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Dolma, dolmadakia, dolmasi, in whatever language, add something different and delicious to the table. We know them as stuffed grape leaves, but dolma–“stuffed thing” from the Turkish–is basically a stuffed vegetable dish that can be found in the countries that belonged to the Ottoman Empire and surrounding regions, including many Arab countries, Iran and the Caucasus, as well as Central and South Asia. It is common to stuff eggplant, zucchini, tomato and pepper in these countries, but it is the grape leaf that most English-speaking people recognize as the dolma.

The filling consists of rice and sometimes meat, depending on the region, and is flavored with onion and a variety of herbs and spices. Which herbs and spices? Again, that depends on the region.

Serbian-style dolma are called sarmice, which always confused me because the word sounds like a diminutive of sarma, the cabbage roll that is ubiquitous in Eastern Eauropean cuisines. However, both dishes involve minced meat and rice encased in an edible wrapper. Cabbage rolls are cooked in a sauce spiced with sweet paprika, and in Serbia stuffed grape leaves can be too, although bechamel is also a common adornment. I like them plain, with a dollop of strained yogurt doctored with a bit of lemon.

The filling is cooked beforehand, and it takes a bit of time to fill the leaves, but these sarmice are easy to make and are a great as an appetizer or a complete meal. I usually make a big pot and then freeze any leftovers in individual containers for a quick lunch.

Serbian-style Stuffed Grape Leaves

Ingredients:

Makes 20 stuffed grape leaves

40 grape leaves (from a jar)

1 pounds of lean ground pork

1 cup white rice

1 medium onion, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

2 teaspoons Vegeta seasoning *

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Directions:

1) Soak the grape leaves in water for at least half an hour to get rid of the salt from the brine. In the meantime, cook the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until soft.

2) Cook the rice. In a separate pan, brown the pork until it is cooked through and no longer pink. Put the meat and rice in a large mixing bowl. Add the onions, parsley, an seasonings. Mix thoroughly.

3) As you work, pat each grape leaf on a kitchen towel to get rid of the excess water. Take two grape leaves and trim off any tough stems. Overlap the bottom of one leaf halfway over the bottom of the other. Add a tablespoon or two of the filling, depending on the size of your leaves. Fold in each side of the grape leaves, lengthwise. Then roll up from bottom to top. Place in the bottom of a 9-inch round cooking pot with the folded side down. Repeat with the rest of the grape leaves.

4) Pour water over grape leaves to cover completely. Place a plate on top of the stuffed grape leaves to keep them from floating or unraveling. Cook, covered, for about an hour, or until the water evaporates.

5) Serve with yogurt, sour cream, or bechamel sauce.

 

* Vegeta is a seasoning from Croatia that can be purchased in most European delis and supermarkets. It can be replaced with salt, to taste.

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I’ve had a lot of bad risotto lately.  Okay, I’ve had bad risotto twice in the last few weeks, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s two times too many.  I can’t help but conclude that I need to stop ordering this creamy Italian rice dish at restaurants.  I should stick to having it at home, where I can tend to it lovingly, standing over the stove and stirring until each plump grain of rice absorbs the hot stock that helps gives risotto such a rich yet delicate flavor.

Risotto has a certain mystique.  It can go from soupy to gummy in a matter of seconds, and the attention it requires while cooking can be more than some of us can bear. I don’t mind the 22-25 minutes of stirring it takes to make a risotto; it’s almost a meditation for me, a time when I can relax and reflect on my day before sitting down to eat.  I’ve always thought risotto makes an impressive first course at a dinner party but I never dreamed of offering it at one.  It needs to be served immediately once cooked, which can create serious timing issues.  Besides, who wants to be stuck in the kitchen while their guests are mingling over pomegranate martinis? 

Then I discovered Delia Smith’s baked risotto.  Delia has a great recipe for Oven-Baked Risotto Carbonara.  It combines the flavors of carbonara sauce with that of cheese risotto.  The result is a rich and creamy dish that needs no stirring and doesn’t require that you absent yourself from dinner guests.  It’s as easy as combining the ingredients and putting them in a casserole dish to bake.  The result is a risotto just as good as one made stirring tirelessly over a hot stove.

 

Baked Risotto Carbonara

Adapted From Delia Smith’s “How to Cook: Book One”

Serves 4 as a first course.

 risingred

Ingredients:

1 cup (250 ml) arborio rice

5 ounces (150 g) chopped pancetta or bacon

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

3 cups (725 ml) chicken or vegetable stock

3/4 cup (75 g) pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling

2 large eggs

1 heaping tablespoon creme fraiche

salt & freshly milled black pepper to taste

 

Directions:

Before you start preheat the oven to 300F (150C). You will also need to preheat an ovenproof casserole dish while you are making the risotto. The dish should be large enough to hold 4 servings of rice.  I use a 7×4 souffle dish but I serve the risotto on individual plates once its cooked.  I think it looks better that way.

This is different from the typical risotto to which you slowly add ladlefuls of hot stock. You simply add the rice to the stock and then transfer it to the oven, where most of the absorption takes place.

1.) In a large saucepan over medium heat, fry the pancetta or bacon in its own fat until crisp. Let drain on a plate covered with paper towel and put aside.

2.) Cook the onions in the butter until soft, about five minutes.  In the meantime, simmer the stock in another pot until it comes to a boil. Turn down the heat and let it continue to simmer. You need very hot stock to release the starch in the rice.

onion

3. Add the rice to the onion and stir until its coated with the buttery juices.  Add the bacon.

bacononrice

4.) Add the hot stock to the rice and stir.  Add a pinch each of salt and pepper to taste.  Let it all come to a boil, then transfer to a warmed ovenproof dish.

5.) Bake the risotto in the oven, uncovered, for twenty minutes.

6.) Remove and gently stir in the cheese, folding and turning the rice grains over.  Bake for another 15 minutes.

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7.) In the meantime, whisk the eggs and creme fraiche together. Remove the risotto from the oven and gently stir in the egg mixture, making sure its well combined. Leave the risotto to thicken, about 2 minutes. Garnish with more cheese and serve immediately.

risott

 

If you are concerned about consuming raw eggs, drop the eggs in boiling water for exactly one minute before adding to the risotto.

You may substitute 3 tablespoons of heavy cream for the creme fraiche.

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QUOTE

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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