Green Garlic Pesto

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I don’t ever really remember having much of a special weekend routine growing up. We never had the large family Sunday night dinner or weekend sleepover at the grandparent’s house. I hated  was terrible at any sport involving hand eye coordination so my parents, luckily or unluckily (not sure how you look at it), never spent their time shuffling me from one sporting event to the next.

I wasn’t really a structured kid.  I did homework laying on my back with my feet up the wall, I thought I invented the concept of procrastination and I had a crazy active imagination which got me in trouble more times than I can count.  Me and routine went together like pickles and peanut butter, both amazing on their own but when mixed together a terrible idea.  That is until I had my son.

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I never realized not having a routine was my routine, but it was. Now my not-a-routine turned into my son’s extreme not-a-routine. I was up at all hours of the night, trying to convince a 3 week old that the dark city outside our apartment window meant that he should be asleep too. I turned into an all you could eat buffet, open 24 hours a day, and it seemed most popular every time I sat down to have a warm meal myself. I started craving routine like I did deli sandwiches the second my OB told me I couldn’t eat them.  I was shocked by the realization but needed it badly.

Every baby book I read told me how much babies craved routine and I do not know what made me think that mine would be any different. Genetics I guess. But once we found our routine together, I secretly loved it.  I loved knowing the hours of the day I could sneak in a shower, get a nap, read a book or simply just be.  The hubby did too.

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A few months ago my son and I accidentally found our Sunday routine and I am not sure who loves it more. It does not revolve around sports or other organized activities, but a local farmer’s market and everything we can do within running distance. My son actually cried when we couldn’t go a few weeks ago. Genetics I guess.

About a month ago, we bought some green garlic and fresh basil at the farmer’s market, then came home to make homemade green garlic pesto for lunch.  I forgot to snag a pic of the recipe posted with the garlic so created this one from what I could remember of that recipe combined with an Everyday Italian pesto recipe. I couldn’t find the pine nuts in my fridge so subbed in walnuts instead.  The results, and I quote my son . . . delicious!

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Green Garlic Pesto

1/2 lb of green garlic, hard ends and tops of stems removed and cut into similar size pieces

2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup of toasted walnuts

1/2 tsp of salt

2/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 a lemon, juiced

In a blender pulse the garlic, basil, walnuts and salt until finally chopped.  With the blender still running gradually pour in the olive oil.  I found that I needed pretty close to the 2/3 cup of olive oil.  You want a smooth but medium consistency – not too runny and not too pasty.  I find if it is too thick it never thins out right with pasta water.  Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese.  Finish off with lemon juice.

Enjoy with your favorite pasta, ravioli or as a great spread on sandwiches.  If making with pasta, don’t forget to save a little pasta water to thin out the pesto.

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Improving on Perfection

So yes I am totally one of those people who when someone says “don’t touch that,” all I want to do is touch it! I probably had no interest in touching whatever it was before, but once you tell me I can’t do something I all of sudden get this sudden urge to want to do it.

Now that I am pseudo grown-up I am pretty good at controlling that urge but when I was a kid it got me into loads of trouble. Like when one of my sleep away camp bunk mates told me not to make another “peep” or she would get out of bed and slap me. What did I do . . . I said “peep” and what happened? I got slapped. Then we both spent the following evening in our bunk while our bunk mates attended whatever evening activity was going on that night. Lesson learned? Sort of.

I absolutely love Alice Water’s simplistic approach to cooking, in fact, I admire it. So when I made her spaghetti with summer squash and walnuts I was so good about not mucking around with it, but it was honestly killing me. Since then that dish has become a household staple but tweaked in many, many different ways. So as the end of summer draws near and my endless supply of summer squash and heirloom cherry tomatoes disappears I thought I would share with you all, my summer staple pasta recipe.

Not only is it absolutely delish it is probably one of the easiest dishes I cook in my kitchen and is also totally simple to switch up.

Summer Pasta (a what i made for dinner original)

serves 2

1/3 to 1/2 lb of pasta of  your choice – I generally use penne or linguini

3 smallish summer squash (you can pick any combo you like paddy pan, crook neck, zucchini, etc)

2/3 lb of deveined, peeled shrimp (I used the easy to peel in the picture because they were on sale)

Salt

Pepper

2/3 to 1 cup of cherry tomatoes (I am obsessed with the heirlooms this year) – optional

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Basil (optional)

Goat cheese (optional)

1/4 cup Toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Now depending on cooking times you will have to time this as best you can so everything is done at the same time. I am trying to use whole wheat pasta which usually takes close to 20 minutes but check the cooking times on your pasta.

Slice the summer squash into quarter-inch thick pieces and place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. If you want them a little spicier I sometimes add some red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile cook pasta according to directions, drain and reserve some pasta water.

Alright so here is how you can switch it up:

  • If you want to add some shrimp place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can always use red pepper flakes here too if you want to spice it up. Place in the oven and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. You know the shrimp is done when it curls up and turns pink. Be careful not to over cook or you will end up with rubbery shrimp.
  • If you want to add some tomatoes wash and dry cherry tomatoes. Leave them whole and place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and cook from about 10 minutes.
  • If you want a crunch add some toasted walnuts. Simply put the walnuts on a cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes until lightly browned.

Plate pasta in bowls. If you would like a creamier-style pasta add several decent size crumbles of goat cheese. I like to put them in the bowl before the pasta so the heat of the pasta melts the cheese. Then add any combo of squash, shrimp, tomatoes and / or walnuts. Pour a little reserved pasta water just to add a touch of moisture to the dish, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and add the basil if you have it on hand. Toss and enjoy!

Some of my favorite combinations:

  • Summer squash, shrimp, red pepper flakes and basil
  • Tomatoes, shrimp, red pepper flakes
  • Both of the above are great with our without goat cheese
  • Summer squash, tomatoes and toasted almonds

Enjoy with a great glass of Chardonnay or Soave

Pasta with Broccoli Two Ways

I am not sure when it happened but somehow broccoli became one of my favorite vegetables. It just tastes so good regardless of how you cook it. It absorbs all the delicious sauce in a stir fry. It gets an amazing flavor when you roast it in the oven. It even tastes delicious when you saute it with some olive oil, garlic and a little red pepper flakes.

In all the times that I have cooked broccoli (and trust me I have cooked it a ton) I have never used the stems or even thought of using the stems. I mean maybe when I was cooking broccolini or broccoli rabe did I use the stems, but never when cooking their big brother.

So when I stumbled on the pasta and broccoli recipe in my Cooking 1 2 3 by Rozanne Gold (highly recommend this one!) that used the ENTIRE broccoli I had to try it. The gist of the book – every recipe uses only 3 ingredients (salt and pepper do not count). It’s pretty amazing. I generally reserve the book for fish or meat recipes and was pretty excited when I discovered the pasta section.

First you take a large head of broccoli (or two small) and cut off the florets leaving each with about a 1/2 inch stem. Set the florets aside. Then use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin off the stem of the broccoli. Cut the stem into 1 inch pieces and place them in 1 and 1/2 cups of salted water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium cover and cook for 25 minutes. The stem pieces become soft and translucent.

Transfer the broccoli stems and water to a blender (or in my case a food processor) and puree. Then add 1/2 a stick of butter (or 4 tablespoons) cut into small pieces and blend with the broccoli puree, salt and pepper.  Transfer back to a clean saucepan and slowly reheat.

Meanwhile boil a pot of salted water to cook the pasta. When water is boiling add pasta and cook according to box directions. With 3 to 4 minutes left on the pasta add the broccoli florets to the water.

When finished cooking drain the pasta and broccoli and plate. Pour the sauce over and serve.

So I couldn’t resist and had to taste the sauce mid-cooking. I have to say I was a little nervous it was super salty but somehow when added with the pasta and broccoli everything balanced each other out. It was pretty delicious – basically it tasted like pasta with butter and broccoli (I mean isn’t that exactly what it was?). I will definitely think twice now before tossing those broccoli stems.

Stuffed Shells

There are those meals you remember from your childhood. The ones that instantly transport you back to being a kid and sitting at the kitchen table (or kitchen island in my case), legs swinging because they are too short to touch the floor, and belly full of deliciousness. For me one of those meals is stuffed shells.

I could not even tell you the last time I ate stuffed shells or it even occurred to me that it would be a great meal for dinner. My mom, sister, and I had gotten tired of eating out. I know a ridiculous thing to say with the food being so great in SF, but by the time Friday afternoon rolled around the thought of stuffing ourselves silly with another gourmet dinner did not bring a smile to anyone’s face. So we decided to cook dinner at home.

My mom raided my cookbook collection but we were all uninspired with the options, that is until, she came up with the idea of using Rao’s manicotti recipe to make stuffed shells. Smiles instantly came across my sister and my face and we were sold.

I thought home-made stuffed shells would be daunting but I have to say it was super easy.  Ok we cheated a little (maybe a lot) with store-bought pasta and sauce (Rao’s of course) but still it was easy.

First cook the pasta shells until they are almost done. You do not want to fully cook them because they will cook in the oven. Drain and allow to cool.

For the filling combine 2 cups of ricotta cheese, 2 egg yolks, 1 cup of diced mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano, salt and pepper. Then my mom’s secret trick – place the cheese mixture into a plastic bag and cut off the end.

Carefully pull open the shell in the palm of one hand and with the other guide the filling into the shell. You want the shells to fill full but not overly stuffed.

Place a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and then carefully place the stuffed shells on top. The layer of sauce on the bottom does an AMAZING job of preventing the shells from sticky to the bottom of the dish.

Next cover the shells with sauce, careful not to use too much or else you will end up with soup, and then top with mozzarella cheese.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 then enjoy!

We had a delicious salad with ours.

It was the perfect meal on a cold, foggy SF night and the best part about it? My mom made enough for the hubby and I to have leftovers when we came back from our weekend camping trip. Yes she is the best!

Penne with Tomato and Eggplant Sauce

Continuing on my journey to finding the perfect eggplant, tomato, and pasta recipe (see Catastrophe) I thought I would turn to the experts on this – Rao’s.

So there are difficult restaurants to get into in NYC and then there are impossible. Rao’s falls under the impossible, that is unless you are a “regular” or are lucky enough to know one. They are known for having some of the best simple Italian food, so in my mind they had to have the perfect eggplant and tomato pasta. Bonus – the recipe looked so simple to make.

I had a guest sous-chef in the kitchen last night so prep for dinner was super easy. Chopped onion, diced eggplant, and sliced mushrooms – done.

I heated up the olive oil in a large skillet and added the garlic, whole, to brown and flavor the olive oil. I have never used this technique before but it worked really well, plus you had great roasted garlic to spread on bread after. Yum!

Once the garlic turned a golden color I removed it and added in the onion, mushrooms, and eggplant. As I was stirring all the veggies together I noticed that there seemed like there was a lot of onion in the pan. I checked the recipe and it said half a cup, but it looked like a lot more. So I checked with my guest sous-chef and we realized we forgot to measure the onion that she chopped.  Oops!

What to do?  Spend the next 12 minutes while the veggies cooked down, sifting out the extra onion.

Hoping we salvaged the sauce, we added some white wine, followed by a can of San Marzano diced tomatoes and let the sauce simmer while the pasta cooked.

Finally the sauce was ready, we added some fresh basil, a pinch of oregano and kept our fingers crossed.

The good news . . . it wasn’t too oniony! The not so good news . . . it still wasn’t THE one. It tasted a little bland to me, like it needed some red pepper flakes. I also have to admit that I was a little surprised by how it turned out, I was imaging more of a sauce and this cooked more like a ratatouille.  Either way the plates were cleaned. But my search still continues. Anyone have a great tomato, eggplant pasta recipe out there?