July 29, 2012

Orecchiette with Peas & Pesto

Laid back and playful, while still feeling refined and put together. 

I know, the description suits me perfectly. But I'm actually referring to this orecchiette pasta salad with peas and pesto. 

Orecchhiette means "little ears" because the pasta shape is like a mini dish (ears are like little satellite dishes, right?). I'd rather think of orecchiette like little dishes, or perhaps bowls, that are meant to hold all of the wonderful flavors right inside every bite. And that is exactly what this pasta shape does.

In this pasta salad, pea & parsley pesto is garnished with toasted pine nuts, freshly shaved Parmesan cheese, and of course once again, our brightly colored friend the pea in its whole form. The combination of textures and flavors is really lovely. The pine nuts lend a crunch. The Parmesan cheese is like salty, savory ribbons laced throughout. And those peas -- those wonderful little peas -- are tiny bursts of earthy goodness. They like to hide inside the orecchiette "bowls". 

 Eating this is like a delicious and addicting game of flavor hide and seek. This pasta salad brings its A-game. 

Like I said, playful, but still pretty darned classy.

Orecchiette with Peas & Pesto: makes 1 lb
1 lb orecchiette pasta, cooking water reserved
about 1 cup prepared pesto
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
salt & pepper to taste

Directions: Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, to al dente. In the last two minutes of cooking, add the peas to defrost them. Drain pasta and peas completely, reserving the cooking water. Quickly rinse with a little cold water to stop the cooking. Cool the pasta and peas in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so. 
Add pasta and peas to a large bowl. Toss with the pesto, then the pine nuts. Top with Parmesan. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve lightly chilled or at room temperature.

July 24, 2012

Summer Squash & Potato Gratin

This recipe was born to incorporate the pea & parsley pesto, but would be really delicious with any pesto variety. I wanted something rich and rustic (pesto + toasty, bubbly cheese), but still relatively healthy (cue loads of veggies).

The combination of bright summer squash and pesto, right along with hearty potatoes and cheddar, was just the right balance of light and heavy for a summer's night.

Comfort food meets summer flavors for match made in heaven!

Summer Squash & Potato Gratin: serves 2
olive oil
5 small Yukon Gold potatoes
1 small yellow squash
1 small green squash
1/2 cup pesto
1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a mandoline (or knife, carefully), very thinly slice the potatoes, yellow and green squash, to about 1/8 inch thick. Coat two small baking dishes with olive oil. Spread a tablespoon of pesto at the bottom of each. Beginning at the outside and working in toward the center of the baking dish, layer the potatoes, then zucchini, then spread a couple tablespoons of pesto and sprinkle with a small amount of cheese. Season with a little salt and pepper on each layer. Repeat evenly until all ingredients are used, finishing with pesto and more cheese on top.
Cover each baking dish with tin foil (oiled lightly with olive oil) and bake, covered 30 minutes, then uncovered for 20 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.

July 19, 2012

Pea & Parsley Pesto


Pesto is a quintessential summer puree. It's bright in both flavor and color; something that just seems a little too cheery in the winter months. Summer is pesto's time to shine. Since summer is a time to play, it seemed reasonable to play with pesto, too.

I thought, why not reinvent pesto with what I have on hand? Then I re-purposed it a couple of times over, in two recipes I will share with you later. First I wanted to share this basic recipe. Note to self: pesto is not just for basil. It can include so many other ingredients, from nuts, to herbs, to cheese, and a variety of greens. I had a bunch of parsley on hand from my potato salad making. I had a bag of peas in the freezer. I had a bit of arugula left in the salad bad. No need to waste! They can all go into the processor for a creamy, flavorful pesto.

And they did. Use the easy technique (aka: everyone get into the food processor) to whip up a pesto of your imagination. Stir it into pastas, sauces, over fish and beef, or even into eggs. See? It's that versatile.

Summer is about being flexible and relaxed; dinner included.

Pea, Parsley (& Arugula) Pesto:
2 cloves garlic
sea or kosher salt
1 cup fresh parsley
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 cup arugula
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
olive oil
1/4 a lemon, juiced and zest
more salt & pepper to taste

With the blade of the food processor running, drop in the garlic cloves and mince. Add a pinch of salt. Stop the processor, then add the parsley, peas, and arugula to the work bowl. Turn it back on, and pour in the parmesan cheese, then slowly pour in the oil until it begins to puree into a thick liquid. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest. Add more oil to thin out, if desired. Salt and pepper to taste.

July 15, 2012

Nonna's Potato Salad

Since I was a little girl, I have adored my Nonna's potato salad. Only. I have never enjoyed one bite of any store-bought potato salad I've tried in my 26 years, but put me in the vicinity of Nonna's potato salad and I'm like a rabid dog. I get blinded by my insatiable hunger for the flavors and textures. It's awkward to admit, but I have never been able to stop eating it until I feel really, over the top, uncomfortably full.

Nonna's potato salad is full of nostalgia, yes, but it's also got an addictively (did you know that's not a word? Spell check is yelling at me right now) tart and vinegary flavor. It's that zing that made me lick my bowl at as a kid, sneak spoonfuls from under the plastic wrap before it was ready to be served at family picnics as a teen (I was soooo bad), and call my Nonna twice for the recipe as a young, and now not-as-young, adult.

Nonna hasn't made this potato salad in a few years. It's not that she's not able to, but she's 90. No doubt that family members have held back their requests because they know that she would gladly tackle the labor of peeling pounds of spuds in a heartbeat.  It would be a lot to ask.

She never writes her recipes down and she's never used a recipe card to cook with, as far as I've ever seen. When I call her for a recipe it's all "a little bit of this, some of that, if you have it." That may have been why I was a little skeptical when I called her most recently for this recipe, having lost it over the years since she last recited it to me. When she explained the steps it just seemed too easy.

"Are you sure that's it?" I pressed her over the phone.
"Yes..." She hesitated. "Yes. Oh, I add a little parsley if I have it in the garden, but some people don't like it."

Later, I texted my sister:
Got recipe. It's silly simple.
Must be something missing. 
I will make it and let you know if it tastes the same or not.

Her reply:
Do you think she remembered right?

Two days later I had time to make it. I took my first bite immediately sent my sister a text:
Wish I could send you some! Tastes JUST like Nonna's.
Evidently she was right about her own recipe. 
Serves me right for doubting the master.

Nonna's Potato Salad:
3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
olive oil
apple cider vinegar
homemade mayonnaise, recipe below (or quality store bought)

finely chopped white or red onion (about 1/2 cup)
salt & pepper
chopped fresh parsley

Boil the potatoes until soft and a knife inserted goes in easily. Drain well, allowing potatoes to steam out the moisture for a few minutes. In a large bowl, add the potatoes in small batches, generously sprinkling equal parts vinegar and oil to coat for every layer of potatoes. Toss gently, allow the vinegar and oil to soak into the potatoes. Stir in mayo to desired creaminess, then stir in the onions, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with additional vinegar if desired. Chill in the fridge, or serve at room temperature.

Homemade mayonnaise: To the bowl of a food processor, add one whole egg. With the blade running, add 1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard and 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar. Keep blade running, and very slowly pour in 1 cup of vegetable oil. Salt to taste.

July 8, 2012

Watermelon & Feta Salad

It was 101 degrees yesterday! We bought a huge watermelon and it took all of my willpower not to eat the entire thing. It was simply so scrumptious -- sweet and slightly crunchy not to mention refreshing and hydrating. Transforming the watermelon into a meal was the perfect excuse to eat more of it. So I made this watermelon, feta, arugula salad with a white balsamic glaze. 

Freshly ground pepper goes surprisingly well with watermelon. Try it! In addition to the freshly ground pepper on top, the equally peppery taste of the arugula is thus a great bed for the juicy and cool watermelon. I added sliced almonds to the top for a little crunch. 

This is a really nice salad for a summer's afternoon, true, but it would be equally impressive as a first or side course if you're having guests for dinner or a cook-out. Even though it's a casual and fun salad, eating watermelon in a bowl with a fork is somehow so much more refined.... Not to mention that it also helps out those of us who dribble all over our chins, shirts, and hands while munching on slices. 
Save the delicious messes for melting ice cream cones!

Watermelon & Feta Salad with White Balsamic Glaze: serves 4
5-7 oz. of arugula (Rocket Salad)
1/2 medium sized seedless watermelon, cut into 1" cubes
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
sliced almonds (toasted, optional)
8 leaves of basil, torn or carefully chopped
freshly ground pepper

White Balsamic Glaze:
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/8 cup water
Peel of one lime

Directions: Add the vinegar, white sugar, water, and lime to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and stir constantly 5-7 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has thickened. Add more sugar or vinegar to suit your tastes. Remove from heat. Pour into a jar and cool in the refrigerator.

On each of four plates or salad bowls, layer the salad with arugula on the bottom, then top with cubes of watermelon. Sprinkle feta on top, then basil, almonds, and the freshly ground pepper. Drizzle balsamic glaze on top of each salad bowl and serve immediately.


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