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Posts Tagged ‘Pesto’

I mean, really — aren’t all dinner parties “parties with benefits” in the end? You get to eat the great food AND keep the leftovers. Which is particularly nice when the leftovers include a bottle of Bailey’s. But let’s start at the beginning…

I invited my sister and her husband over for dinner last night, and presented them with the following menu options to pick from:

Menu 1

Menu 2
*Recipe is the same as the one in the link, with the following alterations, made by my grandfather: Omit fennel seeds & Sambuca. Double amount of pistachios, and substitute 1 c. chopped dried apricots for the figs. Increase the amount of flour to 2.5 c. Can substitute orange zest for lemon zest.

Menu 3
Unanimous prize-winning “Jo’s is the best” Brownie Pudding & homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

Menu 4

Can you tell I had asparagus that needed to get used up?

And the winner…

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MENU #1!

Except…oh, except…that french bread recipe did NOT work out at all. Two attempts and 12 CUPS of wasted flour later, I moved on to Plan B, which was orecchiette pasta with some homemade pesto I put in the freezer at the end of the summer. Save! I’m afraid the asparagus appetizer got eaten up before I thought to bring out my camera, which is probably the finest testimony to the success of that recipe you can get. So let’s just look at those gorgeous scallops again instead.

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The salsa was great, the scallops good, and the pasta heavenly, especially in the middle of this dreary winter. I still need to refine my scallop searing technique (I found a great tutorial here that I need to reread before my next attempt). I couldn’t find satsuma oranges, so I substituted tangerines for the juice and zest, and used blood oranges for the whole segments, because, well, they’re just so gosh darn pretty to look at, don’t you think?

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As for the cupcakes….they were AMAZING. And I clearly need to take a cake decorating class. Let’s recap: The recipe starts by melting two sticks of butter in Guinness. I pretty much don’t see how anything that starts like that can end badly. This eventually turns into Guinness Stout Cupcakes, which I made extra chocolatey by using an extra-dark cocoa powder. Next, you scoop out the centers (technically you should use a 1″ cookie cutter or an apple corer, but not owning either, I made do with a small melon baller).  After (ahem) “disposing” of the centers, you fill it with a chocolate whiskey ganache, made with Jameson’s of course. Next up? Yup. Top it off with Bailey’s frosting. My only edit to the recipe is that it calls for 3-4 cups of confectioner’s sugar for the frosting, and I probably only got through 2 cups before the frosting hit its saturation point.

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My sister thought the stout/yeasty beer flavor in the cupcakes was strong; the rest of us wanted it even stronger. The ganache filling was TO. DIE. FOR. I may or may not have eaten it by the spoonful while in the process of filling the cupcakes. The frosting was definitely on the sweet side (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”), and the Bailey’s flavor was perfect. In making these, I, of course, always went with the higher suggested amount of booze whenever it gave you an option in the recipe. And drank the leftover stout. And ate the leftover chocolate. And disposed of the cupcake centers in my stomach. And licked lots of wooden spoons and spatulas and paddles and fingers and… I’m going to change the name of my blog to “The Hygienic Chef.”

So, which menu would you pick if you were coming over to dinner? I’m pretty much dying to try them all, myself…


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OK, so everyone make their own batch of pesto? No? Just jump down to the previous post for the recipe. Don’t feel like it? That’s OK too. You can go ahead and just look at the pictures. I won’t judge.

As a back story to this, you should first know that I have been completely and totally OBSESSED with tomato, basil, mozzarella sandwiches this summer. It’s one of the only recipes of which I will confidently stand up and say that you will find no version better than mine. I’ve tried caprese sandwiches in restaurants and margarita versions in sandwich shops…nope. Mine’s better. It’s better than the version they sell at the Iggy’s stand, even.

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Now, it’s a sandwich, so I can’t take credit for it based on my culinary prowess or anything like that. It’s all about the ingredients. For the best sandwich ever, follow these steps exactly. You’ll notice that you’re at a distinct disadvantage if you don’t happen to live in the Boston area.

1). Bread: Must be Iggy’s Francese. No other bread will do. I’ve tried it. The ONLY acceptable substitute I’ve found is the Concord loaf from Hi-Rise Bakery in Cambridge.

2). Tomatoes: Fresh farmer’s market tomatoes. In August. The sandwich just doesn’t taste the same in September, and certainly not October. Sigh. I like it equally well with a standard tomato or an heirloom variety. The heirloom will be a little sweeter, the red will impart more traditional Italian flavors. Place two thick slices (about a quarter inch) on your bread.

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3). Fresh mozzarella: I strongly recommend Narragansett Creamery for your mozzarella. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fiore di Nonno just as much as everyone else, but Narragansett’s mozzarella is just in a category of it’s own. Get the balls in water if you can — they will be the softest, creamiest mozzarella you’ve ever had. And with that, I just started salivating. Put 2-3 quarter inch slices on top of the tomatoes.

4). Fresh basil: top your mozzarella with 4-6 leaves basil.

5). Dressing: another key. First, drizzle liberally with extra virgin olive oil. I tend to use a basic Filippo Berio — but I’m sure it would be even better if you had a nice expensive gourmet olive oil. Christmas is coming if anyone wants to buy me some 😉 Next, drizzle balsamic glaze over the sandwich. I use Blaze and I swear by this stuff. Need to order more as I’m running low after this summer. It’s fantastic on roasted zucchini as well.

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6). Sea salt: also key! Any brand will do I suppose, so long as it comes in a grinder. You want the big chunks you get that way. Sometimes I’ll also do a little bit of fresh ground white pepper as well, but that’s completely optional.

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If you’re feeling kindly towards your meat-loving significant other, you can also make it with bacon, but that’s really just gilding the lily. Either way, serve with plenty of napkins.

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Um. Hungry Crafter? That’s wonderful, and it looks delicious, but… I thought you were going to talk about what I should do with this pesto I just made? Ah yes. I get a little excited when I talk tomato, basil, mozzarella. I needed to do it justice. This is going somewhere, I promise.

Now that you understand the depth of my sandwich obsession, you can understand what it means for me to fiddle with perfection. But fiddle I did! As soon as I made the pesto, I knew there was one thing I had to try right away. Tomato, pesto, mozzarella sandwich. Grilled.

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For this sandwich, I simply slathered some pesto on one of the slices of bread, layered on the mozzarella and tomato, and got ready to grill. No need to drizzle with oil, as there’s oil in the pesto; no need for salt, as the parmesan in the pesto provides enough of a bite. No Blaze, either — I wanted to let the pesto flavor shine. I did, however, use a pastry brush to dab some olive oil on the outside of the bread prior to grilling, to ensure a nice golden brown crunch.

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The verdict? Sometimes perfection is worth messing with.

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OK, so we’ve put pesto on a sandwich, we’ve eaten it on bread for snacks… How about a meal? Simplest thing ever: Boil water. Cook some pasta. Stir in pesto. Send your tastebuds on a trip to heaven.

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My only recommendation is to use a pasta shape that will hold the sauce well — think ridges and cupped shapes. See how you get little pockets of pesto with the Farfalle Rotonde? Be sure to pass some grated parmesan at the table as well. There’s no such thing as too much cheese.

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What a great food year it’s been! I’ve discovered that I do in fact like fennel and chowder (and fennel chowder), learned better ways to chop peppers and onions, explored the wonders of the fava bean, eaten my first zeppoli, developed an unhealthy obsession with Iggy’s Francese bread, and forever banned Vlasic pickles in favor of Claussens. As an aside — seriously? I have been MISSING OUT for years! I had no idea the difference between the shelf-stable, ho-hum excuses for pickles you find in the middle aisles of the grocery store compared to the crunchy, tasty, lip-smacking goodness of a pickle from the refrigerated deli section! If you haven’t made this discovery yet, RUN, do not walk, to your nearest grocery store and do a taste test. May I never eat those things I used to call “pickles” ever again. Pickle rant aside…What’s the point of all this, you may wonder? On to my latest revelation: I like pesto! When it’s done right, that is.

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It all started with the basil, of course. After sampling several vendors, I can safely say that the Siena Farms stand is THE place to get your basil if you frequent the Copley Square Farmers Market.  For one, their bunches are big, full, and include more stems in each bunch than most other stands. More importantly, they’re the only stand I’ve found that give you the entire stem — including the root! What this means is that your basil — kept in a cup of water on your kitchen counter — lasts twice as long as a bunch without the roots.

Inspired by the abundance of basil (and emboldened by my many new taste acquisitions of the year), I decided that I needed to give pesto another shot. I do love basil, after all; it was the pine nuts that made me squeamish before. For this adventure, I knew I didn’t want to mess around. I wanted to go to a proper authority for the recipe to get the best pesto possible. In my mind, this means one thing only: the good folks over at Cook’s Illustrated. If you’re not familiar with them, they approach recipe writing like scientists, doing lab test after lab test until the final recipe is perfected. They did not let me down.

Classic Pesto

Abridged from Cook’s Illustrated, The Best Italian Classics

  • 1/4 c. pine nuts
  • 3 med cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 c. packed fresh basil leaves
  • 7 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese

Toast nuts in a small, heavy skillet over med heat, stirring frequently, until just golden & fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Set aside.

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In same pan, toast the garlic cloves, shaking pan occasionally, about 7 minutes. Cool, peel, and chop.

Place basil in a large ziploc freezer bag, and use meat pounder or rolling pin to bruise all leaves.

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Combine nuts, garlic, basil, olive oil & salt in a food processor; process until smooth.

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Transfer mixture to a small bowl and mix in the Parmesan; add salt as needed to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and use within 3 days.

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It was so very, very good. As in, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running back out to the market and buying out their entire inventory of basil so I can make this by the bucketful. I was talking pesto with my mom prior to trying out the recipe, bemoaning how most jarred pestos tend to be overly oily at best, cloying in taste at worst. Not this pesto! Even the resident picky eater of the house liked it, and we happily slathered it on bread (Iggy’s Francese, of course) as snacks in between using it for meals. Next blog post: what we DID with the pesto! Get your food processors out and make some up so you can join in the fun!

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