Archived entries for pesto

On ramp: Ramp pesto!

I’m a big believer in versatility; much like Alton Brown, I don’t have much room in my life (or my kitchen) for uni-taskers. I need my utensils to slice, dice, AND julienne fry, and I need my miscellaneous condiments to do the equivalent. Can I smear it on toast, rub it on a fish, AND whack it in to pasta? Sold! I am certain this is the root of my deep love for pesto (well, that and all the raw garlic deliciousness)–possibly the most versatile condiment in the world.
Salmon with ramp pesto
Lately, I’ve been trying to push the envelope; though traditional basil pesto is a delight, I have no attention span and like to amuse myself by turning things inside out (you may recall my adventure with Mushroom-walnut pistou). Of particular interest to me lately has been the notion of ramp pesto, built from those elusive and lovely cousins of the leek that are available for only a brief flash each year. They have a lovely, oniony waft about them, and a sweet, gentle flavor that adds tremendous dimension to…well…just about anything where you’d use leeks or onions. They have the added bonus of being completely edible from bulb to tip. Disappointing for your compost pile, great for your appetite.
ramps

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A pistou-packin’ outlaw: Whole wheat spaghetti with walnut-mushroom pesto

Ok. It took a lot of greenery and a lot of fish to get me here, but I think I am at last recovered from National Grilled Cheese month. Which is tremendously convenient, because as Maggie has shown us with her divine asparagus soup, my favorite vegetable is at last in season!

pistou

Asparagus is one of those things that I will happily eat with every meal.  Typically, I favor it roasted, but sometimes it’s just so green, so fresh, that such heavy treatment is practically blasphemy. At this time of year, when perfect asparagus is a daily occurence, I prefer to sort of wave it over a hot skillet and eat it with as little adornment as possible; usually this means tossed in with some pasta.

asparagus1
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A guaranteed crowd-pleaser: Pesto lasagna with spinach, mushrooms, and artichokes

pestoslice

Given that I am a total misanthrope, it comes as a surprise to some how much I love entertaining. Ever since I figured out how to boil water without setting the house on fire (somewhere in my early twenties), I’ve taken ridiculous pleasure in having my nearest and dearest over for a home-cooked meal. The current flaw in this pleasure: in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen, it’s hard to manufacture a meal for more than, say, four people at a time. As such, I am sure you can imagine my initial panic when Bench and I decided to have a dinner party for eight; fortunately for everyone, I had this recipe tucked in my back pocket.

A riff on traditional white-slash-green lasagna, this particular recipe gets a little extra heft from sauteed mushrooms and a whole lot of personality from minced artichoke bottoms (I tried to make this happen with artichoke hearts, but…just…no. Texturally, they just didn’t do what I wanted them to; they were too flighty and fibrous where I wanted solid and defined) and about thirty pounds of garlic. Though you can do everything The Hard Way (make your own pesto, wash and chop adult spinach, grate your own parmesan–none of which, seriously, I would have done if I’d known the party was going to be switched at the last minute from Saturday to Friday; totally unnecessary when you’re pressed for time), you really don’t have to: premade pesto is an excellent way to shave off some prep time, and bagged, prewashed baby spinach makes it almost TOO easy. You can probably even use those lasagna noodles that don’t require pre-boiling (which I, being a cowardly sort, have never tried) and you can definitely use pre-grated cheese.

pestopot

I love serving this at parties for several reasons: it’s delicious (obviously), it’s impressive, it’s easy to assemble, vegetarians will eat it, it multiplies well, and you can do it at a leisurely pace in advance or you can make it in a hurry on a Friday night. Basically, it’s my go-to, no fail, always appropriate, guaranteed-to-elicit-queries-for-the-recipe party superstar. My repertoire holds no equal. I hope it’s the same for you.

pestopan

Pesto lasagna with spinach, mushrooms and artichokes

a little oil for the pan
about 16 lasagna noodles
6 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
8 oz mushrooms, finely minced
15-oz (usually 1 can) artichoke bottoms, minced
2 lbs. (4 cups) ricotta cheese
1 cup pesto
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or minced walnuts)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 head garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh black pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 lbs. mozzarella cheese, grated

  1. Preheat your oven to 350; slice the top off the head of garlic, drizzle it with olive oil and wrap it loosely in foil. Bake until soft and fragrant (about one hour) (Note: if you are preparing the lasagna in advance, this would be a good time to turn off your oven. If you are NOT preparing this in advance, roast the garlic while you’re prepping the rest of the filling and keep the oven hot). Once it’s cool enough to touch, squeeze the garlic out of its skin and mash it into a paste. Set aside.
  2. Set a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the lasagna noodles for 4-5 minutes (until tender but still al dente). Drain them and lay them out flat on foil or parchment while you get the filling ready.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a large pan; over medium-low heat, saute the mushrooms with a bit of salt until they have released all their liquid, and then re-absorbed it (about 3-4 minutes). Add the artichoke bottoms and saute for 2-3 minutes more; add the minced garlic and saute for two more minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Mix together: ricotta, artichoke-mushroom mixture, pine nuts, roasted garlic paste, pesto, pine nuts and spinach. Set aside.
  5. Lightly oil a 9×13 pan. Line the bottom with one layer of noodles, then spread 1/3 of the filling over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Add another layer of noodles, filling and cheese. And once more.
  6. Bake for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees; if the top starts to scorch, cover it lightly with foil.

Slow Cooker Lamb and Lentil Soup

At Fromaggio in Essex Market, I spied a box of French Puy lentils for eight dollars. Seriously? Eight dollars for lentils? I knew if I brought them home Matt would be unimpressed. Unless, of course, they sprouted into a magic beanstalk.lentilspublish

Luckily, I live near a little Indian market with shelves piled with inexpensive spices (amchoor powder, anyone?) and dried goods. Squelching my desire for a collection of curry powders and mango pickles, I scored a cheaper bag of pretty green french lentils and headed home to look at recipes.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m stingy with my homemade stock. We can only store a few containers of it in our teeny freezer, and I hate to be caught without any. It’s hard to deem an unknown recipe stock-worthy. (Remember Elaine carefully budgeting her sponges on Seinfeld? It’s like that…sort of.) So I was pleased to realize I could make a huge pot of hearty lentil soup while still saving some stock for a winter cold. I used lamb to deepen the flavor of the tomato broth, and spiked it with a little sake (sherry would work great if you have it.)

lentilbowl4
In a flash of inspiration before I served this up, I added a bit of homemade pesto to the pot. I save this in ice cube-sized portions in the freezer, and it deepened the flavor nicely.

I hate to give exact times in a recipe for slow cookers. You alone know how hot or slow your machine cooks, and how mushy you like your lentils. In my six-quart Cuisinart slow cooker, this took a long time. You could probably speed it up by cranking up the heat. Or just go about your business and let it cook all night and the next day unsupervised. That’s the beauty of these things.

Slow Cooker Lamb and Lentil Soup
Serves at least 4 with leftovers

2 lamb shoulder chops with bone or about 1 pound other stew meat
1 strip bacon, chopped roughly
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 clove garlic, chopped roughly
3 carrots, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon harissa (optional)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or a bunch of fresh basil leaves if you have them
1/2 teaspoon oregano
freshly ground pepper
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes with liquid
3 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 teaspoons sherry or sake or wine
1 cup green lentils
2 tablespoons prepared pesto
Pasta (corkscrews or shells are good)
grated cheese for serving
Salt and pepper

Place first twelve ingredients in the slow cooker. Pour tomatoes over. Fill empty can with water and add that water to slow cooker as well. Add stock, sherry or sake or wine, and lentils, stir, leaving meat on the bottom of the pan. Cook on high one to two hours, depending how hot your slow cooker is. Turn to low and cook at least 8 hours. Check lentils and carrots at this point. If they seem too crisp to you, keep cooking. When ready to serve, remove meat from bones and discard bones. If you like, whir this for thirty seconds with an immersion blender to thicken the broth, or blend a few ladlesfull in a food processor. Leave the rest chunky. Stir in the pesto. Boil water on the stovetop and prepare pasta according to package instructions, a large handful per person is plenty. Place pasta in bowls and ladle soup over, garnishing generously with grated cheese, salt, and freshly ground pepper.



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