Pesto – amazing 

pesto [pes-toh]

noun, Italian Cookery.
1. a sauce typically made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and grated Parmesan blended together and served hot or cold over pasta, fish, or meat.
In college, I made some great friends, and one of them was a girl named Karen T. (cannot believe I remembered her whole name, but somehow that makes me feel good, but won’t divulge).
She threw excellent (read: grown up) parties. If you said you would attend, you were actually expected to do so. She was a great cook – the first person I knew to make chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. She totally rocked, and she also introduced me to pesto. I think it was her mom’s recipe, photocopied, and I remember this most clearly, the recipe was called “Pesto by the food processor method.” Hysterical now, but at the time a totally new thing for me.
D&D_1998
It is basically the “recipe” I still make today, except I substitute walnuts for pine nuts. I don’t notice a difference, so it works for me. And I always have walnuts in the freezer.
It’s great for pasta, for pasta salad, add some sun-dried tomatoes and it is excellent in my sun-dried tomato pesto torte. Have I not made that for you? Damn, will rectify that situation soon.

Basil – 2 bunches, stems removed mostly
Garlic – 2 cloves or or more if you would like it
1 1/4 cups walnuts or there abouts – fear the pine nuts.
1/4 cup really good olive oil
A good bit of freshly grated Parmesan – indeed.

First chop the garlic in the food processor. Then add the walnuts and mix it up again   Do this before you add the basil. Because this is a good thing. It just seems to work so well. Then stream the olive oil in and the when it is all done, add the Parmesan. And if you want to go crazy add some sun-dried tomatoes. Because that is amazing. Yep.

I was to go to Italy with Karen and Dierdre in the spring of 1993, but giving birth to the Boy put those plans into a stall. Never regret it. And he was eating pesto as a 3 years-old – he was that kind of boy. Sushi, sure. Pesto, yep. Mushroom pate – always. Kids will try anything if you don’t make a big deal of it.
Karen moved to New Jersey and we lost touch, but some things stick with you in an important way. And I miss them both.

How do we teach our kids how to eat?

When I was a kid, you sat down for dinner (supper in our case) and you ate what was on the table. If you did not like something, (green beans – ugh – even though my Mom was a great cook, I just never could get past this),  you ate more of something else that you did like (rice and corn mixed together with lots of butter or homemade mac n cheese or anything else). But there was not a separate meal for us kids. To be honest, I do not remember kids’ menus at restaurants either.

We had to try things (rutabagas, which I loved with lots of butter and black pepper), and we could certainly doctor things. My great aunt Rhodie’s chow chow made black-eyed peas amazing and now I cannot figure out how to eat them without that. Collards with home-made hot pepper vinegar* – amazing.

But supper was what was on the table. There it was. Your food. Enjoy.

To a large degree, we did that with The Boy and at a very early age, he ate pesto and sushi at 3-ish. In England he did what we did – trying lots of new vegetarian things (because I was, at that time, a vegetarian). Indian samosas were great and cheese and onion pasty (no sniggering –  it is what they call them) was simply and stupidly good. I’d like to think that The Boy still tries new things (in all honesty, I know he does). He is still a fan of salt and vinegar potato chips because we had chips (in the UK version of the word) with malt vinegar – something sublime about that. Okay – damn it. Now I have a craving. Crap.

Do we do our kids a disservice by catering too much to them for supper? In my case, there were nights where we had “fend for yourself” nights. For all of us – me, the Boy and the MotH. Go in the kitchen and make your dinner out of what was there. That is still one of my favorite things. Tonight, I think popcorn.

In my family, the only time you could just get around the – eat what is on the table rule – was when it was your birthday. That day you got whatever you wanted. I think that is totally valid.  But my mix of food was so weird. I mean, tacos and pecan pie. Who does that? Sounds so ugh at this point. But it did make me really, stupidly, happy. I am glad there are no pictures from this point in my life. My brother’s birthday food was even better. Roast beef, gravy, rice, and carrot and raisin salad. What a way better choice than mine. But I got the benefit of his birthday – I was smart.

I am sure we need a picture or two here, but, I’ve got nothing. Which is probably for the best.

*Home-made hot pepper vinegar is so easy. And so good.

Basil Sun-Dried Tomato Mozzarella Bread

Do you ever find a recipe that you just have to try as soon as you see it? Well I happened upon this recipe after deciding to make the savory herb muffins that involve home-made pesto, so I thought this was the ticket. I always have sun-dried tomatoes in the fridge, and had buttermilk for a buttermilk cake, so I really just needed to pick up mozzarella pearls – tiny little pieces of mozzarella. D&D_1324

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp salt
4 ozs mozzarella pearls or chopped mozzarella into pieces
2 Tbs fresh chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 large eggs
2 1/2 Tbs canola oil
1 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan with non-stick spray. Next time I’ll use a 9 x 5 inch pan just because it works better. Always line the pan with parchment and spray again. Just to be on the safe side.

Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the basil, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes to the flour and mix them like you do blueberries for muffins – so they do not all sink to the bottom as can happen.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together eggs, canola oil, and buttermilk. Pour liquid mixture into flour mixture until just combined.

Place in prepared pan and smooth it down just a bit. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Source: Will Cook for Smiles with modifications.

I did not have bread flour at the time, but this worked well with just all-purpose flour. It is really is tasty, but the next time I try it, I’ll slice the bread and put it under the broiler with some kind of cheese on top. Or toast and then add some spreadable cheese on top. I’m thinking of Boursin. That would be so good. And maybe homemade pesto would not be a miss here, swirled into the bread in the pan. There are just so many variations that I think might work.

Savory Herb Muffins

So another thing that happens when I have buttermilk – I like to have herbs – Italian parsley, chives, basil, dill, etc.  Usually to make homemade ranch**, but in this case, I was really looking for something different. This totally fit the spring-herb bill and with a little home-made pesto and Parmesan to add in the mix. How could I not try this? I am happy to say the MotH really liked these, but the Irish butter sealed the deal. Did for me too. Maybe butter is like bacon. Probably.

D&D_1321

Savory Herb Muffin

1/2 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced,  the only parsley I use
1/2 cup chives, minced
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup home-made pesto*
1/4 finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with liners. Rinse parsley, basil*, and chives and wrap in paper towels to dry completely. Mince parsley and chives. Set aside for now.

In a bowl, mix together eggs, salt, and pepper. Add in buttermilk, pesto*, and Parmesan. Over waxed paper, sift together flour and baking powder.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just incorporated. Do not over mix. It’s a muffin after all. Stir in the parsley and chives.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating half way through until golden and toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Source: slightly modified from: chocolateandzucchini.com/recipes/appetizers/fresh-herb-muffins-recipe/  One of my favorite blogs – http://chocolateandzucchini.com/  Clotilde is just amazing. The first time I heard this name was when the Boy went to Episcopal Day School and Clotilde was a girl in his class that I envied because her mom had a great way with style. One that I do not have. Sigh.

* Pesto – my homemade recipe – a bunch of  basil, freshly washed, 2 decent sized cloves of garlic, a good half cup of walnuts (no  pine nuts for me), a good pinch of kosher salt, and enough olive oil to make it loose, but not too loose. – in your food processor. You have to judge how much olive oil by what recipe the pesto will be involved in.  In this case, I was looking for pesto to go in muffins, not as a pasta sauce. So not too much olive oil. A little bit of fresh lemon juice is always appreciated.

** Homemade ranch – just wing it. It is mayo, and some sour cream if you like it (I do), and any fresh herbs you like – Italian parsley, chives, dill or cilantro if those are things for you. You can do minced garlic, but honestly, garlic or onion powder works because no matter what this mess has to sit in the fridge for a few hours to make it work. There also needs to be fresh lemon juice – or lime (haven’t done it but expect it will be good). And then just enough buttermilk to make it consistency that you want. But, again, it needs to sit in the fridge to make the flavours come together.

Notes: Okay, I made this because it was spring and I liked the ideas of fresh herbs. And making pesto again. And had buttermilk (always full fat – yep). It also reminded me of how much I need to sort out growing my own herbs again instead of buying them. For lord’s sake I grow my own Meyer Lemons – I should totally grow my own herbs like I did in years past.

I do have to say that I’m not a huge fan of the green look of the muffins (did say – mold muffins – just could not help it). That said, they taste great, especially with some my favorite salted Irish butter (Kerrygold) on them. For butter that you are going to put on something (muffins, toast, etc.) Irish butter is always best. I guess they just have amazing cows or something.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Torte

Another recipe that isn’t really a recipe. I’ve been making this for ages. I can’t even remember where it came from, but it is very simple but amazingly satisfying  – if you like the ingredients that is.

When we have a pot luck at work, I usually just say – “somebody tell me what you want me to make” and this comes up again and again. I think that is a double-edged sword; it is good that so many people like it, but it also does not challenge me much. This time I agreed to it because it was a Mardi Gras pot luck which fell two days after the Super Bowl – hello real food holidays lining up – ugh. This, normally, would not be a big deal, but this year, after my Super Bowl prep – on Saturday night, I fell up the stairs – yes, up. And split my knee open in rather a dramatic fashion, so I needed something for the pot luck that I could make ahead and let sit and this sun-dried tomato pesto torte always does make-ahead really well. I was sort of pleased with how it turned out and as ever, it was popular.

It is so kind of dead simple that it makes me feel a little bit silly, but it is, well, awesome. The Boy loves it. My friend T at work likes and has asked me to make a few for a party or two of hers. This may not have been my prettiest version, but standing on a jacked up knee was not easy either. That said, it still tasted great. Like it always does.

D&D_1212

So you do have to scale it to fit the vessel you are using for a mold. I usually use my white ramekins – small ones if it’s for a small family event and the larger for bigger groups – like pot lucks at work with our students.

Cream cheese, softened, usually 8 oz block, but more if you want more layers
bunch of basil, washed, stems removed, and dried very well (wrapped in a tea towel)
3/4 cup walnuts, or something like that (or fresh pecans) – not a fan of pine nuts
2 good sized cloves of garlic or more if that is your preference
a really good pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), softened with warm water, and then drained
olive oil – I use olive oil from our local Greek Market – Shoreline – which is imported from Chiana on the Island of Crete – cool, right?

Line a ramekin with  plastic wrap, leaving a good bit of it to hang over the edges of ramekin.

In the bowl of a food processor, whir up garlic, walnuts, and salt.  Then add sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Slowly add in olive oil until a paste forms, but do not add too much olive oil (you can do that later with the leftovers to make pasta sauce).  I know – it’s a non-recipe. Sometimes you just have to wing it.

Spread the bottom of a ramekin with a layer of cream cheese, about a 1/2 inch. Then carefully add a layer of pesto covering the cream cheese. Add the last layer of cream cheese being careful not to mix things up too much. Cover with plastic wrap.  If you are making a large version of this, add a bit of a weight to it.  Let chill overnight, at minimum, but this can be done at least three days ahead.

To plate, let sit at room temperature for about a half an hour and unwrap ramekin and tup it out onto a plate. Surround by crackers and baguette slices (or if your really feeling like a hedonist, Hawaiian Sweet Rolls).

When I have leftovers of this, which is not often, I use it to make either A) a sandwich – which is pretty amazing (if you like garlic), or B) a pasta sauce, for just some rotini, you might need to add a little olive oil and will certainly need to add grated Parmesan to the finished product, but hello – stupid good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun-dried tomato pesto palmier

Palmier – Also called palm leaves, this crispy delicacy is puff pastry dough that is sprinkled with granulated sugar, folded and rolled several times, then cut into thin strips. After baking, these golden brown, caramelized pastries are served with coffee or tea or as a dessert accompaniment. Food Lover’s Companion, p. 437.

Well, this is not a sweet palmier, not by any stretch of the imagination, although I would like to make a sweet version one day. I saw Ina Garten make a version of this and decided I would use my sun-dried tomato pesto in her methodology.

D&D_1130

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Palmiers

1/4 cup walnuts, pulverized in the food processor
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, not oil packed, but hydrated it some hot water
1 bunch basil, washed, dried, and torn roughly
about 1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed in the fridge*
1 egg, mixed with a Tbs of water for egg wash

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Whir up walnuts in food processor. You could use pine nuts, but walnuts make an excellent pesto, in my opinion.  Add sun-dried tomatoes and garlic and pulse a few times. Add basil and Parmesan and pulse to combine all ingredients. Add the olive oil until the paste is smooth. Set aside. Or refrigerate until ready to bake, just remove in time to make sure this will be room temperature before spreading on pastry.

Unfold puff pastry sheet on a slightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin to roll the pastry 13 x 13 inch square. Using a small offset spatula, spread the pesto to the edges. Fold the sides of the dough on two side to half way to the center, the fold again so both sides meet in the middle. Finally, fold one half over the other. But don’t press them together too much.

Slice the dough into 3/8 inch and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash. Bake for 6 minutes, then turn the palmier over and rotate the baking sheet and bake 5 more minutes. Rest on a paper towel and serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: After doing this the first time, I don’t think I will roll the puff pastry quite that thin. I think a 12 x 12 inch square will work. I also think the pesto really needs to be much thiner so the rolls have more space to puff up. Maybe I was a bit gun-shy about adding too much olive oil. Probably.

Of course, I love my sun-dried tomato pesto, but I always do. I cannot believe I have yet to post my sun-dried tomato pesto torte  – it is highly requested and I often make them for friends just to have at home for dinner – yes, dinner, and that works for me. Put it on the list.

These tasted pretty good, but I was not happy with the puff pastry. Need to figure out what I should do differently. That said, there was left over pesto that I plan to put on pasta with lots of olive oil.

*I left the puff pastry in the fridge for a couple of days, and to be honest, it was the easiest time I have ever had with puff pastry (Not sure why, but wow – it made me feel like pro for some reason), though I did put it back in the fridge after rolling it out and before putting the pesto on.