Papabile Insalata è Riso

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This week, the Vatican Conclave convenes to vote for a successor to Pope Benedict XVI. I have always been fascinated by this secret process, and the pomp and circumstance surrounding it. I say this not just because  I am Catholic. Who in the world would not cast a watchful eye on that Vatican chimney, anticipating the billowing of white smoke signalling that a new Pope has been chosen?  This Conclave would be the sixth in my lifetime — inclusive of 2 conclaves happening within a year because of the unexpected death of John Paul I in 1978 after being Pope for only 33 days.

So in honor of my sixth Conclave, I decided to prepare what I call a Papabile (meaning someone who could be Pope) pairing — Insalata Caprese and Italian Rice Balls — the latter in solidarity with the lone Filipino voting Cardinal who has been occasionally mentioned as a Papabile. Rice, as you probably know, is the main food staple of the Philippines.  I chose these two dishes in observence of Lent during which many Catholics refrain from eating meat — especially on Fridays.

INGRDIENTS – Insalata Caprese

2 large tomatoes, sliced to about 1/4-inch thick

8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced to 1/4-inch thick

8 fresh basil leaves, stems removed

1 1/2 tbsps extra virgin Olive oil

Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Some black olives for garnishing

DIRECTIONS

On a large plate, lay the tomato slices, putting a cheese slice on top of each, then laying a basil leaf atop the cheese.  Drizzle with Olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with black olives.

INGREDIENTS – Italian Rice Balls

1 cup uncooked rice

2 fresh eggs

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups bread crumbs

1 1/2 cups Olive oil

1 tbsp dried parsley leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, parsley and cheese and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator. Cook the rice in an automatic  rice cooker (If no rice cooker is available, boil the rice in a quart of water, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and continue to cook until all the water is absorbed and rice is tender). Remove cooked rice from heat and slowly pour in the egg mixture, stirring constantly to prevent the egg from being scrambled. Let stand  and allow to cool for 45 minutes.  Pour bread crumbs into a large platter. With dampened hands, roll rice mixture into 1-inch balls then coat them evenly with the bread crumbs. In a large wok or deep skillet, heat Olive oil in medium-high heat. Deep fry rice balls until golden brown.  Place cooked rice balls on a plate lined with paper towel to absorb excess oil.  Serve warm, along with the Insalata.  THEN, keep an eye on the Vatican chimney!

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