While Chef Kardea Brown is known for cooking up dishes and desserts that celebrate her South Carolina Low Country background, she has a soft spot in her heart for Italian flavors. She’s specifically a fan of Rao’s Homemade pasta sauce, an authentic Italian pasta sauce that is rooted in history dating back to 1896.
“It’s very hard to find a sauce that tastes authentic and tastes homemade that’s in a jar. And so I’ve been eating Rao’s [Homemade] sauce and cooking with it for years,” she tells ESSENCE.
Chef Kardea has teamed up with the beloved company to cook for a good cause. She recently hosted an episode of the brand’s second annual #Sauce4Cause Instagram Live Cooking Series, benefiting Jersey Cares. The non-profit is offering support to families who’ve been affected by COVID.
“I think we’ve all been impacted by COVID in some way somehow,” she says. “And so when they reached out…and said they wanted me to be a part of this campaign, it was just, ‘Oh yeah!’ I didn’t think twice about it.”
In her Instagram Live, Chef Kardea put a Southern twist on a classic Italian dish to make what she calls Low Country Arancini. It’s basically a “cheesy rice dish” as she describes it. It utilizes short-grain Italian rice arborio to make a Gullah Geechee favorite, red rice.
Chef Kardea, who didn’t go to culinary school but learned how to make delicious Gullah dishes from her parents and grandparents, has an approach to cooking that’s made her a star. It’s allowed her to leave behind a career in social work to become a chef on the Food Network with shows like Delicious Miss Brown and Cupcake Championship, and to have her popular traveling Gullah Supper Club. But those days of social work have stayed with her and inspired her decision to partner with Rao’s Homemade.
“I was so excited to partner with Rao’s Homemade because my background is in social services,” she says. “I actually worked in social services in New Jersey. And that’s where Rao’s Homemade is headquartered out of Montclair. And so after I worked there, I stepped out of that and decided to continue with cooking, but I still work in social work all the time, even to this day.”
You can learn more about how you too can support Jersey Cares alongside Chef Kardea in their effort to help those impacted by COVID over at the Jersey Cares website. You can also cook up her delicious take on Arancini by following the recipe below. Buon appetito! Oh, and eenjy!
Kardea’s Low-Country Arancini
2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
8 ounces smoked pork sausage, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
1 bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup Rao’s Homemade Tomato Basil Sauce
1 6 Oz tomato paste
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
½ cup of Parmesan
2 cups cooked red rice, cooled
3 eggs beaten
1 cup flour
8 small cubes fresh mozzarella cheese
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
½ cup plain panko
Oil for frying
1 cup Rao’s Homemade Tomato Basil sauce
Prepare red rice. Rinse the rice until the water becomes slightly clear. (This removes the starch. In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, onion and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften and start to brown at the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, Rao’s Homemade tomato basil sauce, sugar, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir rice into the tomato mixture and cook, uncovered, and stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add just enough water to cover the rice (about 2 cups). Tightly cover with a lid and cook on lo for 30 minutes without uncovering the pot. Remove lid, and fluff the rice, then cover and cook for 5 mins more. Take lid off, fluff, then fold in Parmesan and let cool then chill in the fridge for at least 4 to 5 hours. This step can also be done in 24 hours in advance.
Set up dredging station. Place beaten eggs in a bowl, flour in a separate bowl and panko/ breadcrumbs seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl. After rice has chilled in the fridge, place about 1/3 cup of rice in your hand and flatten it into your cupped hand. Make sure you have enough rice in your hand. Place a piece of mozzarella in the center then close with more rice to form a ball. Next, roll the shaped Arancini in flour, then roll them in the beaten eggs, and finally the panko/breadcrumb mixture. Set aside until all the 2 cups of rice has been rolled. You will have left over red rice that you can use later for another dish.
Heat some oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven. Add the breaded Arancini, and cook quickly, turning often so they brown evenly. Remove from oil and place on sheet pan lined with wire rack. Serve immediately with a side of Rao’s Homemade Tomato Basil sauce.