Archive for the ‘Basil’ Category

Panzanella Salad

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Panzanella is one of my favorite summer salads, and I’ve been craving it constantly of late. It’s beautiful and packed with flavor.  It’s another of those practical Italian peasant dishes which utilize leftover stale bread. A true Florentine would disapprove of my addition of cucumber and leftover roast beef, as those are not traditional additions to panzanella.

I fired up my oven the other day to make a chicken pot pie with some leftover grilled chicken.  It was 90+ degrees outside.  I wanted to make the most of the time the oven was on, so I timed things to throw a loaf of whole wheat bread into the oven with the pie.  It’s the first homemade bread I’ve made in a few weeks and was worth the effort.

Panzanella Salad
1 or 2 thick slices of crusty day old bread, cubed
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 small English cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 lb thinly sliced roast beef, cut into strips
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup chopped mint and/or basil (I use a combination of both)
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine bread cubes, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, roast beef,  capers, mint, and basil  in a bowl.  Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss well. Let the salad stand for 10 minutes to allow the bread to soak up the juices.

Quickie Crustless Tomato Feta Quiche

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

As summer has come to a close, and autumn begins it’s progression I’d like to share one more recipe using tomatoes.  This is something I throw together for lunch on a weekend. In the past I’ve always baked it in the oven, but this summer was so hot that I started making it on the top rack of my grill with the lid closed. In fact, I discovered that my grill makes a very good “oven”.  Sometimes I make this with pie crust, but then it’s not a quick fix. You may notice that I don’t add salt to this recipe.  Feta is salty enough that additional salt is not necessary.

Crustless Tomato Feta Quiche
4 ounces feta cheese, roughly crumbled
1 or 2 large hands full spinach or arugula, rinsed, dried and chopped
1 large handful basil leaves, rinsed, dried and chopped
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk or half & half
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 or 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
Handful halved kalamata olives

Preheat oven or grill to about 400°F.  Lightly coat the inside of a pie plate with olive oil. Place crumbled feta in the bottom of the pie plate. Layer the greens and basil over the cheese. Combine beaten egg, dairy, and nutmeg and pour over the cheese and greens. Arrange sliced tomatoes and olives over the top of the mixture and bake approximately 45 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned around the edges. Allow the quiche to cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Quiche is excellent chilled. A slice of cold quiche grabbed from the fridge makes great finger food on the fly.  I’ve been know to grab a piece as I’m running out the door, and eat it in the car. If you’re one of those folks always rushed for breakfast, a quiche baked on the weekend can provide  instant breakfast ready for your weekdays.

I’ve also adapted this recipe for party finger food. I get some of those Athens Fillo Shells that can be found in the freezer section at the market.  I’ll warn you, they can be difficult to find in stock during the holiday season, so I try to keep several packages stored in my freezer. I place a small crumble of feta in the bottom of each shell, pour egg/dairy mixture over the cheese, and then garnish each with either  a cherry tomato slice, or a kalamata olive half. These little guys are always a hit.

Oh, one last thought I almost forgot to add…. I’ve also been known to layer 3 or 4 sheets of fillo dough in the bottom of the pie plate for a light crust.  I pop it in the oven for a couple of  minutes to lightly brown, and assemble my quiche as usual.

Pesto, Pesto, and more Pesto!

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Last year the pesto I made for the freezer didn’t make it past December.  This year I promised myself I wouldn’t run out again, so I planted boatloads of basil. The picture to the right is just one of the rows I planted, and I’m still wondering if I planted enough. Over the last couple of weeks my kitchen has smelled divine as I’ve made pounds and pounds of the heavenly condiment.

I’m constantly amazed at the passions invoked by the mere mention of pesto.  Just yesterday I spoke to a wife who told me she can get her husband to do just about anything if she makes him pesto.  I have a friend who told me the cucumber wilt that destroyed my entire crop of cucumber vines in the last week is the payback I’m getting for all of the pesto I’ve been making! Harsh words spoken out of jealousy my dear friend!

I realize the interwebs doesn’t need another pesto recipe, but I’m going to add another one anyway. The proportions for pesto is an age old controversy, and I don’t want to step on any one’s toes. Ultimately, I think we should make food we enjoy, and that cooking is about preparing food to suit our individual tastes. This is the way I like my pesto, but you should change the proportions to suit your own taste. If you love garlic, throw in a few more cloves. If your bank account is larger than mine, feel free to double the quantity of pine nuts. To be honest, each batch of pesto I make is probably different. I tend to taste as I go, and then do things like throw in an extra handful or two of Parmesan or nuts.  I should also mention that when basil becomes scarce, I make pesto from other herbs and nuts.  In the early spring, I’m able to grow arugula weeks before anything else is available. It makes a wonderful peppery pesto combined with whatever nuts I happen to have on hand. Cilantro also makes a fantastic pesto. If pine nuts are beyond your pocketbook, use walnuts, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds.  One of my favorite nuts to use is pistachios. In the late fall, one of my favorite pesto combinations is arugula, sage, and pumpkin seeds to be served over pumpkin ravioli.

12 ounces basil leaves (or my gargantuan stainless bowl filled loosely)
3 to 4 oz Parmesan cheese
4 to 6 garlic cloves
2 to 4 oz pine nuts
1 cup or more extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Rinse and dry basil.  I use a Salad Spinner, and it makes quick work of cleaning and drying greens and herbs.  It’s one of my must-have kitchen tools. Another tool I use on an almost daily basis is this  Cuisinart food processor, which was a Christmas gift from my little sister.

Combine basil, cheese, garlic, and nuts in food processor. Turn on processor and slowly pour olive oil into mixture until the pesto reaches the desired consistency. I tend make my pesto on the thick side for storage. Later, while cooking, I will alter the consistency with more olive oil to suit the recipe I’m working with.

To store pesto for winter use, I freeze it into cubes in ice cube trays. Once frozen I transfer the cubes to dated and labeled freezer bags.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Last week I promised a recipe for the pasta verde made with the chlorophyll I showed you how to extract.  This pesto pasta salad is what I made to take to a 4th of July family reunion.  Before I give you the recipe, I hope you’ll humor me while I wax nostalgic for a moment.

I’ve been attending this annual picnic since I was 12 years old.  The side of my family involved is my paternal grandmother’s.  There were originally 8 kids, but this year we’re down to the last 3 siblings.   The two youngest are 79 and 80, and my grandma is the eldest at 93.  I know our culture worships youth and beauty, but thanks to my grandma I’ve come to realize there is a certain beauty and youthfulness to old age.  Isn’t my grandma beautiful!

OK, on to our recipe. All measurements are approximate. Feel free to increase, decrease, substitute, or omit anything you like (or don’t like).

Pesto Pasta Salad
1 pound fresh or frozen pasta verde
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup Kalamata olives
1 to 1 1/2 cups feta cheese, cubed
1/4 to 1/2 cup pine nuts
Basil for garnishing

Pesto Dressing
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
1/8 cup pesto
Salt to taste

Whisk oil, vinegar, and pesto together. Season to taste. Toss dressing together with pasta, tomatoes, olives, and cheese. Sprinkle pine nuts over top of salad and garnish with basil.

At my youngest son’s request, I also made a strawberry cake for the picnic.  I’ll post a recipe for the cake later this week.  Would you be able to refuse a request from a face like this?