Pistachio Pesto

 

Apparently, it took me all the time since pine nuts were suddenly out of my price range (years!) until this year to figure out that pistachios are the pesto substitution nut to beat all others.  I’m amazed.  It’s so obvious once you taste it.

 

pistachio pesto 3

 

It also took me a little while (but not nearly as long) to nail down some quantities for this recipe.  I get in this funny mood sometimes when I’m cooking by taste, where I just want to, um, cook by taste.  Any attempt to quantify what’s going on feels like an unwelcome intrusion of thoughts that might be interfering with my creative process. It’s funny because I’m also a fairly obsessive note-taker.  I guess it’s just hard to take the notes at the same time I’m making the thing … in any case, I tried a few times, and finally got it close, I think.

The worst that could happen is that you’ll also need to make and eat a few batches to nail down the proportions you prefer … that’ll be terrible I’m sure.

 

pistachio pesto 1

 

Pistachio Pesto

Makes about 4 servings, enough for each person to have on top of ratatouille (which is fabulous!) or pasta.  Any leftovers are delicious just spread on bread.

I’m convinced that the food processor was invented by someone who needed to make big batches of pesto in a hurry.  It pretty much the perfect tool for this.  Combine in the bowl:

pistachio pesto 41 level cup shelled unsalted pistachios

1 1/2 cups very well packed basil leaves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano 

2 large or 3 small garlic cloves

A generous drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil

A sprinkle of black pepper

Process until you get close to the texture you want.  Taste and adjust.  I usually end up adding a little more olive oil partway through, even though I prefer it slightly chunky and not too oily.  I find it salty enough from the cheese, but of course you can also add a little salt if you like.  I predict that if you try it, you’ll be converted, the taste is worth the shelling!

 

pistachio pesto 2

 

Asparagus Tarts for Spring and Early Summer

 

asparagus tart

 

Posting this recipe feels kind of, sort of, almost like cheating. It’s a variation on the savory tart/quiche recipe I’ve been using all the time since this past fall. With the late spring in the Midwest this year, there’s still a lot of asparagus around, and I’d have a hard time thinking of anything easier and more satisfying to do with it than this. I made the tart shown here with about a pound of asparagus, and some fresh thyme. A week or so later, I made another one for a new friend who’s eating gluten free, without the crust, with slightly less asparagus, and adding some leftover potatoes and onions. This really is one of those recipes (my favorite kind) that encourage experimentation and new flavor combinations.

 

Asparagus Tart Variations

 

Refer to the original recipe for the cornmeal crust, if making a crust, and more filling ideas.

For the asparagus, either broil it lightly first for more smoky flavor, or simply wash, and chop it into approximately equal diagonal segments, discarding any tough or dried out ends.

Optional: prepare potatoes as for the potato and green chile tart, or use any other leftover cooked potatoes you happen to have around.

 

For the Filling:

4 eggs

A generous splash heavy cream or milk

A few Tablespoons grated cheese (I like a hard cheese such as Parmesan)

Fresh ground pepper

(Salt is optional, depending on your taste, and saltiness of cheese)

Fresh thyme or other fresh herbs to taste (Tip: if the stems are sturdy enough, you can get most of the thyme leaves off by grabbing the stem near the top and running the fingers of the other hand down the stem from top to bottom.)

Feel free to add an extra egg, and a little more of the other ingredients, if it seems like there’s not enough filling for the veggies you have.

If not using a crust, make sure to grease your pan thoroughly.

Mix the cut asparagus (and potatoes) in with the filling, and pour into the pan/crust. For the second variation, I sprinkled the top with minced garlic and more Parmesan, which puffed and browned as the tart cooked for a tasty crispy top.

Bake at 375° F for about 40 minutes, turning once, until the tart is golden on top, puffed up, and just moist inside when tested with a knife.

 

Simple & Satisfying Broccoli Pasta

With Garlic and Chile Flakes

 

simple broccoli pasta

 

Basically, I’m still in the same food mode I was when I wrote about the savory tarts (and still making a lot of them!).  Some days I feel like experimenting, and I have been working on a few new recipes, and trying a few others.  But many days, I’m in the mood to make something that won’t take forever, and that I know I’ll like.  Like this!  Broccoli appeared in our CSA store a couple of weeks ago, and I know Bryan likes it, so I always get some when it’s there.  This is one of my favorite ways to eat it.  Add a salad, and you have dinner.  It’s quick enough that I will even bother making it for lunch, if there aren’t enough leftovers in the fridge.

 

Simple Broccoli Pasta with Garlic and Chile Flakes

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

 

For dinner-size portions for two, start with two small or one large head of broccoli.  My second favorite thing about this recipe is that when I found it, I learned how to cook and eat the broccoli stems—it always seemed like a waste to just compost them.  The stems just take a bit longer to cook than the florets.  Cut off the florets, and cut them into about equal pieces.  Slice the stem into fairly thin rounds (leave out any of the bottom that seems too tough or stringy), and then dice up the slices.

 

chopped broccoli

 

Boil some water, to cook the pasta.  I like the deep nutty flavors of whole wheat or spelt noodles here, but then I like them with just about anything.  Use whatever kind of noodles you like.  For any even simpler gluten-free option, leave out the noodles all together, and serve the broccoli as a side.  The broccoli only takes a few minutes to cook, so you may want to cook the noodles first.  While you’re waiting you can mince a little garlic (I use about 1 small clove per head of broccoli) and grate some Parmesan, or other hard aged cheese of your choice.

To cook the broccoli, you will need a pan with a lid.  I keep a terrible, ancient skillet around because it’s the same size as my favorite one, and therefore functions as a convenient lid.  Add a generous amount of olive oil to the pan, and heat over medium.  When the oil is hot, add the chopped bits of broccoli stem, and sauté for a few minutes.  Then add the florets.  Stir, so that they all get a bit of oil, then pour in a splash of white wine if you have it, or water if you don’t, and cover the pan.

After a couple of minutes, lift off the lid.  The broccoli will have turned bright green.  At this point you want it to be slightly less done than your desired finished dish, taste some and see.  I like it about as far towards raw as I can get and still call it cooked.  When the broccoli is almost as done as you’d like, add the minced garlic and hot chile flakes to taste.  It can be subtle or spicy.

Let the garlic and chile cook for a minute or so, stirring with the broccoli.  The pan lid should be off at this point, to let any remaining liquid evaporate.  Turn of the heat, and add the cooked drained noodles to the pan, along with a little of the grated cheese.  Stir everything together, and add a bit more olive oil and/or cheese if it seems too dry.

That’s it!  Serve with a bit more grated cheese on top.

 

Two Everyday Recipes -or- Revenge of the Quiche

 

leek potato green chile tart

 

So this last week I found myself feeling swamped, just completely underwater on things to do.  I’m not sure how it happened, but suddenly not only was there not enough time for all the things I’d like to do (never is), there wasn’t enough for all the things I needed to do.

I’ve been feeling a milder version of this all fall, like I’ve got a lot to do, and while I still want to eat a homemade dinner every night, I don’t necessarily want to make one up from scratch every night.  Much less do I want to make something separate for lunch!  Woe to those who might ask me what’s to eat when I’m feeling overwhelmed . . .

I’ve been making a lot of these (and a lot of soups, too), things that last well beyond the initial meal and are pretty much ready to go subsequently.  I’m calling them tarts, like the savory French tarts.  I kind of wore out my own use and conception of the word quiche in the first year I ever joined a CSA.  That time, Bryan and I split a share with my parents, and my dad and I, who were the main cooks of the project, fell back on quiche again and again as a way to use up all the greens we got.  After that (and discovering more uses for the green stuff), I didn’t make it much.  At all.  For years.

It’s baaaack … and better than before!  I’ve been making a crust with a little cornmeal in it, and a variety of interesting new fillings.  My two current favorites (recipes below) are: leek and potato with green chile, and sweet potato with greens.

 

Savory Tart Crust with Cornmeal

Note: if you are going gluten free, or just happen to run out of flour, it’s easy to make these recipes crustless.  Just grease your pie pan well, and skip to the fillings.

If you’re making a crust, make it first, so that it has plenty of time to chill.

Mix in a small bowl:

1 cup flour (white, whole wheat, or a mixture, your choice)

1/4 cup corn meal (blue is my favorite)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in 5 Tablespoons butter until the biggest chunks are pea-sized.  Mix in very cold water just a little bit at a time, until the dough holds together, and then put the dough in the refrigerator.

 

Potato, Leek and Green Chile

Cut off the tops/dark green parts of 2-3 medium-sized leeks.  (Did you know you can use those tops instead of onions for soup stock?  I’ve been doing it all the time lately.)  Slice the leeks in half, rinse out dirt, and chop into fairly thin slices.  Melt 1 Tablespoon butter over med/low heat, add the leeks and a generous splash of white wine or sherry (or water, but I recommend the wine).  Continue cooking, covered, on low, adding more wine if necessary to keep moist, until the leeks are translucent and slightly gooey.  (I got this idea from a recipe for leek confit on Bon Appétit, and it’s been a go-to for leeks since.)

Set the oven to 425° F.  Slice 2 small/medium potatoes fairly thin, skin on (scrub them first).  Place them on a cookie sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil, and salt if desired.   Toss to coat and roast for about 10 minutes, until browned on one side, turn the slices over and roast another 5 minutes or so, until both sides have golden brown spots.  Set aside.

Chop 1-2 roasted green chiles (depending on heat).  (Aren’t you glad you froze some?)

 

sweet potato greens tart

 

Sweet Potato and Greens

I used kale for this, use 1 bunch of whatever greens you need to get rid of.  Slice or pull the leaves from the ribs, and steam them in a steamer basket over simmering water until bright green and wilted.  Chop or pulse in the food processor depending on how fine you want them chopped.

Roast sweet potatoes the same way as the potatoes above.

 

Egg Filling & Assembly

Lower the oven temp to 375° F

For either version (or your own creation) get out the crust, and roll it into a rough circle.  It doesn’t need to be too thin, the recipe makes plenty.   I use a 9″ pie pan.  Set the crust in your pan and press it into shape.  If necessary adjust the sides by pulling off overhanging pieces and sticking them in gaps.

Beat together (you can use the pie crust bowl):

4 eggs
Update: I’m not sure how or why, but when I first started making these I thought 4 eggs was plenty … now I don’t, and I almost always use 5. If you find that you’ve made more filling than you intended and it doesn’t seem like there’s enough egg in the mixture, you can even use 6. The whole thing will be thicker and may take a little longer to cook, but it’s up to you!

A generous splash heavy cream

A few Tablespoons grated cheese (seriously, any cheese you have on hand and like is good.)

Fresh ground pepper

(Salt is optional, depending on taste and saltiness of cheese)

 

Pour a bit of the egg mixture into the bottom of the crust (or the pan if you are going no-crust).  Add your vegetables.  If you are using potatoes I highly recommend putting them on top, so they get nice and browned.  Bake for about 40 minutes, turning once, until the tart is golden on top, puffed up, and just moist inside when tested with a knife.

 

One of these makes a good part of a dinner, plus a few more lunches/brunches for me and Bryan—hooray!  It might be a good option to stave off the hungry hoards while you work on Thanksgiving dinner, or a good make-ahead family breakfast for a special day.  Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving all you Americans!

 

Broiled Asparagus – Simple Spring Vegetables

 

broiled asparagus 1

 

I’ve been working super hard on my soon-to-be-released project lately, as you may have noticed since no post has appeared yet this week!  Luckily, some spring produce has also arrived lately, heralding the long season of practically effortless vegetables.  Perfect timing!  I could use some easy dinners right now.

If you’ve never tried asparagus broiled, it’s great.  It’s just a little caramelized and crispy on the outside, juicy and delicious inside.

If your asparagus varies widely in thickness, like this bunch did, either separate it into two batches or take the tiny ones out when they’re cooked, sooner than the thicker spears.   Cut or snap off the ends of the asparagus spears, put them in a broiler-safe pan and smear a little olive oil on them.  Start your broiler on low heat.  Put asparagus pan close to the broiler and check it every couple of minutes.  The spears will turn bright green first.  When they have caramel-colored patches and the ends are barely crispy, they’re done.

 

broiled asparagus 2

 

Broiled asparagus is delicious as a side to just about anything I can think of.  On the day I took these photos we ate it on lemon pepper pasta from Decio (a Christmas gift) with a little cheese, accompanied by a salad and then artichokes.

Enjoy!  And feel free to share your favorite spring vegetables/recipes . . .

 

In the Desert, We Wait for Spring, and Eat Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices

 

grand falls 1

 

Bryan and I drove out to Grand Falls the other day, down a long dirt road, to see the spring runoff flooding down the Little Colorado river and over the cliffs (as high as Niagara, or so they say around here).  I kept thinking about how our Ponderosa pine forest seems so complete when I’m in it (which is most of the time), but really, just on the other side of town is a transition zone between our high-elevation forest and the lower-elevation piñon pine and juniper, and the scrub-covered desert.

It’s getting warmer all over our varied section of the landscape, including the valley further south where most our local produce comes from.  We are not, however, California, and we are still waiting for asparagus and strawberries.

 

grand falls 3

 

In fact, as we drove, it seemed like the desert was waiting too, the little bushes looking soft and sun-bleached, flocking the hills.  Maybe the roar of muddy water will bring some green, a few desert flowers . . . but not yet.

 

grand falls 4

 

Fortunately, in the meantime, we still have squash.  Butternut squash was the first winter vegetable I fell in love with, since what’s not to love; the round, slightly sweet flavors, the vibrant orange color, and in this case, brightened up further for the coming spring with some new and unexpected spices and a tangy sauce.

I mentioned that we’ve cooked a LOT of recipes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi this winter, this is latest one; which I adapted to my tastes and what was in my pantry that day.  It was just perfect to make ahead and leave in a friend’s refrigerator while we gallivanted around the desert, ready and waiting for all of us to be hungry when we got back.

 

roasted butternut with sweet spices

 

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices and Tangy Chile Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 5 as an appetizer

 

Preheat the oven to 400° F

Take two very small, or one medium-large butternut squash.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and set them aside for later.  Slice the squash 3/8 inch or 1 cm thick.  Lay out the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.

Take 1 Tablespoon of dried cardamom pods; break the green pods open, either with your fingers or by crushing them a bit in a mortar and pestle.  Discard the pods but keep all the seeds which are inside.  Crush the seeds until they are roughly ground, either with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

Add the ground cardamom to a small bowl with: 1 teaspoon ground allspice and 3 Tablespoons olive oil.  Stir this up and brush it all over the squash slices.

Sprinkle a little salt over the squash, and roast in the oven until the slices are tender but not mushy when stabbed with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate the squash seeds from the stringy stuff they grow in, and put the seeds into the bowl with the leftover oil and spices, mix them around to coat.

For the sauce: stir together the juice of 1/2 lime, several heaping Tablespoons of crème fraîche (once you have it, you put it on everything) and some chopped fresh chile  – I used 1/2 of one large defrosted frozen roasted one from last fall (you can put those on everything too).  If dairy is not your thing, these would also be great with just a little chile or hot sauce, or maybe even a sweet and hot sauce . . .

 

roasted butternut sauce and seeds

 

When the squash is done, transfer it to a cutting board, or platter or bowl to serve, and put the seeds on the same baking sheet and roast them for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden and crunchy.  You can serve them with the squash, or eat them as a road-trip snack.  The leftover spices are more subtle, but delicious with the toasted seed flavor.

To serve the squash, slide a small sharp knife around the outside of the slices, taking off just the peel.  If you run out of time, you can also serve them as they are and let the eaters peel their own.  This is good cold or room temp, with a little sauce drizzled over the top.

 

So, what are you eating?  Is it spring yet where you are?

 

grand falls 2

 

Ratatouille

 

This time of year, at least where I live, the market is simply overflowing with fresh veggies.  While the fruits seem to come in a relatively orderly sequence, one replacing another, the vegetables apparently just multiply, more kinds, more flavors, more colors, every week until the frost.

So, a perfect time to make something delicious out of them!  Something full & rich with the flavors of all the late summer bounty.

Ratatouille

Makes enough to feed 4 as a main course

Chop into large chunks (see the next post):

2 medium summer squash; zucchini, crookneck, etc.

2 smallish bell peppers; red, orange, yellow or purple

1 medium yellow onion

4 small or two larger eggplants

1 mildly spicy chile (optional but really good) If your chile happens to be already roasted, add it with the tomatoes.  Otherwise, keep it with the peppers, squash and onion.

This many veggies will not fit in my largest skillet in anywhere close to a single layer, meaning I know they won’t all brown on the edges.  So, I put the chopped eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil, and roast it in the oven at 375° F until soft and slightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the other veggies and put them in a large heavy skillet on high, with more olive oil, enough to keep them from sticking.  Stir occasionally, letting the surfaces of the vegetables get a nice medium brown.

While the veggies are cooking in the skillet, also chop:

4 -5 large tomatoes chopped roughly, or a little more than a pint of small ones cut in half

3-4 cloves of minced garlic

When the veggies in the skillet are just about browned, add the eggplant to them.  Make a clear space in the center of the skillet, add a drizzle of olive oil, and put the garlic in it.  When the garlic just starts to color, mix it in with the rest of the veggies, and add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat down and cook until the tomatoes start to collapse.

That’s it!  Serve with a generous portion of fresh basil (fresh oregano is also nice, although I like basil best), and a few grinds of black pepper on top.  You can salt to taste as well.

 

 

This recipe is delicious with risotto, or any cooked grain with a little cheese mixed in, or just with bread and cheese for lunch.