Pesto Genovese

As soon as you walk into our garden you smell the sweet basil, and it just brings a smile to your face. So now that our plants are thriving I decided to pick a bunch of leaves and make pesto.

I have a great recipe from my friend Alessandra, who is from Viterbo, Italy. It’s your classic basil pesto with a LOT of garlic. She tosses it with pasta, and that’s what we did, too.

I find that this makes just enough to mix with a pound of pasta and have a little left over to spread on a grilled veggie sandwich.

Pesto alla Genovese for 4

2 cups of fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
3 tablespoons of pine nuts
5 garlic cloves, peeled (Yup, that’s 5.)
2 tablespoons of Pecorino cheese
4 tablespoons of Parmigiano cheese (or use all parmigiano)
Olive oil (maybe 1/3 cup?)
Salt to taste

Toss basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, a pinch of salt and cheese in a food processor or blender.

Add olive oil and pulse a few times until blended. At this point you’ll want to taste it and make sure the texture is smooth and moist. If it’s too dry, add more oil and pulse again.

That’s it. You’re done. Pesto is ridiculously easy to make. You don’t even have to cook it. Just toss it with cooked penne (I like Barilla Plus) and top with a little more cheese.

*Pesto freezing tip: If you want to save some pesto to drop into sauces or spread on sandwiches later, prepare the pesto without the cheese, and freeze it in an ice cube tray. When you’re ready to use, thaw a couple cubes and mix in the cheese.

Melt-in-your-mouth home fries

My boyfriend, Mike, is obsessed with making hash browns. Inspired by the Waveland Cafe, a greasy spoon that we once lived 2 blocks from (and patronized regularly), he’s been trying to emulate their crispy-on-the-outside, soft-inside version. He’s tried different graters, the food processor, different methods of squeezing out the excess water – just about everything. And I don’t think he’s got it yet, but we’ve had some pretty tasty hash browns in the process.

So I decided one day to try my hand at a different kind of breakfast potatoes, and I am more than happy with the recipe I created. It tastes so good because it appears to be drowning in butter. But I determined that it comes out to about a tablespoon per person, which is only 100 calories. Yes, they’re all from fat, but we can’t have everything…

There’s also a kick of cayenne pepper. Add or subtract the amount depending on how much kick you like before noon.

You need:
2 large gold potatoes, thin sliced into 1-inch pieces
1/2 an onion, thin sliced
4 T. butter
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1/2 t. cayenne pepper

1. Heat a large skillet over medium and melt your butter. Then add the potatoes and onions. While they’re cooking, season with salt, pepper and cayenne.

2. Cover, and continue cooking on medium about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. At this point, taste your taters, and if they’re a little bland, hit ’em with a little more seasoning (and if you’re brave, another pat of butter).

Mmmm, taters. And butter.

Biscuits and Gravy, my way

Two years ago I decided to try being a vegetarian. Just try it for a week and see what happens. I was living in Boulder at the time, a place where being vegetarian is like, well, being a meat eater anywhere else. It was actually pretty easy. And though I never quit eating seafood, I did keep my meatless ways even when I moved back to pork-chop-on-a-stick-lovin’ Iowa.

Just like I always did with recipes, I tend to change vegetarian recipes to my liking. I don’t like mushrooms, which is a major meat substitute. And for a long time I didn’t care for tofu either. I find gluten disgusting, and I still haven’t warmed up to things like seitan and tempeh. But, BUT, I have come to appreciate a lot of meat substitutes, like Quorn, and I use them often because they keep me feeling like what I eat is still pretty much like what everyone else eats. Just healthier. And better for the environment.

I find that a lot of times when you try to eat vegetarian at a restaurant the offerings are either really limited (pasta with vegetables, woo hoo!) or so different from what I’m used to eating that I don’t care for it either. I like to make recipes that remind me of what I grew up eating, but fit in better with my dietary limitations.

One thing I’ve never seen in a restaurant is a vegetarian version of biscuits and gravy. And anymore, it’s not a hard thing to make. So here is my version. It takes about a half hour to make on a Sunday morning. (Unless you make your own biscuits. And if you like to make your own from scratch, by all means do it!).

You need:
1 package ready-to-bake biscuits
1 package (about a pound) meat-free sausage – I like the Boca or Morningstar versions that come in patties, but GimmeLean is great, too.
3 T vegetable oil
4 T butter
4 T flour
2 t. tamari or soy sauce
3 c. milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Do this:
1. Preheat your oven for the biscuts.
2. Heat the oil over medium in a skillet. Brown the sausage in the oil. When it’s done, break it up into 1-inch pieces and drain on paper towels. Put your biscuits in the oven to bake.

3. Keeping the heat on medium, melt the butter. Then add the flour and whisk together.
4. Add the milk and tamari or soy sauce, whisking together. Raise the heat to medium-high until the milk starts to bubble.

Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the gravy reaches desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper and dump in the sausage pieces.

Be careful not to burn your biscuits! They tend to get brown on the bottom before the top.

Voila! Vegetarian biscuits and gravy.