fried in a beer batter and then dipped in a tangy aioli… They are seriously a dream! 

You can have them as an appetizer or use as a Taco Tuesday filling, either way you will crave these! And yes, you can bake them instead of frying and they will taste just as good!

The Lemon Garlic Aioli is a magical creamy sauce with a bright lemony tang and a savory garlic flavor that you will want to dip everything in from chips to veggies to any meat.

Ingredients

Portobello Fries

  • 4 Portobello mushrooms, about 1 pound, stems and gills scraped out, cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 can beer (preferably lager or pale ale)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white cornmeal
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying (about 2 ½  cups)

Lemon Aioli

  • ½ cup Mayo
  • 2 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • ½ lemon juiced
  • 1 zest of a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped Italian parsley

Instructions

Make the aioli: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until blended. Set in the refrigerator.

Prepare the mushrooms: In a shallow pan, soak the mushroom strips in the buttermilk, about 1 hour.

Make the batter: In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, beer, flour, parmesan cheese, cornmeal, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and the cayenne. 

Fill a skillet with the vegetable oil; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F or drop a crumb in and it sizzles.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter. 

One at a time, dip the mushroom strips in the batter, then carefully lower into the hot oil. (Do this in batches if necessary-do not crowd the pot.) Fry until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes, turning with tongs. Remove and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. 

Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with the garlic lemon  aioli.