Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Caprese Bruschetta

There's no beating bruschetta for fresh and easy summer eating.

Plus, "bruschetta" is just fun to say. Especially in a terribly fake Italian accent. Go on, try it.

Long, thin loaf of crusty bread (I used Italian wheat)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic (OR a garlic clove)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Bruschetta topping:
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 red tomatoes
1 cup small, yellow grape tomatoes
1/2 sweet onion
1 cup (or more!) loosely packed basil
salt & pepper to taste

1. Slice the bread on a diagonal. Spread on baking sheet.

2. Mix minced garlic and olive oil in a shallow plate. Let sit while preparing topping to let the flavors meld.

3. Dice red & yellow tomatoes and onion to a small, well, dice.

4. Soak the onions in water for 10-15 minutes to mellow out their bite just a little.

4. Roll basil leaves up, cut into long strips.

5. Toss tomatoes/onions/basil with balsamic and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Press each slice of bread into garlic-infused olive oil and place back on sheet. Toast at 450 in oven for no more than 5 minutes. (Keep a close watch on them and don't let them burn like I did!)

* If you have fresh garlic cloves, simply cut one in half and rub it over the oiled breads as soon as they come out of the oven to get the infused garlic flavor, instead of incorporating the minced garlic into the olive oil at the beginning.

Top each bruschetta just prior to serving so the bread doesn't lose its crispiness.

Love and messy finger foods,

Basil Walnut Pesto

I love to cook, but let's be honest... I also love a good shortcut. I know, call me a bad cook, but pre-made puff pastry? I'm there. Pre-bought canister of breadcrumbs at ready and at hand in the pantry? All over that.

But pesto, my friends, freshly made pesto is NOT one of those things that is just as good pre-made. It is, in fact, exponentially better when freshly made at home. I'm not exaggerating. Once you make your own, you won't ever buy a jar at the grocery store again. I'm serious.

"I have no time!" you say? No, you do. Trust me. It'll be faster to whip this up than to bother stopping at the grocery store on your way home.

"I'm not a cook!" Doesn't matter. If you have the ingredients and you have 5 minutes, you can totally do this.

But enough of the fake, cheesy dialogue before you're tempted to roll your eyes and quit reading before even getting to the good stuff. Onward to tasty and delicious pesto.

I've included the "basic formula" as well, which should let you create dozens upon dozens of fool proof pesto varieties. Basil, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil is the most basic and traditional pesto. I used walnuts here because the flavor paired nicely with mushroom ravioli for dinner. Also, they're cheaper.

But here's the thing - if you've never made pesto before, certainly start with a classic basil pesto, but by all means - don't stop with it! ANY herb, green, nut or cheese will work. And add- ins, well, those options are endless.

Try leftover cilantro instead of basil and add a little lemon zest for zing.

Or use up some arugula instead for a sharper, more peppery flavor.

Stick with basil as your base, but add some artichoke in for complexity.

(I'm wondering what adding strawberries would do to a simple basil pesto. I'll let you know when I try!)

My Personal Basic Pesto Formula:
2 parts herbs/greens
1 part cheese
1 part nuts
1/2 part olive oil
seasoning (garlic, salt, pepper...)

*add-ins always optional (artichoke, roasted tomato, strawberries etc.)

Ingredients for Walnut Basil Pesto:
2 cups loosely packed basil
1 cup walnuts
1 cup freshly grated parmesan reggiano
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

1. Add basil, walnuts (EXCEPT for a small reserved handful) and cheese to food processor. Pulse until combined.

2. Drizzle olive oil in while processing. Adjust amount as needed to get the texture and thickness you want. (1/2 cup will make it pretty thick. Add more if you want a "saucier" pesto. Just do it gradually... this part is a touch and go process).

3. Add garlic, salt, pepper. Process and taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly, process again.

4. OPTIONAL: Add your reserved walnuts. Pulse only once or twice, and you'll have some larger pieces of walnut mixed in for a more textured, rustic pesto. I love it this way. But if you like your pesto as smooth and suave as possible... skip this step.

Yields: Approx. 2 cups pesto
(but that's a rough estimate... don't hold me to it. It's enough for 4 generous servings over pasta plus a little left over)

And that's all there is to it.

Serve over ravioli. (Buitoni makes a lovely mushroom agnolotti, speaking of pre-made shortcuts. Making my own ravioli from scratch is a definite on my cooking bucket list. But tonight, I wasn't quite all that ambitious.)

Serve spread on toasted garlic bread.

Serve stirred into soup for an extra flavor kick.

And if you have leftovers, freeze in an ice cube tray for ready made portions of pesto whenever you need a fresh herb fix in sauce, soup, or any other sundry recipe you can imagine adding a little pesto to.

Love and pesto,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan Dip

You'll have to forgive my lack of "in-progress" pictures on this one, people. Frankly, it was not a recipe I intended to blog because it wasn't a recipe I intended to be all that fantastic. In fact, it's not really a, ahem, recipe at all. It's more of a, how shall we say... a "chuck-it-all-in-the-food-processor-'cause-I'm-moving-and-I've-gotta-use-it-up"-ipe. Aren't those always the best, though? (Ok, ok... not always... once in a rare while, though! Same thing!) Either way - this recipe is quick, easy, filling and, above all, addictively delicious.

2 small eggplants
(1 medium to large-ish eggplant would do just as well)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp. minced garlic
(or, hey, throw full cloves in there... it's all getting processed in the end)
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. pepper

1. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. Place, flesh side down, in a baking pan. Drizzle with half of the olive oil. Roast in a 350 degree oven for approx. 45 minutes. Throw it on broil for a minute or two at the end to get the skins really nice and blistered.

2. Let eggplant cool for a few moments, then dump them in your food processor (I imagine a blender would work just as well), skins and all. Let's be honest, I'm just lazy and don't feel like scooping the flesh out, but you can if you want! But, do it my way, and there will be nice little flecks of deep purple all throughout your dip... a nice visual, I think, not to mention the extra nutrients you're packing in there. (Eggplant skin MUST contain some vital nutrient, right? But hey, I'm no health science major, don't ask me which one that would be...)

3. Add the cheese, rest of olive oil, and other above condiments to processor. Feel free to add more or less of any to taste (for example, I LOVE garlic... you, being a normal person and presumably less garlic crazy than I, may want to tone it down a notch...), but DO be careful with the balsamic. I found that just a few quick splashes really deepened the flavor here, but any more than that, well, just add slowly and taste as you go.

4. Process until smooth-ish, scoop out, and serve warm. It's just like spinach artichoke dip, except without the spinach and the artichokes, and, I happen to think, better. Yeah, I said it. Better than spinach artichoke dip, which is pretty much the god of all delicious appetizer-y foods. The eggplant is surprisingly creamy and the roasted flavor is quite rich and nutty.

Serve with whole wheat crackers if you have them on hand, OR do as I did and quickly toast up some tortillas, sliced in triangles, and sprinkled with a little salt, pepper, and basil, in the oven while your dip is processing.

Cheers! Time to run before I get kicked out of the library...