Fresh Basil Pesto

I absolutely LOVE fresh basil and one of the favorite things I like to do with it is make fresh pesto. There are a lot of recipes out there for pesto.

fresh basil pesto

Fresh Basil Pesto

They basically combine fresh basil, nuts (usually pine nuts), garlic, olive oil, Parmesan, Romano or some similar cheese, and season with salt and pepper. My version varies by the ingredients I have on hand (or usually don’t have on hand). This is the way I made it today and no one is complaining….

Fresh Basil Pesto
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese (fresh grated is always best, but not always in my house)

1/3 cup pine nuts (I’ve seen Walnuts and Brazil nuts substituted, but never tried them as I really like the taste of pine nuts even tho’ they are spendy).
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I usually use 1/2 cup, but was short on olive oil)
6+ medium sized garlic cloves, minced (most recipes seem to call for 2-4 cloves, but we like garlic and have some fresh from the garden)
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (Good quality salt and pepper really brightens the taste, IMHO).

Directions:
1. Combine the basil with the pine nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add garlic and pulse a few more times until evenly chopped.
2. Slowly add the olive oil in a stream while the food processor is on. Stop half ways through to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
3. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Season with salt and pepper.

Pesto can be served in numerous ways, but my favorite way is to cook some fresh whole wheat pasta and put a couple tablespoons on a serving. You can also put it on pizza, pasta with marinara sauce, or even a dollop or two in homemade soup. The possibilities are endless :-)

Spaghetti My Way

I really like to make a huge pot of spaghetti sauce and serve it with whole wheat thin spaghetti. I think it’s a comfort food – at least for me. I used to make the sauce from scratch (many years ago), then went to buying spaghetti, and then with some input from my son, I used a purchased spaghetti sauce that has been “doctored up.” Here’s my version.

Spaghetti Sauce My Way

1 1/2 lbs ground beef, browned well, with lots of fresh ground pepper and some sea salt to season (son says to be sure and brown it well and don’t skimp on the pepper – he knows what he’s talking about!)
1 large onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 32 oz. jar spaghetti sauce – I’ve used a variety of brands with good results. Usually get a roasted garlic, or basil seasoned one
2 – 15 oz. cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup. chopped parsley
1 lb. box whole wheat spaghetti (I also like the Barilla Plus)
Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. Start browning ground beef, draining any excess fat. When beef is almost done, add the garlic and onions and continue cooking until onions are limp… another 5-7 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, basil, oregano, and crushed red peppers. Add enough water to make sauce desired consistency. I usually add about 1/2 cup.
3. Cook spaghetti another 10 minutes or so until flavors are melded.
4. Add parsley and cook a few more minutes.
5. While spaghetti sauce is cooking, boil water in large stock pot. Add a couple teaspoons of sea salt, and cook spaghetti according to package instructions. Drain.
6. Serve sauce over spaghetti and top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

I like to serve this with stir-fried broccoli or mixed salad greens.

Arugula with Chick-Pea Salad

arugula-chickpea-saladMy oldest son is into eating less meat in general, so we like to try vegetarian, fish or “light on the meat” dishes. This Arugula Salad was originally given to him by my sister who got it from Jack Bishop’s “Pasta and Verdura” book (which we also purchased). I think this dish is one of those love-it or hate-it dishes. And, obviously, we love it! Here’s the recipe with my comments and changes to accommodate our tastes.

Arugula with Chick-pea Salad

2 cans of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed. (original recipe recommends 1 cup dried chick-peas that have been re-hydrated, but never seem to have the time.)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
40 Kalamata black olives, pitted and sliced (original recipe calls for 15 – not enough for us)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large bunch arugula (about 1/3 lb). (We can never find arugula in our grocery store, so if it isn’t in the garden, I buy a sassy/bold mix of greens that is predominantly arugula).
1 lb whole wheat pasta, cooked and drained. Use rotini, shells, or whatever I can find

Directions:
1. Rinse and drain chick-peas and put in large bowl.
2. Bring salted water to boil in a large pot for cooking pasta.
3. Coarsely chop the pitted olives. Add them to the bowl with the chick-peas.
4. Combine the garlic, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, pepper flakes and salt. Slowly whisk in 4 Tbsp. olive oil. Drizzle over the chick-peas and olives, tossing gently. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.
5. Clean and dry the arugula. Coarsely chop the leaves and set aside.
6. Cook and drain pasta. Toss the hot pasta with the chick-pea mixture. Add the salad greens and remaining olive oil. Mix well until arugula wilts. Serve immediately. (This is also good cold the next day).

My Birthday Meal – Featuring Spinach-Beef Lasagna

Was invited out for an evening meal on my birthday, but both Alan and I felt we’d rather cook a meal at home instead, so had the inviters become the invitees.  Hadn’t made lasagna in a long time, so decided this would be the main dish. Served with roasted asparagus and mixed salad greens with a balsamic vinaigrette to complete the meal. One of the guests brought brownies for dessert (heavenly) and another a nice red Spanish wine.

Everyone absolutely loved the lasagna. And here is the recipe:

Spinach Beef Lasagna

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
26-32 oz. jar sphagetti sauce (I used a Basil Tomato flavor)
1 15 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup water, about (substitute a dry red wine for half the water – awesome)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
15 oz. carton ricotta cheese
10 oz. pkg of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 whole wheat lasagna noodles, uncooked
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Brown hamburger, draining fat as needed. When almost done, add onions and garlic. Cook until onions are almost done – another 5-7 minutes. Add about a tsp of sea salt and about 1/2 tsp. black pepper. I grind my black pepper, so it’s hard to give an amount, but like putting a lot of black pepper on ground beef as it adds a nice flavor.
2. Add spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, pepper flakes. Cook another 5-10 minutes to blend flavors. Adjust the seasonings as desired. The herb amounts are guesstimates as I just grabbed some out of the spice bag.
3. Add enough water to make the mixture a bit on the soupy side. The uncooked noodles will absorb this liquid during the baking phase. If it looks too soupy, cook it down a bit.
4. In another bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, and spinach.
5. In a 9 x 13 inch pan, put 2 cups of the tomato/beef mixture. Layer 3 noodles lengthwise, and then a 4th noodle across the top. You may have to break a part of the 4th noodle off to fit.
6. Spread the ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles, followed by 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.
7. Top with 1 1/2 cups tomato/beef tomato mixture.
8. Add 4 more lasagna noodles in same fashion as noted above and then top with the remaining tomato beef mixture.
9. Bake in a 375 degree oven until noodles are done – 45-60 minutes (the whole wheat noodles will take closer to an hour).
10. Top with remaining cup of mozzarella cheese along with some more Parmesan if desired. Put back in oven another 5 minutes to melt cheese.
11. Remove from oven and let stand 15-20 minutes before serving.