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

 

Sweet Tomato Galette

Sweet Tomato Galette

Sweet Tomato Galette

Here come the tomatoes. And we’d better be ready. They will appear at the table in all their savory guises– or all alone, by themselves, because that’s usually all that’s needed.

summer tomatoes

summer tomatoes

But here’s a sweet twist on tomatoes. I offered up something similar in culinary school for a student contest. Made it to finalist. But now many years later I think I’ve perfected it even more. It’s a surprising taste. Sugar and Tomatoes. A taste you’ll cherish from now on.

I start with 2 medium tomatoes, sliced about a 1/4″ thick into half-moons. Lay them out in a colander and salt them well. Let them release some of their juices for about 1/2 hour.

salted tomato slices

salted tomato slices

Then I make my favorite tart pastry recipe. (See below.) Roll it out into an informal circle.

rolled pastry dough

rolled pastry dough

Then move it to a parchment or silpat-lined pan.

pastry dough

pastry dough

Drizzle a light layer of honey.

drizzle honey

drizzle honey

And start laying out the tomato slices in a circular pattern.

layer tomatoes

layer tomatoes

Filling in the center. Then sprinkling with sugar. I used Demerara sugar and white sugar, but use your favorite-tasting sugar.

Demerara sugar

Demerara sugar

Fold in the edges of the dough. Brush with an egg wash…

brush with egg wash

brush with egg wash

Sprinkle more sugar over the dough. Here I’ve also added some sparkling finishing sugar.

ready to bake

ready to bake

You need a good amount of sugar. That’s what makes the tomato flavor pop in this not-usual direction. Bake for about 35 minutes in a 375 degree oven until golden. Let it sit a bit before slicing. Sometimes juices accumulate in a puddle around the tomatoes when you first take it out, but then absorb into the galette as it cools for a few minutes.

baked tomato galette

baked tomato galette

Add to the sweet-savory combo by tearing a few basil leaves on top. The flavors do an unusual dance on your taste buds, then relax long enough for you to say: “Can I have another slice?”

tomato galette

sweet tomato galette

Sweet Tomato Galette

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

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Make the pastry: Add the flour, sugar, salt and butter to the bowl of food processor. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly with small pea-sized pieces. Add wine. Pulse until mixture comes together as a dough. Turn dough out onto a work surface and press together into a thick disc. 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 into an informal circle on a lightly floured surface to about a 1/8” thick. Move to a parchment or silpat-lined sheet pan. Drizzle honey evenly over surface.

Place tomato slices in an overlapping circle, leaving about a 2-inch border of dough. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar, and white sugar. Fold in edges of the dough, overlapping. Brush dough with egg wash. Sprinkle more of both sugars over dough and the sparkling finishing sugar.

Bake for about 35 minutes until golden. When cooled, sprinkle with basil leaves.

“Mini” Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad Ingredients

Caprese Salad Ingredients

Actually, this salad can be as big as you’d like. The only “mini” about it is the size of the ingredients in the bowl. Usually Caprese salads are nice big slices of tomatoes and  mozzarella alternating on the plate like a splayed deck of cards (ready for a fancy trick-pick a card, any card…um, queen of tomato?). But this one puts it all in a bowl in bite-sized pieces. You don’t need a knife to eat it (but a fork is useful).

I’m combining the usual Caprese ingredients–tomatoes, mozzarella, basil–with a couple of other ingredients that used to satisfy my after-school snack desires: shallot & dried oregano. A fav dish of mine in that nowhere time zone of school-day-done-and-dinner was cut up tomatoes, diced yellow onion, dried oregano, olive oil and salt & pepper. I can still wolf down that concoction without blinking.

Of course, you know what “Caprese” means? Capri. As in the isle of Capri. Off the coast of Amalfi. One of those wowza places that sings siren songs in your head unexpectedly (like when you’re eating cheerios for breakfast or walking in a parking lot or doing the laundry–events that have nothing to do with the isle of Capri and so that’s its magic: it shows up anywhere).  I was just wandering that island last June. The streets were filled with tourists (doesn’t matter, it’s still phenomenal), the shops were dripping with everything you want to buy, the scenery takes your breath away so you have to stop to breathe every other step. On our approach to Marina Piccola by boat we slipped through the Faraglioni “rock islands” and felt like a visitor to another (beautiful) planet.

Capri

Faraglioni, Capri

So if you’re from Capri, you’re Caprese. Tomatoes grow in the south of Italy, mozzarella is made in Campania, which makes this salad “Caprese.”

Here’s how I turn it into “mini”…

Cut up the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces:

Cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces

tomatoes in bite-sized pieces

Mince shallot (instead of my teenage-hood onion, much more subtle and gentle):

cutting shallot

cutting shallot

Use mini mozzarella balls (bocconcini)…and even these I cut in half:

cutting cheese

cutting cheese

Add fresh basil and/or fresh mint…I tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces:

basil and mint

basil and mint

Dried oregano for that “after-school” zing:

add dried oregano

add dried oregano

Drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper and you’re in the land of yum…(just shy of the Tyrrhenian Sea by a few thousand miles but your taste buds just might be fooled).

mini Caprese Salad

mini Caprese Salad

The garden of cooking class menus

Basil

Basil

The humid heat finally broke here in Nashville. I can have breakfast on the patio while working on menus for my fall cooking classes. This time I’ve tapped my mom’s culinary imagination for suggestions. She makes suggestions on a daily basis anyway letting me know how she cooked the sausages, or eggplant, or mozzarella we bought together the other day.

My simple, yet perfect, breakfast that I’m eating out here this morning has her influence, too. With my scrambled eggs packed with feta cheese, I’m having beautiful fresh mozzarella and sliced campari tomatoes with basil from the garden, from a plant growing right across from me.

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Breakfast: feta eggs, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil

My mom bought a 2-pack of creamy mozzarella logs at Costco yesterday and sent me home with one. She just wrote me this morning to say it tastes so good. I’m enjoying these 2 precious slices. Plus some grapes and cherries she insisted I take home “to eat while I’m reading.”

Mom, garden, cool but-still-summery weather: perfect inspiration for my fall menus!

Chocolate Mint

Chocolate Mint

Lemon Thyme

Lemon Thyme

Fig Tree

Fig Tree