spinach and basil pesto with almonds

Well, I do believe I have done everything within my power to put off having to write.

I have washed the dishes (something of a chore when you’re nine months pregnant and the kitchen is about nine hundred degrees),  I have dried the dishes. I have filled my water bottle, drank the contents and refilled it – several times. I have meticulously removed the pregnancy beard from my pregnant double-chin and watered all the house plants.

It’s hard to write about food when any day, any hour you might be launched into labor and find yourself giving birth to a tiny human being. In all honesty, it’s rather hard to do anything but fidget around and… wait.

Fortunately, the need for sustenance has not disappeared with my interest in the world at large – we still need to eat, and in spite of the fact that my mom has been invaluable in the area of preparing and providing meals for us, there are times when I find myself needing to actually cook something on my own. Yesterday afternoon was one of those times. I made pasta with fresh spinach pesto sauce that I whipped up in my little blender contraption and it was actually quite good.

I used the last of the spinach harvest that had been stashed away in the fridge as well as the leaves from the basil plant that lives on the kitchen window sill. Mixed with some parmesan cheese, almonds (since I didn’t have pine nuts), garlic and olive oil, it made a delicious sauce for the pasta and the extra will no doubt be used as a spread, dip or topping for homemade pizza.

Spinach and Basil Pesto

makes roughly 1 pint of sauce

1 large handful of fresh spinach leaves, torn

1 equally large handful of fresh basil leaves

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 handful of unsalted almonds

3 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (since the oil is a big part of the recipe, don’t skimp – use the good stuff, you won’t regret it!)

1/4- 1/2 lb pasta, cooked and strained

The actual production of this sauce is ridiculously simple, everything gets thrown into the blender or food processor and then blended or processed until it’s a creamy, delicious sort of mess one wants to eat by the spoonful. You might find yourself ripping off hunks of bread and sopping up the pesto right there and then and making boxed macaroni and cheese for the rest of your family (who will never know what they’ve missed). I will warn you that the possibility of having small bits of spinach and basil cling to your teeth exists and that you should plan accordingly lest the rest of the family get an inkling about the sudden menu change.  This is one of the many reasons why I advocate having a mirror somewhere in the kitchen to use for last minute face checks so that one doesn’t head into the fray with, say, chocolate cake batter smeared on the corner of one’s mouth, or the remains of devoured pesto crying out from the in-betweens of one’s teeth.

In the end, who ever ends up eating this will not only get a shot of heart-healthy, iron-fortified, garden-fresh spinach, but a good dose of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory power from the basil and garlic. Almonds add satisfying textural interest as well as a bit of protein. This is a healthy green food that makes the fact that you’ve eaten two servings of pasta a little less reprehensible, at least in my book!  You can toss the pasta with as much pesto sauce as you like then top it with cheese and – viola, lunch or dinner is served.

If you do happen to have any remaining when all is said and done simply store in a jar in the fridge. The oil may thicken up a bit but a few minutes left on the counter will return the pesto to it’s former, creamy state. Enjoy!

shrimp – they’re just not that scary

I cooked shrimp for the first time in my life yesterday.

I know what you are thinking – how can a reasonably intelligent and adventurous home-chef like myself go for so long without having dealt with shrimp? I’ll tell you – fear. Clammy, white-knuckled fear and intimidation.

Growing up, shrimp was an expensive, exotic sort of food that was reserved for New Years Eve. I remember dunking my chilly, naked crustacean in cocktail sauce then relishing the way the mild, snappy shrimp mixed with the extremely pungent horseradish in my mouth. Oh my – good times.

My mom and I were the only ones who truly appreciated the delicacy, all three of my brothers avowing that they would never – under any circumstances – eat something that looked like a “sea bug”. It was one of the only foods my mom never insisted that they try more than once. Nope – more shrimp for the girls and that was always desirable.

For a long time I wondered if it wasn’t actually the cocktail sauce that I was addicted to, but one year my mom cooked Shrimp A’la Meuniere for my birthday and my doubts concerning the true nature of my love were set to rest forever.

I loved Shrimp and could love it without cocktail sauce. It was a revelation.

Now I ask you, how do you go about cooking a food you have so elevated? It’s somewhat terrifying. The thought of ruining a dish that contained shrimp was almost too much for me and yet for the past 18 months I have lingered at the seafood counter, gazing at the packages of fresh frozen shrimp before walking on, convinced that this was one culinary risk I was too timid to take.

My mom, whose fearlessness in the kitchen has yet to be matched by any single cook I have met, recently convinced me to buy my coveted bag of shrimp. “It’s not that hard…” she said, “… just thaw them in some cold water then cook them. Just don’t overcook them or you will loose that delightful *snap*.”

Oh, the delightful snap – something I dreaded loosing to be sure!

Calling back the memory of my beloved birthday dinner – the simple lemon, butter, garlic and herb sauce that so perfectly and delicately adorned the shrimp, I decided to do something of the same and serve it on pasta.

Shrimp with Garlic Butter, Lemon and Capers

1/2 lb  raw, fresh shrimp (thawed if you are using frozen)

3 Tablespoons butter plus a splash of olive oil

1 large clove of garlic, minced

2 teaspoons green capers

juice from 1/2 a lemon

grated Parmesan cheese to top

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 lb pasta, cooked and strained

Ah yes, shrimp and butter are the stars here. I figure the low calorie nature of shrimp allows for some extravagance, and I think I’m right. So there.

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil (which should keep the butter from browning too much) and then the garlic and capers. Let them sizzle until the garlic is slightly brown and then toss in your raw shrimp. Stir well as they will cook relatively quickly. Once the shrimp have begun to curl on themselves and turn pink, add the lemon juice and some salt and pepper. The capers are pretty salty on their own, which is really nice in the sauce but you will want to taste it before adding *more* salt. A few moments more and the shrimp should look tight and plump and very pink. Turn off the heat and liberally decorate with parmesan cheese. One final stir and you’re ready to serve on top of your pasta with a side of salad or steamed veggies.

It was a quick, simple sort of meal but very delicious and worth the daring of finally deciding to cook shrimp. It wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as I had imagined! What food fear are you near to conquering? Let me encourage you to dive in and face it, you may end up with a dinner to be enjoyed and remembered…

Enjoy!

pregnancy spaghetti

Oh spaghetti, how I love thee. I love thy smells and tastes and the way your deeply tinted sauce stains the front of my new white t-shirts, proving to the world that I am not ‘the cool girl’. You have stained my heart forever, dear food, and if I needed one more reason to love you, it would be this – you seem to be one of the only foods my pregnant stomach can stand.

We’ve all heard of pregnancy cravings and pregnancy food aversions and somehow they always have to do with pickles and ice cream – which makes me wonder exactly who it was that started that fad – but I’m here to share with you my first pregnancy craving, my mom’s spaghetti with meat sauce. Oh boy. It’s like magic, it is. I can be green at the gills all day, come home and whip up some spaghetti and suddenly there is a break in the nausea and my stomach actually growls, a weak, pathetic sort of growl, but all the same it is the unmistakable sign of actually Hunger. Sweet, sweet success.

I know most of you reading this probably aren’t pregnant, but why go and deny yourself this good thing? It may not be the *only* thing you can eat but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, right? Of course right. This is why  I am going to share the recipe with you. It started out something that was uniquely my mom’s, I have been making it with her all my life, but like all good recipes it came to its new home and was slightly altered in the moving. That’s the beauty of timeless dishes, they stay true to themselves while adapting to whatever kitchen they find themselves in. Hopefully it does the same for you.

 

Spaghetti Sauce

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1/2 lb sausage ( I like to use sweet Italian, but you could use something a little spicier)

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes plus 1/2 can water

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon crumbled, dried bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

Cooked pasta of your choice

 

I like to make my spaghetti sauce in a deep cast iron skillet, but you could very easily use a three or more quart pot. Heat the pan over medium high heat and then add the olive oil. The olive oil will look very liquid and shiny when it is ready. It shouldn’t smoke, but you want it rather hot. Add the onions and garlic first, stirring them and letting them saute for a bit until they are fragrant and the onions begin to look translucent. Add the sausage and a little water (like a 1/4 cup) – this will make it easier to break up. As the sausage cooks, crumble it into uniformly-sized pieces. Once it is all browned, you might want to remove some of the fat that came off the sausage while it was cooking. You can spoon it out or drain it – whatever works best for you. Now add the crushed tomatoes, water, salt, sugar and herbs. My mom taught me this trick to add some sweetening to the sauce, it helps to cut down a little on the acidity of the tomatoes and deepens the overall flavor  – a trick well worth knowing.

Turn the heat down and let the sauce simmer while the pasta boils. You could let this cook all day, or make it fifteen minutes before serving – I’ve done it both ways!

As I mentioned before, one of the best things about a good spaghetti recipe is it’s adaptability. This is the sauce recipe I use when making lasagna, I swap out the sausage for ground beef when I have it or skip the meat entirely and use the sauce for pizzas. It freezes fantastically and makes a quick meal even quicker when the need arises. How can you not love that? Let’s just say that, pregnant or not,  spaghetti is a real winner of a meal!

is it hot in here? i need cold noodles

The sun has set and the sky looks as though it is wounded in the spot where it sank below the horizon. Crimson blends into the purple sky and the moon sits just above, a crooked sliver of silver smile.

We’ve had a string of hot days lately. Our apartment is just to the right of the heart of town, on the second floor. The sun beats down all day and bakes the old white house, the heat of the roads and the cars and trucks and tour busses rises and gets caught in our living room – our front room and the hottest spot in the house. Thankfully, the rooms to the back of the apartment stay relatively cool and dark during the day, so there is an escape available if needed.

I haven’t needed the escape yet, but this disturbingly bright, hot day chased me into the bedroom to do my ironing, hiding from the glare and noise of Saturday afternoon on Main Street.

But now it is nearly dark, and I am willing the startlingly cooler air in with fans and coaxing tones, but it’s still pretty stinking hot in here! The thought of turning on our electric hotbox and cooking something involved makes me want to… well, not.

Time for a cold meal, eh? I found this recipe on the internet the other day and have wanted to try it – or my personalized version of it, this seems like the perfect occasion.

Creamy Green Pasta

1/2 pound pasta, cooked and cooled

1/2 pound fresh spinach

1 tsp minced garlic

a teaspoon or so of olive oil

1 avocado, peeled and pitted

1 Tbsp basil pesto

1 tsp lemon juice

I (said in a disgustingly boastful sort of way) have a husband who will eat green things, and good deal because this may be the greenest food I have ever served. The spinach got sauteed with the garlic and olive oil until the spinach was completely cooked, then it was cooled. In my dear little food processor, I put the avocado, pesto, some salt and pepper and lemon juice – and then the spinach. It all got blended into a delightfully vibrant green ‘sauce’ and then stirred into the pasta.

Viola.

I will serve it to my green-loving Alex when he gets home, with fresh tomato slices and watermelon – the perfect culinary end to such a scorcher! I have tasted it (of course- the best home chefs taste, and taste often!!) and it is utterly creamy and rich, almost as if it had some sort of cheese in it – very good! It’s going to be a repeat meal at our table!