Life Shifts and BBQ Sauce

My life is about to shift.  We used this past summer as our last-ditch effort to get pregnant, undergoing 3 rounds of fertility stuff.  And then {to put it in a very abbreviated and a hovering-above-the-emotions manner} it comes to a point where you have to simply close the door…for your emotional and mental well-being.  And so I spent the first few months of fall updating my CV and composing a personal statement to apply for a Masters program.

I’ve worked since I was 14, and when I had my first baby at 30, decided it was time to stay home full-time.  I have loved every minute of being a full-time mama, but I have to say, it was a little daunting pulling everything together for professional purposes.  I hope I’m not the first one to let you know how hard a stay at home mama works, but let’s be honest–how many daily to-do’s are seriously resume builders?  I got a little creative with filling in the past 6 years, and after hunting down a former professor and former Nurse Practitioner boss lady to write letters of recommendation for me…voilá–I’m starting a Masters of Health Science program in January.

I know life is going to shift a little.  Until I can figure out how to be one of those people that magically transforms their food blog into a paycheck, these posts will be fewer and farther between.  I may not make bread on a weekly basis, and I know dinners may be more of the pull-together-in-the-pan variety.

Here’s a great recipe that comes together fast.  Forget the store bought BBQ Sauces with tons of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and preservatives.  It’s sweet, tangy, smoky, and has just a little hint of heat at the end.  Feel free to add more heat if you’d like–a jalapeño, poblano, etc.  Lentils cook up quickly without having to pre-soak, so your whole meal can come together with minimal prep time, and quick cook time.  Or you could let your BBQ sauce hang out in the slow cooker all day, and just cook up the lentils in about 20 minutes and you’re done!

bbq-sauce-2  The first meal I made with the BBQ Sauce was lentil sloppy joe’s.  Then I topped my bean burgers with the sauce and caramelized onions.  Oh man.  Talk about a life changer.  It’s just the right amount of messy and deliciously BBQ-y.

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BBQ SAUCE

  • Servings: Yields about 3 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Gourmet Grilling 2011

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons ground mustard
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 5 teaspoons black pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a large pot with olive oil and heat to medium.  Add onion and garlic and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, lower heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature.
  3. Purée the sauce in batches in a blender until smooth.

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LENTIL SLOPPY JOE'S WITH APPLE SLAW

  • Servings: 4 sandwiches
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2-3 cups BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 apple, thinly sliced (your choice, although sharp apples work best–granny smith, fuji, or even an asian pear would work!)
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 sandwich buns

DIRECTIONS

  1. Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a large pot.  Add the lentils, salt and pepper to taste, and cover.  Reduce heat to low and let simmer until lentils are cooked through and stock is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the apple slaw.  Add the sliced apple, sliced red onion, cilantro, vinegar, and salt and pepper in a bowl and stir together.  Set aside.
  3. When the lentils are done, add BBQ sauce and stir until it comes together as one big saucy mess.  Add 2-3 cups of sauce, depending on your sauce-ness preference.
  4. Toast the sandwich buns, scoop BBQ lentils and top with apple slaw.

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Tomato Jam Magic

I’m not sure what else to call this recipe, other than “Tomato Jam Magic”.  I know you’re going to read through the ingredients and think, “What?!?!  Lime juice and cloves?  No way that goes together…”  Trust me on this one.  This jam is a warm, amazing, flavor explosion that’ll shake up your grilled cheese sandwich, be THE gourmet dip at your next dinner party, or be the new pizza red sauce ALL your neighbors will beg you for again and again.

All you have to do is throw everything in your pot and let it simmer–Who knew gourmet would be so easy to make?!

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Let it simmer and cook down until most of the liquid is cooked off and your spoon runs through the jam and it stays separated.

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This will last in your fridge for a while, or you can can it following the traditional canning method and share as Christmas gifts.

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Here’s the grilled cheese {just throw some fresh basil and mozzarella on your bread with that jammy goodness}:

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I made cornmeal hush puppies and use the tomato jam as a dip…Some Sort of Carb + Dip is seriously the best dinner on the planet.

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TOMATO JAM MAGIC

  • Servings: makes 1 pint
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from The Joy of Cooking’s Tomato Jam

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound tomatoes, cored and finely diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce heat to low.
  2. Let the jam simmer for 30-45 minutes, taking care to stir very frequently.  The liquid will evaporate while simmering, and the jam will reduce  to a sticky, globby jam.  You’ll know it’s done when it’s glossy, not runny/watery, and when you run your spoon across the bottom of the pot, the jam will separate and won’t come back together.  Be sure to stir more frequently toward the end, as it’ll get stickier and more likely to burn.

*You can spoon into a pint jar to keep in your fridge for up to 4 months, or can according to traditional canning methods to preserve longer.

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HODGSON MILL'S HUSH PUPPIES

  • Servings: makes 15-20 hush puppies
  • Difficulty: easy
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I used the hush puppies recipe directly from the Hodgson Mill Brand Cornmeal, with the only change being adding 1 cup fresh corn kernels. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

DIRECTIONS

  1. Fill a large stockpot with 3-4 inches oil and preheat to 375F.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a medium size mixing bowl.  Blend well.  Add onions, corn, egg, water, and buttermilk in another mixing bowl.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.  Let dough sit for 5 minutes before using.
  3. Drop by rounded teaspoons (I use a #40 cookie scoop, which is about 3 teaspoons, so a bit larger) into the hot oil and fry until dark golden brown, turning frequently (approximately 2 minutes for 1 teaspoons scoop, 3-4 minutes for the #40 scoop).  Let drain on a cooling rack.  Serve warm with Tomato Jam Magic.

 

 

Match Made in Heaven

I don’t know how your summer has been going, but our thermometer has barely dipped below 95F for two months straight.  When it’s so hot, you just don’t get very hungry for dinner.  We’ve been eating lots of smoothies, cucumbers + dip, bananas + nutella, or just nutella.  And running isn’t nearly as fun.  I can tell you there’s a huge difference between running in 100F and 90F.  I discovered yesterday 90F + a breeze is very comfortable running weather.

But when you get a new cookbook, the oven goes on.  And this meal is WORTH it.  This is summer on a plate–a beautiful, soft and fluffy Corn Pudding Soufflé topped with a sweet and flavorful stone fruit salsa.  And for good measure I threw some Citrus Cherry Irish Soda Bread on the side.  I kept waiting for a bite to be not as good as the first, but this meal will take you for an amazing ride on the SummerFlavorTrain.

Soda bread is pretty cool–it’s leavened with baking soda and buttermilk instead of yeast, so it’s like a big biscuit.  And we all know how much I love biscuits.  Just throw in some orange and grapefruit zest and dried cherries, and your biscuit is magically transformed into a citrus loaf from heaven.

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I hope you have a Farmers Market or fruit stand nearby–fresh corn, nectarines, and plums deserve to be in the summer sun as long as possible before ending up on your dinner plate!  Adding stone fruit to the salsa base makes it sweet and spicy.  You will have leftover salsa great for chip-dipping!

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I know this looks  like a normal pan of cornbread, but you will be surprised at how light and fluffy this soufflé is!

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This sweet, fresh summer corn pudding soufflé paired with the sweet, spicy stone fruit salsa is a match made in heaven!


CORN PUDDING SOUFFLÉ

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium-ish
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Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups fresh corn
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 red onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons masa
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 eggs, separated

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.  Butter a 6-cup soufflé dish.  [I didn’t have a dish that size, and was nervous the soufflé would overflow in the oven, so I filled 2 small ramekins as well.  If you use a smaller dish, just watch them during the cook time!]
  2. Puree 1 1/2 cups of the corn with half and half, then pour through a fine sieve, pressing the liquid through with a rubber spatula into a bowl.  Set the bowl aside.
  3. Heat a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, add the butter, red onion, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the onion is translucent.  Stir in the flour, then whisk in the corn-milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is slightly thickened.
  4. Remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the remaining corn, feta cheese, 1/2 salt and pepper to taste.  Warm the yolks with 1/2 cup of the mixture, then add the yolk mixture to the rest of the corn milk mixture, stirring until smooth.  The mixture will be thick, just make sure you make it as smooth as possible.
  5. Beat the egg whites until they hold firm peaks, then gently fold them into the corn milk egg yolk mixture.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and set in a large roasting pan with boiling water that comes halfway up the side of the baking dish.  Bake until a golden puffy soufflé crown rises over the top of the baking dish, about an hour [watch bake time in smaller baking dishes, check every 20 minutes until the soufflé is set and no longer wet-looking in the middle.]

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STONE FRUIT SALSA

  • Servings: males about 6 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 2 nectarines, diced
  • 2 plums, diced
  • 4 small tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Add all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Let sit and allow flavors to combine.
  2. Serve as a topping with the Corn Pudding Soufflé, and later with chips!

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CITRUS CHERRY IRISH SODA BREAD

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2-1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • zest from 1 large grapefruit and 1 large orange

DIRECTIONS

  1. Position rack in the center of the oven and heat to 450F.  If you are using a baking stone to bake the bread, place it in the oven to heat up.
  2. Sift all the dry ingredients and the zest into a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk.  Stir with one hand to incorporate the buttermilk.  If necessary, add more buttermilk 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just barely comes together {Think biscuits–be very gentle and soft, not a lot of kneading, and it’ll stay moist and fluffy and not overworked}.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and pat into a round about 6-7 inches in diameter and 1 1/2-2 inches high in the center.  Invert the rounds the floured side is on top and transfer to the baking sheet or stone, covered with a sheet of parchment paper.
  4. With a thin, sharp knife, score an “x” on the dough about 1/4 inch deep, and extend from one side to the other.  Bake on the baking sheet for 15 minutes.  Lower the oven temperature to 400F and bake until the bread is browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, another 20-30 minutes.  Cool to room temperature on a rack before slicing and serving.

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Crostini Trio

I’ve always loved sandwiches–one of my favorite memories is going to visit my Grandparents and Aunt and cousins for a couple weeks every summer, and the first thing we did after tumbling out of the hot and sticky East Coast summer car was run into my Grandparent’s kitchen and pull out all the sandwich fixings.  Rye and pumpernickel breads, crispy, cool lettuce, lunch meats and cheeses, mustard and mayonnaise.  I’ve always regarded the sandwich as a comfort food and associated it with happy times.

Oh, Sandwich!  Such melodrama!

I decided to make a trio of crostini one Saturday–little pan-fried bread slices topped with three different toppings.  Maybe it was due to my having just run a 12-mile trail run, and my husband cycling 40 miles around a mountain, but this meal was a smashing success!  One crostini {crostino?} topped with a cannellini bean spread with fresh cucumber slices; one topped with creamy guacamole with olive oil tomatoes; one topped with pistachio basil pesto with fried potato rounds.  These toppings are simple enough for a family gathering, or sophisticated enough for a dinner party.

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This was a perfect meal for the two of us {although I admit we ate as much as a dinner party would have}.  We treated the pan-fried breads like tortilla chips and dipped away!  I have to warn you–if you ever come over for chips and dip, or crostini, for that matter–we liberally and unabashedly double dip.

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CANNELLINI BEAN SPREAD WITH CUCUMBER SLICES

  • Servings: makes 1 1/2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 15oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 mini sweet cucumbers, finely sliced
  • 1 baguette, if serving as crostini

DIRECTIONS

  1. Smash the Cannellini beans with a fork or a potato smasher to a rough paste.  Add the lemon zest and juice and parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and a swirl or two of olive oil.  Stir together and serve with breadsticks, crackers, or crostini.
  2. To make crostini, slice a baguette on the bias.  Brush with olive oil and bake in a 400F oven until browned on each side, or pan fry in a skillet with olive oil, turning until each side is golden.

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CREAMY GUACAMOLE WITH OLIVE OIL TOMATOES

  • Servings: makes 1 1/2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 avocado, peeled and pit removed
  • 1/4 cup red onion, very finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, green ends finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes
  • 1 baguette, if serving as crostini

DIRECTIONS

  1. Smash the avocado with a fork or potato smasher to a rough paste.  Add the red onion through the lime zest and juice and gently stir together.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. For the olive oil tomatoes, slice the grape tomatoes in half or in quarters, if they are larger in size, and place in a small bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and stir.
  3. To serve with crostini, slice a baguette on the bias.  Brush with olive oil and bake in a 400F oven until browned on each side, or pan fry in a skillet with olive oil, turning until each side is golden.

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PISTACHIO BASIL PESTO WITH FRIED POTATO ROUNDS

  • Servings: makes 1 cup pesto
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup pistachios
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 small red, white, or yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 baguette, if serving as crostini

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place all ingredients in a blender, add salt and pepper to taste and start with 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Pulse the blender until slightly mixed, clean the sides of the blender with a spatula, and blend again, adding more olive oil while blending until the pesto comes together in a smooth consistency.
  2. Slice the potatoes very thinly.  Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat to medium-high.  Place the potato slices in a single layer in the skillet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and pan fry until golden on each side.
  3. To serve with crostini, slice the baguette on the bias.  Brush with olive oil and bake in a 400F oven until browned on each side, or pan fry in a skillet with olive oil, turning until each side is golden.

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Vegetable Stock and Veg Mix

About once a year I load up on HUGE amounts of carrots, celery, onions, parsley, and garlic, and I spend a couple days making vegetable stock and chopping celery, onions, and carrots to freeze for a pre-made, ready to grab veg mix to use throughout the year.

I store everything in freezer quart bags, label them, and throw them in the deep freeze, laying flat so I can stack them easier.  The chopped mix usually lasts me a whole year, and the stock usually 6-8 months, then I restock my stock {…haha} as I need until the next Veg Day.

{Let me welcome you into the deep insides of my freezer}

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As far as chopping vegetables, that’s it.  Chop them all up into equal-sized bits and pieces, stir in a big bowl to evenly distribute, scoop into a freezer bag.  End of story.  I usually just do the carrots, celery, and onion, and add garlic later when I’m cooking, if I need it.  {My mom loves to do things for me when she visits.  You know, like clean my floorboards or fan blades, all the little things I normally don’t get to.  She once grated an entire Costco-sized bag of whole, peeled garlic cloves for me, and scooped the gratings into an ice cube tray to freeze so I could use later.  She only stopped when she said her fingers were starting to burn.  Moms are awesome.}  Last tip:  Don’t add parsley, it will get goopy and gross hanging out in the freezer then defrosting.

Vegetable stock couldn’t be easier.  Your stock will taste like what you put in it.  For a Basic Vegetable Stock, I always use carrots, celery, onions, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper.  For a little zing, I’ve added lemon to that mix.  For sweetness, I’ve added parsnips and apples.

Just sauté your roughly chopped ingredients in a large pot, cover with water, and let simmer for about 45 minutes.  Let it cool to room temperature and divide into freezer bags {I usually do anywhere from 2-4 cups per bag, because I know those are my go-to stock amounts I always use}.  Label, lay flat, freeze, and pull out at your leisure for a deeper flavor in your soups, stews, rice, grains, etc.

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BASIC VEGETABLE STOCK

  • Servings: 5 1/2 quarts, made in a 6 quart stock pot
  • Difficulty: super easy
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Salt and Pepper to taste…what does that mean?!  Your taste is different from mine.  For such a large batch, I usually add 1 tablespoon of each.  It’s better to start with small amounts–remember the water is reducing, concentrating the salt.  You can always add more salt and pepper, but you can’t take it away once it’s been cooking.  One half of cooking is cooking, the other half is tasting as you cook and adjusting flavors as needed during the cooking process.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 yellow onions, quartered
  • 3 carrots, cut in 2-inch chunks
  • 3 celery stalks, cut in 2-inch chunks
  • 1 cup whole, peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 handful fresh Italian parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste (you can use whole peppercorns or ground pepper)
  • 7-10 cups water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a 6-Quart stock pot with olive oil and heat over medium high to high heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.  Sauté until the vegetables are just starting to turn golden brown.
  2. Add the parsley and add enough water to cover the vegetables with 1-2 inches of water.  Let the stock come to a boil, and reduce heat to low.  Let the stock simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Add more water to raise the stock level to 1-2 inches above the vegetables, and let simmer for another 20 minutes.
  3. Turn off heat and let cool to room temperature.  Pour through a strainer into  a large pitcher or measure cup with a spout, for easy-less-mess pouring into freezer bags.  If you use a large measuring cup, you’ll also know how many cups per bag you’re pouring.  (Isn’t experience nice like that?)
  4. To freeze, label the bags with the date and amount, lay flat on a large baking sheet, and freeze overnight.  Once they are frozen you can stack them to make more room in your freezer.

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First Time For Everything

My Number 1 Rule when I go out to a restaurant is to order something I don’t frequently make at home.  I have found, though, that there are fewer and fewer options I choose from, as I am willing to tackle almost anything in my own kitchen.  There has been one thing I haven’t tried yet…for the first time ever, I decided to tackle those shifty little potato pillows otherwise known as gnocchi.  “Gnocchi” means “dumplings” in Italian, and this girl is always up for a good dumpling.

I had some leftover broccolini in the fridge, so I decided to chop that up super tiny and make broccolini-potato gnocchi.  What could be better combination, right?!  I followed the recipe from Making Artisan Pasta, with the exception of adding the broccoli.  I was really concerned about adding too much flour, and having a tough, play-dough-tasting gnocchi, so I added just what the recipe called for, and worked it until just combined, as recommended.  I think I maybe should have added a little more, because they ended up incredibly delicate.

Simple ingredients:  potatoes, 1 egg yolk, finely chopped broccolini heads, flour, salt and pepper to taste.  I don’t have a potato ricer, so I googled “How to make gnocchi without a potato ricer”, and the best suggestion that worked for me was using the fine side of the grater.

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Evenly divide the dough into six portions, then roll each one into little “snakes” and have your little sous chef cut up those little snakes into little squares.  He was a pretty happy sous chef.

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gnocchi collage 2

I cooked up a fresh-made portion for dinner that night, and they cooked within 60 seconds tops, and were incredibly fragile and tender, maybe a little too tender.  The extra gnocchi got to sleep overnight in the freezer, to be homemade gnocchi at my fingertips for a lunch or dinner.  The next day I tried cooking up a portion, and became googly-eyed and nearly swallowed my tongue when the frozen gnocchi pretty much dissolved into a mushy potato blob the second they hit the boiling water.  Looking back, I wish I’d have taken a photo of that, because I can laugh about it now.  I decided to try cooking the next frozen portion like I would pan-fry a shu mai dumpling, and it worked pretty well, albeit a MUCH shorter cooking time.  I quickly threw together a yellow pepper ragú for the sauce, and sprinkled with sunflower seeds, and it was pretty much AH-MAZING.

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 13{frozen gnocchi}

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POTATO-BROCCOLINI GNOCCHI

  • Servings: makes 70-80 gnocchi
  • Difficulty: medium-difficult
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Recipe directly from Making Artisan Pasta, with the addition of 3/4 cup finely chopped broccolini.  This book also explains which potatoes are better for making gnocchi and why.  I had Russets on hand, so that’s what I used; the book says Russets have denser flesh that requires less flour to thicken.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound (450g) large yellow potatoes (I used 2 large Russets)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons (6g) thinly sliced chives (optional)*
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Ground white pepper to taste
  • 1/4 pound (115g) unbleached all-purpose flour, Italian 00flour, or Korean flour (if using 00 or Korean flour, increase the amount to 5 ounces, or 140g), plus extra for rolling
  • *I omitted the chives and added 3/4 cup cooked, drained, and very finely chopped broccolini heads

DIRECTIONS

  1. Steam the potatoes in their skins, or boil them in salted water until tender but not mushy, about 40 minutes.  (Don’t peel the potatoes before boiling, as they will absorb too much water).  Drain well and cool them just long enough to be able to handle them, then peel the potatoes and put them through a potato ricer or food mill while still hot.  Chill the potatoes in the refrigerator.  (By chilling the potatoes, you will need less flour to make a dough firm enough to hold its shape when cooked.)
  2. In a large bowl or on a wooden work surface as shown, combine the potatoes with the egg yolk, chives (or finely chopped broccolini), salt, and white pepper.
  3. Form the potato mixture into a ring and place the flour in the middle.  Gently, using only your fingertips while patting and pinching, mix the flour into the potato mix to make a fairly firm mass that doesn’t stick to your fingers.
  4. Work until just combined, as if you were making a pastry dough.  The object here is to use the minimum amount of flour and to develop its gluten only enough to stick the whole thing together.  Rough handling will result in touch, gluey gnocchi.
  5. TIP:  Before shaping all the gnocchi, it’s a good idea to test 1 or 2 to make sure the dough is firm enough to hold its shape when cooked.  Try cooking a couple in salted boiling water.  if they fall apart, which usually happens toward the end of the cooking time, gently pat in an ounce or so (30g or so) of flour.
  6. Throw a little flour onto your work surface and gently roll the dough into a thick sausage shape.  using a bench scraper, or a knife with a flat blade, divide the dough into 6 portions.  Start rolling 1 portion at a time into a “snake,” starting from the center.  Use an up-and-down motion while moving your hands toward the outside.
  7. Roll each snake until it is about the thickness of your index finger and relatively uniform in diameter.  Dust each rope with flour and then roll again to even out the snakes.  Cut the dough into pillow-shaped pieces 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1 to 2 cm) long to make individual gnocchi.
  8. To cook, bring salted water to a boil in a wide, shallow pot.  Add the gnocchi, reduce heat to a light rolling boil, and cook he gnocchi until they float the the top.  Cook 2-3 minutes longer, or until the gnocchi are cooked through but still firm.  Skim them from the water using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon.  These gnocchi are too fragile to drain in a colander.  Toss gently with melted butter and grated cheese or other sauce, such as fresh tomato ad shredded basil with small cubes of fresh mozzarella, and serve immediately.
  9. NOTES: If desired, dust each piece lightly with flour and roll up from the cut edge in a C shape along the outside tines of a dinner fork to form ridged gnocchi.  Or, roll up on a ridged wooden gnocchi or garganelli board.  Set aside on a board dusted lightly with semolina or cornmeal without touching.  It is best to cook the gnocchi as soon as they are formed, as they will become sticky and soft as the flour is absorbed into the dough.  Alternatively, freeze the gnocchi.  Do not defrost before cooking.

YELLOW PEPPER RAGÚ

  • Servings: makes 1/2 cup sauce
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 carrot, diced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 cup vegetable stock (or cooking water from the gnocchi)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat to medium.  Add the yellow pepper, onion, and carrot to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and sauté until just tender, about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Pour into a blender and add the parsley and start with 1/4 cup stock/water.  Pulse until you have the desired consistency and texture.  A chunkier sauce will require less liquid; a smoother sauce needs more liquid while blending.

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Fav Red Sauce

I remember a few months ago starting to panic because I was making pizza for dinner, but had run out of red sauce from my freezer stash, and didn’t have any store-bought sauce in the pantry, and no car to go to the store.  And then I stopped dead in my tracks.  “Wait a minute!  Canned tomatoes?  Check.  Onions?  Check.  Garlic?  Check.  Herbs?  Check.  Well, then, get crackin’!”

Homemade red sauce isn’t too hard to pull together, and makes your meal so homey and warm.  It seems as though everyone has their favorite type of sauce–spicy, zippy, herby, and using their favorite herbs and spices.  This is a very basic red sauce–a great base–and if you prefer zippy or spicy, feel free to add your flare to the sauce!

If you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes, the one tip I would give is to use quality canned tomatoes.  I’ve used the on-sale-store-brand-99-cent cans, and it’s ok, but if you can splurge and get the Cento San Marzano brand, your dinner will be ah-mazing.  The Cento tomatoes are sweet and rich, not as tinny as other canned tomatoes, so your sauce will reflect that flavor.  {My husband once asked if we could just plant the San Marzano Breed of tomato in our garden.  I guess we could if we lived in Italy.  Pompeii, to be exact.  San Marzano is a region in Italy downwind from Mt. Vesuvius, so the soil has been enriched over time from volcanic eruption(s), making the tomatoes the benefiters.}   red sauce 3Let everything simmer together in the pot for 30-60 minutes, blend with an immersion blender, or a “normal” blender, and voila–everyone will think you slaved over a hot stove for ages.

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red sauce 1


BASIC RED SAUCE

  • Servings: makes 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from The Italian Dish Blog

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves, or 2-3 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot and saute onions and garlic with salt and pepper to taste until the onions are soft and translucent, about 7-10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and break up with your spoon.  Add the herbs, sugar, and half cup water, and reduce heat to low.  Let simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
  2. Puree the sauce in the pot with an immersion blender, or scoop into a blender and puree until desired consistency.

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Pumpkin Angel Hair Pasta with Kale Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Putting pesto on pasta is like pulling on a warm wool sweater in the fall.  Warm, thick, comforting.  Traditional Italian basil pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil.  There are so many different kinds of pestos out there, though–nearly every culture has a pesto-like sauce {Chimichurri?  Romesco?}  Just take a veggie (leafy greens, roasted peppers, herbs), add nuts or seeds (walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, etc.), any other flavor booster (parmesan cheese, garlic, acid, etc.), and blend.  Voila.  You have a gourmet fall time pasta at your fingertips.

In the summer, my favorite pasta meal is angel hair pasta with sautéed zucchini and lemon zest.  It is so, so fresh and bright.  I decided to fall-i-fy that dish with pumpkin angel hair pasta topped with a kale pumpkin seed pesto.  That’s right, topping pumpkin with more pumpkin.  This dish is perfectly warm, perfectly nutty, perfectly fall, perfectly pumpkin.

I used the same batch of pumpkin pasta dough as my pumpkin fettuccine.  Remember–just roast the pumpkin and add to your pasta flour mix.  If you make the full batch of pasta dough, you will end up with a couple meals–but hey, you’ve spent time and effort making homemade pasta, may as well get more than one meal out of it, right?  With these pastas, we ate the fettuccine the night I made the pasta, and I let the angel hair pasta sit on the counter (it dried and hardened), and made it for dinner two days later.

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If you’d rather use store bought pasta for a quick weeknight meal, the pesto will still carry lots of pumpkin flavor!  Seriously, for a weeknight all you’d have to do is take 8-10 minutes to boil the pasta, and spend 60-90 seconds blending the ingredients, and you’re ready to eat.  BUT if you made that full batch of pasta dough, and let one of your pastas rest for a couple days, your gourmet homemade pasta weeknight dinner will take you the same amount of time.  Less, even, because fresh pasta cooks faster than dried store bought pasta.

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Voila.  Oh, and as a side note, there are 12 grams of protein in 1 cup of pumpkin seeds.  Just in case you were wondering.

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PUMPKIN ANGEL HAIR PASTA WITH KALE PUMPKIN SEED PESTO

  • Servings: 4-6, depending on how hungry you are
  • Difficulty: super easy for the pesto, a little on the harder end for homemade pasta
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I followed Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Flour Basic Pasta Recipe, and added Roasted Pumpkin.  You can definitely break up the labor over a couple of days–roast the pumpkin one day, store in the fridge, and add it to your pasta mix within 2-4 days from roasting.  Also, I used this amount of dough to make two different pasta dinners that served two hungry adults and had a small container of leftovers the next day.  If you wish to have less, cut the ingredients in half.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE PASTA

  • 1 1/2 cups semolina flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup roasted pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced thinly

INGREDIENTS FOR THE KALE PUMPKIN SEED PESTO

  • 2 cups packed kale
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and toasted 60-90 seconds in olive oil
  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese OR nutritional yeast flakes, if you wish to keep it vegan
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • a couple shakes of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 to 1 cup olive oil
  • salt just to taste (there will be saltiness from your pasta, your salted boiling water to cook the pasta, and the parmesan cheese/nutritional yeast flakes, as well as on your sautéed zucchini–taste your pesto before adding more salt!)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the pumpkin into large chunks, skin on, cleaned of seeds, and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a cookie sheet and roast on the middle rack in the oven for at least one hour.  The pumpkin should be soft when poked with a knife or fork.  Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Mix semolina flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the center.  In the blender, mix the roasted pumpkin, eggs, water, and olive oil until blended to a smooth consistency.  Add to the semolina flour and stir together until a rough dough forms.
  3. Use all-purpose flour to cover the work surface and to add to the dough while kneading.  Dump the dough out onto the floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and soft, not sticky.  You will add up to 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour while kneading.  Once a smooth ball forms from kneading, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Press the dough through your pasta maker–a thinner pasta like angel hair or thin spaghetti will work best for this recipe.  Let the pasta dough rest on parchment paper and fill a large pot with water to boil.  The fresh pasta will take just 3-4 minutes to cook.  Drain and put back in the large pot.
  5. Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the zucchini slices, salt and pepper to taste, and saute until soft and slightly golden.
  6. Add the first 6 pesto ingredients (kale through red pepper flakes) in a blender.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to help with the blending, and pulse until the kale starts to break down and blend.  Continue to push the ingredients down with a spatula and pulse, adding olive oil in a continuous stream until you get the desired smooth consistency.  You will add between 1/2 to 1 cup of olive oil.
  7. Add the sautéed zucchini to the pasta in the pot and at least 1/4 cup pesto to start.  Stir gently and add more pesto as desired.  Serve topped with more pumpkin seeds and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast flakes.

*The pesto recipe will yield at least 1 cup of pesto.  Any extra freezes well in ice cube trays, just pour in the trays, top with a little olive oil, freeze, and pop the cubes out in a freezer bag when done.  Lasts about 4-6 months in the deep freeze.

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Pumpkin. It’s What’s For Dinner.

jarrahdale pumpkin

On with our pumpkin-y pumpkin-ness.  This beauty of a pumpkin was in a bin at the grocery store labeled “Autumn Color Pumpkins”.  I looked it up when I got home and discovered its official name is Jarrahdale.  I thought I would be confronting a pale or even white flesh, but imagine my surprise–and delight–when I cut into this pumpkin and found a glowing orange beauty of a pumpkin.

I used this medium-sized pumpkin for four separate meals, two different pastas, a pumpkin noodle dish, and a salad, so stay tuned!  I’m starting with the pastas, because wouldn’t you?!

Making your own pasta isn’t as difficult as you think.  And the results are well worth your time and effort.  I’ve tried a couple different pasta recipes, but my favorite is simply following the directions on the back of the bag from Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Flour.  When you’re adding flavors (i.e. veggies) to your pastas, the most important thing is to make sure you aren’t adding extra liquid.  Roasting is a good way to do that with the heartier vegetables–it adds a ton of flavor while slowly evaporating liquid, resulting in a sweet, creamy, flavorful, ready to eat squash.

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Only don’t dig in yet, we’re going to take it one step further!  Just blend your roasted pumpkin with eggs, water, and olive oil, and add it to your semolina mix.  Stir until it starts to form into a lumpy mass, dump it out on a floured surface, then call in your cutest sous chef to help knead your dough.

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I have dibs on mine.  When I’m making bread or pasta, he always comes running, drags his stool to the counter, and says, “Mama, I can help you mush mush mush!”  We use very technical terms in my kitchen.

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After kneading it and forming it into a ball, let it rest for 20-30 minutes, wrapped in a towel or plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out.  About the time it takes to unload the dishwasher.  Or load it.  Or both.  There always seems to be an abundance of dishes in my sink.  {Except for when my mom visits and she graciously takes on dish duty.  I actually see the bottom of my sink for more than a few hours in the afternoon.}

jarrahdale pumpkin roasted pasta 8

jarrahdale pumpkin roasted pasta 9

I normally use my KitchenAid pasta maker, but I got a new gadget I had to try out!  I cut the ball of dough in half and made both Fettuccine and Angel Hair, with the Pumpkin Fettuccine getting gourmet treatment in an Asiago Cream Sauce and topped with toasted walnuts.  Ummmm, yeah.  I’m drooling just typing this out.  Admittedly, this is vegetarian and not plant-based/vegan with the Asiago Cream Sauce, but it’s definitely worth the splurge.  {Or, if you aren’t into splurging, you could always make my Cauliflower Corn Cream Sauce, omitting the half and half.}

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PUMPKIN FETTUCCINE WITH ASIAGO CREAM SAUCE AND TOASTED WALNUTS

  • Servings: 4-6, depending on how hungry you are
  • Difficulty: on the harder end, since everything is from scratch--but well worth your Saturday afternoon
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I followed Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Flour Basic Pasta Recipe, and added Roasted Pumpkin.  You can definitely break up the labor over a couple of days–roast the pumpkin one day, store in the fridge, and add it to your pasta mix within 2-4 days from roasting.  Also, I used this amount of dough to make two different pasta dinners that served 2 hungry adults and had a small container of leftovers the next day.  If you wish to have less, cut the ingredients in half.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE PASTA

  • 1 1/2 cups semolina flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup roasted pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

INGREDIENTS FOR THE ASIAGO CREAM SAUCE

  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1 1/2 cups asiago cheese, finely grated
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the pumpkin into large chunks, skin on, cleaned of seeds, and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a cookie sheet and roast on the middle rack in the oven for at least one hour.  The pumpkin should be soft when poked with a knife or fork.  Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Mix semolina flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the center.  In the blender, mix the roasted pumpkin, eggs, water, and olive oil until blended to a smooth consistency.  Add to the semolina flour and stir together until a rough dough forms.
  3. Use all-purpose flour to cover the work surface and to add to the dough while kneading.  Dump the dough out onto the floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and soft, not sticky.  You will add up to 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour while kneading.  Once a smooth ball forms from kneading, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Press the dough through your pasta maker–a fettuccine or linguine will work best for this recipe.  Let the pasta dough rest on parchment paper and fill a large pot with water to boil.
  5. While waiting for water to boil, scald the half and half over low heat; do not let come to a boil.  When you see tiny bubbles forming around the edge of the pot, turn off the heat and add the asiago cheese and stir until smooth.  The sauce will be thin, but the noodles will  slurp up the sauce and help thicken it.  Keep the cream sauce covered and warm until you add the pasta to it.
  6. When the water comes to a boil, season the water with salt and cook the pasta for 4-5 minutes {Fresh pasta cooks much faster than store-bought dry pasta}.  After 4-5 minutes, transfer the pasta to the pot with the cream sauce and let rest, uncovered.  The pasta will continue to cook with the warmth from the cream sauce and thicken.  Serve topped with toasted walnuts.

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Classic Basil Pesto

How I ended up in Italy 3 weeks after graduating from high school is a long story.  The biggest part probably being the amazingly gracious family friends that agreed to host this lost girl who thought she would find herself amongst the cobblestoned streets and olive oil-scented air.  While the rest of my graduating class was living up the last summer of teenage “freedom” before starting college, I was working as a nanny for an Italian family in a small riverfront town.  While the mom of the family I worked for was not the typical Italian mama (no flour-dusted embrace, tomato-stained apron, hands waving “Mangia!  Mangia!” (Eat!) ), the upstairs neighbor was.  She made homemade gnocchi and pesto and tomato sauce, and brought it all down for the blonde American to taste.

I was probably the only person on earth, in Italy, who did not like olives, prosciutto, and pesto.  All that homemade green golden goodness just upstairs from me–and I took one taste of pesto and thought it was…thick.  I’m not sure how else to describe it!  It was a totally new flavor, and I simply did not like it.  Silly American.

My palate has grown up since that summer oh so many years ago, and I have to say pesto is now one of my most favorite ways to dress up any meal.  Seriously.  It’s like the little black dress of condiments…Little green dress.  You thought salmon wrapped in puff pastry was good?  Try spreading some pesto on the salmon before wrapping it up, and you can now charge your guests $10 more per plate.  Does your Minestrone soup need some zip?  Add a spoonful of pesto and your family will be shouting “Wow!” with glee.

basil pesto

Traditional basil pesto originated from Northern Italy–just basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and a little parmesan cheese all blended up.  There are so many variations of a pesto–I’m sure you could make and eat a different type every night for a year!  Any combination of vegetables, herbs, nuts, and other flavorings will blend up a fantastic sauce–kale, roasted red pepper, and sunflower seeds; parsley, sage, and walnuts; arugula, spinach, and almonds–endless little green dresses at your fingertips!

A couple of years ago I planted about 6 little basil sprouts in my garden.  They very quickly turned into basil trees.  Full-blown TREES!  I used as much as I could over the summer, and in the fall invited a couple friends over for a pesto-making party.  We chopped down those trees and blended batch after batch after batch of fresh basil pesto.  I think I froze at least 6-10 bags of frozen, cubed fresh basil pesto.  It’s a little embarrassing to say that it’s taken me two years to get down to my last bag of pesto cubes.  I know they say 6 months tops in the deep freeze, but I’ve had this pesto since the fall of 2013–and no way I’m going to throw out this green golden goodness!  Still tastes great…even in the fall of 2015.


CLASSIC BASIL PESTO

  • Servings: makes about 1 cup
  • Difficulty: super easy
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Adding a handful of fresh spinach or parsley leaves to the mix will ensure your pesto will retain its deliciously bright green hue 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves (no stems), or fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon Asiago or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine the first three ingredients and pulse until combined.  Add the next three ingredients and pulse again to mix.  With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until a smooth sauce forms.
  2. Use right away, or keep in the refrigerator in an air-tight container and use within one week of making.  Alternatively, you can freeze in cubes (put a drop or two of olive oil on top) and keep in deep freeze up to six months.

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