Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's Easy Being Green


The “Unofficial End of Summer” has passed.  While August in our part of the country seemed to be rather pleasant, summer was not about to wave the white flag in surrender.  Yes, those hazy, hot & humid days made a comeback this past Labor Day weekend & the A/C was on full blast.  In the wake of celebrating the end of summer with food but not wanting to slave over a kitchen stove all day, I turned my thoughts to pesto. Pesto is easy to make.  It doesn’t require any serious cooking and it’s a great way to experiment with different herbs, nuts & textures.  It’s also very versatile.  It’s a sauce, it’s a condiment, it’s a dip, or it can be whatever you want it to be.  

Most people are familiar with the traditional pesto made with basil but nowadays, pesto has given way to many creative combinations.  For those who have never made pesto, here are 2 very simple & easy recipes along with some ideas for its use.  The basil pesto will be perfect for anyone who is staring at their big, overgrown basil plant and thinking what to do with it all.  Mom?  I’m talking to you. J

Recipe #8: Basic Pesto

It's Easy Being Green

*Depending on what you plan to do with your pesto, you have to play around with the consistency.  The more oil you add, the looser the texture, so keep that in mind when planning on ways to use it.  This is what makes it so versatile.


2C.             fresh basil leaves (packed)**
1/4c           toasted pine nuts ***
1 cloves     garlic
~2/3 c.       extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
 ½ c             freshly grated Parmesan cheese

**In a pot of salted water, blanch the basil leaves for approximately 45 seconds and then drain in a colander.  Allow to cool and squeeze by hand the excess water.  This process helps to retain the beautiful green color of pesto & allows it to retain that color for a few days after making it.  It’s a little trick I learned about recently.

 ***Rather than turn on a stove, I prefer to take a sauté pan, spray it with some cooking spray & then “toast” the nuts in the pan.  The only caveat, they will cook quicker than in an oven so you have to keep an eye on them but atleast you can swish the pan around and cook them evenly.

Process the basil, pine nuts, garlic & salt & pepper until finely chopped.  While processor is still running, add enough oil to form a paste that is smooth & consistent.  Transfer to a bowl and fold in the parmesan cheese.   Season to taste w. salt & ground black pepper.

Heirloom Zebra stripe tomatoes with Basil Pesto, fresh mozzarella & a drizzle of olive oil.

Recipe #9: Arugula pesto **From: Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis


 2C.             fresh arugula leaves (packed)
1 cloves     garlic
½ c             extra virgin olive oil
½ c             freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh ground pepper

In a food processor, pulse the arugula & garlic until finely chopped.  While the blender is running, gradually add the oil to form a smooth yet loose enough mixture.  Pour the mixture in a bowl and fold in the Parmesan cheese.  Season to taste with salt & freshly ground pepper.

Recipe Idea: Arugula pesto with Gemelli pasta, baby peas & grated sharp provolone

 This was really good!! 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Beans, Beans, They’re Good For Your Heart, The More You Eat….

Well, growing up as a little kid you may remember singing this little ditty and know how the rest of it goes.  In my never ending quest to try to eat healthy, I know that the consumption of legumes is a great source of satisfying protein.  Last weekend, there was a remnant of winter’s chill that settled over our area.  I remember almost being tempted to turn on the heater when the thermostat read 64 degrees but I held fast knowing that in about 3 months, I’m going to wish it was 64 degrees!  So with the house a little chilly, I decided a soup was in order.  I launched a raid on my pantry and discovered I have a ton of all kinds of canned beans.  So many cans in fact, I fear I may be on the brink of hoarding. To my delight, I had a couple cans of butter beans, my favorite, and lo and behold, there was a soup recipe on the label - which I tweaked a bit to my liking.  I also had a very large can of black beans.  I remembered it was one of those discounted, slightly dented deals they have on a shelf in the corner of the supermarket.   I recalled a Cuban Black Bean soup recipe from my culinary school days.

Out came the stockpots and by the end of the day, the house was about 5 degrees warmer and I had two delicious soups.  I had made enough soup for several batches and froze them in individual containers because on this rainy, dreary & chilly last Monday in April, guess what I’m having for lunch and probably dinner?

Butter Bean Soup

3Tb            olive oil
½ cup        small diced pancetta         
½ cup        small diced onion
½ cup        small diced carrot
½ cup        small diced celery**
1 ½ Tb      minced garlic
2 - 15.5oz cans of butter beans, undrained, preferably Goya
4 cups       chicken broth
1 tsp          chopped fresh rosemary
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan for garnish

** I like to also use the leaves of the celery as long as they are not bruised or brown
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven.  Sauté pancetta for approx. 5 minutes being careful not to brown.  Always adjust heat so as to cook but not to brown any of the ingredients in this recipe. Add onion, carrot & celery and sauté until softened then add garlic.  Continue to sauté for approx. 2-3 minutes. Add the beans, chicken broth & rosemary.  Simmer uncovered until heated through.  Season with salt & pepper to taste.  Allow soup to cool.  Take ½ of soup and puree in a blender or food processor and return to the pot and thoroughly mix.  Upon serving, reheat soup and garnish individual bowls with grated parmesan.

Makes approximately 6-8 servings
Cuban Black Bean Soup
1 large        smoked ham hock
3 qt.           chicken broth
6 cloves     garlic peeled & crushed
4-5             dried chilies
½ tsp          fresh coriander

4Tb            olive oil
1 ¼ cup      small diced onion
1 ¼ cup      small diced green or yellow pepper ( I prefer yellow for a little vibrant color)
¾ cup         small diced carrot
1 - 15oz     can petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 - 16oz     can black beans, undrained, preferably Goya
½ tsp         fresh chopped oregano
¾ tsp         fresh chopped thyme
2                fresh bay leaves
Black pepper to taste

For Garnish:
¼ cup        dry sherry, ie. amontillado
Grated hardboiled egg, sour cream & chopped green onion

Place ham hock in a large stock pot or Dutch oven with the broth, garlic, chilies & coriander.  Simmer until liquid is reduced by half.  Allow to cool then remove ham hock from liquid.  Remove all non fatty meat from the bone and dice into small pieces.  Strain the remaining liquid.  Set aside both the meat & liquid separately.
Sauté onion, pepper, celery and carrot in olive oil until lightly browned.  Add tomatoes and cook until mixture is “dry” – meaning there is a scant amount of liquid.  Add the strained liquid from the cooked ham hock.  Add the beans, oregano, thyme and bay leaves. Simmer until cooked through, approx. 40 minutes.  Remove bay leaves. Take approx. 1/3rd of the mixture out of the pot and puree then add back into the soup.  Add the reserved meat from the ham hock.   Upon serving, reheat soup and pour in the dry sherry.  Garnish each individual bowl with the grated egg, sour cream & green onion.

Makes approximately 6-8 servings


A nice little entertaining twist to this soup: whether serving as an appetizer or entree - if you specifically purchase a bottle of amontillado sherry and use it in this recipe, don't hesitate to serve a glass of it along with the soup.  It would be perfect!