Bites & Starters
Pesto making season has arrived!
Fresh basil varieties are abundant this time of year and what we cooks have been waiting for with unapologetic anticipation. Being able to stow away the essence of summer’s flavors into jars or bundled into the deep freeze is a task relished. Bringing some of the bright tastes of summer back to life at the table during the long winter months is always warmly savored by one and all.
With that in mind I came home from the market with a bundle of Italian basil and, to my surprise, a bundle of Shiso . My immediate thought was a Shiso pesto!
Most of you are probably familiar with the delicate green shiso leaves garnishing sushi in Japanese restaurants. Shiso has a fresh light mint like flavor with just a hint of citrus and cinnamon. It is indeed the perfect compliment for sushi.
Shiso is the Japanese name for what we might otherwise know as perilla in the West. It is from the mint family and originates from the mountainous regions of China and India, but now cultivate worldwide. Perilla is used throughout Asia. The Japanese use shiso for pickling and coloring umeboshi plums and fermented eggplant.
There are many varieties of shiso with leaf colors ranging from pale green, a purplish red, or leaves that are green on top and red on the underside which is what I found here in North Carolina. I do love the subtle flavor of the tender young green shiso leaves so I just had to get a large bundle of these green and red shiso leaves and see what I could do with them.
Making a Shiso pesto defers to the more subtle flavor notes of the shiso itself. What evolved was a deep purplish red pesto with notes of citrus, ginger, and mint to serve along with Japanese soba noodles. You can serve the soba noodles warm or cold along with some sauteed mushrooms. This is an ideal pairing for various mushrooms harvested during the fall months ahead.
For you pesto lovers I will be posting a zesty Thai-Amereicano Pesto in my next post along with links to other pesto recipes I have posted over the years.
Shiso Pesto with Soba noodles and Sauteed Mushrooms
Serves 3 or 4
The sauteed mushrooms can be made in advance. See the recipe below.
- 2 cups fully packed fresh shiso leaves, either green, reddish purple, or reddish purple & green
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated (micro planed) ginger root
- ½ cup walnut pieces
- 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezes lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons neutral vegetable or light olive oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- pinch of white pepper
- a bundle or two of Japanese soba noodles
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish (recipe here)
If your shiso leaves are mature remove the central spine of the leaves and tear the leaves before proceeding.
Place the torn shiso leaves, garlic, miso, grated ginger, the walnuts, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until all the ingredients are broken down. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the work bowl.
With the motor running ad the oil in a slow steady stream through the feed tube until the ingredients form a thick paste like mixture.
Then begin adding one tablespoon of cold water at a time until the mixture is thinned out a bit and smoother. You will have to be the judge of how much water to add, but keep in mind the texture will firm up a bit when refrigerated.
Stop the motor and add the salt and pepper and pulse until incorporated. Stop the machine and taste the pesto. At this point adding the remaining lemon juice and seasoning with more salt and pepper to taste. Then pulsing several times.
Transfer the pesto to a non reactive bowl, cover with cling film, and refrigerate while you prepare the soba noodles and the mushrooms.
Bring a generous pot of water to a boil. Do not salt the water.
While the water is coming to a boil, fill a bowl with very cold water and set aside.
Once the water is boiling add the soba noodles and, using tongs, continuously stir the noodles for about 6 minutes. You want the noodles to be al dente!
Promptly transfer the noodles to a colander and drain . Then tip the noodles into the bowl of cold water. Using your hands give the noodles a gentle wash. This washing will remove most residual starch so the noodles will not stick together.
Tip the noodles into a colander and drain well. The soba noodles are now ready for serving at room temperature.
If you want to serve the noodles warm, place them in a strainer and immerse them into a simmering pot of water until warm. Then toss the noodles in the strainer and transfer the noodles to a serving bowl or individual serving bowls.
Spoon some shiso pesto on top of the noodles and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Serve the remaining pesto in a small bowl along with the sauteed mushrooms and light soy sauce or ponzu sauce on the table.
- 1 pint of seasonal mushrooms; cremini, shiitake, or forest mushrooms
- 1 plump shallot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 tablespoon light olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons sake or white wine
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Brush the mushrooms well to remove any soil. Snap off the stems and reserve for another use.
Slice the mushrooms thinly and set aside.
Place a saute pan on the stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot add the oil and then the shallots and saute for several minutes until they are translucent.
Add the sliced mushrooms and toss with the mushrooms. Continue doing this until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Then add the butter and continue sauteing until the juices are mostly evaporated. Add the sake and saute until the sake is mostly evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside to use later.
Finally, I am settling into a new kitchen and eager to get back to doing some cooking and baking again. Transitions are never easy, but relocating from Thailand to the US, was both unexpected and fraught with all the twists and turns one finds along the way on any journey. Gladly my pots and pans arrived here and are in place along with my kitchen table that survived its long journey from half way around the world and is again an island of calm where my thoughts about food, recipes, and cooking can simmer away.
Of course working with an unfamiliar oven for the first time can be… well…stressful. But by chance I was just reading a recipe for a blueberry bundt cake by Melissa Clark in the New York Times that I thought would be a sure fire test run for my oven. Melissa’s recipes are always foolproof, but making a bundt cake can be tricky and frustrating when trying to release the cake from the bundt pan. So instead, I chose to make a pound cake, which is easier and eccentrically the same batter used for a bundt cake. I have made a few minor adjustments as well.
All went splendidly. The oven performed accurately and the blubbery pound cake and blueberry glaze was as delicious as I knew it would be. This is a perfect recipe for all sorts of fresh fruits and berries this time of year.
I will be posting a lemon bundt cake recipe in the next week or so, which will delve into the does and don’ts and how to avoiding the pitfalls of unmolding a bundt cake.
So let’s get baking!
Fresh Blueberry Pound Cake with Blueberry Glaze
Makes 1 loaf pan cake and a small round cake.
Needed: a loaf pan and small round baking dish.
Brush the interiors of the baking pan and smaller baking dish with melted butter and then dust with granulated sugar.
Preheat the oven to 350 f / 180 c Set the oven rack in the middle position.
For the cake:
2 cups fresh blueberries
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup Greek yogurt
½ cup whole milk
For Blueberry glaze:
½ cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups confectioners sugar
Rinse all the blueberries and set side to drain in a colander.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl and set aside
Place the butter in a mixing bowl, or a stand mixer bowl, and beat on medium speed until the butter is fluffy. Then add the granulated sugar in three additions while continuing to mix until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs in three additions while continuing to mix until well incorporated and the batter is smooth.
Add the vanilla, grated nutmeg, and lemon zest and mix until incorporated.
Add the yogurt and mix on low speed until incorporated. Then add the milk and mix until the batter is smooth.
Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan and baking dish and place them in the oven.
Baking times are as follows. The small cake will take about 35 minutes to bake and larger loaf pan cake will take 50 to 60 minutes,
Test by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cakes and if the toothpick comes out clean with a few crumbs the cakes are done, As always keep an eye on your timing as you d not want the cakes to over bake which will make them dry.
When done remove the cakes from the oven ans set out to cool on a wire rack.
While the cakes are baking you can go ahead and make the blueberry glaze.
Place ½ cup blueberries in a small sauce pan and add the lemon juice. Place the pan over medium low heat and cook until the berries are bubbling away for about five minutes are so. Then, using a stiff silicone spatula, mash the berries into a paste. Then begin stirring in the confectioners sugar and continue stirring until most of the confectioners sugar is combined. You will be surprised how much sugar is absorbed. Ideally the glaze should be stiff but pourable. Store at room temperature for immediate use or cover and refrigerate the glaze for later use. Be sure to bring the glaze back to room temperature before using.
When the cakes are cool you can remove the cakes from their baking pans and serve with the blueberry glaze.
Serve slices of the pound cake at room temperature with the glaze poured over the slices of cake.
The cakes can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in cling film, for five days or they can be bagged and stored in the freezer for later use.
Alas, I have finally found some beautiful plump fresh tomatillos at a local Mexican market here in the States. I doggedly attempted to grow tomatillos year after year in my garden in Thailand , but with very little success. The maturing tomatillos always fell prey to marauding aphids or scummed to a feathery mold just about the time they were looking ripe and ready to pluck from the vine.
So I’ve been dreaming about making my favorite roasted tomtillo salsa for years on end. Nothing could be simpler really. A couple of ingredients thrown under the broiler or onto the grill, tossed into a blender and voila. You have a gorgeous tart fresh green salsa that enlivens so many loved regional Mexican dishes.
Tomatillos originate from Mexico and have been cultivated since pre-Columbian times by the Maya and Aztec cultures. Tomatillos are from the nightshade family with the fruit encased in a parchment like covering that is removed before use. Tomatillos, though larger, reassemble cape gooseberries, also a nightshade that has been cultivated by the Incas in Peru.
Fresh tomatillos are available in the US in Mexican markets, at Whole Foods, in some super markets, and online. They are also available canned, but I urge you to seek out the fresh tomatillos which have a decidedly more tantalizing zesty flavor of their very own.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde is delicious served with tortilla chips, with grilled meats, fish, and vegetables, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, empanadas, and quesadillas filled with Mexico’s renowned regional cheeses.
This is a quick and easy recipe that you will find yourself making again and again.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde
makes about 2 cups
- 6 to 8 plump fresh tomatillos, husk removed, and rinsed
- 1 large clove garlic, skin on
- 3 to 4 fresh serrano chiles
- 3 tablespoons finely diced onions
- 2-3 tablespoons finely sliced cilantro leaves
- ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt or more to taste
Position an oven rack about four inches below the broiler and preheat.
Place the tomatillos, garlic clove, and the serrano chiles centered on a baking tray and place under the preheated broiler. Broil for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles are beginning to char and deeply colored. Turn the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles over and broil another 4 or 5 minutes until deeply colored.
Promptly remove the tray from the oven and set aside. Transfer the chiles to a small bowl, cover with cling film, and set aside to sweat.
Remove the stems from the tomatillos and remove any loose chard skin and discard. Cut the tomatillos into pieces and place them in a blender or food processor.
Remove the charred skin from the garlic and discard. Mince the garlic and add it to the tomatillos in the blender or processor and pulse until the contents are relatively pureed, but still with some texture.
Once the chiles are cool enough to handle remove the chard skin and discard. Slice the chiles open lengthwise and scrape out most of the seeds and discard. Quarter the chiles and slice and dice them.
Add the diced chiles to the pureed toamatillo mixture and pulse until the chiles are combined.
Transfer the tomatillo mixture to a small bowl and add the diced onions and the sliced cilantro leaves. Stir to combine and then add salt to taste and stir until well combined.
You can add a small amount of cold water to thin the salsa if needed.
The salsa is then ready to serve or you can transfer the salsa to a non-reactive bowl or container, cover, and refrigerate for 3 or 4 days.
Serve the salsa chilled or at room temperature depending on the application.
Molletes are a must have for a quick breakfast or a snack on the run just about anywhere in Mexico.
The Mollete is an antequera round bread from the Andalusian region of southern Spain. There the mollete is sliced into halves, spread with with butter or lard, and topped with savory meats and cheeses. The Spanish took the molette with them to the new world where the Mexicans adapted the idea and made it their own. Molletes are in essence Mexico’s bruscetta. Usually associated with northern Mexico but molletes are popular throughout the country.
Mxican molettes are made with crusty oval shaped bollilos, also known as pan Frances, that were introduced to Mexico by French Emperor Maxmillion’s cooks. Maxmillio’s reign was short lived. He was executed in 1866, but the Bollilos went on to become Mexico’s favorite bread and sold in panaderieas throughout the country.
Mexican molletes are so easy to make. Slice a bolillo in half lengthwise, butter the cut side and toast until golden brown. Top with refried beans, scatter grated cheese over the top and return to the oven until the cheese has melted. Serve with a salsa fresca and your done.
If the thought of cooking dried beans is putting you off by all means use canned refried beans instead. I have fond memories perfectly delicious canned refried beans on numerous camping trips.
You are probably thinking to yourself, it’s just beans on toast, so what’s the big deal?” Well, you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. This is an addictive taste of Mexico you are going to be making again and again, and again I promise you.
Molletes: serves 4
- 4 bolillos or other oval shaped crusty rolls, sliced in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
- 1 garlic clove peeled
- 2 cups refried beans (click here for recipe), or canned
- 1 ½ cups shredded cheese; a Mexican cheese if available, or provolone,or Monterrey Jack
- salsa fresca (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 375 f/ 190 c
Slice the bolillos lengthwise and place them on a baking tray cut side facing upward. Spread butter evenly over the cut side surfaces and transfer the baking tray to the oven and bake until the surface is a light golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove the tray from the oven and rub the garlic clove over the toasted surface. Discard the remaining garlic.
Spread the refried beans over the bollilos generously and top with shredded cheese.
Turn the broiler on in the oven and move the oven rack to the upper position. Place the tray of molletes under the broiler and broil until the cheese is melted and lightly colored.
Serve at once with a spicy salsa fresca
Salasa Fresca with Roasted Radishes makes about 2 cups
This is a a favorite Salas Fresca with a hint of smoky flavor and earthy heat from the radishes.
Prepare the salsa at least an hour before serving and chill.
- 6 radishes, flame roasted
- 2-3 jalapeno chiles, flame roasted
- 1 medium size onion flame roasted
- 4 tomatoes, flame roasted
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
Heat up an outdoor grill or place a grill rack over a gas burner on the stove top.
Place the radishes, jalapenos, onion, and tomatoes over the hottest part of the grill, or flame on the stove top, and grill all until the skin is charred and blistered on all sides. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with cling film and set aside to sweat.
Once cool enough to handle rub or peel away the charred skin of all.
Slice the radishes and then dice and transfer to a non-reactive bowl.
Slice the jalapenos open lengthwise and remove the seeds and veins. Slice into thin strips and then dice, and add to the bowl.
Remove the outer layer of the onion, dice, and add to the bowl.
Slip the skin off the tomatoes and quarter them. Remove seeds, dice. and add to the bowl.
Add the chopped cilantro, lime juice, and salt and stir to combine. Taste and add more lime juice and salt if needed.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.