Pastas & Pizzas

Fresh Sweet Italian Basil Pesto

Fresh Sweet Italian Basil Pesto

 

When summer comes around pesto is one of my go to favorites to brighten up so many summer meals. Fresh Italian sweet basil is available by the bushels full during the summer months and making batches of pesto to stash away for the winter is an annual ritual.

I have previously posted five pesto recipe variations, but not a truly Italian basic pesto recipe which follows. Take a look at the other pesto recipes below.

The word pesto refers to the pestle which has been traditionally used to grind the pesto ingredients in a mortar through the ages in Italy. More modern methods for making pesto, such as using a mezzaluna, a blender, or a food processor have not replaced the mortar and pestle, but have made the process more compatible with the time restraints of the modern cook. What ever the method used, Pesto remains enshrined as one of Italy’s most revered sauces. So, whether you are a staunch traditionalist ready for a work out or a modernist with little time to spare, the rewards of bringing this glistening emerald green pesto to the table will be apparent. 

I have included the optional addition of butter to this recipe which has become quite popular in Italy. The butter gives the pesto a richer silky texture that works beautifully with pastas. You may well be a committed traditionalist, as I too have been, but why not give the addition of butter a try.

 

Fresh Sweet Italian Basil Pesto:  makes about 2 1/2  cups

  • ½ cup walnuts or pignole (pine nuts) or a combination of both
  • 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
  • 6 black peppercorn, coarsely ground
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter (optional)
  • hands full of fresh sweet Italian basil/ about 3 well packed cups of torn leaves
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino, Sardo, or Romano
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil or a little extra if omitting the butter

 

Place the nuts, sea salt, ground peppercorns, garlic, and butter (if using) in a mortar, blender, or food processor, and grind or pulse into a coarse mixture.

Add the basil leaves and grind or pulse until the mixture is semi-smooth.

Add the cheeses and grind or pulse until evenly mixed with the other ingredients.

Begin adding the olive oil a tablespoon at a time while grinding or pulsing. Gradually you can increase the flow of olive oil as the pesto begins to emulsify and the pesto is rather smooth but with some texture remaining.

Taste and add additional salt if needed.

Transfer to a container with a lid and set aside if using within an hour or so. Ideally the pesto should be used at room temperature, especially with pasta or other cooked applications. Slightly chilled is fine when using as a spread or condiment.

Refrigerated the pesto will last 5 days, although with each passing day the brilliant green color will begin to fade.

Freezing is the best option for longtime storage.

 

Other pesto recipes well worth a try.

 

Pesto alla Siciliana & Pesto Trapanese (see recipe here)

Spinach Pesto with Panchetta (see recipe here)

Pomegranate Glazed Pork Loin with Pistacio Pesto (see recipe here)

Pesto…Diverso  (see recipe here)

Salsa Romesco (see recipe here)

 

Roasted Radicchio

Roasted Radicchio

 

Radicchio’s gorgeous pale green, rose, or lush purple maroon colored leaves are a familiar addition to salads these days, but it need not end there! In Italy radicchio heads are more often roasted or grilled which opens up a whole new window of possibilities for other applications you may never have thought of. The wilted bitter leaves take on a more mellowed flavor that works beautifully when added to risottos, pastas, stuffing for game birds, topping pizzas, bean salads, as a side with grilled meats or fish or, my favorite, tucked into an omelet along with a grating of Italian parmigiano.

Radicchio (treviso) is an Italian leafy chicory (cicoria) in the same family as the more familiar Belgian endive (witloof). There are many varieties that are strictly associated with the location where they are locally grown in Italy. The small round headed Rrosso di chioggia is the most common variety found outside Italy, with deep maroon leaves with bright white ribs. All varieties are perennial with the best crops in spring and fall, although now widely available year round.

Radicchio is rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin K, manganese, potassium, copper, iron, zinc, and folic acid. Reason enough to include radicchio on your weekly shopping list and enjoy the healthy benefits of this savory addition to your cooking repertoire.

The preparation couldn’t be easier!

 

Roasted Radicchio (Basics)   serves 4 to 6

Preheat oven to 425f/220 c

Equipment: A baking tray lined with parchment

  • 4 medium size heads radicchio
  • ¼ cup best quality olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • flaked sea salt (Maldon)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Radicchio prepared for roasting

Radicchio prepared for roasting

Remove any tougher or wilted outer leaves of the radicchio. Cut each head into quarters lengthwise and place in a bowl. Douse with the olive oil. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Turn the quarters gently to evenly coat them and place on the lined baking tray, cut side down. Drizzle half of the balsamic vinegar over all and place in the oven. Roast until the leaves are wilted, about 12 minutes.

Remove from the oven and gently turn the slices over. Drizzle with the remaining balsamic vinegar and return to the oven to roast another 8 minutes. The leaves will darken, especially around the edges. A little charring is OK, but keep an eye on them towards the end of the roasting time.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Applications:

Depending on what you plan to do with the radicchio will determine how to cut it. Generally speaking the quarters should be sliced crosswise, the width depending on the application, although ¼ inch thick slices works for most applications. Be sure to drizzle the pan juices over the sliced radicchio before adding it to another dish.

Pasta with Breadcrumbs

Pasta with Bread Crumbs

Pasta with breadcrumbs is a simple southern Italian dish born out of necessity in more austere times when frugal home cooks resorted to using breadcrumbs instead of the more expensive cheeses tossed into their pastas, in this case a whole grain spaghetti. I have always loved this idea for its simplicity, robust flavors, and its crunchy texture!

Pasta with Pumpkin, Zucchini, and Breadcrumbs

Pasta with Pumpkin, Zucchini, and Breadcrumbs

As perfect as it is, this dish can easily be adapted with additions of fresh summer vegetables,  such as roasted pumpkin, zucchini, spinach, or whatever is available at your local farmer’s market. A quick and easy rustic southern Italian country pasta that can be whipped up in twenty minutes and served warm or, as I often do, chilled with a light spritz of lemon juice for those hot summer evening suppers.

In the recipe that follows I have listed the vegetables as optional so you can make the simple classic version, or add  any vegetables that are available to your liking. 

 

Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs (Roasted Pumpkin and Zucchini)  serves 3 to 4

TOASTED BREADCRUMBS:   

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or microplaned
  • 1 1/4   cup coarse bread crumbs from a rustic loaf
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Place the olive oil in a large skillet and warm over moderate heat. When the oil is warm add the garlic and stir into the oil. Promptly add the breadcrumbs and begin stirring continuously while turning the breadcrumbs over for about 5 minutes or until the crumbs are a deep golden brown and crunchy.

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a bowl and set aside to cool. Can can store the bread crumbs in a lidded jar for several weeks. Very nice sprinkled over a salad as well. 

PASTA and SAUCE:  serves 3-4

  • 1 packet dried pasta; regular or whole grain ( 500g/17.6oz)
  • sea salt
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 plump zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 cups diced roasted pumpkin (optional)  (see recipe here)
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves, minced or microplaned
  • 4 anchovy fillets, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon red hot chile flakes, or to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  • 1¼ cup toasted bread crumbs 
  • additional salt to taste
  • parsley sprigs for garnish

Fill a large stock pot ¾ full of water and place on the stove over high heat. When the water is rapidly boiling add salt to the water. How much salt? Well, many Italian cooks will say until the water tastes like sea water! The amount is up to you. Add the pasta and stir until submerged in the boiling water. Cook for about 10 minutes stirring from time to time. The pasta should be al dente, particularly for this dish.

While the pasta is cooking you can go ahead and prepare the sauce with the zucchini and roasted pumpkin, if using.

Pace the olive oil in a large skillet set over moderate heat. When the oil is warmed add the anchovies and mash them against the bottom of the pan until they melt into the oil. Increase the heat very slightly and promptly add the garlic and stir the ingredients together. Add the sliced zucchini (if using) and parsley and stir about two minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir. Then add the diced pumpkin (if using) and gently stir until warmed. Remove the pan from the heat while you drain the pasta.

Drain the pasta in a colander and reserve a cup of the hot cooking water to use to thin the sauce if needed.

Place the skillet with the sauce (and vegetables if using) over low heat and add the drained pasta. Gently toss the ingredients together until evenly coated. If the pasta sauce seems very dry add some hot pasta cooking water to the sauce, a tablespoonful at a time, until the sauce is the consistency you prefer, keeping in mind you want the sauce to coat the ingredients without being soupy. Then sprinkle a third of the toasted bread crumbs over the pasta and fold in. Taste and season with additional salt if needed.

Transfer the finished pasta to individual shallow pasta bowls. Spoon any excess sauce over each serving and then sprinkle bread crumbs over each. Garnish with sprigs of parsley and serve promptly along with a bowl of the remaining breadcrumbs on the table.

If you plan to chill the pasta omit the breadcrumbs and add them to the pasta when serving.

Ibiza Pizza

Ibiza Pizza

 

Yes, I know, Ibiza is synonymous with summer Euro partying these days, but in a time long gone I spent a fall and winter tucked away in the hills above Santa Eulalia del Rio in an eight hundred year old finka (farmhouse) that unraveled some of the many mysteries of this wind swept pine forested isla shimmering in the western indigo Mediterranean Sea. The island’s colorful past included portage for Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Moorish merchant ships traversing the Mediterranean that indelibly shaped the island’s character and culinary influences. There is even local lore that Es Vedra, a rocky island just southwest of Ibiza, was the island of the Sirens from Homer’s Odyssey, though surely a Greek island was the more likely inspiration.

Strangely, in some inexplicable ways it was to be the winter of my discontent, but in hindsight it was the island’s agrarian persuasion, shaded olive groves, finka gardens, and local mercados de la paises that linger as testament of Ibiza’s beguiling allure.

Pizza, of course comes from Italy, but widely available across the island these days. The recipe that follows is drawn from my recollections of local produce that was available in the late fall in the country markets; lemons, artichokes, garlic, olives, chilies, wild herbs, pinon nuts, almonds, and fresh farm cheeses.

The flavors of Ibiza! 

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