What's Cooking? with Featured Chef Staff Sgt. Jonathan Rivera

What do you enjoy most about cooking?

“There is a great feeling you get when you make something, put your effort into it, and you get the feedback, that good feeling you get from people complimenting you. But, you also get to see what you made with your hands and what you’re capable of.”

What influenced you to become a cook?

“I remember cooking at a young age. I started helping out my mother [Maria] when I was young. She needed to work, and because I was the oldest, I decided to help out in that manner. I would take most of the cooking off of her hands. When I was 12 or 13, around middle school, I started helping out with simple meals like spaghetti or some rice and some beans. Being able to make something and that feeling I got from my mother knowing that I helped her out, that tied into it, too.”

What’s your favorite type of dish?

“I don’t consider myself to be one of the greatest cooks in the world. I just like to cook. If I can see the recipe and I can read it, for the most part, I’m confident enough to believe I can make it. If it’s too much, I won’t even touch it, but for the most part, if I can see it and read it, I’ll attempt it. But the food that I hold dear to my heart is mostly the food I grew up with with my mother. She has a Nicaraguan background, a lot of rice and beans and steaks, but not the type of steaks you think of in the states. It’s mostly strip steaks, what we call churrasco. It’s like a long strip of steak that is used in fajitas. But most of what I grew up with in my home was comfort food from my upbringing.”

What’s one thing people should have in their kitchens?

“The most basic tool is to have a good knife, but if there is something else, the pans are just as important. A good set of cookware is just as important as that knife. You can be working on something that is going to be incredible, but if you put it on some cookware that is not up to par, you’re not going to get the result that you are expecting. You might get the flavor, but the texture and appearance won’t be there. You might end up overcooking it because the temperature in the pan is not where it’s supposed to be. So, I would say cookware, a good set of pots and pans — don’t go cheap on it. Somewhere in the mid to upper price range would be good.”

Do you have any advice for “amateur” cooks?

“To me, if you are hosting an event, the key part is preparation. Some things trying to cook all in one day, that’s a lot of work, so I would say preparation. When you do your shopping, buy all the ingredients that you are going to need, do all the cuts and mix what you can in advance. That way when you are hosting an event and have friends over, you’ll actually be able to spend some time with your friends and cook at the same time. You’ll look like you know what you are doing rather than spending all your time in the kitchen. There’s French word for it called mise en place. It means that everything is in its place. That’s preparation.”

What do you like most about the recipe you’re providing?

“I learned this from somebody else, and the first time I had it, I fell in love with it. It has the egg wash, and I use the Panko bread crumbs. It’s a go-to with the Italian seasoning. You can freeze them in advance, and then pull them out about an hour ahead of time, and you’re ready. And you can make your own marinara sauce from scratch or you can just buy some pre-made and put a dollop on top with the caramelized onions, and you’re ready to go. What you’re trying to achieve is to get all those flavors in your mouth at once.”

Arancini di Riso with Balsamic Vinegar and Caramelized Onions Marinara Sauce


Parmesan Risotto 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
4 cups chicken broth1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons cold butter
2 shallots, finely chopped1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced Salt and pepper to taste

Arancini balls

1 large egg

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup breadcrumbs plus 1 cup breadcrumbs for breading

4 ounces Fontina cheese, cut into 12 small cubes

Vegetable oil for frying

For the dip

1 24 ounce jar Bertolli Riserva Balsamic Vinegar and Carmelized Onions


Basic Parmesan Risotto

1. In a small saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Keep it warm and simmering until ready to use.

2. In a large saute pan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the shallots and garlic until tender, about three minutes.

3. Add the Arborio rice and let it fry with the shallots and garlic for a minute.

4. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed.

5. Start adding the broth, half cup at a time, stirring frequently and waiting until it is completely absorbed before adding more. This will probably take about 30 minutes.

6. Once the last of the broth is added and the risotto is cooked al dente, remove from heat, add the parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

7. Add the cold butter and stir vigorously until the butter and the cheese melts, being careful not to break the rice grains.

8. Wait for the risotto to cool before making the Arancini balls.

Arancini di riso

1. Add the egg, the 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and the parsley to the

cooled risotto.

2. Shape the mixture into 12 1 1/2-inch balls.

3. Press your finger into the center of each ball and insert the Fontina cheese cube. Then, pinch the risotto mixture around the filling to

enclose, adding a little more if necessary.

4. Add the remaining breadcrumbs to a shallow bowl. Roll each risotto ball in the breadcrumbs and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

5. Loosely cover and refrigerate for one hour.

6. In a heavy bottomed pot, heat enough vegetable oil to cover the balls, over medium heat until a deep fry thermometer registers 350 degrees.

7. Fry the Arancini, working in batches, until golden brown on all sides, about four minutes. Be careful so the oil doesn’t get too hot or the balls

will burn on the outside and the cheese won’t melt.

8. Remove the balls with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

9. If desired, heat the marinara sauce so it’s warm for serving.

10. Serve the hot Arancini balls with the marinara sauce dip.

Recipe from Olivia’s Cuisine – www.oliviacuisine.com