Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Spinach and basil pesto

I know what you're thinking: There must be something fundamentally wrong with this girl - she's like a carb factory and damn it, pasta again?

I think I have a right to defend myself here. Our CSA has been bringing a big load of spinach for a couple of weeks now, and as much as I love spinach, I don't eat it as fast as Popeye himself and always find myself throwing it out when the spinach turns to mulch in the refrigerator. The best way to preserve veges is of course freezing them or in my case, add a whole lot of nuts and cheese and turn them into pesto.

There are also a couple of things I tend to splurge on: extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano (and I'm as pretentious as to say, not parmesan, pish!), good-quality pasta (not that Safeway mush), coffee, wine and beer. Oh and bread too.

So when it comes down to it, the best dinner I can make is a bowl of pasta topped with Parmigiano and a glass of wine!

This pesto will keep in for about a week in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. The best way to serve this is to dump two heap tablespoons over steaming hot flat pasta, and toss with some freshly cracked black pepper, a few cherry tomatoes and a smidgen of crumbled goat cheese. Heaven! (And in heaven, you get to eat this with a glass dry Côtes du Rhône rose out on a sunny deck).
(Mr. Basil Plant - purveyor of fine frontyard basil leaves)

P/S: Use the best ingredients you can find, it makes a world of difference.

Spinach and Basil pesto

Makes 2 cups pesto

2 cups fresh organic spinach (hard stems removed and roughly chopped)
1 cup sweet basil (stems removed)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, quartered
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Chuck everything except the olive oil slowly oil and salt in a food processor and pulse until it becomes a paste. Add in the olive oil slowly and pulse just to combine, about 3 or 4 times.
Stir in the salt to taste and you're all set.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mini Chelsea Buns

Two of the my favourite things about the British: 1) The ability to crack a really good joke with a deadpan 2)The ability to sit down for tea even in times of crises.

For the first, I think it stems mostly from my innate cynical and sarcastic outlook on life. The second, is due to the fact that I absolutely love tea and the pomp and fuss that comes with a true British afternoon tea. I recently bought a book on afternoon tea for my coffee tea table and found myself drawn to a rather simple recipe for mini Chelsea buns. Chelsea buns are the British version of the cinnamon bun and usually has currants and other dried fruit.
Let me warn you that these things are addictive! They are so tiny that before you know it, you've swallowed 18 of these - honey-soaked fingers, contented smile and all. Serve with some first flush Darjeeling tea and a pot of raw wildflower honey for a great afternoon tea experience.

Note: I made this non-dairy but you can (and should) use milk and butter for this recipe, it makes a WHOLE lot of difference

Mini Chelsea Buns
Adapted from Afternoon Tea by Susannah Blake
Makes 16 mini buns

3 1/2 cups (420g) bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 oz. active dry yeast (one packet)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups milk (or unsweetened soy milk)
3 oz. butter (or shortening), melted
2 eggs beaten
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup raisins
3 tablespoons dried currants
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Honey, for brushing

Sift the flour, sugar, yeast and salt into a large bowl. Place a saucepan over low heat and add in the milk and butter, stirring gently until the temperature is lukewarm. Remove from heat and mix in the beaten eggs.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the milk mixture. Use a stiff spatula to combine all the ingredients until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly flour surface and knead until smooth and shiny (about 10 minutes). If using a machine, knead for 5 minutes.

Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place for about an hour until the dough rises to double its size.

Grease an 8x8 inch pan. In a small bowl, combine the apricots, raisins, currant, brown sugar and cinnamon. Divide the dough into four equal sections. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the each dough section into a rectangle, measuring 5x8 inches. Brush lightly with melted butter and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly. Roll the rectangle into a log, beginning with the long end. Brush lightly again with some melted butter to seal the ends. Cut into four equal parts and arrange in the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining dough, such that you get 16 buns. Wrap the baking pan in plastic wrap and let stand for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the buns for 20 minutes at 400°F. Remove and brush the tops lightly with honey, return to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack. Tear apart and serve.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Easy Weeknight Dinner: Penne alla Insalata Caprese

I have a confession: Give me a few balls of well made mozzarella and I go weak at the knees and fall into greedy mess. Fresh mozzarella is my kryptonite.

A couple of days ago, we picked up some buffalo milk mozzarella from Costco - I'm discovering new cheeses everytime I head there. Who knew, Costco of all places! In summer, one of my favourite meals is the traditional caprese salad made up of fresh cherry tomatoes, balls of mozzarella and fresh basil. I usually eat that with some grilled ciabata and olive oil. But I thought that today, after having finished a final paper, I should kick back with a glass of Muscadet and enjoy the sunny weather with some Mediterranean flair.
This dish is inspired in part by the Caprese salad and by Jamie Oliver's 'Mothership Tomato Salad' found in his 'Jamie at Home' book. Unfortunately, we don't get enough sun in our yard to plant tomatoes, something which I hope to remedy by finding a south-facing yard the next time we move. In the meantime, I used store-bought organic cherry tomatoes, mozzarella di bufalo and the basil that came in the CSA for this really summery dish!

Pasta alla Insalata Caprese
Makes 4 servings

12 oz. whole grain penne
3 balls mozzarella di bufalo or regular cow's milk mozzarella (ovoline), cut into 1/2" cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch fresh basil leaves (about 2 oz.), julienned
Fresh sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced finely (about 2 teaspoons)
1/4 tsp Chile pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper flakes (or to taste)

Toss the cherry tomatoes with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Set aside to drain in a colander over a small bowl for 15 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to directions until al dente, drain and run under cold water until it reaches room temperature. Combine with the cubed mozzarella and prepared tomatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Drizzle over the pasta, top with julienned basil leaves and season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine and serve with a dry white wine.