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Showing posts with label basil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label basil. Show all posts

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto

Without realizing it this post is my 500th blog post.  Technically it's really not.  I say that because 1) I had an older blog for a year prior to starting The Bicycle-Chef.   Some of those early recipe blog posts have migrated over to here. 2) I've added and deleted posts from this blog; I'm not sure how many posts I've actually written.  Rather than wait weeks and try to roll out a big hoopla post, replete with videos, photo montages and self-congratulatory back pats, I'll post this lovely recipe. Video highlights can always be done at a later date!

Onto recipe writing.  For a recent food swap I attended with The South Jersey Food Swappers, I made a batch of pesto, using kale as the basis for the pesto.  I had kale pesto at a food swap a year ago and I was so taken with it I knew I wanted to make it.  It took me a year but the wait was worth it!  I adapt things all the time, tossing ingredients in until they "taste right" to me.  My friend, Jamie Lynn, made the original batch of Kale Pesto.  I'm not sure what all she had in hers, maybe some basil; perhaps a bit of cheese; certainly olive oil.  I figured I'd give this a whirl and see how it turned out. Making pesto with kale couldn't be any harder than making it with a variety of herbs, including the all-important basil.

I made ten 4 ounce jars for the swap, and one 6 ounce jar for sampling.  My "actual" recipe would therefore make 5 to 6 cups of pesto.  I'll try to cut this down to a more manageable amount for home use - 2 cups max.  It's all about handfuls of ingredients; blanching the kale to tame the bite; and whizzing everything in a food processor to get it lusciously smooth.  This pesto was: Blanched kale and blanched garlic; basil, parsley, mint, toasted walnuts, olive oil, and Pecorino Romano cheese (it's cheaper than Parmesan), salt and pepper.  The kale helps stretch the pesto and adds a healthy veg to the mix.  Using parsley and mint help with the taste, adding in a sweeter element to work with the basil.  I picked walnuts instead of pine nuts because they are less expensive and because they have a softer taste than the bitter edge that pine nuts can sometimes add.  The recipe can be worked to suit your tastes and needs. 

Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto Ingredients:
  • 2-3 Cups (loosely packed; about 1 small/medium bunch) Fresh Kale Leaves - cleaned, de-stemmed of woody/tough center rib
  • 1 Bunch Basil (about 1 cup loosely packed)- cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves - cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 2 - 3 Garlic Cloves - peeled
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil - or more as needed
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Walnuts
    Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
    1/2 Cup Grated Cheese - such as Parmesan, Locatelli or Pecorino Romano

Equipment Needed:
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Rubber Spatula
  • small sauce pot and sieve or fine mesh strainer
1. Clean the kale, basil, parsley and mint Set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of  water to a rolling boil.  Add in a tablespoon of salt.  Next, add in the de-stemmed kale leaves and cook for 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic after 5 minutes and cook for 1 minute more.

3.  Put the basil leaves, parsley and mint into a colander and then drain the blanched kale and garlic leaves in that same colander, pouring the hot  water over the herb leaves.  Drain, and then immediately run cold water over everything to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze the kale and herbs dry, wringing out as much water as possible.

4. Add the blanched kale, garlic and herbs, basil and parsley,  into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a large/heavy duty blender.  Pulse a few times to get the leaves to start forming a paste. Keep the the lid on the blender or food processor and the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream through the pin-hole or removable lid of the blender or food processor.  The mixture should form a paste.  If need be, turn off the machine, and scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Replace lid and turn the machine back on and continue adding in the oil.  The mixture should be thick, not runny, but should also be a bit loose. 

5. Scrap down the sides of the work bowl or blender and add in the walnuts, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse a few more times to grind the nuts.  Lastly, add in the cheese and pulse a few more times.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
6. Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.  Adding the kale to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups.   

Add more of each, kale, basil, parsley, mint, oil, as needed.  My recipes, as usual, are a casual affair.  I usually toss in ingredients until I think they are where I want them to be!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Food Finds: The Paris Hotel Las Vegas

A lot late on the updates around here. Summer is proving to be a busy and fun season for me. I took a little jaunt to Sin City, Las Vegas, the end of May/beginning of June. The town could also be called a true foodie destination. I'm not a gambler but I am an eater and I hit up plenty of winning locations for outstanding meals during my 4 day stay. 
The trip was a get away with my best friend, Rachel.  She lives in Tucson, AZ; Vegas felt like a good meeting place for the two of us that would provide many options. Photographic excursions, possible shows (we didn't take in one darn show!!) and lots of people watching. That we had in spades. The food finds were plenty. As I said it's a food destination. Once you get past the brand named chef driven restaurants there are plenty of true non-corporate non-chain places to dine. If you want the big brands and top dog culinary faces then Vegas is truly the town to go for the food. 

Rachel and I are the type of people who want to find the hidden gems. The honest and local cooking. We don't go for the glitz and fabricated glamour for which Las Vegas has become synonymous. For two gals who didn't want to throw our pennies away, not into the slots or the Bellagio fountains, Las Vegas sure has a way to help you part with your money whether or not you want and/or realize it!  

The biggest way your money disappears is in the high charges on the incidental in the hotels or associated shops, cafés and other "connected" business. All inferences intended. The mob "might" not exist. It's been replaced by the corporate mafia. And there only a handful of syndicates operating this town. 

The corporate fabrication of Las Vegas is of course noticeable in the Cirque du Soliel fantasy world of The Strip and the Food Network driven Marque Restaurant scene.  We ate a few surprisingly pleasant and reasonably priced meals at the big names hotels. Our first stop was in The Paris Hotel's bistro, Mon Ami Gabi. I read about it in one of my guide books so we thought we'd give it a try. Once we stepped inside this artful replica of The Eiffel Tower and its street level dining EXPERIENCE we were sold on the whole theme. It didn't hurt that the bistro was very similar to our favorite Philadelphia Parisian bistro fabrication, PARC. Cool ambiance. Attentive waiters. Authentic bistro menu and of course the all important glass of an afternoon aperitif to set the mood. Add in a surly looking old waiter cast out of the Guy Savoy agency and the mood was set. 

Eating a full meal in the late afternoon didn't seem quite right if we were them going to have a big dinner in the evening. So we opted to share a light dejuener. A salad of grilled summer squash shaved super thin over heirloom tomatoes and topped with chiffonade basil and basil oil. We also had a baked wedge of Brie with truffle honey, toasted hazelnuts and watercress. Along with my sparkling wine and a Demi baguette perfectly baked we were set! And well lubricated on my part. Suddenly things were looking a lot nicer than the Daytona Spring Break scene we encountered upon arrival!  
Since this meal, I've been craving tomatoes - a miracle to those who know me well.  I tend to dislike tomatoes unless they are cooked or in salsas.  These tomatoes were succulent.  Meaty.  Full of flavor like I've never before experienced.  I loved the simple way the zucchini was cooked.  Grilled super thin slices.  All components of things I've had or done before but put together in a completely new way.     

Local farm raised, sun ripened tomatoes aren't available on the East Coast yet.  We're about a month or more away from those babies.  Jersey zuchs are available now, so I made do with those instead.  I whipped up a batch of basil oil, straining the basil from the oil and saving the basil "sludge" for later use in a quick pesto or addition to sauce or vinaigrette.  To make this meal really "sing" its summer song you have to slice the zucchini very thin, but not paper thin.  About 1/8 inch thick, and then grill it on an indoor grill pan on both sides.  You give it a bit of char for flavor and visual appeal.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit of basil oil.  The grilled zucchini makes a lovely side dish to a fish or chicken dinner; over a salad with a bit of cheese, or on a sandwich with a schemer of good goat cheese.  

My recipe for Basil Oil has been posted before.  You can find the full description, details and step by step photos here at this link.  The quick version is this: Blanch a large bunch of cleaned basil leaves in a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds.  Strain the basil and shock it in cold water to stop the cooking and set the color.  Puree the basil in a blender for food processor with 2 to 4 cups of light olive oil or neutral vegetable oil.  Let the oil and pureed basil sit in a clean covered container in the refrigerator over-night to let the basil flavor permeate the oil.  Strain the oil over a fine mesh strainer, reserving the basil oil in one clean container.  Refrigerate the oil.  Reserve the basil puree for other uses - such as making pestos, adding to tomato or other sauces, vinaigrettes.  Both the basil and the oil can be frozen in small batches, such as in ice cube tray compartments.  Use the oil and the pureed basil with in 2 weeks.  Frozen, both will last for months.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cooking for a Cause and a Spinach Basil Pesto Recipe

I had the opportunity to do a cooking event at my church out in Wallingford, PA.  It was Friday night, April 19th.  The church does a monthly event for kids and their parents, ice cream socials, cooking classes, art projects.  This month's event was a garden and cooking event.  We had the kids and their parents plant tomato plants and flowers.  Everyone got to take their plants home for their gardens.  I was asked to cook a dinner and dessert using seasonal vegetables.  I cooked a meal, gave a little talk about what's in season and how to use the vegetables and then we ate dinner and had dessert.  

Naturally, I cooked enough food to feed, oh, I don't know, about 40 people! I think we had 15 people, maybe 20 at most.  There were left overs for days on end.  Now, in my defense, I do cook a lot and often make way more than any event needs, but...I was told to expect at least 35 people.  I shopped, prepped, cooked and schlepped food for two days! Ugh! It was for a good cause. And the folks in attendance did enjoy what I made.  And even though I missed Liz's opera opening night of Magic Flute (my first opening night in 9 years that I've missed), I was doing God's work.  

On the menu was a vegetable pasta salad with homemade spinach and basil pesto; fresh salad with sunflower seeds, craisins and cheese; rolls and butter; and for dessert, strawberry rhubarb crisp.  I used as many in-season vegetables as I could, utilizing what's fresh, local and available now.  While I tend to cook as light and fresh as possible for my eating, I realized that I was feeding people I didn't know - going too light and fresh might not taste as good to other people as it does to me.  Therefore, I worked within different but still healthy parameters.  

My tips for making pasta salad healthier are: Swap out white pasta for whole wheat, high fiber or pasta with a serving of vegetables in it; Use light cheese instead of full-fat.  Add in more veggies, but cook them - roast, sauté, grill or steam them to bring out their natural sugars and sweetness; when making pesto - add in spinach to stretch it, make it greener, amp up the vegetable quota; skip nuts; blanch or roast the garlic to tame it; use less cheese, or add it as you need it, instead of when you're making the pesto.  The pesto will keep longer and stay fresher.

For my pasta salad - I grilled the asparagus, sautéed the peppers, and steamed the green beans.  Everything tasted a bit sweeter. The pasta salad worked great cold and could be heated up as well.  I used a combination of whole wheat pasta and vegetable pastas.  
I'm posting my recipe for Spinach Pesto.  It's fairly similar to my basil oil - though I don't separate the oil from the herbs, nor do I use as much basil and oil, but the idea is similar - just oil & the leaves - leaving out the unnecessary stuff until you really need it.

The strawberry rhubarb crisp recipe can be found here (take out the All-Bran Flakes and add in an extra 1/2 cup of oatmeal)...

Spinach Basil and Parsley Pesto:
  • 2 Bunches Basil (about a cup loosely packed)- cleaned, dried and leaves removed from stems
  • 3 Cups (loosely packed) Fresh Spinach Leaves - cleaned, dried and any woody stems removed
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned, dried and stems removed
  • 2 - 3 Garlic Cloves - blanched in hot water to tame it
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Cheese - such as Parmesan, Locatelli or Pecorino Romano

Equipment Needed:
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Rubber Spatula
  • small sauce pot and sieve or fine mesh strainer
  1. Clean the spinach, basil and parsley. Set aside
  2. Blanch the garlic in hot boiling water, boiling the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Run under cold water to cool before adding to the pesto ingredients.
  3. Add the spinach, basil and parsley, and blanched and cooled garlic into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a blender.  Pulse a few times to get the leaves to start forming a paste. Keep the the lid on the blender or food processor and the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream through the pin-hole or removable lid of the blender or food processor.  The mixture should form a paste.  If need be, turn off the machine, and scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Replace lid and turn the machine back on and continue adding in the oil.  The mixture should be thick, not runny, but should also be a bit loose.  
  4. Scrap out the pesto into a bowl, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. When ready to use, stir in the finely grated cheese.  Adding it as you need it will help the pesto keep fresh longer.  Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  
  6. Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.  Adding the spinach to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 1 cup.  Add more of each, spinach, basil, parsley, oil, as needed.  My recipes, as usual, are a casual affair.  I usually toss in ingredients until I think they are where I want them to be!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Basil Oil in 6 Easy Steps

Every summer I make big batches of basil oil, which is similar to pesto but better because it's fresher, lighter, more fragrant and in an odd way, healthier.  The basil oil that I make yields two products (the gorgeous oil and the basil paste), lasts for nearly a year if you freeze it in small batches and you can still make pesto out of it whenever you need it.  I was looking through my recipe archives on the blog and realize that while I talk about basil oil and make it every year, I don't think I've posted a recipe for it on this blog, until now.

Here in six easy steps is your key to making use of all the fragrant basil that is in abundance in gardens and farmers markets.  The recipe is more about the technique so exact amounts aren't necessary.  I picked as much basil as I could out of my garden without completely stripping my basil plant of all of its leaves.  I estimate I used about a half pound of basil leaves and a full liter of light olive oil.  The oil you use shouldn't be expensive or extra virgin.  I'll tell you a secret about flavored oils - they are usually the cheapest, poorest quality oils, as the flavoring agents are what you are tasting.  I'm not advocating buying a crap olive oil, but don't stress and spend the big bucks on a fancy schmancy imported Extra Virgin, organic and or limited pressed olive oil.  Buy a decent bottle of light olive oil from your supermarket.  You can even use canola oil or an olive oil blend though I prefer the flavor of plain light olive oil since I will be using the oil for cooking and the basil by-product in pesto.  If you are going to make this, make a large batch and freeze it in small containers or in ice cube compartments.   In the bleak mid-winter, you'll thank me for having it on hand as a reminder of the glory days of summer.  The recipe is written to make a liter of basil oil.

Basil Oil Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Pound of Fresh Basil Leaves
  • 1 Liter of Light Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Salt
  • 4 Quart Sauce Pot or larger filled with cold water

Remove the stems and clean the basil in cool water.  

Bring a large pot of water to boil; when the water comes to a rolling boil, add in 2 tablespoons of salt. Working in batches, add the cleaned basil leaves to the pot of boiling water and blanch for 30 seconds; Remove the blanched basil leaves and immediately shock in cold water.

Strain the blanched and cooled basil leaves and wring dry of excess water.  Don't worry about "man-handling" the basil leaves, they can take the abuse at this point.  Besides, they'll be pulverized in your food processor or blender, turning into a darkened paste in a few moments!  Add all the basil leaves to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  If you are using a blender, work in batches and fill the blender half full with the basil leaves, tamp down a bit and then add a handful more of the blanched basil.

With your food processor or blender off, pour in half of the olive oil.  Then put the lid on the food processor or blender tightly.  Pulse to blend and get the oil and basil moving in the work bowl.  For a food processor - pour in the remaining olive oil through the food processor's top.  If using a blender, turn the machine off, add in more basil and olive oil and pulse again.  Pulse or blend until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated and the basil is completely pulverized.  

When all the basil and olive oil is used and the mixture is completely pureed, carefully pour the mixture into a large, clean glass or plastic container.  Seal with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate up to 3 days to allow the basil's flavor to fully incorporate into the olive oil and turn it the most beautiful chartreuse shade of green.

After the olive oil has steeped for a few days (up to a week), take the container out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature and return to a liquid state.  Strain the basil "sludge/paste" out of the oil using a fine mesh strainer.  For a pure, sediment free basil oil, strain it several times through as fine mesh strainer (or use a coffee filter) as you have on hand.  Save the basil paste to use in a pesto base, adding cheese, pine nuts, garlic and salt and pepper.  The basil paste can also be used to flavor sauces, tomato sauces, soups, vegetables, potatoes, salad dressings or other dishes when a pop of intense basil flavor is needed.  Use the basil oil as you would regular olive oil; salad dressings, to saute foods; as a drizzling oil; for dipping bread; to flavor mashed/smashed or boiled potatoes.  Refrigerated, both the basil and the oil will keep for a few weeks in tightly covered containers.  For best storage, freeze the oil and the basil paste in small batches. Frozen, both products will keep for up to 9 months.

UPDATE @ 9/12/11: Here's what it will look like after several days of "steeping" and settling in the refrigerator:
The basil puree will settle to the bottom and the luscious green basil oil will be on top.  At this point, allow the oil to come to room temperature for easier pouring.  Strain the oil through a fine mess strainer inter a clean container and reserve both the oil and basil puree separately.  I filled and froze an entire ice cube tray with the basil.  I have about 3/4 of this container filled with the oil - about 3 to 4 cups of basil oil.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Peasant Pasta with Kale, Potatoes & String Beans

Is there such a thing as too many carbohydrates in a meal?  Yes and no.  This is a good carbohydrate meal.  I've mixed whole wheat pasta with Yukon Gold Potatoes and green beans and added blanched  kale to counter act the carbo-overload.  I'm not sure why we call this Peasant Pasta - but Liz named this dish years ago when we used to toss pasta, potatoes and green beans together, with a lot of olive oil and cheese.  Maybe we gave it that moniker because it was cheap and filling and we felt like peasants making do with whatever food we had in the kitchen.  However this name and the recipe came to be, it's now evolved into a somewhat healthier yet still hearty dish.  It's good all seasons as you can eat it hot or cold.  This is also a great dish to utilize left-overs.  I had Yukon Gold potatoes already cooked from a previous meal, basil oil/pesto made from a batch of basil from the garden.  The green beans can be cooked in the pasta water and the kale can be blanched in the pasta water too.  The pasta dish is very filling and can be a main course, a side dish served with grilled or sauteed chicken or fish or served cold as a pasta salad.

Peasant Pasta Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Package of Whole Wheat Shaped Pasta - such as Fussili or Penne
  • 6 Small/Medium Yukon Gold or other Small New Potatoes (Red Bliss, White, Fingerling, Purple) - scrubbed clean but keep whole
  • 1/2 Pound Green Beans - Cleaned & Trimmed
  • 1 Bunch Kale - Stripped of Tough Stems, cleaned and torn into smaller pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Small/Medium Onion - about 1 cup - Small Dice
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1/4 Cup Pesto or Basil Oil (see recipe here for making your own pesto)
  • 1 Cup Pasta Cooking Water - reserved after pasta is cooked
  • Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
  • Grated Cheese for serving - such as Parmesan, Locatelli or Pecorino 

  1. Add the potatoes to a large pot of cold water and season generously with salt.  Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are knife tender.  When the potatoes are done, remove them and set aside.  Once they are cool enough to handle, cut them into quarters.
  2. In the same pot, cook the pasta according to package directions - al dente, about 10 to 13 minutes.  About 5 minutes before the pasta is done, add in the green beans to cook.  After 3 minutes more, add in the kale to blanch.  You will have the pasta, green beans and kale all in the same pot.  Before draining the pot, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and set it aside.  Drain the pasta/green beans and kale and add back to the pot; add the cooked and quartered potatoes to this mixture and set aside; keep the mixture warm.
  3. In a small sauté pan, heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.  Add in the diced onion and minced garlic and saute for 3 to 5 minutes or until the onions begin to take on a hint of color.  Add in the red pepper flakes and sauté another 30 seconds.  Add the  sautéed and garlic to the pasta mixture and toss to combine.
  4. Toss in the juice and zest of the lemon, the pesto or basil oil and season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more ground pepper, lemon juice or even a dash of balsamic vinegar to pump up the flavors.  Use some of the reserved pasta water to create a sauce and thin the pesto. Stir to incorporate throughout the pasta.
  5. Serve with grated cheese.  Serves 4 to 6.  Keeps for up to 3 days in a tightly covered container in the refrigerated.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Basil, Cantaloupe and Mozzarella Salad

A quick light summer salad - perfect for this weekend's Independence Day barbecue celebrations.  I'll share the version I made and the variations to which you can adapt it.  I whipped this up while at the beach; I wanted to use the rest of the fruit and vegetables we had before we left the shore from vacation and I needed to eat at least one "healthy" and non-junk food beach meal for the day!  Should you have a variation that you can think of, please share it and comment! I'd love to see other versions of this that utizlize melons, cheese and fresh herbs.

Basil, Cantaloupe and Mozzarella Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 Whole Cantaloupe - seeded and peeled/skinned and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 pound of Fresh Mozzarella Bites (Boconccini balls) or a large mozzarella ball cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Basil Leaves - torn or cut into chiffonade ribbons
  • 1 Medium Cucumber - peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch half moon slices
  • Juice of 1 Lemon - about 2 tablespoons
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste


  1. Prep all the fruit and vegetables as indicated; remove the seeds and rind from the cantaloupe and cut into 1 inch chunks.
  2. Cut the mozzarella into 1/2 inch pieces.
  3. Tear the basil leaves or cut into chiffonade (ribbons) to release the basil's flavor.
  4. Peel the cucumber and de-seed; cut the cucumber into 1/4 inch thick half moon slices.
  5. Place all the ingredients into a large serving bowl and toss to combine.
  6. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the mixture; drizzle the olive oil over the mixture and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 
  7. Chill and serve cold.  Serves 8 to 10 as a side salad.  Will keep for up to 2 days, covered and refrigerated.


  • Cantaloupe with Mint, Feta and Cucumber. Use Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
  • Cantaloupe with Mint and Basil and Mozzarella. Use Lime Juice and Olive Oil
  • Cantaloupe with Mixed Fresh Herbs - Parsley, Basil, Rosemary and Goat Cheese - Use either Lime or Lemon Juice or White Wine Vinegar and Olive Oil.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Basil Pesto

Pesto does not need to be your enemy for a healthy or low-fat lifestyle.  I won't say diet, as that would be antithetical to a Weight Watchers' Life Style and for my general take on eating and cooking.  I make food that tastes good and it isn't diet food.  Pesto isn't normally in a dieter's repertoire but if you know how to make it healthier, it can become a once in a while ingredient in your cooking.  The trick is knowing how to stretch the ingredients with healthy substitutes.  It's a trick I learned from working at the Reading Terminal Market - making a lot of pesto and not using a lot of oil and basil.  We wanted to keep the bright green and keep the "green" costs low.  The secret ingredient was spinach.  Other tricks, blanching the basil to retain its color and blanching the garlic to tame it; not using nuts or cheese in the pesto, but adding them to the finished dish as accent or accompaniment ingredients.  To make a pasta dish or salad healthier, switch out the white pasta for whole wheat or multi-grain.  Add in more vegetables. Loosen up the the pesto with a quality white balsamic or white wine vinegar and prepared Dijon mustard. Yes, you can have your pesto salad and enjoy it guilt free!

Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Basil Pesto Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Pound Whole Wheat Penne or Rotini Pasta - cooked according to package directions
  • 1 Large Bunch Basil - About 2 Cups Loosely Packed
  • 2 Cups Chopped Frozen Spinach - Thawed, OR 2 Cups Fresh Spinach Loosely Packed - cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 3 or 4 Garlic Cloves
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons White Wine, Champagne or White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Pound Broccoli Spears - Blanched
  • 1 lb Package of Broccoli & Carrot Slaw Mix
  • 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan, Pecorino or Locatelli Cheese - for sprinkling  
  1. Bring a stock pot of water to boil.  When the water comes to a rolling boil, season the water with several tablespoons of kosher salt.  Blanch the garlic cloves until they are tender - about 3 minutes.  Remove from boiling water, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.  Set garlic cloves side.
  2. Quickly blanch the basil in the boiling water, no more than 30 seconds. Remove the basil and shock in cold water to stop the cooking and retain its bright green color.  Drain, and using a paper towel, wring as much water out of the basil as possible.  
  3. Put the basil, blanched garlic and thawed or fresh spinach into a food processor or blender and pulse to combine.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to get the mixture moving.  Continue pulsing or blending and add in the Dijon mustard, vinegar and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Once pesto is completely smooth, stop blending/pulsing, taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, mustard and/or vinegar.  Set pesto aside. 
  4. Cook the pasta according to package directions to al dente.  About 1 minute before the pasta is done cooking, add in the broccoli spears to blanch.  Drain both the pasta and the broccoli, but do not rinse.  Put the pasta and broccoli into a large mixing bowl; add in the broccoli carrot slaw and stir in the pesto.  Mix thoroughly to incorporate all the pesto.  Sprinkle the grated cheese over top of the pasta salad.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  Makes 6 servings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Too Hot to Cook: Tomato Crudo

August and finally it's too hot to cook! Normally I wouldn't be so over-joyed about this but since we had an extremely mild, wet, bordering on cool summer in Philadelphia, I'm kind of happy about this change of weather. Our CSA farm share has again provided us with a bounty of tomatoes. I have canned over 16 jars, of varying sizes and flavors of salsa. I think that between the stash I've put up and the fact that it is too hot to stand over the canning bath of hot steaming water, it's now time to start thinking outside the stock pot. Before I could stomach eating a raw tomato, I would have NEVER wanted to make this dish. Now I can't believe I never made it before this past week! As much as I love a cooked, saute, stewed or sundried tomato, I could never appreciate or eat one raw. The texture just didn't appeal to me. Funny what a bit of acid, hot weather and need to eat my daily fruit and vegetables will do to change my eating habits.

This is an almost no-cook, prep it and forget it recipe. You can choose to blanch the garlic, once again, to tame that raw bite. You will have onion breath however, it's the price to pay for this easy dish. Swish around some Scope or Listerine before you go to bed. The tomato cruda should be served over hot pasta - as the just cooked pasta will help to finish "cooking" the sauce and if you add it, melt the cheese. Think of this crudo as an Italian or Mediterranean style salsa. Embellish it with capers and/or olives. You can add Feta or Fresh Mozzarella Cheese. Top with a good Italian Tuna packed in olive oil, or grilled chicken or shrimp for a punch of protein. I served it over Trader Joe's organic, sprouted wheat pappardelle pasta - which by the way, is outrageously good and cheap!

Tomato Cruda Ingredients:
  • 3 Large Roma, Beefsteak or Jersey Tomatoes - seeded and cut into small dice
  • 1/2 Pint Cherry or Grape Tomatoes - cut in half
  • 1/2 Medium White Onion - small dice
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - blanched and minced
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Basil Leaves - torn or cut into ribbons (chiffonade) - reserve a few leaves for garnishing
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons Good Quality Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Pound Dry Pasta of Choice - wide noodles work best
  • 1/2 Cup Feta or Fresh Mozzarella Cheese - cut into small cubes (optional, though it's delicious)
  1. Prepare the tomatoes; wash, seed and cut into small dice or slice the cherry or grape tomatoes in half. Put into a non-reactive mixing bowl (stainless steel, glass or plastic). Set aside.
  2. Dice the onion and add to the tomatoes.
  3. Blanch the garlic for 2 minutes in boiling water. Cool and then mince or smash and add to the tomato/onion mixture.
  4. Add in the chiffonade of basil, reserving several whole leaves for garnishing
  5. Season the tomato mixture generously with salt, freshly ground black pepper, the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Stir to combine and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside, at room temperature for at least one hour up to 8 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. When ready to serve, cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot of rapidly boiling generously salted water. Cook pasta until it its al dente. Drain, but do not rinse the pasta. Immediately spoon 1/2 of the tomato cruda over the hot pasta and toss in the Feta or Mozzarella cheese (if using). Serve immediately with additional cruda spooned over the top of each pasta serving; top with protein of choice if desired.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Risotto Primavera with Basil Pesto

I made a risotto this past week and it was amazing. Risotto is made using aborio rice. It comes in 1 pound, cryovac bricks, in medium, fine or extra fine grains. Use the extra fine for making a great rice pudding. It had crunch and texture, creaminess and a full rich flavor. Use a good, low-sodium chicken stock. Store bought is fine. Whole Foods Market has a good, and inexpensive organic chicken broth in a 32 ounce container. Add cheese to the finished risotto only if your pesto is just basil & oil, otherwise, use a regular basil pesto and be sparing on the addition of any grated cheeses. Risotto is rich, creamy, and not in the least bit, low-fat! Remember, it is meant to be a main course, or small side course. The pesto I used is "unfinished", meaning it's just blanched basil leaves and olive oil. I take several huge bunches of basil, blanch it for a few seconds in salted boiling water and shock it in ice water. Squeeze it dry and throw it in the food processor with about a 1/2 quart of light Olive oil. I usually make a quart or more at the end of the summer and keep it either as strained basil oil and the keep the "sludge" in the freezer as cubes to through into sauces & stocks. OR I just keep the whole container in the refrigerator or freezer and spoon out what I need. It tends to last longer as there is no garlic or cheese to turn moldy. Along with the risotto, I sautéed thinly sliced chicken breast that had been quickly marinated in lemon zest and juice, a few fresh thyme leaves, minced garlic, a splash of white wine, salt, pepper & olive oil. Quickly sauté each cutlet in a hint of oil in a non-stick pan. Once the chicken is completely cooked, add a half cup of white wine to the pan, and stir up any browned bits. Add any remaining marinade to the pan and reduce the whole mixture down to a few tablespoons. Whisk in a tablespoon of Dijon Mustard, and pour the pan sauce over the chicken. It makes a great meal, and the risotto can be all of your side dishes - starch & veggies. Plus, you'll have enough risotto for several more meals during the week

Risotto Ingredients:

4 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock - Warmed
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Onion - finely diced
1 Medium Carrot - Finely Diced
1 Garlic Clove - Minced
1 Cup Aborio Rice
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme Leaves
2 Medium Zucchini - 1/4 inch cubes
2 Tablespoons Basil Pesto
1/2 cup Snow Peas - Julienne
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan, Peccorino or Locatelli Cheese (optional)

Warm the chicken stock in a 3 quart sauce pan. Set aside and keep warm.
In a large sauce pot or small stock pot (at least 4 quart pot), heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onions & carrot and sweat/saute until the onions turn translucent and the carrots release some of their water - about 3-4 minutes. Add the aborio rice and the garlic and stir, with a wooden spoon, to coat the rice grains with the oil - about 1 minute.
Add the 1/2 cup of white wine and continue to stir the aborio. When the aborio has absorbed all of the wine, add 1/2 cup of the warmed chicken stock to the rice. Continue stirring and allow the rice to absorb all of the stock before adding more.
After stirring in 1 cup of stock, add the thyme leaves, a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper. When you have stirred in 2 cups of stock total, add the diced zucchini. Tasted aborio to see how tender it is. The rice will have started to double in volume and released enough starch to appear creamy. The grains should be opaque on the edges and white in the center. Continue ladling in the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly. The stirring helps to release the starch. Before ladling in the last 1/2 cup of stock, taste the risotto again. It may be done at this point. You are looking for tender, creamy grains, with the merest hint of an al dente bite. If the risotto is tender, then don't use the last 1/2 cup of stock. If it's still too crunchy, add it.
Stir in the julienned snow peas. The heat from the risotto will steam the snow peas and turn them bright green. Stir in the pesto and, if using, the grated cheese. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot immediately. Makes 4 servings as a main course.