Today we celebrate all that is Rhode Island. Despite its name, Rhode Island isn’t an actual island. The majority of the state is also part of mainland America. Like its name, Rhode Island is a land of contradictions.
Rhode Island Fun Facts
Rhode Island was the first colony in America to declare its independence on May 4, 1776. Four years earlier, Rhode Islanders had attacked the British warship HMS Gaspee as one of the first acts of war leading up to the American Revolution.
The founding of the US Navy happened on Rhode Island. Because of its position in New England, Rhode Island came to have a large shipping and shipbuilding sector, and with it came pirates. Hence the need for the Navy.
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the Union, with the longest name. The official name of the state is State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. In 2009, a referendum proposed eradicating the latter half of the name. However; people voted to keep the name intact.
While Rhode Island was the first colony to declare independence, it was the last of the original thirteen colonies to become a state.
Rhode Island is nicknamed The Ocean State. The entire state is only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long. The ocean can be reached from any point within Rhode Island with less than an hour’s drive.
While New York and New Jersey have the largest number of Italian-Americans in the United States, Rhode Island and Connecticut have the highest percentage of Italians in relation to their overall populations. It is with this in mind that I give you my take on Rhode Island flavors.
Rhode Island’s Italian Influence
Fried Calamari with Marinara Sauce
Main Course –
Chicken Parmesan over Garlic Linguine
Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes
Zeppoles with Vanilla Bean Custard
1 lb Calamari cleaned
2 cups Milk
4 cups Peanut Oil
1 cup Flour
1 cup Italian Breadcrumbs
Salt to taste
Lemon wedges for garnish
Parsley for garnish
Marinara Sauce for dipping
Rinse the body and tentacles of the squid carefully and pat dry. Cut the body into 1/2-inch rings.
Place the squid pieces in a bowl, cover with milk. Cold water may be used instead of milk. The squid will not be as white, but the will taste just as good. Fried calamari are also delicious with a slightly spicy tomato sauce. For best results, flour the pieces as you go, just before frying. Squid may be kept in milk for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator.
In a deep pot, heat oil to 350 degrees.
Drain the squid, coat with flour and place floured pieces a few at a time in a sieve. Shake to remove excess. Season with salt.
Place bread crumbs in a shallow bowl and set aside.
Fry the squid pieces in the oil until golden.
Coat well with bread crumbs and shake to remove excess. Season with salt.
Arrange on a plate and garnish with lemon wedges. Chop parsley, sprinkle over calamari. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping
Chicken Parmesan over Garlic Linguine
1/2 lb Linguine, cooked
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Cloves Garlic
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
Bring a pot of well salted water to a boil. Cook linguine until done al dente – cooked but firm to the bite, about 10 minutes.
While the pasta is cooking, peel and chop the garlic. Heat a small sauté pan, add butter, garlic and oregano. Sauté until the butter is melted. DO NOT let the garlic brown.
Drain pasta, return to pot. Pour butter mixture over pasta, toss to coat. Keep warm until ready to serve.
2 boneless Chicken Breasts
1 cup Italian Panko Breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried Basil
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
1 teaspoon Roasted Garlic Powder
1/2 cup Flour
1 large Egg
1/4 cup Olive Oil, more as needed
4 oz Fresh Mozzarella Cheese Log
4 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese
1 cup Italian Tomato-Based Pasta Sauce
Fresh Parsley for garnish, optional
Cut chicken lengthwise in half to create 4 thin breasts, set aside.
Combine the panko bread crumbs with dried basil, dried oregano, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper on a plate or in a shallow bowl.
Set up the breading assembly line by lining up the flour on a plate, the egg whisked in a bowl, and the breadcrumb mixture. Coat one chicken breast in the flour, shaking off excess, coat in egg, and then coat in breadcrumbs on each side, pressing gently to stick the breadcrumbs all over. Repeat with remaining three chicken breasts and set aside.
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium to medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, about 5 minutes. Place two chicken breasts into the oil and cook, undisturbed, for three minutes. Use tongs to flip the chicken and cook another three minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate or cooling rack to drain. Repeat with the other two chicken breasts, drizzling in another tablespoon of olive oil if necessary.
Place chicken on a baking sheet. Slice a round from the Mozzarella Log, and top each piece of chicken with a slice of cheese. Sprinkle one tablespoon Parmesan cheese over each. Place in broiler and broil for five minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from the oven and check to make sure the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees.
Plate linguine as a bed, top with chicken. Spoon one tablespoon warmed tomato sauce over each piece of chicken. Chop parsley, sprinkle over chicken and serve.
Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes
2 tablespoons Butter
1 lb Asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
2 tablespoons Shallots, minced
2 tablespoons Celery, finely chopped
2 medium Tomatoes, sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried Basil
1/2 teaspoon dried Thyme
1/4 teaspoon White Pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash and trim the asparagus. The best way to remove the “woody” ends is to break them off. The asparagus will naturally “snap” at the point where the woody ends begin. Lay trimmed asparagus on some paper towels and pat dry.
Slice tomatoes into equal semi-thin rounds. Not so thin as to shrivel while baking, but not so thick that they shield the asparagus from roasting.
Cut butter into small pieces and place in a 13-inch by 9-inch glass casserole dish. Place the dish into the oven while it is warming to melt the butter. When butter is melted and bubbling, remove from oven.
Spread asparagus in bottom of dish with melted butter. Sprinkle with shallots and celery. Arrange tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with basil, thyme, pepper and cheese. Roast for 30 minutes or until asparagus is fork tender.
Remove from oven and serve.
Zeppoles with Vanilla Bean Custard
3 cups Half and Half
8 large Egg Yolks
1/2 cup Bakers Fine Sugar
1/4 cup Cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Butter, softened
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 whole Vanilla Seed Pod
Note: Let egg yolks come to room temperature before using
Heat Half and Half in a saucepan over medium heat until very hot. Watch closely and do not let it boil.
In the meantime, using an electric handheld mixer, whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a large heatproof bowl until smooth.
Add 1 cup hot Half and Half to yolk mixture in a stream, whisking by hand or by electric mixer to incorporate.
Repeat with the rest of the hot Half and Half whisking constantly. Transfer mixture to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and registers 160 degrees on thermometer, approximately 6 to 10 minutes. (Do not go over over 165 degrees F or the eggs will start to scramble). Add more Half and Half if the custard is too thick. Watch closely and do not let it boil. Remove pan from stove and let the custard cool for 10 minutes.
Using a ladle, transfer the custard, one ladle at a time, through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Use the back of the ladle or a spatula to push it through as needed. Repeat until all custard is strained.
Stir in butter and vanilla extract. Split the vanilla pod with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds into the custard. Stir until the vanilla seeds are evenly mixed in the custard.
Cover the surface of the custard with wax paper and chill in the refrigerator overnight to fully set.
Pate Choux Pastry Dough
1 cup Milk
1/2 cup Butter, cut in 4 pieces
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Bread Flour
5 large Eggs
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. With a pencil, trace ten 3-inch circles onto parchment paper. Turn the parchment over. The stencil will show through.
Combine milk, butter and salt in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a rolling boil, whisking several times to combine the butter and milk.
When boiling, add flour all at once, and stir with a stiff spoon. Keep stirring until the dough forms a smooth ball. Transfer the dough the bowl of a stand mixer
WIth the paddle, mix the dough to cool until it reaches under 140 degrees.
Note: eggs will scramble at 165 degrees so knowing the temperature is important. Use a digital thermometer to check the temperature. To speed up the cooling process, slide an ice pack underneath the bowl.
When the temperature is 140 degrees or below, add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating the egg before adding the next. Continue mixing until the dough is thick and smooth, and soft peaks form.
Transfer the pate choux dough to a pastry bag fitted with a large open star border tip or a Wilton 1M. Pipe out Zeppoles following the stencils on parchment paper. Pipe either a donut shape or giant cream puff. If any pointy tips are created from the piping, pat down with a wet finger.
Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed up and golden.
Remove the Zeppole from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. The steam from the center will escape and the inside will dry out.
Fill another pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with the cold Vanilla Egg Custard.
To fill cream puff shaped pastry: With a small knife cut a cross in the bottom of the Zeppole. Insert the tip into cross mark and pipe the custard to fill the hollow center of each one.
To fill donut shaped pastry: When the zeppole have cooled completely, cut them in half. Generously pipe the filling on the cut half. Cover with the top half.
Note: Unfilled Zeppoles can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days or frozen for later use.
10 Maraschino Cherries drained
1/4 cup Powdered Sugar
Drain Maraschino Cherries on paper towels.
Dust Zeppole with powdered sugar, pipe a dollop of custard filling on top of each pastry. Garnish with a cherry on top and serve.