Basil Pesto from the Garden

Many years ago, thinking I needed a night out, my sister Christine took me to a quilt shop Open House.  I did. But while the memory of the event has faded, the dish she made — Pasta with Pesto (see notes below) — is still vivid in my mind.  While I haven’t made the pasta recipe too much, every year when the basil plants in the garden threaten to take over the entire plot, I snip the branches and make some pesto to put in the freezer.

Choose wrinkly leaves from your plant, as shown in the top photo.  When the plants start to set blooms, the leaves change becoming stiff and pointy, which is why my husband and I are always out in the garden pulling off the flowers.

3-4 cups of basil leaves, washed and laid out to dry on a paper towel (blot excess moisture)
3/4 to 1 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons toasted pinenuts
3 large cloves of garlic (or if you want to add this later, chop your garlic)
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place garlic in a blender, and put in basil leaves on top.  Add pinenuts and cheese.

With blender going, drizzle in the olive oil, until desired consistency.

Place pesto into jars; place in refrigerator for current use.  Freeze for long-term storage; I chip out chunks to put into soups, sauces, or wherever I need that fresh-from-the-garden taste.

 

**To make that Pasta with Pesto, mentioned in the beginning, pour the pesto over hot cooked pasta, with a glug of olive oil.

Serve hot or at room temperatures.  Can add slightly sauteed vegetables of your choice (zucchini, carrots, red sweet peppers, etc.) and/or cooked, diced chicken meat.

Low Sugar Strawberry Jam

Laurel brought me a jar of her Low Sugar Strawberry Jam, which prompted me to ask for the recipe, which then entailed a drive out to the neighboring town to get the very best strawberries, then a trip to the grocery store for the special Low Sugar Pectin.
It was worth it.

Low Sugar Strawberry Jam

Wash jars in hot soapy water, and turn upside down onto a rimmed cookie sheet.  Place in warm oven.  Place NEW lids and rings in hot water while you prepare the jam.

Prepare:
6 cups of strawberries – washed, hulled, and smashed
1 cup apple juice
3 Tbls  Ball Real Fruit Low or No Sugar Pectin (Don’t use regular pectin. Low or No Sugar Pectin really is necessary.)
2 cups sugar

Place prepared berries, apple juice, pectin, and sugar in a large pot and stir while you bring mixture to a rolling boil. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly.  Use an immersion blender to thoroughly blend the strawberries.

Pour hot jam into jars, leaving about ½  inch of space at the top. Wipe rim clean. Place lid on rim and tighten with ring. Set out on counter until completely cool. You should hear the jars seal, but if you have any doubt, refrigerate or freeze the jars.

Note: It has a different consistency than regular jam, but the slightly-less sweet spread is delicious.

Panzanella

PanzanellaI’ve made all types of panzanella, but I think this recipe is really fabulous.  I was traveling in Scandinavia, where the travel author Rick Steves says their favorite vegetable is a potato, and began thinking of my garden back home, wondering how many tomatoes would be ready to pick when I returned.  In scanning the news one morning, The Washington Post published this recipe and I couldn’t wait to try it.  So the first thing I did when we climbed out of our car after our long trip was to check the garden for tomatoes.  But to my horror, the irrigation systems had been shut off while we gone, and my garden experienced the full force of 100+ degree temperatures: it was crispy and no tomatoes.  So I used some high-quality tomatoes from Costco for this dish and it was still good.  I can only imagine what it would have been with my own.

I purchased a sour dough loaf from Trader Joe’s for the bread, cutting off nearly half of to keep to the 8-ounce requirement.

Recipe adapted from recipes by chef-restaurateur Fabio Trabocchi of Fiola, and from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary director of SeriousEats.com.

Ingredients
3 cups packed, torn pieces sourdough bread (including crusts; from an 8-ounce loaf)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/4 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, hulled and cut into bite-size wedges
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Freshly cracked black pepper
10 fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled and cut into very thin slices (chiffonade)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange the bread pieces on a rimmed baking sheet, then drizzle half of the oil over them and toss to coat. Bake for 15 minutes, until the bread is dried and fragrant but not browned. Let cool.

Meanwhile, place the tomatoes in a colander set over a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the teaspoon of salt; let them drain for about 20 minutes (no more), gently tossing them every few minutes. Transfer the tomatoes to a serving bowl along with the cooled bread pieces; toss to incorporate. Reserve the tomato juices in their bowl; there should be a scant half-cup. [Note: I had more, and used it all.]

Add the garlic, shallot and vinegar to those juices, then gradually whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to form an emulsified vinaigrette. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour over the tomato-bread mixture; use your clean hands to gently toss and coat.

Scatter the basil over the salad; serve right away.

Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes

IMG_6033This recipe, found on the New York Times’ Recipe Site is a total winner, if you’ve got cherry tomatoes going gangbusters in the garden, which I do.  Melissa Clark made hers with red tomatoes, but I always plant the little golden plum cherry tomatoes and they keep going when all the other toms in the garden have given up because of the heat.  While she calls for fusilli pasta, any small shaped pasta will do.  I adjusted the ratio of tomato mixture to pasta, using a little bit less pasta than she called for.  Lastly, my garden’s mint wasn’t producing, so I omitted that as well, but I’m looking forward to trying it!

IMG_60311 pound fusilli pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
6 ounces pancetta, preferably thick cut, diced (available at Trader Joe’s)
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Fine sea salt and black pepper, as needed
1 quart cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons butter
Fresh ricotta cheese, for serving (optional)
3 cups whole mint leaves, torn (I didn’t use)
4 scallions, preferably red scallions for color, thinly sliced
Flaky sea salt, to finish

PREPARATION

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until 1 minute shy of al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 15 seconds, then add the oil and heat until it thins out and easily coats the pan when swirled. Add pancetta and cook until it starts to render its fat, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and a large pinch of salt and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until they burst, turn golden at the edges and shrivel up slightly, about 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add pasta to pan and toss with tomato-pancetta mixture; if the mixture looks dry add a little pasta cooking water a few tablespoons at a time. Cook over high heat until the pasta finishes cooking in the sauce. Add the butter and toss until it melts and coats everything.
  4. Divide pasta among warmed pasta bowls. Garnish with dollops of ricotta if desired, and top with a generous mound of fresh mint and scallions. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and more pepper before serving.

Zucchini Pasta

IMG_5831

This dish came about because we had too much zucchini in our garden.  Well — instead of too much — a bounteous harvest of zucchini.  I found this recipe on the New York Times website, and followed it pretty much to the letter.

Ingredients
2 pounds zucchini
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼
cup freshly grated Parmesan, for serving (more to taste)
¼ cup (approximately) light cream
IMG_5826
Wash several zucchini from the garden; pat dry.  Slice off lengthwise ribbons of zucchini, using a vegetable peeler.  Peel off several ribbons from one side, then turn the zucchini and peel off more ribbons. Continue to turn and peel off ribbons until you get to the seeds at the core of the zucchini. Discard the core. You can also do this on a mandolin, adjusted to a very thin slice.
IMG_5829
Heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick pan, over medium-high heat, and when it is hot, add about half of the zucchini ribbons, salt and pepper.  Toss and cook, keeping the zucchini in motion until it is just soft and barely transluscent, but not browned (about 2-3 minutes).  Set aside, and cook the second batch.IMG_5830Put both batches back in the pan, and pour over a little bit of cream, then add the grated cheese, again tossing lightly over medium heat.  Adjust salt and add freshly ground pepper to taste, and transfer to a serving dish.We topped ours with a fresh bruschetta-type tomato sauce.

Judy’s Tomato Soup

Tom Soup1 Tomatoes

This tomato soup had its origins in a basketfull of tomatoes from our garden, and the winter delivery of a care package from my friend Judy, who is an amazing cook.  In her little dish was the best fresh tomato soup I’ve tasted, and it wasn’t until I was laid up with some surgery that she finally relinquished the recipe.Tomatoes prepped

Wash and cut in half a number of Roma-type tomatoes; no need to core.  Lay them skin-side down on a foil-lined rimmed cookie sheet or a broiler pan.  If you have eating tomatoes, cut those into approximate sized chunks.  Add one onion, chunked.  Squish three cloves of garlic over the tomatoes.  Drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil, and then liberally salt and pepper the tomatoes.Tomatoes roasted

Bake in a preheated oven at 425 for 40 minutes, until they are tender and even a little bit cooked down.

Place in a pot, and drizzle over some good-quality balsamic vinegar (about 1/4 cup).  With a stick blender, whir the mixture smooth, adding chicken broth as needed to bring it to soup consistency (probably about 3/4 to 1 cup of broth).

Now adjust for flavor.  Some things I usually add are:
fresh basil, snipped
heavy pinch of red pepper flakes
salt (to taste)
pepper
and if I have no fresh basil, I add about 2 Tbls homemade pesto.

Some garnishes are:
chunks of avocado
croutons
Hatch chiles, if they are in season (roast on BBQ, remove skins)

Tom Soup Garnishes Tom Soup withi Garnish

We roasted our tomatoes and onion, then placed them in a gallon-sized resealable bag and placed it in the freezer.  To prepare, we thawed the tomatoes and proceeded with the soup, as above. Tom Soup2

Summer Pasta Salad

Summer Pasta Salad with Asparagus and Tomatoes

Even though I call this Summer Pasta Salad, asparagus is typically a spring vegetable.  But I always make some version of this just as the heat begins to creep into our days, as it’s easy and delicious.  Add some bread, and bowl of fruit for dessert and dinner’s done.

Ingredients
1 lb. package of high quality cheese-filled tortellini
about 8 ounces of golden cherry tomatoes (2-3 handfuls)
about 8 ounces of sweet red pearl-like tomatoes
bunch of asparagus, about 15 spears
pitted black Greek olives, about 10 very large ones, or 20 medium
extra-virgin olive oil
good quality balsamic vinegar
red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
a light shake of cayenne pepper

Method
Toss the tomatoes with some olive oil and some salt and pepper, then spread out on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 425F for 15 minutes.  The tomatoes should still have their shape but be a little wobbly-looking.  Set aside to cool.

Blanched Asparagus

Wash, then prepare asparagus by snapping off the ends.  Hold your fingers at the end of the spear, letting it snap off where it wants to, then cut into 1″ pieces.  Cook in a gently simmering pot of salted water for 1 minute, then plunge into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking.  They should have some chewiness to them, but not crunchiness.  I always test first as some batches can take up to two minutes to be at the right texture.  To do that, grab one piece and put it in the ice water bath, then taste.

After each batch, place cooled asparagus to drain in a strainer or colander, then set aside.

Cooking Tortellini

Cook the pasta in lightly salted water on a gentle boil until done, but not DEAD-done.  You don’t want the pasta to fall apart.  Tip into a colander in the sink and rinse with cool water. GENTLY.

In a large bowl, place drained pasta, tomatoes, blanched asparagus, Greek olives.  Splash more olive oil on the mix, then some balsamic and some red wine vinegar (about 2-4 Tablespoons combined for the vinegars) then grind on some fresh pepper and salt, then a light sprinkle of cayenne..  Toss gently, then taste.  Adjust as needed.

Serves a crowd.

Lime Sugar Cookies

Lime Sugar Cookies

It’s been unbearably hot here this past couple of weeks, and it came time to make a treat for the ladies at church and all I could think about was cool things: icy drinks, ice cream, and lime, because for some reason I associate lime with cool summery things.  And I usually make the ladies a cookie, so I went hunting for a recipe.  What I present below is a variation of a recipe found on Epicurious (first published in Gourmet Magazine in July of 2000), incorporating a few of the reviews.

Lime Sugar Cookies_1

While I don’t usually like cookies that take too many steps (I believe you’re just supposed to throw stuff into a mixing bowl, then onto the cookie sheet, then pop the resulting warm baked treat into your mouth), this extra step of making lime sugar is a good step to add, for these cookies are pretty tender, and getting the lime-infused sweetness into them and onto them adds to their appeal.

Lime Sugar Cookies_2

If you don’t have a food processor, I suppose you could use a rasp to grate the lime peel, then blend into the sugar WELL, and it will probably work.  This batch made about 55 cookies.  Last caveat: the dough is really soft and must be chilled for easier handling, so while these are easy to whip up, be sure to chill them at least four hours.  As far as shaping goes, I used a small cookie dough scoop to get them uniform; alternatively you could roll the dough into the size of a golf ball with your hands.

First make your Lime Sugar
9 limes
2  1/2 cups sugar

Preparation
Remove zest from limes in strips with a vegetable peeler being careful not to strip off the white pith along with the zest (a little won’t matter, but pith imparts a bitter flavor). Unchopped, the zest measures a healthy one cup (see photos above).  Place sugar in the food processor, add lime peels and grind until mixture is pale green with bits of zest still visible. Lime sugar may be made 3 days ahead and kept, chilled, in an airtight container, but could also be frozen for longer storage.  NOTE: The sugar becomes aerated in the food processor; do not pack when measuring.

Now make the Cookies
2 and 1/4 sticks (18 tablespoons) butter, softened
6 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
3 cups lime sugar
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt

Preparation

Beat together butter, shortening, and lime sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt together then add gradually to the egg mixture; beat on low speed until just combined.

Cover and chill dough until firm, at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix 1 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lime sugar in a bowl.  Using a small cookie scoop about the size of a golf ball, scoop balls of dough into the sugar mixture, then roll to cover well. (At our house, we put the sugar mixture in a ziploc bag, add the dough balls to that and shake gently to cover them in sugar.)

Lime Sugar Cookies_3

PROPERLY PLACED COOKIES

Shake off excess, then place 2-3 inches apart on parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Press lightly with bottom of a drinking glass to flatten slightly.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven 11 to 12 minutes, or until pale golden with slightly dark golden edges. (Don’t overbake.)  Immediately transfer with a metal spatula to a rack set. Cool cookies.  Dough can be made 2 days ahead and chilled, wrapped well in plastic wrap.  Cookies keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 days.

 Lime Sugar Cookies_4

FAIL.

This is why you shouldn’t crowd the cookies.  They were still good, but required 13 minutes to cook and were slightly square. Confession: I still packaged them up and gave them out, but put the prettier ones on top.

Cherry-Arugula Salad

Cherry-Arugula Salad

Bedridden from a foot surgery, I fantasized about getting up and cooking and about what I’d make when I could finally get out of bed.  An article in the New York Times about cherries was published just about that time, and a friend picked up the ingredients for me to make this creation from Martha Rose Shulman (whose recipes I generally adore).  It was just the ticket for bringing some new flavors to our menu which had been, for a week or more, built around prepared freezer meals from the grocery store.  It was wonderful!

It has a strong flavor so don’t serve something delicate with it–to go along with this, try seasoned barbequed chicken thighs and a sturdy side dish.  But the combo of the tangy vinaigrette alongside some brilliantly flavorful cherries and creamy chevre was heaven.

 1 6-ounce bag baby arugula
16 cherries, halved and pitted
Scant 1/4 cup pistachios or almonds, (about 1 ounce), lightly toasted and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3-5  tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Combine the arugula, cherries, half the nuts and the tarragon in a large bowl.

Whisk together the vinegars, salt and pepper and olive oil. Toss with the salad. Arrange on a platter, sprinkle the goat cheese and remaining pistachios over the top, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Cook’s Note: I didn’t have sherry vinegar, so I used rice wine vinegar with about 2 teaspoons sugar, for a substitute.

Nutritional information per serving: 212 calories; 18 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 2 grams polyunsaturated fat; 10 grams monounsaturated fat; 11 milligrams cholesterol; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams dietary fiber; 87 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 6 grams protein

Baby Greens and Quinoa Salad

On our regular Friday night date, we went to California Pizza Kitchen to share a salad and a mushroom pizza, our usual.  But CPK had a new salad on the menu, and I came right home and tried to duplicate it, with a couple of twists.  Since I didn’t measure too many of the ingredients, a lot of this is sort of “throw a little of this in, then throw a little of that.”  If you want the original, head to CPK, but this is a good approximation.

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
Cook the quinoa in the water, according to package directions.  Rinse under cool water, then drain.  Alternatively, you could cook the quinoa ahead of time, then chill it before use.  It also freezes very well. [Check other salads on this site for more detailed directions on how to cook quinoa.]

Place the quinoa in the bottom of a large sloping bowl, suitable for tossing a salad.  Douse the quinoa with some dressing: you can use any vinaigrette from this site, or any purchased light vinaigrette would do.  For this salad I used Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette and added a splash or two of red wine vinegar, as I think the ratio of vinegar to oil is a bit too low in many commercial dressings. I buy both of those things at Ralph’s.

 To the bowl, add the following:
About 2-3 cups baby greens, loosely chopped
1 large tomato or three medium on-the-vine tomatoes (from Costco), chopped
1/2 small jar of sun-dried tomatoes (about 2 ounces, from Trader Joe’s.  The variety I chose were already cut into strips so I just threw them in.)
1-2 ounces (about a handful) of toasted pine nuts (also from Trader Joe’s.  You can buy regular pine nuts, then toast them slightly either under the broiler and a watchful eye, or tossing them lightly in a non-stick skillet)
2 ounces feta cheese–I buy mine in a brick (keeps fresh longer) lop off about an inch worth and crumble it by hand
Chopped red onion.  I cut off 2 slices for a large salad, each slice about 1/4″ thick.  Then I chop those slices into a medium dice, of about 1/4″

Then I tossed everything lightly. Check for the salt/pepper balance.  I found it needed quite a bit more salt than pepper.  Since I always like to heighten the flavors a bit on grain salads, I used a light shake of cayenne powder, then tossed really well.  My cayenne is on the old side, so I use two light shakes.  To make sure I know how much is going in, I “shake” it into the lid, check (that I haven’t dumped half the bottle in), then sprinkle it over the salad.   Serve with a La Brea baguette, or some other fine piece of bread.

I think you could add some deboned rotisserie chicken to this, if you want to move it beyond vegetarian.  I always have some chicken in the freezer, ready to go, but it’s really a fine salad by itself.