Linguine with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes 1

With fall approaching peak splendor and the final bunches of herbs being picked, I find myself reflecting on the my little backyard garden.  I am  always happy for our successes but the failures nag at me.  Sometimes overshadowing the good and causing me to rethink just about every move I made. And of course there’s the cursed weather. Too much rain, not enough rain, too hot, too cool a spring. WHY CAN’T IT EVER BE PERFECT!

Last year I was lamenting our dismal crop of tomatoes (see Spice Rubbed Chicken with Fresh Tomato, Olive & Basil Salad made with tomatoes not from my garden).  This year?  COMPLETELY different story.  The tomato gods cooperated and the  produced a bumper crop!Linguine with Sun Dried Tomatoes

An interesting variety too, although I can’t remember the specific name but for about a 4-week period, the plants produced a near record amount of sweet, little Roma-shaped fruits that ended up in salads and salsas. In hopes of preserving these little gems beyond harvest time, we turned to our old, trusty Ronco Food Dehydrator and got busy.Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes 2

Seasoned with a little dried herbs and packed with extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs, these chewy tomatoes have a burst of intense tomato flavor in every bite.Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes 4

Oil packed tomatoes have countless uses but our favorite way to enjoy them is very simply with linguine, garlic and a little parsley. It’s a dish we used to cook frequently back in our downtown-Chicago-condo-no kids days. Although back then we used store bought brand oil packed dried tomatoes. And hey, nothing wrong with that! Just be sure you select a top notch brand (our favorite after much trial and error, is still California Sun-Dry Brand).

I still recommend trying your hand at drying tomatoes at home.  You will be amazed how easy it is and how even with off-season grocery store tomatoes, you can achieve fresh, intense flavor.  Having a dehydrator is handy, but your oven and a baking sheet work just as well.  Instructions for drying your own tomatoes at home come after the recipe.

Other than canning sauce this is the next best way (in my opinion) to preserve the summer tomato bounty. It was a good harvest indeed.

So what’s up next at Dinner is Served? Hint: I got out my slow cooker today 😉 Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes 3

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  • 12 ounces dried linguine pasta
  • 1 jar (about 8 oz.) oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Drain tomatoes and reserve oil. Place about 2 TBS of the reserved oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add sliced garlic and saute just until fragrant, under 1 minute (do not let the garlic brown). Add reserved tomatoes and turn heat to low. Stir to combine then turn off heat and cover pan.

In the meantime, cook linguine according to package directions until al dente. Drain pasta but do not rinse.  Add pasta and parsley to the pan with the tomatoes and the garlic, stirring to combine.  Add additional reserved oil if desired, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a meatless entree, or 4 as a side dish


~How to Make Dried Tomatoes at Home~

  • About 6 cups fresh cherry tomatoes
  • Italian seasoning blend, about 1 TBS
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Sprigs of fresh basil or thyme

Prepare the tomatoes by cutting each in half, trimming out the core in the middle. Using a paring knife, carefully scrape seeds from each tomato. Sprinkle each tomato half with some of the herb mixture and a pinch of salt.

DEHYDRATOR METHOD

Arrange tomatoes cut side up onto drying trays.Linguine with Sun Dried Tomatoes Dry for about 4-5 hours, then turn halves over and press flat with our finger or a spoon and return to drying.  Check occasionally, rotating racks and removing tomatoes that are finished.  Finished tomatoes should be dried, but still pliable and chewy.

OVEN METHOD

Preheat oven to 170°. Arrange tomato halves, cut side up on a rack set inside a sheet pan). Bake for about 10 hours, checking every couple of hours or so and flipping over if necessary. Depending size of tomatoes, they may take longer to dry.  Just make sure they are shriveled but still chewy.

Place dried tomatoes in a glass jar.   Add in a few sprigs of basil or thyme, then pour in olive oil to cover. Cover jar and store in refrigerator if not using within 24 hours.

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta Dinner Is ServedWhile I love each and every recipe that I post, I must say that the ones I create entirely in my mind, with ingredients grown in my garden are my most favorite. When I can incorporate some personal pieces into the photos, even better! In this post,  the ceramic dishes in the photos are pieces my son made in class last year and the weathered wood is a picnic table my husband made years ago.

Featured in this recipe are tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and parsley..all from my garden which has had a pretty terrific late season surge in productivity.Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta 2

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & FetaI have been making versions of this salad all summer long, but with the tomatoes and cucumbers in abundance, that seemed like a winning combination. Chickpeas add a nice texture a healthy dose of fiber:Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta 6And yes there must always be cheese! With cucumbers and mint in the dish, that says “Greek” to me, so feta was the logical choice.

The one ingredient that may throw you a bit is the farro. Trader Joe's FarroThis very ancient grain has enjoyed a renaissance here in the U.S. thanks to the focus on whole grains. It’s deliciously nutty and has a nice bite to it.  While it may not have the same kind of name recognition as “quinoa,” it’s made its way to Trader Joe’s lineup which means fame and fortune are not far behind. Note that TJ’s farro is a “quick cook” variety (ready in just 15 minutes!)  Other brands and types of farro grains may take longer.

The final element of this dish is a very simple sherry vinaigrette dressing.  If you don’t have sherry vinegar on hand, apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar are good substitutes.Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta 3

As with most grain salads, this can be made ahead and held at room temperature (without the cheese) for up to two hours.  Just toss the cheese in before serving. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for several days and make a wonderful lunch or side dish.  Finally, if you’re craving more protein than just the cheese, feel free to toss in some grilled chicken strips or shrimp or whatever you have on hand.

This one has Dinner Is Served’s name written all over it. Enjoy!

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta Dinner Is Served Cover

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta

  • 1 cup quick cooking faro
  • 1 cup diced fresh tomatoes (seeded)
  • 1 cup diced fresh cucumber (peeled and seeded)
  • 1 cup drained chick peas (aka garbanzo beans)
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 TBS chopped fresh mint
  • 2 TBS sherry vinegar
  • 6 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper

Cook farro according to package directions (for Trader Joe’s brand, simmer in 2 cups lightly salted water, covered, for ten minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Drain excess water).

After farro has cooked, place on a sheet pan or in a large bowl to cool down to room temperature.  While farro is cooling, make sherry vinaigrette by whisking sherry vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. Season with a little salt and pepper and set aside.

Combine the farro with the tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, chick peas, fresh herbs and feta cheese (if serving right away). Toss gently.  Drizzle just enough of the dressing to flavor the salad but not drown it.  Add additional salt and pepper if desired.

Yields: About 3 people as a meatless main, 4-5 as a side dish

Farmers Market Penne Pasta with Grilled Vegetables, Blue Cheese & Basil

Farmers Market Penne Pasta with Grilled Vegetables, Blue Cheese & Basil| Dinner Is Served

Ahhh sweet corn season is upon us. FINALLY!  And the little cherry tomatoes in my garden are just coming ripe.  The basil is flourishing.  Those of us who suffer through long winters with tasteless produce flown in from far away lands, well we LIVE for the summer bounty.

I am forever looking for creative ways to combine my farm finds.  Many of my meals this time of year consist of an  impromptu combination of vegetables, fruits and fresh herbs.  Often grilled. Sometimes roasted or raw.  Combined with grains or various cheeses and herbs. Salads become crazy concoctions of fruit and greens.  Toss out the measuring cups and recipes kind of cooking.

This pasta dish started with some of the sweet corn we brought home from Wisconsin last weekend.
Farmers Market Grilled Vegetable Pasta 1Farners Market Grilled Vegetable Pasta 2Freshly shucked. A blank slate as it were. With nothing immediate coming to mind, I decided to rummage around the fridge.   Ah ha!  Some cute little sweet peppers. Both perfect for the grill. Now I was getting somewhere.  A few little cherry tomatoes from my garden would add some color and freshness. Some blue cheese the spouse picked up from our local French Market.  Well yeah, I think that would work!  The dish was coming together nicely. Just needed to add a bit of carb and finish it off with fresh basil from my garden.Farmers Pasta 5

The prep here is so easy.  Just brush the peppers and corn with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Medium heat works well for veggies on the grill but careful monitoring and frequent turning and checking for hot spots is always a good plan.Farmers Market Grilled Vegetable Pasta 3

Once the vegetables are nicely charred. Let them rest a bit to cool, then chop the peppers and cut the kernels off the corn. The rest is a piece of cake except that cake baking is hard and this is not!  Just toss with some cooked pasta, fresh tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese (or another cheese of your choice) and slivered basil.  I like to finish my pasta with a simple drizzle of olive oil and serve warm or at room temp. If you happen to have some basil-infused olive oil on hand, all the better.

As for substitutions?  You bet!  You can substitute or add almost any fresh summer vegetable to this dish.  Summer squashes, eggplant and onions would be great additions/substitutions.  Larger tomatoes can also be charred on the grill and added.  If you want to go the meat route, some sliced grilled chicken goes well with this pasta. As does a nice glass of chardonnay.Farmers Pasta 3

Enjoy summer in all its glory.  Even if your meals end up a little crazy :pFarmers Market Pasta with Grilled Vegetables Cover 2

Farmers Market Penne Pasta with Grilled Vegetables Blue Cheese & Basil

  • 8 oz. dried penne pasta (regular or whole wheat)
  • 4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
  • 2 cups of mini sweet peppers
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup slivered fresh basil
  • Extra virgin olive oil (or basil-infused olive oil)
  • Kosher salt and coarse ground pepper to taste

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium.  Lightly brush all sides of corn and peppers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place on grill and cook until charred, checking frequently and turning as necessary.  Remove from grill and let cool to room temperature.

In the meantime, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss with a few drops of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Cut the stems off of the peppers and chop (no need to seed the mini peppers).  Using a chef knife, carefully cut the kernels away from the corn.  Combine with the pasta then add the tomatoes.

Add the blue cheese, then swirl in a little olive oil just to coat and flavor the ingredients.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with slivered basil.  May be served warm or at room temperature.  Refrigerate leftovers for a wonderful pasta salad the next day!

Serves 2-3 as a meal or about 4 as a side dish.

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 1Wasn’t it just last week that I was commenting to someone how mild our winter has been thus far in the Chicago area? Well apparently I neglected to knock on wood because today we are MORE than making up for our snowfall deficit with the “Superbowl of Snowstorms.”  I have officially declared it an “all pajama day” at our house, along with getting the fireplace going and of course the game later on.

Days like this also call for hearty and comforting soups, like this Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup, a recipe passed on to me a few years back by my sister. I actually made this soup earlier last week and it’s the perfect thing to make for a crazy busy work week.  Just prep some onions/carrots/celery the night before: Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 3

The next morning, into the slow cooker it goes with some chicken stock (I use my Smitten Kitchen Slow Cooker “Uncluttered Chicken Stock” which I always have on hand in the freezer). For a true vegetarian version simply substitute vegetable stock. Add a can of tomatoes:

IMAG0973Some beans of your choice (I used Great Northern Beans this time around) And of course the secret ingredient for any minestrone soup: a Parmesan rind.  Low and behold, look what they carry at my most awesome grocery store, Mariano’s: Parmesan rinds!

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Into the slow cooker it all goes and simmers away for a good 8 hours (on low)

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup| Dinner Is ServedThen about thirty minutes prior to serving, stir in some chopped zucchini, spinach and al dente ditalini pasta.Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 2

As for my snow day today, I’ll be cooking up a big batch of my favorite Andouille Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya, enjoying the winter wonderland, some football and later, a glass or two of red wine by the fire.

Winter Wonderland 2015

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

5-6 cups homemade chicken stock (or reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth)

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can beans (either Great Northern, Cannellini, Kidney or Chick Peas), drained and rinsed

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 cup onion, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

1 Parmesan cheese rind

Salt and ground black pepper

2 cups slightly undercooked (al dente)  ditalini pasta

1 medium zucchini, chopped

2 cups fresh baby spinach

Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving

  •  In a slow cooker, combine 5 cups broth, tomatoes, beans, carrots, celery, onion, oregano, basil, thyme, Parmesan rind, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.
  • Thirty minutes before the soup is done cooking, add ditalini, zucchini and spinach. Cover and cook 30 more minutes. Add additional cup of chicken stock if soup is too thick. Remove bay leaves and Parmesan rind and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle parmesan cheese over top.

Serves 6-8

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 4

 

Lemon Orzo Pasta with Spinach, Walnuts and Feta Cheese

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~ Necessity is the mother of invention ~

                                        English proverb

 I honestly think this is how most recipes are created.  The fridge is near empty, save for a mish mash of leftovers. There’s a half empty box of pasta in the pantry and a container of ricotta cheese that is approaching its expiration date.  And those two remaining semi-stale hot dog buns?  Well yes of course those can be tossed into the food processor and turned into bread crumbs!  Bottom line:  your family is starving and food must appear soon or else.

Then in one magical moment, out of chaos, these ingredients come together into something splendid and behold, a recipe is born.

And so it came to be last month when all I had in my refrigerator were some ingredients leftover from a spinach salad I had prepared for New Years Eve (spinach, toasted walnuts and feta cheese) and a box of Barilla Orzo pasta.  Keep in mind these ingredients happen to fall into that category of “things I could eat every day forever and be completely happy.”

Lemon Orzo Pasta with Walnuts, Spinach and Feta Cheese | Dinner Is Served

All it needed was a touch of garlic and a splash of lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil at the end to complete. The flavor and texture combination: amazing.   The possibilities: endless.  Serve as a hearty, meatless entree or if you’re in the mood or some protein, serve as a side with grilled chicken or top with some sauteed shrimp.  Leftovers taste great chilled for lunch.

This, to me, is what cooking is all about: working with fresh ingredients, creating, reinventing. If necessity is the mother of invention, then necessity is indeed a very good thing.

Lemon Orzo with Spinach, Walnuts and Feta Cheese | Dinner Is Served

Lemon Orzo Pasta with Spinach, Walnuts and Feta Cheese

1 cup Barilla Orzo pasta

5 cups baby spinach, lightly packed

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (see Note>)

2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 TBS extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

1 tsp fresh lemon zest

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

  •  Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add Barilla orzo pasta and cook until just al dente per directions; drain pasta and set aside.
  • Heat 1 TBS olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute approximately 30 seconds until fragrant. Add spinach and a pinch of salt.  Toss gently with tongs until spinach is just starting to wilt, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Return orzo to the pan.  Stir in walnuts and then feta cheese.  Add some additional salt if necessary and a few grinds of black pepper.  Toss gently to coat.  Then just before serving, drizzle a little olive oil over and sprinkle with lemon zest.  Give it one more toss then serve.

Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side

Note> For the freshest nuts, try the bulk section of your grocery store. You can buy just as much as you need, save some money and chances are they are infinitely fresher than the packaged nuts in the baking section.

Lemon Orzo Pasta with Spinach, Walnuts and Feta Cheese | Dinner Is Served

 

 

 

 

Pesto Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Pesto Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Gardens are funny things.  You check in on them every day (as you should), making note of what needs to be pruned, fertilized, or various weeds that threaten to take over.  And then one day out of nowhere, you’ll notice that HOLY COW…you suddenly have an abundance of something and you need to use it immediately!  Anyone who has grown cherry tomatoes or zucchini know this phenomenon well.

Such was the case with my sweet basil this year.  It took off in the blink of an eye.  Mind you, I am not complaining one bit.

Sweet Baril

The obvious comes to mind of course: pesto.  But  I’ve already give you: Ultimate Basil Pesto.  I’ve also done a very awesome Grilled Pesto Chicken and Tomatoes.   Are you tired of pesto yet?  Yep, I thought not.  So let’s go another round, this time with roasted potatoes.  Specifically, some very fun and colorful ones like this:

Fingerling Potatoes

Roasted initially with a little olive oil, salt and pepper:

Roasted FIngerling Potatoes with Pesto | Dinner Is ServedWhile the potatoes are roasting, just throw together a very simple pesto sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, shallots and olive oil (no pricey $$$ pine nuts in this recipe):

Pesto Roasted Fingerling Potatoes | Dinner Is Served

Which, when combined, look like this:

Pesto Roasted Fingerling Potatoes | Dinner Is Served

Can we pause a minute to admire the glory that is basil pesto? ——– Ahhhh.   So anyway, after an initial roasting, the potatoes are tossed with this piquant mixture then roasted a bit more.  Your kitchen will smell like heaven on earth at this point.  Just sayin.   Then just before serving, the final touch of awesomeness: some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano:

Pesto Roasted FIngerling Potatoes | Dinner Is Served.

 If you’re wondering whether you have to use multi-colored fingerling potatoes for this recipe, the answer is a resounding “no”!  You can use anything you have or like, although I do happen to think that thin-skinned potatoes are the real ticket to success with this kind of roasting.  As for things to serve with this dish, the possibilities are endless.  Basically whatever comes off your grill this summer (steaks, beer can chicken, sausages, ribs…) will go will be happy sharing a plate with these savory spuds.

One final note before I get to the recipe, which I promise I will do.  Try making them ahead of time, reserving a little of the pesto.  Just before serving, toss with the reserved pesto and parmesan cheese.  So simple and delicious!

PESTO ROASTED FINGERLING POTATOES

5 TBS olive oil

2/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1 large or 2 medium shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 large or 3  medium garlic cloves, peeled

Nonstick vegetable oil spray or nonstick aluminum foil

2 1/2 # fingerling potatoes, scrubbed

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Blend 2 1/2 TBS olive oil, basil, shallots, and garlic in a food processor until smooth.  Season pesto to taste with salt and pepper (can be made up to a day in advance.  Cover and refrigerate).

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick spray or line with nonstick foil.  Toss the potatoes with remaining 2 1/2 TBS olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl to coat.  Transfer to prepared baking sheet.  Roast potatoes until almost tender, about 35 minutes.  Pour pesto over potatoes and toss to coat.  Continue roasting potatoes until golden brown and tender, about 15-20 minutes longer.

Transfer potatoes to a serving bowl.  Add cheese and toss.

Serves 6

Fresh No-Cook Tomato Sauce with Garlic, Basil & Oregano

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Gazpacho, BLT’s, Caprese Salad (many times over) and salsa.  You name it, I’ve made it these past few weeks.  Not complaining one single bit either.  When it rains fresh garden tomatoes, it pours and I love it all, including this bright and beautiful no-cook sauce that brings summer right to your dinner table.

I served this last night over whole wheat linguine, but it is also at home atop sliced toasted baguettes, grilled chicken, polenta or spooned over your Sunday morning omelette.   How about a few added bonuses here:  no simmering over a hot stove, very little fat and calories and a generous dose of raw garlic, which recent studies have shown to be very beneficial.  Do I dare use the “h” word?  Indeed!  It’s HEALTHY!

If you’re wondering whether you HAVE to peel the tomatoes, the answer is “yes.”  Peeled tomatoes make this more of a sauce and less of a salsa, if that makes any sense.  I also love the added dimension the fresh oregano adds.  If you don’t have any on hand, no worries, it will be just as flavorful.  And speaking of flavor, this sauce tastes extra amazing if you let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so before serving.  It also keeps well in the refrigerator (just bring back to room temperature before serving)

Wishing everyone a happy September harvest!

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Fresh No-Cook Tomato Sauce with Garlic, Basil & Oregano

About 2# ripe tomatoes, any variety

1/4 cup chopped scallions

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1 TBS chopped fresh oregano

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 TBS extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

Place tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds.  Remove with slotted spoon and immediately place in a bowl of cold water to stop cooking.  As soon as tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skin, then remove the core and as many of the seeds as possible.  Dice pulp and place in a bowl and toss with the olive oil (you should have about 2 cups of chopped tomatoes).  Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Can be made up to two hours in advance and left at room temperature.  If made a day ahead, store, covered, in refrigerator.  Bring back to room temperature before serving.

Yield: 2 cups of sauce

Broccoli and Red Pepper Cheddar Chowder

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Spring has pretty much been a bust here in Chicago, although I can feel dagger eyes from people living in Colorado, Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.  Yes, I know I really shouldn’t complain too much, but still.  It’s May and I’m still throwing on my parka to fetch the morning paper. Grrr!

These days of “not quite winter but almost summer” can also be a bit conflicting from a food point of view.  Tired of stews and heavy casseroles, but hard to muster any excitement for the grill.  Traditional spring delicacies like fiddlehead ferns, ramps and morels are scarce, unless you happen to own a high end restaurant.  So for now I’m just going to settle for a bowl of this amazingly delicious soup that satisfies both my need for something a little warm and yet a little fresh and green.

It’s just about the easiest thing in the world to make, and I will bet you that even the little ones in your home will enjoy this (especially if you go with Option 2 and puree the entire soup).

Go figure, in the time it’s taken me to write this post, the sun has come out and the temperature has climbed to a balmy 70°.  Hiya Spring, what took you so long to get here?

Spring Collage

Broccoli and Red Pepper Cheddar Chowder

1 small bunch broccoli (about 1/2 a pound)

1 large or a few medium boiling potatoes (about 1/2 a pound total), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 TBS butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 TBS all-purpose flour

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese plus more for garnish

1 TBS Savory Spice Smoky Hills Cheese Powder or Penzey’s Sicilian Salad Seasoning blend (optional)

Cut off broccoli stems and discard lower third of stems. Peel stems and finely chop. Cut remaining broccoli into 1-inch florets.

Bring approximately 3-4 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 TBS salt. Blanch florets for about 2-3 minutes until just tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer broccoli to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Transfer 3 cups of the cooking liquid to a glass measuring jar and set aside. Drain florets and place on a paper towel to soak up any excess liquid; set aside.

Melt butter in a 4 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add potato, onions, bell pepper, broccoli stems and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add cumin, mustard, salt and pepper and continue to cook for about 1 minute.  Add flour and cook, stirring occasionally, for an additional 2 minutes.  Pour in reserved cooking liquid, stir and partially cover.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Reduce heat to low.  Add cream, grated cheese and optional cheese powder.  Stir over low heat until cheese is melted, then adjust seasonings.

Option 1) Remove 2 cups of soup and puree in blender.  Return to pot, add reserved broccoli florets, stirring for a minute or to to reheat. Serve with additional grated cheddar cheese.

Option 2) Puree entire contents of soup until smooth. Return to pot, add reserved broccoli florets, stirring for a minute or two to reheat. Serve with additional grated cheddar cheese.

Serves 4

Cream of Leek and Parsnip Soup with Sherry and Thyme

IMG_2664I am sure feeling the love today, I tell you.  So much so that I’m going to defy my own rules and add a little heart symbol thingie to this post ♥   Who knew that parsnips and leeks could bring such joy to one’s soul and yet here they are, simmered gently with a splash of sherry and infused with fresh thyme.  All pureed into a velvety, silken soup.

Here’s how much I love this soup: If Julia Child, James Beard, Thomas Keller, the President and the Pope (past or future one) were all coming over to dinner, I would serve them this soup as a first course!  Yes, it is that good.

I am also overjoyed that I remembered I have a set of these very lovely soup bowls.  Such an elegant soup deserves an equally elegant bowl, don’t you think?  Finally I am loving the fact I was able to use my real-deal Canon 35mm camera to take this photo.  One of these days, I will share with you my food photography frustrations, which are many.

But not today, because today is all about love and joy and this heavenly soup, my bowls and my halfway decent photograph and of course little heart symbols ♥

Cream of Leek and Parsnip Soup with Sherry and Thyme

For the croutons:
1/3 cup olive oil
3 or 4 slices of  dense, white sandwich bread (such as Pepperidge Farm), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
For the soup:
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (from 2 to 3 large leeks), rinsed and drained
1 tsp. coarse salt; more to taste
1 lb. parsnips, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup dry sherry (fino) or dry white wine
6 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 small bay leaves, broken in half
1/2 tsp. white peppercorns, lightly crushed (or a pinch of ground white pepper)
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 – 2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme, for garnish

Make the croutons: Heat the 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and fry, tossing and stirring, until crisp and golden on all sides. Drain on paper towels, and do not start nibbling on them because you won’t be able to stop and then you’ll have none left for the soup!

Make the soup: Heat the 2 Tbs. oil in a wide soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, season lightly with salt, and cook gently until the leeks have softened and just begin to turn golden, 8 to 10 min. Add the parsnips and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips are fragrant, about 2 min. Add the sherry, increase the heat to medium high, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the broth. Tie the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and peppercorns together in a cheesecloth sachet and toss it into the pot. Partially cover the pot, bring to a boil, immediately lower the heat, and simmer partially covered until the parsnips are soft enough to mash against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon, about 30-40 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 min. Discard the sachet. Using a stand or hand blender, purée the soup in batches, being sure to combine a mix of broth and solids in each batch. If you’re using a stand blender, fill it no more than two-thirds full and be sure to vent the blender so the top doesn’t pop off (either remove the lid’s pop-out center or lift one edge of the lid and drape with a clean towel). Rinse the soup pot, return the blended soup to the pot, taste, and adjust the seasonings. If you’re using the cream, add it now (if you’re making the soup ahead, wait to add the cream until you reheat the soup just before serving). Garnish each bowl with croutons and a pinch of fresh thyme.

Serves 3-4 as a main course or 6 as a first course

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Ultimate Basil Pesto

A couple of things about pesto:

  • Basil pesto is one of my all time favorite things in the whole world.  I could eat it by the spoonful, although I prefer to spoon generous amounts of it over pasta.
  • Homemade pesto is better than store-bought (although I’ve tasted a few brands that come close)
  • Pesto is one of the easiest things to make….ever.
  • Unless you like serious manual labor via a mortar and pestle,  you really should own a food processor to make this.
  • Pesto keeps in the fridge for weeks (with a thin layer of olive oil over the top) or better yet, frozen in cubes or small zipper plastic bags.
  • Pesto can be expensive to make, especially if you are using good quality EVOO, Parmigiana-Reggiano.  And pine nuts, well there’s just no way around it, they’re not cheap!  Having fresh basil in your garden can save you a little money.  Just keep in mind that you use it sparingly.  Two cups of pesto will go a long long way.
  • Feel free to substitute walnuts for the pine nuts.  In fact the recipe on which mine is based calls for walnuts.  I find them to be a bit too prominent, so I have substituted pine nuts.

I could continue, but I’m sensing you would rather just get on to the recipe.  Also, I need to get moving and pack for our “final hurrah” at the lake house.  Bidding you adieu and happy cooking!

Ultimate Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves

4 medium-size cloves garlic, chopped

½ cup pine nuts

1 cup best-quality olive oil

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (preferably imported)

¼ cup grated Romano or Asiago cheese

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste

Process the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor until finely chopped.  With the machine running, pour in the oil in a thin, steady stream.

Add the cheeses, a big pinch of salt and a liberal grinding of pepper.  Process briefly to combine.  If not using immediately, place in a container and cover with a very thin layer of olive oil.  Cover and refrigerate.  For freezing, place in quart-size zip-close bags (be sure to squeeze out all the air).  Or…alternatively, make a big batch and freeze in ice cube trays.  Transfer frozen pesto cubes to a freezer-grade zip-close bag and store in freezer until ready to use.

Yields:  2 cups (enough to coat 2 pounds of pasta)