Thursday, September 7, 2023

It's  PESTO!

Basil is my favorite summer herb and this post is devoted to this wonderfully aromatic and versatile culinary herb.  A member of the mint family, Ocimum basilicum, is highly fragrant, with a taste balancing between sweet and savory and with distinctive tones of mint, anise, and pepper. 


 I’m starting off with making a big batch of pesto and then offering suggestions for different applications of this verdant, herbaceous mixture.  Typically, pesto is a coarse sauce of crushed basil leaves, garlic, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and pine nuts, generally served with pasta;  however, Rosie, being atypical, is making hers with pecans instead of pine nuts and she’s serving it on more than just pasta. 

 A few caveats about pesto:

·         Get a good quality Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, not just “Parmesan” cheese.  There is a difference.  For a cheese to be labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” it must come from certain regions of Italy, notably the neighboring regions of Parma and Reggio in northern Italy, and it must adhere to strict requirements.   Laws govern the origin of ingredients and the method of production, with regulations including what the milk-producing, happy, pampered cows eat (only fragrant and flavorful wild grasses, no silage allowed) to the aging process itself.  These laws of the Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium exist to preserve traditional methods of production and to ensure consistency from product to product.  Look for Italy’s official label of Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP or Protected Designation of Origin) stamped on the cheese.  “Parmesan” can come from anywhere and is an imitation.  It’s the mass-produced, bastard American cousin and no rules apply.   If you’re thinking about using the stuff in the green can, please remove yourself from the kitchen.

·         Since the predominant tastes here are fresh basil and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, I’m going with a fairly neutral olive oil, one whose flavor does not compete with the basil and cheese.  My standby neutral olive oil is Bertolli Extra Light.

·         Instead of the traditional pine nuts, I’m using pecans because I think they taste so much better.

·         Leftover pesto freezes very well.  You can freeze in ice cube trays (Does anyone have ice cube trays anymore?), then pop into freezer bags, or you can place plops on plastic wrap and freeze individual servings in freezer bags.

 For the pesto:

 1 packed quart basil leaves
5 cloves garlic
1 cup pecans
1 heaping cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 ¼ cup neutral flavored olive oil (I use Bertolli Extra Light.)
½ tsp kosher salt, or to taste

 In a processor, pulse basil, garlic, and pecans until finely chopped.  Slowly drizzle in olive oil, processing until completely mixed. Pulse in cheese.  Salt to taste.

 For storing, I cover with a thin layer of oil and press plastic wrap over top before sealing container.  Keeping the air out keeps it fresh and green.  After 3-4 days in fridge, freeze it.


Pasta with pesto is a lovely combination.  Use a pasta shape that catches the sauce.  Pesto clings best to pastas that have grooves, ridges, curls, spirals, and twists like corkscrews.  I recommend a pasta like rotini or fusilli.  Cook pasta according to directions, drain, and then spoon in pesto, tossing to coat evenly, filling in all those nooks and crannies.

Now, you find yourself with a big batch of pesto.
What else can you do with it?


 Pesto’s not just for pasta.  Be creative.


 Instead of your basic BLT, embellish it with pesto.










 It’s a perfect condiment to enhance an already delectable combination.


 Another favorite pesto fusion is pesto pizza.

Basic pizza dough.
I like pepper on it.

Slather on some pesto.

Add sliced tomatoes and ricotta cheese.

 Top with mozzarella.




 Bake until golden brown.




Take basic pizza dough (I used homemade, but you can use store bought in a pinch.), slather pesto sauce over the dough, add sliced tomatoes, plop ricotta cheese on top, then cover the whole with grated mozzarella.  Bake at 450° about 10 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and golden brown.

  For a delightful appetizer or light dessert, try strawberries and watermelon together with pesto:


For simplicity itself, pair a cube of watermelon with a slice of strawberry and top with a dab of pesto.









 If you want to take it to the next level, try dribbling on a balsamic vinegar reduction. 

 Mix  ½  cup good quality balsamic vinegar  with 2 TB brown sugar.  Heat in a small saucepan over very low heat until thickened and reduced by almost half.  Drizzle the glaze over the strawberries.

Another use for the balsamic reduction is in a classic Caprese Salad:














 Tomatoes from the garden at their peak of flavor, fresh mozzarella pearls, basil leaves, a dab of pesto, and a drizzling of an excellent, fruity extra virgin olive oil along with the balsamic glaze all make for a lovely Italian salad.

 While you've got that balsamic reduction, let me tell you about one of the absolute best ways to use it -
with fresh strawberries.  
Now the idea of vinegar and strawberries might seem a tad "off" to you, but you gotta try this.  Particularly if you get a batch of strawberries from the store and you find out they're just not quite ripe enough.  The balsamic reduction will do wonders for them.  If you don't want to bother with reducing the vinegar, just sprinkle some sugar and drizzle the balsamic vinegar on top of sliced strawberries.  
It's wonderful!













Sunday, August 20, 2023

Foolproof Fudge.

Sometimes I have an itch for chocolate and I just have to scratch it.
Here's my scratch:

This is the easiest, simplest fudge recipe ever.  And it's foolproof.



  • 3 cups combination semisweet chocolate chips and bittersweet chocolate chips
    (You could use one or the other, but I like using the combination.)

  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

    Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl set over simmering water.
    Let melt, stirring occasionally.
    Line a buttered 8 x 8-inch pan with buttered parchment paper and pour melted chocolate mixture into pan.  If you like, press pecan halves where each fudge slice will be or you can crush pecans and cover the whole top with nuts.  Refrigerate several hours until set.  Cut into pieces.


Thursday, August 10, 2023

Seared Scallops With A Strawberry And Blood Orange Gastrique.












Today, I’m taking my favorite bivalve mollusks – sea scallops - and pan-searing them in a combination of butter and oil and then accenting them with a basic gastrique sauce.  A gastrique is simply a sweet and sour sauce, starring some sort of fruit (or fruits), tweaked with sugar, and balanced out with a vinegar.  I’m using strawberries and blood oranges for the fruits and a good quality balsamic vinegar for the tartness to complement.


The scallops are only going to take a few minutes to cook, so it’s important to have any side dishes prepared and ready to serve.  I have a few suggestions for accompaniments - asparagus and pistachios, a simple condiment of diced cucumbers and red onions, accented with fresh basil, and also wild rice enhanced with orange zest to subtly echo the orange in the gastrique.


Let’s start with making the gastrique.  As I said, a gastrique is a sweet and sour sauce, slightly thickened, with the sweetness typically coming from fruit and sugar and the sour from vinegar.  The beauty of a gastrique is in its versatility – you can experiment with different fruits and vinegars and create limitless flavor variations to pair with all types of meats – from delicate seafoods and chicken to more robust meats like pork and beef.  For my gastrique to complement the scallops, I’m using strawberries and blood oranges for my fruits along with a balsamic vinegar.  Balsamic vinegars can vary in quality and price and some are even  labeled “balsamic” but aren’t true balsamic vinegars.  Don’t go with a cheap, knock-off balsamic vinegar, which would be comparable to using “Parmesan” from the green can instead of a true Parmegiano Reggiano cheese.  When looking for a good balsamic vinegar, you might want to visit a market that lets you taste test before buying. 


Rosie Note:  Authentic balsamic vinegars are made from grapes harvested only in the Reggio Emilia or Modena regions of Italy.  The production of traditional balsamic vinegars is tightly defined and highly regulated, the entirety of which is overseen from beginning to end by a special certification committee, so these vinegars can be quite expensive.  They are marked with a DOP stamp (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or protected designation of origin) which guarantees the ingredient’s quality, production, and place of origin.  A balsamic vinegar with a DOP stamp is too expensive and not necessary for a gastrique.  This is more of a “tasting” vinegar.


What I look for is a balsamic vinegar with an IGP stamp (indicazione geographic protetta or protected geographical indication).  It indicates the product is not as stringently regulated as the DOP vinegars, but is still a high-quality vinegar, having undergone a controlled standard of production.








For the gastrique:

zest and juice of 1 blood orange
½ cup strawberries, chopped
2 TB sugar
2 TB balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients except pepper in a small saucepan and heat over very low heat until reduced to almost half and thickened.  Remove from heat and season with pepper, to taste.

 For the cucumber salad:
 ¼ cup diced cucumber
¼ cup chopped red onion
¼ cup peeled, seeded, and diced tomato, if desired
2 tsp  sugar
1 TB cider vinegar
1-2 basil leaves, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

 Combine all ingredients. 

Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.  Taste test before serving.






For the asparagus and pistachios:
 Heat skillet over medium high heat with butter.  When foamy, add in the pistachios and cook, stirring, until slightly browned.  Add in the asparagus spears (cut into halves or thirds) and pour in about ¼ cup water and let it steam off,  cooking about 30 seconds.  Remove asparagus and pistachios.  Asparagus should be al dente, firm but crisp-tender.
 For the wild rice:
 I used a white, brown, red, and wild rice blend.  Cook 1 cup rice according to directions.  Stir in 2 TB unsalted butter and a tablespoon or more of orange zest.
 For the scallops:
 I’m using large ocean scallops, not the smaller bay scallops.  









To prepare the scallops, first remove that tough side muscle on the scallops.  It’s a rectangular tag with the muscle fibers running opposite the fibers in the scallop and you can just pinch it off.  Feed it to your cat or discard.   Next, rinse scallops under cool, running water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels.  Season with a few twists of freshly ground pepper.

  When searing a delicate seafood like scallops, I use both butter and oil in a hot pan.  The butter is for flavor and the oil is to raise the smoke point so the milk solids in the butter don’t burn.

Heat a heavy skillet with a tablespoon each of oil and unsalted butter to 375°.


Add scallops one at a time, placing at least an inch apart from each other.  Do NOT crowd the pan.  Usually, you’ll need to cook the scallops in batches, giving the oil and butter time to come back to temperature in between.  Cook about 90 seconds on the first side, turn the scallops over, and cook for about 45 seconds on the second side.  Remove from pan.












To serve: 

Pour a small pool of the gastrique and place scallops in the sauce.  You can drizzle a little of the gastrique over top if you like.  You might want to chiffonade some basil to sprinkle over the scallops.  (Chiffonade is simply a cutting technique.  Stack your basil leaves, roll them tightly lengthwise, and thinly slice perpendicular to the roll.)  I also like to add sliced oranges and strawberries on the plate to allude to the flavors in the gastrique.  Serve with asparagus, wild rice, cucumber salad, and mixed salad greens.





Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Rosie Makes Shrimp Wontons.


 I made some boiled shrimp the other day and had my fill of it, along with a sinus-clearing cocktail sauce, so I was thinking, "What else can I do with this shrimp?"  As I've said before, Rosie doesn't do "leftovers."  Rosie does "moreovers."  What I do is take food that has served its purpose in one particular capacity and elevate it to a new and higher calling - in other words - "moreovers."  

Here's what I wrote before about "moreovers:"

 Nothing goes to waste in the Hawthorne Household.
And I don't refer to the remnants as leftovers.
Immediately after writing the word "leftovers,"
I knew I needed another word that was more real, more definitive, and positive.
First I thought of the word re-do's.
But that implies it wasn't done right
the first time around
when it certainly was.
Then I considered do-overs.
But, of course, that, too, has a negative connotation.
I've put a lot of thought into this trying to come up with just the right word which describes
the process of what I do in the life chain of the produce and viande I prepare and serve and consume.

And my word is moreovers.

Think about it:
You've already produced and served a wonderful, satisfying, convivial repast.
So, what's next?
MORE is next.
Whenever you say "moreover," you're likely going to top what you previously said,
put an exclamation point there, and/or put it in bold or italics.
So, I have no leftovers.



So, in the life cycle of this particular shrimp, I've already boiled the shrimp with Old Bay seasoning and served it, as I said, with a sinus-clearing cocktail sauce, so now  I'm going with moreover shrimp wontons.

First, I made a dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce for Shrimp Wontons:
1/4 cup cider vinegar 
2 TB honey
1 TB tamari sauce  *see note below
2 TB diced cucumber
1 sliced scallion
1 TB toasted peanuts, chopped
1/2 tsp gochugaru (Korean red chile pepper flakes)
1 1-inch cube ginger, pressed  **see note below
1 TB apricot preserves

Combine all ingredients.  Taste test.  Adjust anything if you like.  Make it yours.

*Rosie Note:  You could use soy sauce instead of tamari.  Basically they're the same thing, both being byproducts of fermented soy beans; however, soy sauce contains wheat and tamari is gluten-free (or has very little wheat).  Tamari generally has a darker color, is thicker, and has a richer flavor than soy sauce and because of its longer fermentation process, tamari has a smoother taste and deeper umami flavor.  Soy sauce tends to be saltier and sharper with a more pronounced bite.

**Rosie Note:   When I buy ginger root, I slice it into small cubes and freeze it.  When I'm ready to use the ginger, I take out a cube and nuke it for about 20 seconds.  You can easily squeeze it now to get ginger juice out of it. (It's difficult if not impossible to produce ginger juice from fresh ginger root.)   I use a garlic press to extract the juice and press out some of the pulp, which I scrape off and use in the sauce.

Next, for the shrimp wonton filling:

Shrimp filling:  (Enough for about 12 wontons.)
1 cup chopped, cooked shrimp (about 12 large shrimp)
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp hoisin sauce
1 large garlic clove, pressed
1 ginger cube, pressed
1 tsp tamari sauce
1 chopped scallion
Combine all ingredients.

Now, here's a suggestion:  If you wanted to make this more like a Shrimp Rangoon, you could.  Simply mash about 2 -3 tablespoons of softened cream cheese into the mix and proceed.  Just be sure the edges are well-sealed, because cream cheese seeping out while you're frying can make a mess in the oil. 
I decided to go without the cream cheese this time because I wanted full shrimp flavor.
Place a small amount of shrimp filling in center of each wonton sheet.
Do not over-fill.
Instead of water, I use tamari or soy sauce to wet the edges.

Fold over, press, and crimp to seal.

Heat oil in skillet to 350°.
Place filled wontons, one at  a time, in hot oil.
Do not crowd the pan.
Fry both sides until golden brown.  About 1 1/2 - 2 minutes.

Drain on paper towels.

Plate wontons and sprinkle on some sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds.
Serve with dipping sauce.