Tuesday, August 27, 2013

If I were his Chef: Xabi Alonso

One of Spain’s (and the world’s) most beautiful men, Xabi Alonso, was once my guardian angel.

He graced a billboard for an Emidio Tucci ad campaign (as in photo, right), near the building where I stayed in Madrid last November. 

Admittedly, I am directionally-challenged (at best) when finding my way “home” in a big foreign city, especially at night when everything looks different! Thanks to his beautiful image always being there for me, I never got sidetracked or lost after spending splendid time in Madrid by day, and especially by night.

Even before and after all that, I have loved this man in general. He is the very joyfully devoted husband of Spanish actress Nagore Aranburu, and father of two beautiful children. He played for Liverpool in his younger years (which means that one day we can converse in English), is still holds passion for his former club. He speaks lovingly of his Basque heritage and reveres its food and family culture, making him adoration-worthy to me. 

He even played football as a child at Playa de la Concha in San Sebastian, one of the most gorgeous sites I visited in Spain (photo coming soon).

With profound admiration - and gratitude - I have long wanted to be Xabi Alonso’s chef. I was delighted to learn that he is quite the food enthusiast, and especially appreciates food prepared with pleasure and affection. He has a way of just making things so easy for me!

And now, his Real Madrid club will be without their excellent midfielder for about 3 months due to his serious foot injury, which just hurts. On many levels. I just know that if I cooked something really special for this fine gentleman, that would make him feel so much better!

Torrijas is Spain’s version of French Toast, or even bread pudding, and it happens to be a favorite of my handsome muse.

If I were his privileged Chef, I would prepare an irresistible variation of torrijas, in the style of my best French toast, with a Champagne mango accent. Ataulfo mangoes from Mexico may still be available through early fall; any mango variety will work here.

This is truly one of my best dishes - always, always prepared with love and pure passion. I learned how to make this for breakfast from my own father, and I always, always include his secret ingredient: orange juice. 

If Xabi Alonso has not yet enjoyed these smooth, silky mangos, he’s in for a sublime treat. They remind me of his elegance, class, penchant for fine foods and dining, and they make for very good and healthy eating. Thinking that it would be a really nice family meal, I picture them all crowded on a big bed for Sunday morning breakfast. The whole dish is homage to his being a pure class-act. On many levels.

And, obviously, to thank him for making my world more beautiful ... and, safe.

Torrijas ~ French Toast-style with Champagne Mango ~ for Xabi Alonso
6 eggs
1 cup milk
Juice of one fresh orange
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 day-old baguette, sliced diagonally, 1-inch thick
Butter, for frying
Honey, for finishing
Whisk batter ingredients until frothy, pour into shallow baking dish. Place bread slices in batter, turning at least once. Let bread soak while making mango butter (recipe follows). Generously melt frying butter in large skillet over medium flame. Cook soaked bread in butter, until lightly browned on each side. Distribute among four warmed serving plates, place scoop of mango butter on top, and drizzle with honey to serve. Yields 4 servings.

Mango butter
1 small Ataulfo mango, cut in small dice
1 cube unsalted butter, room temperature
pinch of salt
Pinch each of brown sugar, and ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Puree mango dice in food processor. Add remainder of ingredients, pulse until mixture is smooth and creamy. Serve over warm French toast. (Leftover portion may be refrigerated for up to one week.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

If I were his Chef: Andrea Pirlo

He was one my favorite boys of summer in 2006.

I first fell in love with Andrea Pirlo during this scene, with team captain Fabio Cannavaro, shortly before Italy was crowned World Champion.

Last month, his 10 years with my favorite club, AC Milan, came to a (mutual) bittersweet end. He signed a 3-year deal with Juventus, Milan's traditional rival.

I think I can handle this ~ shhhh. Juve's club is so flippin' beautiful with Alex Del Piero, et al. Pirlo seems fine with it, I think I'm ok too.

Whenever and wherever he plays, in any jersey, my day turns magical.

My point ~ "Why I adore Andrea Pirlo" (the short list with links to supporting evidence):
  • He is man enough to let his fans see him cry (2:45).
  • There are great tribute videos honoring him, lots of others adore him too.
  • His best friend perhaps being Alessandro Nesta = a favorite eye-candy video.
  • He looks a little sleepy sometimes but regarding that, Nesta claims Pirlo is really a rock in the locker room and worth 10 men.
  • He is long-time married with 2 children.
  • He is gorgeous in (row 4, 6 from left) Dolce&Gabbana.
  • He scored an amazing 40-yard goal in October 2010 ~ my early birthday present.
  • His hometown club, Brescia, signed him originally to launch his career; he's hinted he may return to play for them to end his career.
If I were his Chef, I’d set something sweet on his table, that would reflect the hope in his heart for a stellar future with Juventus.

White as the theme comes to mind because it feels peaceful to me.

On non-World-Cup years, two of summer's finest blessings are white peaches and the return of Italy's soccer season in late August. My muse is from northern Italy's Lombardia region, also home to Amaretto di Saronno, and mascarpone cheese ~ ingredients that elevate my spiced-poached peaches to an exquisite realm. I’d suggest dipping traditional Amaretti cookies in the syrup ~ their story has a happy ending of its very own.

I'd prepare this elegant dessert with a prayer that every joy ~ especially those unexpected ~ find this beautiful man, in this new chapter of his life.

He deserves that.

Amaretto-Poached Peaches with Mascarpone, for Andrea Pirlo

1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Amaretto di Saronno
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Scored rind of one orange
4 small, slightly under-ripe white peaches, halved, pitted

Combine first 6 ingredients in large saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add peach halves. Cook in liquid for 15 minutes, turning peaches occasionally. Remove peaches and solids from pan; boil liquid, reduce to yield light syrup.

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
Freshly ground nutmeg
Amaretti cookies, optional

Place 2 peach halves in each of 4 dessert bowls. Spoon a little cheese in center of peaches, sprinkle with nutmeg. Spoon syrup around peaches to serve; offer cookies for dipping.

Yields 4 servings.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

If I were their Champions League Chef: Barcelona

This is part 2 of my "If I were their Champions League Chef" series, in honor of the 2011 Final on 28 May, in London. Each story offers a new original recipe as my gift, to thank both clubs for their (respective and) collective inspiration and ... beauty.

Shortly after my DNA was forever altered, a new French home-mate came to call. His passion ~ France's national team. Mine ~ Italy's. The 2006 World Cup had just rocked my world, and destroyed his.

I was very good at crafting clever and creative ways to keep our small home a harmonious one.

At that hour, Italy's Gianluca Zambrotta and France's Thierry Henry played for FC Barcelona. Watching their matches together became a source of peace between us, and that's when I first fell in love with the Spanish giants.

By now they've taken my world by storm.

One man that I adore on my Melting Pot Food Tours rounds is a rabid Barca fan, to whom I know better than to mention Real Madrid or even Iker Casillas. Sometimes I think our mutual passion + the one I share with other adorable Barca fans = one reason I get up in the morning.

The chronicles of Barcelona's phenomenal success and mass of silverware is best told by the myriad of other Barca-worship sites, while I work up to my point of this story.

The current roster of Manchester United's formidable opponent this weekend is an acutely accurate rendition of The World's Most Beautiful Game.

Manager Josep Pep Guardiola lifted this Champions League trophy with Barcelona as a player in 1992, and then again in 2009 as the club's first-year coach. He is also a champion of lady fans' affections.

Eight of his expected starting 11 on Saturday ~ Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique', Pedro Rodriguez, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, and my favorite, David Villa ~ were Spain's 2010 World Cup Champions.

Most of his players hail from Spain, and others have roots in Brazil, France, Africa, Holland and, Argentina ~ home to universal darling Lionel Leo Messi, who is praised by his iconic peers (and even rivals) as the greatest player in the world. He's another object of my adoration.

Now, here's the punch line ~

It was reported that 9 months after Barcelona won the Champions League finals in May 2009, the birthrate in the Catalan city soared by 45%.

Mind you, I do not make these things up. I just report them.

With an agenda.

If I were their Champions League Chef, I couldn't not put a gorgeous, energizing dish in front of these beautiful men, to celebrate the serious kind of passion they organically inspire. It'd have to be something deliciously rich with aphrodisiacs.

My romantic main-course salad would start with a bed of spicy arugula, which in ancient times was believed to be associated with fertility. Fresh sea scallops wrapped in bacon and glazed with balsamic vinegar, a dash of chili, and honey ~ nectar of Aphrodite herself ~ would yield a blast of soft, salty, sweet, and sticky, with a bit of heat. I'd add more sensuality with slices of cool, silky mango (which Southeast Asia takes as a supplement for virility) and creamy-dreamy avocado (which nutrients boost sexual health).

Its finish would be a sprinkle of almonds, which have represented true love throughout history.

Do I need to say it?

Sorry, ManU. I'm in love.

Forca Barca.

Seductive Scallop Salad, for Barcelona

2 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp dried chili flakes

1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 Tbsp Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

8 fresh sea scallops
4 slices bacon

1 Manila (Champagne) mango
1 medium (ripe) avocado
6 cups fresh arugula

1/4 cup chopped roasted almonds

Preheat oven to 425F.

Whisk honey, vinegar, and chili flakes in small bowl. Place all but 2 Tbsp of mixture in large skillet for later use. Whisk the reserved 2 Tbsp with mustard and oil until smooth and creamy; season to taste with salt and pepper. Place vinaigrette in plastic squeeze bottle for dressing salad later.

Wrap each scallop with 1/2 piece bacon, secure with toothpick. Place in baking dish; bake for 20 minutes.

Pit, peel, slice mango and avocado. Place arugula in two shallow bowls for serving.

Heat honey mixture in skillet over medium flame. Remove cooked scallops from oven, place in skillet. Heat through, coating with glaze.

Top arugula with 4 glazed scallops for each serving. Fan slices of mango and avocado around scallops. Drizzle salad with vinaigrette. Sprinkle with almonds to serve.

Yields 2 servings.

Monday, May 23, 2011

If I were their Champions League Chef: Manchester United

This is the first of my two-part "If I were their Champions League Chef" series, in honor of the 2011 Final on 28 May, in London ~ and will be followed by a story for FC Barcelona. Each story will offer a new original recipe, as my gift to thank them for their (respective and) collective inspiration and ... beauty.

It took a while for me to give the English Premier League the time and attention it deserves. I credit the UEFA Champions League for finally luring my heart over to that side of the pond.

The biggest European club competition ~ the Champions League Final ~ is coming up on Saturday. Soccer fans around the world have been captivated since September, when the qualifying rounds began. The tournament kept us nail biting through early May, when the two finalists finally emerged.

This year's match is deja vu for Manchester United and Barcelona. In May 2009 the same two clubs clashed, and Barcelona was crowned European (Club) Cup Champions. Understandably, Barca's worthy opponent wants revenge this year.

FC Manchester United (known also as United, ManUnited, ManU) has earned its rightful place in the Final under the stellar leadership of Manager Sir Alex Ferguson (known also as Fergie and Sir Alex). Having coached ManU since 1986, the man is universally hailed as one of the best coaches in the world and throughout the history of the sport. His no-player-is-bigger-than-the-club philosophy is said to be (only one) of the keys to his success; just about everyone considers him a class act.

The first team of Sir Alex (who is from Scotland) boasts a little united nation of its own, with roots in Mexico, Senegal, Wales, South Korea, Holland, Canada, Brazil, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Most players are in fact, from England.

The new (2007) Wembley Stadium will host this huge match. London has earned its own rightful place on the culinary map, thanks to icons like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, and Gordon Ramsay.

Even though technically the British club will be on home soil, Wembley doesn't exactly equal home field advantage. Manchester United deserves an iconic dish that makes them feel welcome, calm, and confident ... with a taste of home at the same time.

If I were their Champions League Chef, I'd place a platter of simple, elegant, comfort food with a little bit of a Euro accent before them. I happen to know that their resident Korean Ji-Sung Park was raised on quality meat, that roasted meals reign supreme in the UK, and that a little hot sauce only adds to the spice of life.

And, I'd seem clueless if I didn't address that certain members of this club are experiencing extreme difficulties in their personal lives recently, which have been exacerbated by the British tabloid press and now even social media. In general, I defer to other sources regarding that genre of reporting since I am clueless about the entire truth of those stories. I'll just say that my meal would be prepared with pure intention to both inspire and, heal ... which seems the most appropriate gesture for a Chef to offer at this hour.

Hoping there would be something for everyone on their international roll call, I'd want them to dine well on a prime beef tenderloin roasted with fresh tomatoes, surrounded by creamy mashed potatoes, and today's garden variety of roasted fresh vegetables. On the side would be a selection of hot sauces, including Brazilian malagueta which would also resonate with West Africans.

It is said that the ultimate glory for a player is to score a goal in the Champions League Final. I can't wait to see whose dreams will come true this time.

Wouldn't it be nice if my menu induced a celebration? I think it would.

Prime Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Tomatoes, for FC Manchester United

2 1/2 lbs. prime beef tenderloin roast
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F. In center of large, ovenproof skillet or heavy baking dish, place roast seasoned generously with salt and pepper. In large bowl, toss chopped tomatoes generously with olive oil. Surround roast with tomatoes. Roast for about 20 minutes, until quick-read internal thermometer reads 120F maximum.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing to serve. Internal temperature of roast will increase by about 5 degrees while it rests. Overcooking roast will yield dryness so do not allow internal temperature to increase beyond 120F.

Serve meat and tomatoes with mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and hot sauce as condiment if desired.

Yields 4-6 servings.

Friday, February 25, 2011

If I were his Chef: Marco Borriello

Marco Borriello has been on my wire of prospective beautiful muses, for months.

Probably for years, if I was really honest.

I first fell in love with him when he played in Genoa. When one of his matches aired and I was home to watch, my day suddenly turned magical. He transferred to AC Milan, my first love, where he about took my breath away in red&black.

Now he's with another true love, AS Roma, and is equally gorgeous, alongside his teammates, in yellow&red. (And, as it turns out ~ who knew ~ as a singing and dancing cowboy.)

His career has mostly been spent in northern Italy but he is from Naples, where I believe his family still lives. His father died when he was young and he remains devoted to his family, especially his mother, who did not have an easy time raising him and his siblings alone. He claims to have had a very awkward youth when he wore thick glasses, and lacked self-confidence.

I will say this twice in this story ~ The Universe is very kind. Everything passes.

When Italy takes the international field, sometimes Borriello wears the Azzurri jersey, and again, my day turns magical. Never mind that he didn't make the World Cup 2010 squad last summer ... even his presence would only have consoled me a little, when Italy choked.

As I said, we live in a very kind and benevolent Universe. There are lots more international matches coming up, including Euro 2012 qualifiers, and new national coach Cesare Prandelli may in fact call him for duty. This will rock the worlds of more lady fans than just myself.

On that note, his status of sorts ~ single, off-the-charts handsome, and sometimes even available ~ makes him one of Italy's hottest bachelors. He is known for adamantly refusing to discuss the latest tabloid gossip in interviews. Still, lady fans always want to know, regarding the romantic choices of his particular genre, "Why not a fan?"

I concur, laugh, and add, "Why not a chef?"

Around Christmastime, I guess I was musing about said things delicious. For some strange reason, the flavors of Fantasia ice cream started clamoring in my creative mind. At Disneyland, where it was served exclusively for many years (but no longer), its flavors gave whole new meaning to divine trinity ~ banana, pistachio, and cherry. I loved it.

Yum. I was easily inspired to play connect-the-dots. Fantasia ice cream celebrated Fantasyland. Some version of this place is where many of his fans spend at least some of their time. Not many would argue that the word fantasy does in fact, go very nicely used in the same sentence as these two words: Marco Borriello.

If I were his Chef, I think serving this incredibly delicious quick bread, with aphrodisiac-rich ingredients, would send a clear message to this man. Bananas are rich in potassium and B vitamins, both essential for healthy hormone production. Cherries have their own sexy allure. Pistachios are energy-boosting and a healthy source of protein, in case stamina comes to mind.

Serving it as dessert, I'd add a little pistachio gelato on the side and a drizzle of rich, creamy chocolate sauce. But trust me when I say that it is really exquisite, just served alone.

As in, for breakfast.

Fantasy Banana-Cherry-Pistachio Bread, for Marco Borriello

1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cube butter, softened
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup pitted cherries (drained/pitted well if using canned/frozen-thawed)
1 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F and coat 8x4x2" loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans with cooking spray.

Sift first 3 ingredients together THREE TIMES; set aside.

Cream butter and sugars with electric mixer on medium speed. Add eggs one at a time, then vanilla; combine well. Mix in mashed banana with mixer, then mixing on low speed, gradually add sifted dry ingredients. When well combined, gently stir in by hand, the cherries and nuts.

Transfer to prepared pans, and bake for 25-30 minutes for small loaves, and 50-60 minutes for large loaf. Let cool on wire racks before turning out of pan(s). Slice as desired, to enjoy.

Yields 1 large, or 3 small bread loaves

Thursday, August 12, 2010

If I were his World Cup Chef: Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Nigeria)

This story is #29 of 32, in my "If I were their World Cup Chef" series. Each post honors one world football player from each of the 32 national teams at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. As my muses, each inspires a recipe that I am privileged to offer as my gift ... to thank them for making the world more beautiful (even after the 2010 World Cup has ended).

His nickname is The Yak, there are a few different spellings of his name out there, he is the 3rd highest international goal scorer in Nigerian Super Eagles football history and one of Europe's best goalscorers. His English Premier League club Everton consider him such an integral part of their success, they've warned interested parties that their prized 28-year-old striker, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, is expensive.

It's quite an impressive profile for a man who grew up playing street football in bare feet until the age of 12 (when his brother gave him his first pair of boots), and lived in a 3-room apartment with his parents and six siblings in a depressed neighborhood. He claims his upbringing motivated him to want more in life, and work hard for it.

His name translates as Jacob, and by now, more than once journalists have used the reference of Jacob's ladder to metaphorically account for his success. His professional journey began with a Nigerian amateur club, then moved on to Portugal, Israel, and finally to England.

When he first left Nigeria, at 17, he was terribly homesick and would call his family several times a day. Sometimes it was only to ask his mom how to cook something when he was hungry, as in, what to put in the pot with the tomato rice. When asked, later in life and shortly before he was married 2 years ago, if he still cooks his mother's recipes, he admitted he preferred takeout Indian and Chinese meals and (shudder) frozen microwaveable entrees.

Hmm, yes. Surely I hope his Mrs. has nixed all that for him and perhaps their family by now. If not, I actually know a good Italian chef who can make decent ethnic dishes if and when she is so inspired.

Lagos, the upscale Nigerian city where research of my muse's residence last left off, is an exciting port city rich in beauty, tourism, culture and arts (including the center of Nigeria's film industry, Nollywood), and educational institutes. Fine food must take its rightful place in this burgeoning scene.

If I were ~ or had been ~ his World Cup Chef, I think I'd take his tomato rice idea and twist it up into an Eastern-fusion risotto of sorts. From what I understand, the Western African specialty he is likely referring to, Jollof Rice, has Eastern-esque seasonings like cumin, ginger, and even curry powder. It is typically cooked in coconut oil, but sesame oil could easily be substituted to start the recipe. I would include some delicious seafood and diced fresh vegetables with only a little tomato (for a European touch) because, I'm sure by now his wife can make his mom's best tomato rice recipe.

With best wishes for continued success and the joy that he and his family truly deserve, I trust my inspired dish will yield at least one of his beautiful smiles!

"Jollof Fusion" Risotto, for Yakubu Aiyegbeni

3 Tbsp sesame oil
1 cup diced green onion
1 cup diced seasonal vegetables of choice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp garam masala or good-quality Indian curry powder, or to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 cup Arborio rice
3 cups seafood or vegetable broth (or, 1/2 cup white wine + 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth)
1.5 lbs cooked seafood of choice, cut in small pieces
Sea salt and white pepper, to taste
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped finely
Black sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Heat sesame oil in large saucepan over medium flame. Add onion and vegetables, cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, cook another minute. Stir in tomato paste, curry, cayenne. Add rice, stir to coat well. Add one cup of liquid. Stirring constantly, incorporate all liquid, then repeat with one cup of liquid at a time. When rice is completely cooked, gently stir in seafood pieces. Taste, adjust seasoning with salt, white pepper. Stir in cilantro, sesame seeds if desired. Serve immediately. Yields 4 servings.

Monday, August 9, 2010

If I were his World Cup Chef: Keisuke Honda (Japan)

This story is #28 of 32, in my "If I were their World Cup Chef" series. Each post honors one world football player from each of the 32 national teams at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. As my muses, each inspires a recipe that I am privileged to offer as my gift ... to thank them for making the world more beautiful (even after the 2010 World Cup has ended).

Considered one of Asian football's brightest and most promising talents, 24-year-old Keisuke Honda led his national team to the knockout rounds in this last World Cup, for Japan's first time on foreign soil. The midfielder-turned-striker scored in matches against Denmark and Cameroon, and came away he-who-captured-the-most-attention during his nation's impressive run in South Africa.

As a result, his club team CSKA Moscow were reported to have entertained offers from Italy's AC Milan and England's Premier clubs Liverpool and Arsenal to poach him away, but for now he remains in Russia.

His young career started as a second-grader, in his home of Osaka, where he played with a local club; his youth career continued through high school. His professional career began with Holland's VVV-Venio club, where he was known as Emperor Keisuke among fans until he transferred to Moscow in 2009, midway through his contract.

The brother of a footballer, nephew of an Olympic canoeist, and cousin of an Olympic and professional wrestler, Honda is perhaps taking both his athletic heritage and game to a juicier level ~ that of fashion/style icon. More women than men reportedly attend Japanese soccer matches because the players are so cool, and Honda is considered one of the hottest among fans.

Honda, whose looks are acclaimed as Beckham-esque for his messy bed-head bleached locks, has been snap-shot on various occasions lately donning tailor-made suits, aviator sunglasses, designer jeans and sandals, and luxury watches on each wrist. One fashion reporter speculates that he and his peers take their grooming and appearance seriously at this hour because, they are contemplating their post-careers ~ they can't play soccer forever.

Food for thought, certainly.

And on that note ... Honda's home of Osaka is surrounded by land on its northern, southern, and eastern borders, and Osaka Bay to the west. Two rivers also flow through the region. The Bay and the rivers may, or may not, have something to do with the fact that conveyor belt sushi, which is sometimes more sophisticated with the use of little wooden boats that float, originated in Osaka.

If I were ~ or had been ~ his World Cup Chef, I'd opt away from sushi to make gyoza ~ pan-fried dumplings ~ that might suit him just as well. My version of Japanese pot-stickers, might surprise and delight his palate with their fashionable, European filling.

AC Milan wasn't able to welcome him to Italy for now but, Milan being the fashion capital of Italy ~ and Honda, fashion icon in Japan ~ all inspire an Italian twist on this Japanese tradition. Spicy Italian sausage, sundried tomatoes, freshly grated Parmiaggiano, minced garlic, and fresh herbs would fill little wrappers beautifully. When dipped in a pink sauce topped with diced black olives, both a stylish and a delicious epicurean statement would celebrate the so-cool-he's-hot, so-hot-he's-cool star ... from whom great things are expected in the future, both on and off the pitch.

East-meets-West Gyoza or, Italian Potstickers, for Keisuke Honda

1.5 lbs hot Italian sausage, bulk or pulled from casing
1/4 cup diced sundried tomatoes in oil, drained
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, torn in bits by hand
3 Tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
24 gyoza (round) wrappers
Extra-virgin olive oil
White wine + water

Combine sausage, sundried tomatoes, cheese, garlic, herbs in mixing bowl. Fill gyoza by placing a generous teaspoon of filling in center of each wrapper. Fold into a half-moon, sealing edges with a bit of water. Pinch to secure tightly. Coat bottom of large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high flame. Place filled gyoza on their sides in pan, be careful not to crowd. Let cook for about 5 minutes, until browned, then add a splash of combined white wine and water. On low flame, steam gyoza until liquid evaporates. Gently remove from pan, keep warm, repeat with remaining ingredients.

While gyoza cook, prepare dipping sauce ~

Homemade or prepared tomato sauce
Splash of red wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly grated Parmaggiano-Reggiano, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp black Italian olives, finely diced
Pinch of dried Italian herb seasoning

In saucepan, heat tomato sauce with a little red wine. Add cream, heat through. Season to taste with cheese and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl, garnish with diced olives and crumbled dried herbs.

Yields about 4 appetizer servings.