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Pesto – The Best Summer Sauce

Each year we plant basil. A ton of basil.  We usually plant five basil plants.  So much of that basil goes to waste.  This year, we’ve decided to do a much better job of putting up the basil and for me, the easiest way to do that is just to make pesto.  Pesto is a great sauce on pasta, fresh vegetables and especially on tomatoes and burrata cheese.  Don’t think you’ll be eating that much pesto over the short term?  Easy, just put it in an air tight container and put it in the freezer.  It won’t be as perfect and fresh as it is the day you make it, but it will still be wonderful.

Making Homemade Pesto

Pesto is an easy sauce to create, it just takes six ingredients and is easily scalable:

  • One cup of Fresh Basil
  • One peeled clove of garlic (I’ve been omitting this recently)
  • 2 Tablespoons of Pine Nuts (try adding a Tablespoon of Walnuts or swap out Pine Nuts for Walnuts)
  • 1/3 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 1/3 Cup of Olive Oil (don’t use the GOOD stuff)

The process is effortless if you have a food processor.  I even decided to buy a $19 Black and Decker 1.5 Cup food processor – using my normal food processor wasn’t all that efficient.  Toss in all the dry ingredients into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  Then slowly drizzle in the Olive Oil, while the processor runs.  You may need to adjust the amount of Olive Oil – just play with it until it looks right.  Take one final taste and adjust the salt and pepper.

If you do decide to freeze the pesto, be sure you press a layer of plastic wrap directly into the Pesto before putting the lid on and sticking it in the freezer. This keeps the air away from the pesto and reduces freezer burn.

For lunch today, I paired homemade pesto with frozen goat cheese ravioli, diced fresh and sun dried tomatoes…of course with more Parmesan cheese.

Fresh pesto and Ravioli

Frozen Goat Cheese Ravioli with Homemade Pesto and Diced Fresh and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

You can follow this basic recipe for other garden fresh herbs too, including parsley and cilantro.

How do you save your garden fresh herbs?  What do you love to serve with your homemade pesto?

Cooking – Something Old, Something New.

It’s cold in Chicago now. As I write this it is 3.1C (that’s 37.7F for my fellow Americans). On cold fall days like this, I really want to spend time in the kitchen, trying a new recipe, prepping a big meal and enjoying a nice big red wine. I don’t want to spend time raking leaves, attempting to winterize the artichoke plants or moving containers into the garage.

This time each year, is also a time where I don’t want to come home from work and spend an hour cooking dinner – I want a quick and flavorful home cooked weekday meal though. I think I will be killing two birds with one stone this evening– I’ll try a newer recipe and cook an old favorite which I’ll freeze into individual servings for a quick week night meal.

For my classic recipe, I’ll use the Bolognese Sauce from the Joy of Cooking (in my edition of this book, it can be found on page 564). I’ve made this recipe a dozen times in my life and I think it is a good base, but for me, it really needs to have more tomatoes.  I know that’s not a perfectly authentic Bolognese, but I can live with a slightly bastardized recipe —  I couldn’t find a link to the recipe online, so I’ll summarize it below.

Cook 1 ounce of bacon/pancetta in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until the fat is released. Add one large carrot, two small celery ribs and half a medium onion – all minced. Cook until the onions are translucent then add 1.25 pounds of ground beef (I use chuck) and cook until browned. Then stir in ¾ cup of beef stock, 2/3 cup of dry white wine and two tablespoons of tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently. Add, in two tablespoon increments, 1.5 cups of whole milk. Cook until the sauce is the consistency of a thick soup – about two hours. Cool, then refrigerate for 24 hours, then skim the fat off the top before reheating.

This is a really great Bolognese recipe, but I mix it up a bit. I usually cook the ground beef in a separate pan so I can reduce the total amount of fat that gets into the sauce (reducing the need to skim the fat off later) and when you add the tomato paste, I also add a 28 ounce Tetra Pak of diced tomatoes (I stopped using tomatoes in aluminum cans because of the BPA in the lining) and an extra tablespoon of tomato paste.

Once this is finished, I’ll divide this sauce into several one cup freezer proof containers. Before I put the lid on the container I place a bit of plastic wrap on the sauce, pressing it right in there and limiting the amount of air that can actually get to the sauce – then put the real lid on the container and freeze it. I will take one of these out of the freezer a day or two before I know I’m going to have a late night at the office and while the pasta is cooking for that night’s dinner, I’ll throw this sauce in a small pan and toss with an al dente pasta. A fabulous week night meal, with a little planning. Honestly, I’ll usually double this recipe when I make it in the fall and will have enough to last me through the harsh winter.

So that’s my “something old” recipe today. My “something new” recipe is one that I’ve made just once before and it’s from the November 2014 issue of Food and Wine, a Two Tomato Soup with Fennel. This Alex Guarnaschelli recipe was easy to make and very flavorful. I think I’ll be doubling this recipe and freezing servings of this as well.

What are you making tonight?