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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)

 

Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Butter

Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Butter

 

Apple butter is essentially a slow cooked apple sauce with a few spices thrown in. As the applesauce cooks the sugar from the apples caramelizes and reduces into a thick deep amber “butter.” Traditionally spread on breads in place of butter, thus the name apple “butter.”

Apple butter is a household staple where I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch (Deuitch) country although its origins are rooted in Europe. In Germany it is called Apfel Kraut, and in the Netherlands Appel Stroop.

Apple butter recipes came to America with German speaking Lutherans, Reformed, and Anti-baptist religious groups from Germany, France, and Switzerland when they immigrated to the United states in late 17th century. The settlers chose Southeastern Pennsylvania for is rich soil that was suitable for the farming practices they used in Europe. Both Amish and Mennonite farm communities were established which exist, mostly unchanged, to this day. Not only did these settlers introduce their sustainable farming methods in Pennsylvania, but also their hearty Pennsylvania Dutch cooking!

Apple Pie with Apple Butter

Apple Pie with Apple Butter

Apple butter is actually very easy to make and has endless applications beyond being spread on bread which is irresistibly good by the way. It is also a heady addition to pies, pastries, slow roasted meats, BBQ sauces, salad dressings, or served along with farm made cheeses. Try adding apple butter tossed in with your apples the next time you’re baking an apple pie. The results are transformative!

Traditionally apple butter is “put up” in the fall on Pennsylvania Dutch farms to last until the next apple harvest. Likewise, this is one pantry staple you will find you will want to have on hand year round, I promise.

 

Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Butter     

Makes about 3 cups

  • 2 lbs./1 kilo firm crisp juicy apples
  • 2 cups/500ml apple cider or apple juice
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon (or other variety)  Note: about Saigon Cinnamon (click here)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Peel, core, quarter, and chop the apples and place them in a nonreactive oven proof braising pan. Add the cider (or apple juice), the brown sugar, and salt and stir to combine. Place over medium heat on the stove top and when simmering partially cover the pan and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are very soft, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 250f/130c

Remove the pan from the stove and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then blend the apples along with the liquid using a hand held immersion blender, or transfer the apples and liquid to a blender, and blend until the mixture is completely smooth with the consistency of apple sauce.

Stir in the lemon juice, cinnamon, and cloves until combined and transfer the pan to the oven, uncovered, and bake for several hours, stirring every 30 minutes. The mixture will slowly turn an amber color as the sugar caramelizes and the liquid reduces. I’ve found it generally takes about 3 hours, but every oven is different, so keep an eye on it until apple butter reaches a deep amber color with a thick spreadable consistency.

Remove the pan from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

For storage: Sterilize a couple of jars along with their lids with boiling water. Spoon the apple butter into the jars, seal tightly, and refrigerate for up to about a month.

For longer storage follow standard hot water bath canning procedures and when sealed and cooled to room temperature, store in a dark place in your pantry for up to a year.

Organic Black Quinoa

Organic Black Quinoa

 

I first became acquainted with quinoa in the late 80’s while teaching at The Santa Fe School of Cooking. Rebecca Wood, author of Quinoa, The Supergrain: Ancient food for Today, was invited to conduct several classes as a guest chef at the cooking school. We had a wonderful time cooking and learning about quinoa. From that moment on it became a staple in my kitchen larder.

Ouinoa’s cultivation began some 4000 years ago in the Andean regions of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Colombia. It is a hearty plant that thrives at higher elevations, is drought resistant, and tolerates temperatures ranging from near frosting to the low 30C.

Quinoa’s nutritive values have unequivocally earned the title of a “supergrain”. Technically Quinoa is a seed, but eaten like a grain. It is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids required for the body. It also delivers B vitamins, vitamin E, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, manganese copper and folate, as well as omega 3 and fatty acids.

There are three varieties of quinoa; white, red, and black. The white is actually a neutral buff color and the quinoa that is most familiar to most of us. The red, and black varieties have a slightly sweet nutty earthy flavor and retain more of crunchy texture when cooked.

Organic quinoa cultivation was introduced in the US in the highlands of the San Luis Valley in Colorado in 1982. Since then Quinoa has become a popular larder staple in the US, Europe, and Japan, and beyond. Readily available in supermarkets and whole foods shops.

Black quinoa has got to be the caviar of grains! It is a newer variety, the result of an accidental cross breeding of South American quinoa and lamb’s quarters in Colorado. A gorgeous deep purple black color with an earthy sweet nutty flavor and crunchy bite. It is sure to win over even the most skeptical of finicky eaters.

How to Cook Quinoa:

There are two options to consider. Quinoa can be pre-soaked before cooking, which will produce a softer fluffier finish, or simply rinsed before cooking. The later is my preference as it produces a slightly crunchier texture, but it is entirely up to you.

White Quinoa:

  • 1 cup organic white quinoa; well rinsed (or pre-soaked for several hours)
  • 2 cups spring water or stock (reducing the quantity to 1 cup if pre-soaked)
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Using a fine mesh strainer rinse the quinoa thoroughly under running water. This will ensure that the bitter taste of the outer casing is completely removed. Follow the same procedure if pre-soaked; discarding the soaking water, and rinsing before cooking.

Place the rinsed quinoa in a saucepan or rice steamer. Add the appropriate amount of water or stock and the salt. If you are using a rice steamer, simply put on the lid and the steamer will do the rest.

If you are using a saucepan, bring the contents to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 6-8 minutes. Lower the heat, cover, and continue to cook until all the liquid has been absorbed, stirring once or twice to insure that the quinoa is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Fluff the quinoa just before serving.

Red and Black Quinoa: A little more water and a slightly longer cooking time is required to soften the outer casing of red and black quinoa.

  • 1 cup organic red or black quinoa; well rinsed (or pre-soaked for several hours)
  • 2 ¼ cups spring water or stock (reducing the quantity of liquid to 1 ¼ cups if pre-soaked)
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Using a fine mesh strainer rinse the quinoa thoroughly under running water. Again, this will ensure that the bitter taste of the outer casing is completely removed. Follow the same procedure if pre-soaked; discarding the soaking water and rinsing before cooking.

Place the rinsed quinoa in a saucepan or rice steamer. Add the appropriate amount of water or stock, and the salt. If you are using a rice steamer, simply put on the lid and the steamer will do the rest.

If you are using a saucepan, bring the contents to a simmer over medium heat and cook
for 8-10 minutes. Lower the heat, cover, and continue to cook until all the liquid has been absorbed, stirring once or twice to insure the quinoa is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside to rest for 5 minutes. Fluff the quinoa just before serving.

Moroccan Harissa

Moroccan Harissa

 

Flavors of Morocco

Origins are a bit sketchy, but harissa is found across the Middle East and North Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia, as well as in France. Rich, earthy, and spicy, harissa is served with couscous and tagines, and found at nearly every food stall and restaurant across Morocco.

Recipes also vary widely, but most harissas include assorted dried chilies, garlic, olive oil and spices including cumin, coriander, sometimes caraway. Harissa is widely available commercially in bottles, tubes, and cans…but not to be confused with harissa l’ eau de toilette by Comme de Garcon for you fashion forward cooks!  I kid you not.

Harissa:

  • 6 dried red chilies
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds 
  • 1/2  teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon reserved chili seeds 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil + more for storing
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon  tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
  • a pinch of sugar
  • couscous broth for thinning

Split the dried chilies lengthwise and remove the seeds and reserve the seeds for toasting.  Tear the chilies into pieces and place in a sauce pan with water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook 15 minutes or until the chilies are very soft. Drain and set aside.

Toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, and chili seeds in a dry sauté pan over low heat. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. Once the seeds are cool, place in a suribachi (a very handy Japanese pottery mortar with ridged interior for grinding spices) or spice grinder and grind to a medium blend. Set aside.

Add 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil to a saute pan, over medium heat, and when hot add the onions and and saute until soft. Add the garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes until just beginning to color. Add the drained red chilies, the ground cumin, coriander, caraway, and chili seeds and saute for a minute or two while stirring. Add the tomato paste to one side of the pan to caramelize and then stir it into the chilies and herbs while adding the lemon juice, salt, and pinch of sugar. Transfer the ingredients to a small food processor and blitz into a thick puree, adding an additional 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil as you blitz. The harissa should be the consistency of heavy cream. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

When you are ready to serve, you may add couscous broth to thin the harissa slightly so that it is easily spooned or poured onto the couscous.

Transfer to a small serving bowl or pitcher and serve with couscous, grilled meats, fish, or even slathered on a sandwich.

 To store, place in a jar and, when completely cool, pour a little olive oil over the harissa to seal it. Put the lid on the jar and refrigerate. The harissa will keep for about a week refrigerated. It also freezes well for longer storage.

 

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