Pesto Change-O

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Today is August 1. In the earth based religions, today is Lammas, the first harvest at the height of summer.* Herbs and tomatoes reach their peak right about now. If you’re looking for a great way to use them,  something suitable for a feast, or just want something yummy on your pasta, fish, chicken, scrambled eggs, or bruschetta, try pesto.

“Pesto” means “pounded.” It’s a close relative to “pestle” as in “mortar and…” Once upon a time before food processors and blenders the cook put the herbs, nuts, cheese, and oil into a mortar and pounded away until they created a paste-like substance. Now it’s just a matter of loading everything into a food processor and pressing a button.

My food processor’s been busy this summer thanks to the productivity of the basil, enabling me to make several batches already. I use Patricia Wells’ pistou formula from her book Bistro Cooking  as a blueprint:

2 cups basil leaves, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 3 large garlic cloves cut in half, 1/2 cup Parmesan. Put everything in the food processor, pulse it a couple of times to get the party started, and let it rip until it makes a paste.

This is classic pesto, or pistou in French. If you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, feel free to improvise. Since pine nuts involve a trip to the Italian market and run on the exorbitant side, I use almond meal or walnuts. No basil? No problem. Try cilantro. Or (I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud) kale. Yes, kale. The chef at my favorite lunch/tea/coffee makes pesto with it. He uses it on flatbreads and in his grilled cheese sandwiches. It plays nicely with its colleagues (read: not bitter and stringy ) in that application.

If you want to do something different, try pesto Trapenese. It includes tomatoes for a Sicilian spin. I haven’t tried it myself, but might just be giving this variation courtesy of Lidia Bastianich a try very soon.

With a basic formula and seasonal ingredients, the pesto-bilities are endless. (Well, someone had to say it…)

 

 

 

*For readers celebrating Lammas, brightest of bright blessings from me and Oakley. May this be a day of abundance and joy for you and whomever joins your celebration.

 

 

Noodles, Please

 I just had Indonesian peanut noodles for lunch. Yum.

Noodles have been around for about 5000 years. As are many other food products, they came into being in China and spread through the trade routes to Europe and India. While the story goes that Marco Polo brought them back to Venice in the 1200’s, some forms of pasta already existed in the southern parts of Italy. The shapes that we know today came into existence in the 1600’s.

Heaven She knows I love my pasta and broccoli, and She also knows that I will choose noodles over rice when possible in Asian recipes. It’s a question of texture and flavor. Noodles provide soft ambient music for your dining pleasure; rice in either brown or white form is white noise, a filler and there merely to absorb the sauce or juices. Noodles are pleasantly chewy. Rice in its whole form is just rice, except when fried. 

Lucky for me and other people with gluten and wheat problems, noodles can be made with rice, corn, chickpea, buckwheat, or black bean flour. I like rice flour-based ones for everyday consumption. Yes, you caught me. I still sneak in wheat pasta here and there maybe once a week.

Today’s lunch was procured from a takeout place specializing in noodles. My third trip to the dentist in a week (nothing alarming–cleaning, repair of small chips in my front teeth before they grew large, and a new bite guard to wear at night since I ground holes in the other one) warranted a treat. I had the Indonesian peanut noodles; Hubby had Japanese pan noodles. Delicious, but made with wheat-based udon. 

We both are happy, though. Noodles just have a way of doing that.

Pasta con Broccoli, Por Favore

Are you acquainted with MHz? It’s a less well known public broadcasting network that we discovered by the grace of our converter box. Most nights find Hubby and me watching their “International Mystery” rather than the offerings on network TV. One night viewers might find a procedural from Germany or a walk on humanity’s dark side from Sweden; another a look at cultural clashes through the eyes of an Australian police officer.  

This winter’s salvation arrived in the form of Saturday afternoons with our favorite detective, “Inspector Montalbano.” In addition to catching the culprit, Salvo and the gang from Vigata have likely kept us from wandering off into the swirling whiteness engulfing the fields around our house throughout this too-long too-drawn out winter. Here’s a taste in the form of a promo from a couple of seasons ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js74ASrRbxM. 

While solving the murder offers plenty of twists and turns, there are some guarantees for each episode: Salvo will get into an argument with Livia, his longterm lady friend, and throw a cordless phone; Catarella, the officer who handles the phones, will irritate Salvo at least once and mispronounce someone’s name ; and Salvo will enjoy his food. One of his favorites is pasta and broccoli.

It’s become one of my favorites, too. Easy to make and on the table in less than 30 minutes. Pour some good olive oil into a small pan and slice in lots of garlic. I use anywhere from three to five cloves depending on size and my attention span. Add a good shake of red pepper flakes. Place over a low flame and gently heat until the aroma of garlic fills the room. Don’t let the garlic get brown. Now, fill your favorite pasta pot with salted water and broccoli. The florets of one stalk usually do it for the two of us. Bring to a boil, and then add the pasta. I’ve been using brown rice fettuccini. Takes about ten minutes to cook. When done, drain and pour the lovely garlic oil over it, grate Parmesan or asiago on top of it, and you really won’t care what the weather is doing.

Unless the electricity goes out and you can’t watch Salvo and company. You’ll still have a lovely bowl of pasta, but it’s just not right without the music, the scenery, and the humor of daily life in Sicily. 

 

 

 

Peore es Nada

That’s a Spanish phrase that has two translations: “anything is better” or “nothing is worse.” I don’t know if I spelled it correctly and apologies if I didn’t. 

In this case, let us contemplate the implications pertaining to low carb/low glycemic diets and gluten free products. Perhaps in those cases, the question is one of “better than nothing.” There is a lot of “nothing is worse.” 

I’ve tried several breads that were dry and crumbly. Right now, I’m avoiding desserts just to remove the stress of living with temptation. The rice pastas have been pretty good, but one fell apart when I cooked it according to the package directions. The good news is that a Parmesan covers a lot of errors. 

One gluten-free bread that I found at Costco was pretty good. It has sunflower seeds on top, toasts pretty well, and doesn’t crumble if you look at it sideways. I also made almond bread from nut butter.( http://www.elanaspantry.com/rochels-cashew-bread/ only subbing almond butter for the cashew butter.)  The recipe sounded as if there was no way in this world or the next that it was going to work, but I thought, “what the heck?” and tried it.  It was a wee bit on the dry side, but fine for sweet or savory applications.

Pizza I can’t live without. Many of the low carb and or gluten free crusts are impossible to handle, taste like cardboard, or both. I found a good one here: http://detoxinista.com/2012/01/the-secret-to-perfect-cauliflower-pizza-crust/. It tastes nothing like cauliflower. I promise. I throw in some chopped garlic cloves with the cauliflower while cooking and mix the whole schmeer in the food processor. It is good. I could see making this as smaller flatbreads and using for wraps, even. 

The other issue with gluten free food is cost. The rice pasta isn’t bad, but some of the others such as an almond-flour one that I saw the other day are through the roof ($9 for nine ounces; REALLY?). I’d rather do a plate of wheat pasta once a week or so than pay that kind of money. 

Experiment; use coupons; ask. It’s the only way that you’ll find out if nothing is worse of if anything is better.