Biscotti Regina – Sesame Seed Cookies

 

BOOK seeded cookies

biscotti regina–family “seeded cookies”

How old do you have to be to eat a cookie? I mean: what’s the youngest age? 2? 1? 3? Whatever it is that’s how far back my memory connects to biscotti regina. I can’t remember my first bite, but I know them like I know my own blink.

In my family, they were “the seeded cookies.” Mom, are you gonna make the seeded cookies?

Sesame seeds, that is. And the seeds must have the hull on (don’t get the pale, pitiful unhulled sesame seeds). Get the one with hulls. The more bullish seed. The ones that make a statement. You can eat them raw and the taste pops. But with this cookie they also get toasted in the oven on the backs of the vanilla-strong cookie dough.

Usually seeded cookies make a grand entrance in the kitchen at Christmas time. Along with my mom’s pressed butter cookies (in some circles called “spritz” cookies, but we never called them that). The butter cookies are delicate and decorated with dipped chocolate, crushed walnuts, and pieces of candied cherries.

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Mom’s delicate butter cookies

The seeded cookies are the blue-collar plain Janes next to these dainty pretty ones. But one bite of that deep toasty, sesame, vanilla-flavored biscotti and you’ll have a new favorite cookie.

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adorable! biscotti regina

Italians call all cookies biscotti. They call this one “Regina” (regina means queen) because they must have been a favorite of an Italian queen. (Pizza Margherita is so-called after an Italian queen. See how important food is in Italy?) These cookies come from Sicily originally. My first sighting in Sicily was in Cefalu and then in Palermo. Seeing those very familiar childhood-to-lifelong cherished cookies in a Sicilian pastry showcase, or packed in a cellophane bag on a Sicilian shelf, was time-warping & transporting. My roots in a cookie!

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in Cefalu

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in Palermo

You gotta bake these cookies. Our family recipe makes a lot of cookies. That’s okay, you want a lot. When done, they resemble small Italian loaves of bread. They have the perfect crunch and can stand up to a dunking in espresso. Oh, dear, oh, yum. Take the secret family recipe below…and run!

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making biscotti regina in one of my classes

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making biscotti regina in one of my classes

Biscotti Regina (Sesame Seed Cookies)

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)

1 1/8 cup sugar

3 eggs

2 tablespoons milk, plus 1-2 cups for coating dough

2 tablespoons vanilla

4 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3-4 cups unhulled sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a mixer with a paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and incorporate. Add 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla, mix to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder and add to the wet ingredients. Mix to combine, don’t overmix, until a dough forms.

Place about a cup and a half of milk in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle most of the sesame seeds on a long piece of waxed paper or parchment. Pinch off a small dollop of dough (about 1-2 tablespoons) and shape into a small log. Coat with milk and set on the seeds. Holding up the sides of the waxed paper, rock the dough log in the seeds to coat then transfer to a cookie sheet. You can do 4-5 at a time. Continue with all the dough.

Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown. With a spatula gentle push cookies from baking sheet onto a flat paper bag to cool.

Can I go back to Italy now?

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our country hotel in Assisi

I just got back from Italy and I want to go back right now.

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Piazza Navona, Roma

Happens every time. It is never enough. Perhaps even living there is never enough (it wasn’t when I DID live there!).

What is it about that country? Okay, I’m second generation Italian-American. So there’s that this-feels-like-home phenomenon. But STILL. The small groups that I lead there are Americans from different descents, and they, TOO, want to stay for extended periods of time.

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my group with the proprietors of our Assisi hotel

Italy is the charming country. It’s the beauty. The food…

ravioli w crispy pancetta

Siena lunch: ravioli w crispy pancetta

…the People…

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Every Italian is thrilled with fresh porcini season…here at Mastro Donato In Testaccio, Roma

…the differences between regions. Differences between cities, towns. The food…

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pizza at Mercato Centrale in Firenze

…Striking mountains. Lush hills…

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hills in Tuscany

…Stunning coastlines. Coffee…

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Siena breakfast

…History. Monuments. Art…

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Venus by Botticelli at Uffizi Galleries in Firenze

…Fountains…

…Food…

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Bistecca Fiorentina in Firenze

…Philosophy of life.

And it’s shaped like a boot. What other country is clever enough to be shaped like something so recognizable?

On this recent trip, my group and I tasted the food of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. We dove particularly deep into Firenze, Roma, and Chianti country. I brought back many new recipes from these experiences, and am inspired to recreate many more.

One of my favorites is below. We visited a small winery in the Chianti Classico region, where they served us lunch. The star of the menu was pasta cooked in Chianti wine. Delicious! And so simple. See the recipe below and do try it. Enjoy! Ciao for now…

wine pasta

pasta cooked in Chianti for our wine-tasting at Brogioni Maurizio Montefioralle

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Maurizio, the producer, telling us about the process of wine-making

Pasta Cooked in Chianti Wine (serves 2-3)

1/2 cup chopped pancetta (or bacon)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lb. cut pasta, such as fusilli or farfalle

3/4 cup Chianti wine or favorite dry red wine

1/4 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino or combination

4-5 fresh sage leaves, diced, stems discarded

salt & pepper to taste

Place a pasta pot of water on the heat. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the olive oil and chopped pancetta in a small frying pan. Cook until pancetta cooks through and browns a bit. Reserve in pan.

When water has boiled, salt water well, add pasta and cook until almost done, just before al dente or to al dente (softness of your cooked pasta is up to you, but Italians don’t like it too soft…pasta will cook some more in the wine).

Start heating wine while pasta is boiling. Pour wine into a sauté pan with at least 2-inch sides. Bring wine to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt to wine. When pasta is al dente, scoop out with a strainer and add pasta to the wine. Let it cook in wine at a lively simmer, stirring, for about 2 minutes until wine is mostly or all absorbed. Take off the heat, or transfer pasta to a bowl.

Season with salt and pepper. Pour in pancetta with its oil. Sprinkle and stir in cheese. Sprinkle and stir in diced sage leaves. Stir to combine. Serve.

Grilling Artichokes

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grilled artichokes

Ahhhh. Say the word artichoke and you’ve got my complete attention. Say carciofi (artichokes in Italian) and I drop everything.

artichokes

I can eat them every day. And I don’t even need a new recipe. I’d braise them the way I always do with garlic, parsley, and olive oil. And I’m happy.

But you can’t help being creative when you spend a lot of time in the kitchen (ahhh, the kitchen). So I turned braising on its head and took it all outside.

This summer I started grilling my artichokes. In the evening sun. When hummingbirds buzz at the feeder. And a team of butterflies graze the zinnias. And tomatoes on the vine turn red before my eyes. Who wouldn’t want to spend time at the grill?

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First, snip the thorns off of the outer leaves. Cut each artichoke in half.

arties ready

cut artichokes ready to go

Boil them in salted water until the heart feels softened, almost cooked all the way through.

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boiled artichoke halves

Before lighting grill, spray it with PAM, or lightly grease it with olive oil. Then heat the grill to hot. Brush artichokes with a mixture of olive oil, honey, salt, and hot pepper.

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artichokes brushed with honey-olive-oil mixture

Grill them, cut side down, until grill lines appear and some char appears. Then turn them over and grill the leafy side till charred a bit.

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grilling artichokes

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grilled artichokes

Serve hot, or at room temp, with this very simple (and delicious) dipping sauce (see below). Ahhhhhhhhh.

Grilled Artichokes w Aioli

4 medium or large artichokes

1/3 cup olive oil

1-2 tablespoons honey

2-3 teaspoons cayenne or aleppo pepper

1/2 cup mayo

juice from 1 lime

1 teaspoon soy sauce

salt & pepper to taste

Fill a large saucepan halfway with water. Bring to a boil. Salt water. With a pair of scissors, snip the thorns from the artichokes leaves. Cut the artichokes in half and drop into the boiling water. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the inside heart is softened.

Drain and pat dry. (If artichokes are very large, cut in quarters before grilling.) Meanwhile spray PAM on the grill grate, and heat to hot. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil and honey, season with aleppo or cayenne, salt and pepper. Brush the artichokes with the oil-honey mixture. Grill artichokes until grill lines appear and they’re charred in places.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the mayo, lime juice, and soy sauce. Use as a dipping sauce for the artichokes.

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My Favorite Tomato

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among the last sweethearts

They’ve been coming fast and fabulous for most of the summer. And now they’re getting close to their last hurrah. Get ‘em while you can. They’re planning their winter vacations now. Precious. Juicy. Jewels.

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aren’t they gorgeous?

We planted just 4 tomato plants in the backyard, in a raised bed, and we didn’t know what we were doing. We planted them too close. So when they grew (who knew tomato plants like to reach eight feet?) and sprouted millions (I didn’t count, but I think it was millions) of tomatoes, we had a tomato jungle spilling all over itself.

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We scrambled for makeshift stakes. We criss-crossed with twine & string until we ran out. Then we used shiny pink ribbon (what was in the house). The fence did its part (great lean-to & lean-on). All these partners worked at keeping those prolific tomato plants upright. So we managed. And the funnest part: every day, first thing in the morning, all we wanted to do was look out to see what was going on.

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These plants-in-a-tomato-jungle were the equivalent of one of those see-through ant farms. The ones where you can watch the ants strolling along the lanes carrying 60 times their body weight in food or building materials. This city of tomatoes was equally busy. Flowering, leaving, pulping up with green toms, turning pink, turning orange, turning red.

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The endless supply of tomatoes landed in our kitchen. Grape and cherry toms hang out in the plastic colander we used to collect them, and sit on the counter day and night. It’s our candy dish. Two or three are popped in the mouth each time we pass by.

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Then there are the not actually ruby red ones, sitting on the window sill, waiting for more red. And the bowl of deep red babies ready for slicing, wedging, or whatever we come up with.

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My most favorite recipe for these slicing tomatoes is Tomatoes on Toast. I’ve eaten this toast almost daily since our crop’s been abundant.

Toast a slice of your favorite bread. Spread a layer of mayo.

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Slice your wonderful tomato into thin slices (or thick if you like). Lay them out on the mayo-ed toast. Sprinkle with salt.

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That’s it.

That’s all you need.

Since I spend time in the kitchen (a lot) my imagination reaches for more. Like a grated fresh tomato sauce…

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4 large ripe tomatoes, 1-2 garlic cloves, drizzles of olive oil, 2 sprigs each fresh basil, oregano, sage, salt & pepper to taste

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the tomatoes. Just start grating with the whole tomato (opposite end of the stem). The grater will cut through the first skin and then grate the flesh, leaving you with outer skin. Throw away skin. Peel the garlic, smash it flat, add to the grated tomato. Drizzle a little olive oil in tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the herbs. Let stand for at least 15 minutes for the flavors to combine and add to your favorite pasta. It will be a thin sauce, but the flavor is wonderful.

*****

Or a roasted cherry tomato sauce…

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2 pints cherry or grapes tomatoes, 2-3 cloves garlic (smashed), 1/4 cup olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons white wine or dry vermouth, fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, sage, or mixture, salt & pepper to taste

Line a sheet pan with foil. Toss tomatoes and garlic with oil and wine. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with herbs. Roast in oven for about 1/2 hour-40 minutes until tomatoes are tender.

******

Or a technicolor tomato-beet salad…

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4-5 red or golden beets (or combination)

2 ripe red tomatoes, cut into thin slices

2 ripe golden tomatoes (or 1 pint grape tomatoes), cut into thin slices, grape toms halved

1/2 cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

1-2 sprigs, fresh mint, leaves only, torn into small pieces

2-3 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, torn into small pieces

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 teaspoons mild vinegar

salt & pepper to taste

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Rinse beets of any dirt. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour until tender. (Test with a paring knife.) Let beets cool enough so you can handle them. Use a paring knife to peel off skin. Then cut into thin slices. Place beets and tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Add herbs and walnuts. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt & pepper. Toss gently to combine. Sprinkle goat cheese crumbles.

******

Or a sweet tomato tart…

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2 medium tomatoes, sliced into 1/4” half-moons

salt for sprinkling

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons Demerara sugar, divided

3 tablespoons white sugar, divided

2 tablespoons sparkling finishing sugar

1 egg for egg wash

5-6 basil leaves, torn

For the pastry dough:

1.5 cups flour

1 teaspoon sugar

pinch salt

1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)

1/4 cup cold white wine

Make the pastry: Add the flour, sugar, & salt to the bowl of food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter, pulse until the mixture is crumbly with small chunks of butter. Add wine (or same amount of ice water). Pulse until mixture comes together as a dough. Turn dough out onto a work surface and press together into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes-1 hour.

Meanwhile, salt the tomato slices and let drain in colander for about 1/2 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface to about a 1/8” thick circle. Move to a parchment or silpat-lined sheet pan. Drizzle honey evenly over surface.

Place tomato slices in an overlapping circle, filling in the center and leaving about a 2-inch border of dough. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar, and white sugar. Fold in edges of the dough. Brush dough with egg wash. Sprinkle more of both sugars over dough and add the sparkling finishing sugar. Bake for about 35 minutes until golden. When cooled, sprinkle with basil leaves.

******

But my favorite recipe— and my favorite “tomato” is Tomato Toast…

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It’s strange passing by all the tomatoes in the supermarkets — and even farmers’ markets. We don’t need any tomatoes from the store. At least now we don’t.

But that will change. I can’t imagine eating any other tomato than the ones coming from the yard. But I know I’ll probably give in to the store-bought by the time we reach December. I hope I don’t forget the difference when I taste a winter tomato. But even if I do forget— the memory will race back next summer. When we plant 4 more (or maybe more) tomato plants.

Come summer!

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What to do with Zucchini

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pasta w grated zucchini

I saw a longtime friend of mine on a recent visit to NYC. Gerald Busby is a cherished friend and mentor…AND a great composer. (I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with him on some music projects.)

 

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Gerald and me at his apartment in the Chelsea Hotel…my painting of the Chelsea behind us!

But Gerald is also a very good cook…so our chatting led to food…and he offhandedly described something he cooked up recently. It sounded so yummy I made it as soon as I got home. I LOVE this recipe: Pasta w Grated Zucchini

Simple. Smart. Delicious.

Here’s how it goes: Put your pasta pot of water on the heat to get it boiling. Then start your zucchini sauce. Chop a medium onion into dice. Sauté in a little butter (and I added a little olive oil, too)…

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onions sautéing 

Trim the ends of two medium zucchini. Grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater.

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grate zucchini

When the onion has softened. Add the grated zucchini to the pan.

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saute zucchini with onion

Try to coincide with also adding your pasta to the pot of boiling water (salt water first) — about 12 ounces, or even up to a pound of pasta.

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I got this pasta while in NYC at Eataly. It’s the Barilla brand that’s made in Italy and it’s rare to see “garganelli” as an egg pasta. So good! I think a cut pasta works best with this recipe.

Sauté zucchini till it starts to simmer, then add a splash of dry white wine. Season with salt, and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.

Add about a 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Cook till simmering.

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add cream to the zucchini, cook until cream reduces some

Reserve about a 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and add it to the pan of zucchini sauce. Stir to coat, and cook until the pasta and sauce are heated together, and the pasta is well coated. Add a little pasta water, or some more butter or olive oil if it needs moistening.

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Transfer to a serving platter. Scatter a little grated cheese. And bring more cheese to the table for individual servings.

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Simple. Smart. Delicious.

Pasta with Grated Zucchini

2 tablespoons butter

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 medium zucchini, trimmed & grated

1/4 cup dry white wine

12 ounces  – 1 lb. cut pasta (i.e. penne, ziti, garganelli)

1/2 cup heavy cream

salt to taste

grated cheese to taste

Place a pasta pot of water on the heat. Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan with about 2-inch sides (to hold pasta later). Sauté onion until soft. Then add grated zucchini.

Add pasta to boiling water (salt water first). When zucchini is simmering, add wine. When zucchini has softened (about 3-4 minutes), add cream. Let simmer till cream reduces a bit. Season with salt.

Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and add to zucchini sauce. Heat and coat pasta and let cook for about 2 minutes. Add a bit of pasta water or olive oil (or even a bit of cream or butter) if too dry.

Transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle some grated cheese. Bring some grated cheese to the table for individual servings.

 

 

 

Growing Pesto

serving 2

pesto & pasta

We moved a few months ago and one of the perks of the new place is garden room. My inner love for soil and green is having a — literal — field day. Yes, after 30 years of NYC life (which I loved) I’m very happy to get my hands in the dirt!

We’re growing string beans, peas, carrots, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, ghost peppers, AND from seeds brought back from Italy: cicoria, Roman artichokes, Italian onions, and hot red cherry peppers.

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carrots, peas, string beans, Italian cicoria, Brussels sprouts

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artichokes, zinnias, Italian onions (plus ceramic painted cat from Mexico)

And, of course, my favorite complement of herbs. I’d been growing herbs at our last patio garden and thrilled to the ability of going out the back door to snip herbs fresh for cooking. (Unlike being on the 6th floor of an apartment building staring out the window at cement.) Now we’ve got some more space for more herbs.

The basil plant that went into the ground about a month ago, filled out so fast into a sizable bush, and already started to flower.

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basil plant

We thought: man, we have to harvest some of this. Man, we HAVE to make some pesto!

cut basil

harvesting basil and parsley

I love when I have to make pesto. We even bought a fancy pasta to have with it (this expensive pasta was on sale…yay!): Cipriani’s tagliarelle…

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Cipriano tagliarelle

You know, you don’t have to wait for basil to grow to have pesto. You can make pesto from any green thing you like. Here’s what I like: arugula, watercress, parsley, mint, even  spinach & broccoli rabe. Mix them up. A few greens together. I’ve even pared down the traditional recipe and often leave out garlic (kinda strong). I love adding nuts, but not always pine nuts. Sometimes almonds (they love this in Sicily) or walnuts. I don’t add cheese until the pesto is mixed with the pasta. Cheese sometimes turns the pesto too gooey.

Here’s what I cooked up the other day.

For an aromatic I used shallot. Peeled & rough chopped. For the nuts: I used walnuts…

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shallot & walnuts

We cut a lot of basil from the plant but also cut some parsley.

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cut basil & parsley

Pinch the leaves from the stems. Discard stems.

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pick off the leaves of the herbs

Place shallots & nuts & basil & parsley leaves in the bowl of a food processor.

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shallot & walnuts in processor

Add some salt & pepper & drizzle a few turns of olive oil.

olive oil

adding olive oil

Pulse until broken down, but don’t go crazy. You don’t want a puree.

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pulsed pesto ready to use

Scrape the pesto into your serving bowl. Meanwhile bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Salt water generously, add pasta. Cook to al dente.

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Cipriani tagliarelle

Before you drain the pasta spoon some pasta water into the pesto to loosen it and make it more like a sauce…less like a paste.

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add pasta water to pesto

Drain pasta and add to pesto. Toss well. Add some more pasta water to moisten. Drizzle some more olive oil to flavor and moisten.

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pasta & pesto

Dust with cheese, and bring some cheese to the table for individual servings.

serving

your serving of pasta & pesto

 

You’ll get deep fresh flavor. Garden umami. Satisfying and so quick!

Fresh Pesto w Pasta

2 cups basil leaves or combination of herbs i.e. parsley or mint

1 medium shallot, peeled & rough chopped

1/2 cup walnuts

olive oil for drizzling

12 ounces pasta (your favorite — any can work)

salt & pepper to taste

1 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino

Pinch the leaves off the sprigs of herbs. Discard stems. Place herb leaves, shallots & walnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Season with salt & pepper. Drizzle some olive oil (about 1/3 cup or to your liking). Pulse until broken down but not a full “puree.”

Meanwhile bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Boil pasta until al dente.

Add some pasta water to the pesto to loosen and make more like a sauce. Add drained pasta. Toss to coat well. Add some more pasta water and/or drizzle more olive oil to moisten and flavor. Dust with grated cheese. Pass more cheese at the table for individual servings.

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last bite

 

Scrambled Eggs Tacos

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scrambled eggs tacos

Here’s a recipe that you make up as you go along. So not only are the eggs scrambled, but so is the recipe.

These tacos serendipitously arrived at my table just as Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching. I didn’t plan it. It just happened. The urge hit.

But you can actually plan to make this for breakfast on the 5th. Then the celebration comes to your house, too.

These breakfast tacos (or lunch tacos or dinner tacos or midnight-snack tacos) are taste-buds-popping delicious. And…

You make it up as you go along.

Here’s what I made up:

ingredient uno: scrambled eggs!

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scrambled eggs

ingredient dos: diced scallion mixed into the eggs (along w salt & pepper & a bit of grated cheese)

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scrambled eggs w scallions

ingredient tres: corn tortillas, the smallish 5-6-inch ones, heated in a cast iron pan (I put a teaspoon of oil to start and then don’t add any more oil after that — it makes a little smoke, but cooking will do that) until they get a little golden…brown…or even black in spots.

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heated, browned, oh-so-good tortillas

ingredient cuatro: choose side items, condiments, aromatics, yumful toppings that will pull it all together. I chose: diced fresh grape tomatoes mixed with parsley, a bit of olive oil, & salt…shredded asiago cheese….

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tomatoes & asiago cheese (scallions for the eggs)

…minced pancetta & minced prosciutto sautéed in a little olive oil…

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pancetta & prosciutto

…some fresh baby arugula…

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baby arugula

ingredient cinco: I also made a quick sauce of mayo, lemon juice & horse radish.

To eat: place a tortilla on your plate, pile on some scrambled eggs…

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scrambled eggs

…top with tomatoes, cheese, pancetta-prosciutto, arugula, some sauce…then fold and bite, nibble, and gulp your way to the last bite. Repeat.

The make-it-up-as-you-go part includes flavors that you love; stuff you happen to have in the refrigerator; ingredients you crave so much you’ll travel miles to get them to put in your tortilla, and/or the ones I just suggested (oooh, good ones!).