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.
Earlier this summer I noticed an old bundt pan in a neighbor’s garage sale. I had never made a bundt cake and to be honest the whole idea never held much appeal. But as the days passed by and the old bundt pan was still sitting there looking forlorn and neglected my inclinations got the better of me. I went next door and rescued the bundt pan for 2 bucks. It did looked like it was probably left over from the ‘60’s when bundt cakes were all the rage. The interior was scarred and battered and dented here and there. A foreboding of what I might be in fore? A bakers’ worst nightmare? Maybe, but the pan had character and I was up for the challenge.
A little research was in order to find out just what propelled the bundt cake to the heights of popularity and baked in home kitchens across America in the 1960’s.
As it turned out the bundt cake’s origins are tied to the Eastern European kugelhopf. The bundt cake was however very much an American variation. It all came about when a group of Hadassah Society members in St Louis Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota longed to make the dense cakes with a hole in the center that they remembered from Easter Europe before the war. They enlisted David Dlaquist to design a baking pan to match their recollections. His company Nordic Ware then manufactured the cast aluminum bundt pans with a center chimney that made a hole in the center of the cake like those favored cakes from Germany and Poland.
The bundt cake pans didn’t take off at first, but when a bundt cake recipe was featured in Good Housekeeping magazine in 1963 some orders came pouring in. But it wasn’t until Ella Helrich won second prize for her “Tunnel Fudge Cake” recipe in the Pillsbury Bake Off in 1966 that put the bundt cake on the map. Sales soared with over 200,000 bundt cake pans sold across America.
Nordic Ware is still manufacturing various bundt pans as well as a huge selection of bake ware and baking supplies.
You can visit Nordic Ware’s website at www.nordicware.com
Needless to say, the Bundt Cake is now embedded into my baking vocabulary and as beat up as my garage sale bundt pan is, it is probably an original and I’m going to stick with it just as it is!
Zesty Lemon Bundt Cake
Required: 1 bundt pan very well greased to avoid problems when unmolding the baked cake.
I have done quite a bit of research about how to best insure that all your efforts are rewarded when you unmold your beautifully bronzed bundt cake intact and ready for glazing.
Firstly, Using a nonstick bunt pan in good condition will make unmolding the bundt cake that much easier.
Secondly, the best advice I have gleaned is, rather than brushing the interior of the bundt pan with melted butter, using vegetable shortening is a better choice for this application. Take your time and be meticulous about greasing every inch of the inner surface with great care. Then dust the interior lightly with flour, tapping excess flour out of the pan. Inspect the interior of the pan and grease any places you may have missed. This method has worked well for me, though a little tapping of the pan may be required once the cake is is turned over onto a plate. Do not panic. Be persistent and the cake will release.
Should anyone have another foolproof alternative for releasing a bundt cake from the pan I would love to hear from you!
For the cake:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup full fat buttermilk, or full fat Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 350 /f 180 / c
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt n a bowl and whisk until evenly combined.
In another bowl combine the buttermilk or Greek yogurt and the lemon juice and stir until smooth. Then stir in the vanilla and set the bowl aside.
Put the butter in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat on medium speed until the butter is fluffy. Then add the sugar in three additions while continuing to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Then add the eggs in three additions while you beat on medium sped until the mixture is smooth.
Lower the mixer speed to low and begin adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk or Greek yogurt alternately. Continue until the batter is relatively smooth and evenly mixed. Then mix in the lemon zest until combined.
Spoon the batter into the prepared bunt pan and then gently shake the pan to even out the surface.
Place the cake in the center of the rack and bake for approximately 45 to 50 minutes.,rotating the cake after 25 minutes.
Test by inserting a toothpick or skewer into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean with a few crumbs the cake is done. If the cake requires more time return it to the oven for five minute intervals until it tests done.
Transfer the cake to a rack ans allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile you can make the glaze.
For the Glaze:
- 1 cup confectioners sugar , sifted
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
Put the lemon juice in a small nonreactive bowl and begin stirring in the confectioners sugar. Once the glaze starts to thicken you can add the milk while continuing to stir. Continue stirring while mixing in the remaining sugar until the glaze is smooth. If it seems a little runny put the glaze in the fridge and let it firm up a bit while you unmold the cake.
Once the cake is cool enough to handle, inspect the rim of the cake and remove any excess cake that may have spread over the edges of the cake pan. Then place a plate over the cake and, using both hands, invert the both together simultaneously . Let the cake settle over the plate for a minute or two.Then clamp the plate and the cake together using both hands and give it a good downward thrust…or two until you feel the cake release onto the plate.
If the cake does not release, tap the mold with the wooden handle of a knife over the surface of the mold and then repeat the downward thrust. If there is still no release place a steaming hot towel over the mold and repeat the downward thrust once again. Eventually the cake is going to relax and release so remain positive and be patient!
Glaze the cake just before serving is ideal, although you may want to refrigerate the cake and the glaze for 15 or 20 minutes so the cake is cool enough to hold the glaze in place.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself and then serve your bundt cake with the satisfaction of being the seasoned baker that you are!
Collard Greens can stir up some animated conversations about an otherwise unassuming bunch of braised field greens. Lordy me! Seems you either love them or hate them, depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line you happen to come from. That said, collard greens are real comfort food here in the American south. Their legacy reaches way back to native American diets before Europeans ever set foot here in the new world. Wild greens such as purslane, sorrel, poke, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, and chicory were all staples in the native American diet long before the loose leaf cultivars we call collard greens were planted in fields throughout the American south well before the civil war.
Traditionally collards are slow cooked with bacon fat and ham hocks, which are optional, along with some dried red chile flakes. The resulting braised deep green collards are swathed in a savory broth affectionately called “potlikker” here in the south.
Collard greens are in fact one of the most nutritious greens you could ever eat, They are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as being low in calories. So whatever your preconceptions may be about collard greens, you owe it to yourself to give them another try. Simple to prepare and ideal fare throughout the growing season. The aroma of braising collards as well as their rich earthy green flavor is sure to win you over.
I prefer omitting the animal fats and meats when I braise collards , but if you are traditionalist by all means include them.
Collard Greens aka …a mess of greens with potlikker (Basics)
Unlocking the deep flavors of collard greens is very straight forward. The secret couldn’t be simpler. By following the wisdom of generations of southern cooks, you want to braise these cut greens at at a very low simmer while being mindful of the texture of the greens as they braise.
- 2 ½ pounds collard greens, center ribs removed
- 3 tablespoons bacon fat (optional), or olive + more for finishing
- 1 small onion, chopped
- ½ to 1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
- 2 oz ham hock or bacon, chopped (optional) ,or substitute 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 ¾ quarts stock or water
- freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
- lemon wedges for serving
Needed: A large deep braising pan with lid.
Prepare the collard leaves before you begin cooking.
Using a sharp knife, cut out the center rib from the leaves lengthwise and discard them. Stack the leaves lengthwise and then roll them up lengthwise. Slice the rolled up leaves crosswise into ¾ inch slices. Then unfurl the slices and toss them together in a large bowl and set aside.
Place the braising pan on the stove top set at medium heat. When the pan is hot add the bacon fat or olive oil. When the fat is hot add the onions and saute for several minutes until the onions are softened and translucent. Then add the ham hocks or bacon if using, or the smoked paprika. Season with salt, and chile flakes, and stir to combine, and saute for a minute or so.
Add the stock or water to the pan, raise the heat, and cook until the broth is simmering.
Then add the sliced collards . Once the broth returns to a boil, reduce the heat so the broth is barely simmering. Partially cover the pan with the lid. Adjust the heat to maintain a very low simmer and braise until the collards are well cooked but still retaining a slight firmness. Cooking time will vary depending on the age and size of the collard leaves used, but somewhere between 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours.
Serve the collards hot out of the pot along with some potlikker.
Taste and season with salt and pepper, and a spritz of olive oil and lemon juice.
The Japanese ingredients say a lot about this zesty salad dressing, but it is surprisingly compatible when served with non-Japanese dishes as well.
As always, shop for the very freshest organic ingredients you can find. What I do love about this dressing is how the wasabi note heightens the crisp garden fresh flavor of the assorted salad components. Perfect for late summer and fall salads!
Miso Wasabi Salad Dressing Makes 3/4 cup
- 3 tablespoons light miso
- 1 teaspoon finely grated garlic
- ¼ cup Japanese rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Tamari soy sauce, or regular soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ¼ cup light vegetable oil, or light olive oil
- 1 or 2 teaspoons wasabi paste
- 3 tablespoons cold water
Combine all the ingredients except the water in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until the dressing is completely emulsified. Add the cold water and shake once again until combined. Refrigerate the dressing until well chilled for serving.
Suggestions For the Salad
- romaine lettuce, leaves cut into thirds
- baby cos leaves, halved
- radicchio leaves, torn lengthwise
- iceberg, torn
- arugula (rocket) leaves
- celery leaves
- mizuna sprigs
- julienned carrots
- julienned radishs
- snap peas, blanched and chilled
- radish sprouts
- small vine ripe tomatoes, halved
- toasted sesame seeds (see recipe here)
Place the romaine, baby cos, radicchio, iceberg, arugula, and celery leaves in a large bowl and toss. Add a couple of teaspoons of dressing and toss to coat the leaves evenly.
Plating and Serving the Salad
Fan the mizuna leaves on chilled individual salad plates and mound a handful of tossed lightly dressed salad leaves onto each plate. Scatter the top of each salad with the julienned carrots and then the julienned radishes. Tuck the snap peas and halved tomatoes into the salads and lightly drizzle a little more dressing over each salad. Garnish with a flourish of toasted sesame seeds and serve.