The Urge to Preserve

I started to feel the impending change of season press upon me.

The weather certainly wasn’t providing any hints, as I was enveloped by hot, wet, soupy air all last weekend. I did notice brown and orange leaves start to accumulate around the edges of the streets in my neighborhood. It was the obvious things: all of a sudden, Labor Day passed, beaches closed, schools started back in session, and I was reminded that, being September, we are only one month away from October, the month it first SNOWED last year.

Fortunately, it is possible to capture the lushness of summer in a tupperware container! I long to keep the excitement of my garden treasures alive. Call it the urge to preserve.

Cue the whir of the food processor.

Bunches of my healthy basil plant and flourishing parsley plants in hand, it was time to make some sauces and condiments.
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Basil Pesto
Parsley Pesto
Fromage Fort

Pesto is one of the very few “recipes” I pretty much have memorized, and/or feel comfortable adjusting by taste and feel. It all started with a recipe Matt and I received from a cooking class put on at a now-closed local Viking Cooking School location.

Basil Pesto
From Viking Cooking School’s recipe packet for a Breads and Pizzas class
Makes about 1 Cup

1 large clove garlic, or to taste, peeled
1/4 Cup pine nuts
2 ounces/approx 1/4 Cup packed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
2 Cups (packed) fresh basil
1/4-1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
should be plenty

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Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a 350 degree oven for just a few minutes, watching closely and shaking the pan after the first minute or two. This can also be done in a dry cast iron or saute pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pine nuts will continue to brown if they sit in a hot pan.
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Combine garlic, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to make a paste.
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Add basil and pulse.
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Drizzle in olive oil gradually, ideally with the motor running, until pesto reaches desired smooth consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.
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Basil doesn’t retain its green color in pesto, when exposed to the air, so the best plan is to drizzle extra olive oil on top and put plastic wrap directly on the surface before refrigerating or freezing (it still tastes fine when it darkens). Pesto is both flavor and calorie rich, so I usually only use a little at time, which I can snag from the frozen container.
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While I was at it with the processing, I needed to deal with the variety of cheese cubes I bought on a whim at Fairway. (I swear, I have gotten much better about resisting the urge to impulse buy.) Cheese is one of those things that lasts a long time, making it easy for you to forget to use before it is too late. Fortunately, you can make something called Fromage Fort, a cheese spread, to transform the old cheese into something desirable for another week or so, and even use it for entertaining.
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Fromage Fort
From Alton Brown via Food Network online

1 pound left-over cheese, (cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, provolone, fontina, mozzarella, stinky blue cheeses all work*) at room temperature
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
, softened
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic

Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. Store in the refrigerator; consume within a week (no problem!).
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*I used 5 ounces of ricotta, 7 ounces of the miscellaneous cubes that were probably in the gouda and ricotta salata families, and 6 ounce of Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar. It was beyond delicious, especially broiled on some sourdough toast.

Parsley Almond Pesto
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 clove garlic
1 1/2 Cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
with thick stems removed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup olive oil
1/3 Cup unsalted almonds

Puree garlic and parsley with the salt in food processor. Drizzle olive oil in gradually, ideally with the machine running. Add the almonds and pulse to chop.
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This can be saved in the same way as the basil pesto. However, it keeps its bright green flavor much better in the refrigerator.

I served this with gnocchi I made from the King Arthur Flour website.
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and a recipe that served gnocchi with zucchini and tomatoes but substituted in the parsley pesto:

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

Recognize those tomatoes yet?


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I can still taste summer!

Make it quick and make it quality

Last week I let someone else do the meal planning for me. I complained that the recipes were a bit of a hassle, and the dishes didn’t even come out that well. But the result was a balanced plate of food. This week, I challenged myself to plan a satisfying meal that would come together fairly quickly. And I would do the shopping myself.

As you should know this is not my strength: I often end up spending more than an hour, somehow, bringing together a single dish. Yet the April issue of Cooking Light was jam-packed with recipes for 80 meals under 40 minutes, and I was inspired (not so inspired that I could resist substituting in a recipe that I know would add to my clock time…but at least I acknowledge my silly ways). The meal was assembled in one hour, with only a little grilling help from my husband. So here it is! Protein (yes, fish again), vegetable and starch.

Grilled Sea Bass with Tarragon Beurre Blanc
Raw Shaved Asparagus With Lemon Dressing
Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potatoes

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Game plan: Prepare the potatoes and garlic; preheat the oven. If you’re going to use this ambitious asparagus recipe (simpler alternative from CL: Asparagus with Lemon and Pecorino), start shaving the stalks and do about half before you put the potatoes in the oven. Finish shaving the asparagus, then preheat the grill/grill pan for the fish. Make the sauce while grilling the fish.
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Raw Shaved Asparagus With Lemon Dressing
Adapted from Jonathan Waxman’s recipe in his cookbook Italian, My Way
DSC_4533Check out my signed copy! ———->
Serves: 4 to 6

¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed
1-1 1/2 pound asparagus, ideally from a local farm
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 5–8 minutes in a preheated 350° oven; cool and then crush in a towel using a rolling pin (which helps remove the skins).

Wash and snap the asparagus spears at their base, setting bases aside for another use. Upend a small bowl, place a spear on the flat bottom and, using a vegetable peeler, gently shave long thin slices.
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Eventually, I discovered that it was easier to do my first shaves with the asparagus pressed flat against the cutting board. Once it got thinned, I moved to the bowl. Be patient and forgive yourself if you can’t get all long, perfectly thick slices.

In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and add sea salt and black pepper. When the rest of the meal is ready, toss the dressing with the hazelnuts and asparagus. Serve with Parmesan sprinkled around.

Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves: 2

several large garlic cloves
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

14 ounces baby potatoes
1-2 small thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1/4 teaspoon kosher or ground sea salt, divided (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, if you have it

Directions
Preheat oven to 450°. If the potatoes are larger than fingerling potatoes, cut in halves or quarters. Smaller potatoes can be kept whole, but medium sized ones benefit from more surface area for crisping!

Place unpeeled garlic cloves, olive oil, potatoes, thyme sprigs, and rosemary sprigs in a large bowl; toss to coat. Arrange potato mixture on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Bake at 425-450° for 25 minutes, stirring halfway and then checking for doneness toward the end of cooking time. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves out of their skin and return to potato mixture. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and parsley.
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Grilled Sea Bass with Tarragon Beurre Blanc
Adapted from Cooking Light again
Serves: 2

Sauce:
1/3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 large tarragon sprig
1.5 tablespoons butter
, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped

Fish:
2 (6-ounce) meaty white fish fillets, without skin — The recipe suggested halibut, but my grocery store didn’t have it. It also said cod or tilapia could be substituted (and would save money), but I couldn’t imagine how those would stand up so well to grilling, which I had my mind set on. The meatiest looking fish they had was the sea bass.
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Remove from heat; strain through a fine sieve over a measuring cup, pressing mixture with the back of a spoon or spatula to release liquid.
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Discard solids. Return liquid to pan. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, stirring with a whisk until butter is incorporated. Stir in tarragon.

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Even at $19.95 a pound, I ended with a piece with a bunch of bones. Grrr.

Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and ground pepper. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Note: grill pans are great, but ours can be a beast to clean up. That’s why I like about the outdoor grill. It either doesn’t need cleaning…or maybe the grill fairy takes care of it?

Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with sauce.

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There it is–the makings of a great meal!
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