Posts tagged ‘basil’

October 15, 2012

Rosemary Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato basil soup paired with a stringy mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich is a classic.  It’s been copied and modified a million times over and I still think the traditional rosemary scented soup and crunchy buttered sandwich makes any Tuesday night a little more special.

Soup should really be considered it’s own food group.  I pride myself in being the sole person to order a warm tortilla soup in the middle of Houston summer, or chilled cucumber-melon bisque when it’s 20 below.  (I happened to have both melon bisque and puréed corn chowder with chili oil at my wedding.)  There’s something about soup I find utterly addicting.  The combination of flavors, the variety of textures, and most importantly the crunchy garlic croutons, crispy bacon, or fresh herbs that get delicately placed on top and slowly sink into the silky, savory bisque.

The roasted, sweet tomatoes combined with the tangy bite of rosemary sourdough bread soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day.  The bread gives this soup a thick texture with a mouthy richness I often find missing in perfectly velvety broths.  Aromatic sweet basil with hints of mint and pepper brighten the flavor and offer you a taste of summer just when you think fall has taken over.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 28oz
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 4 large slices of sourdough rosemary bread
  • 3/4 cup light whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • Freshly sliced mozzarella cheese for topping
  • Basil for garnish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.
  2. In a heavy bottomed stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Add butter and red pepper flakes and sauté for 10 minutes on medium heat.  Onions should become transparent but should not brown.
  4. Add stewed tomatoes, canned tomatoes (including juice), salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a large saucepan on medium heat.
  5. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Roughly tear the bread into smaller pieces and add to the pot.  I break up the bread so it’s easier to spoon out and purée.
  7. Next you’ll puree the soup in small batches, so I usually remove it from the heat and let it cool a little before I begin this process.  The soup should still have texture and not be completely smooth.  The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s perfectly silky in texture.
  8. Carefully puree, along with the basil leaves in small batches. You can use a blender, food processor, or better yet, one of those handy hand-held food blenders, right in the pot.  If you use a blender BE CAREFUL!  The heat will force the top off the blender and you’ll be cleaning soup off your ceiling for weeks, or you’ll burn your hands so just fill it up half way and pulse it gently.
  9. Return to saucepan and add cream and milk, while stirring, over low heat.
  10. Garnish with basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and serve with a warm slice of sourdough bread.

For a healthier version, leave out the butter and replace the cream with non-fat milk.  Enjoy!

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July 11, 2012

Capellini with Arrabbiata Sauce and Grilled Chicken Breast

I can’t bring myself to buy jarred pasta sauce when it takes less than 10 minutes to make it from scratch.  It just doesn’t compare to the bright flavors of freshly made pasta sauce – and it’s not just better tasting it also better for you.

The simplest, and most authentic marinara is a quick sauce, seasoned only with onion, garlic, pepper, and, if you like, basil or oregano. The pieces of tomato are left chunky, and the texture of the finished sauce is fairly loose.  It’s that easy. Toss with your favorite pasta and you’re weeknight meal is a quick trip to Italy!  Once you have this base, with just a few adjustments, you can make a range of sauces from a few simple ingredients.

Today we’re making Capellini with arrabiata sauce.  This dish’s name – arrabbiata – comes from the Italian word for “angry” because of the spicy tomato and red pepper.  The sweet tomatoes balance the heat from the peppers and will awaken any palate.  The salty, charred flavor from the grilled chicken offsets the heat and adds an element of texture to this luscious bowl of pasta.  No need for take out tonight, make a large bowl of pasta for your family and I promise you’ll go to bed with full bellies and a full wallet. 

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast
  • 1 packet Capellini pasta (angel hair)
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, 8 oz.
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 16 oz.
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 2 tbsp. red-hot chili pepper (use more or less depending on the level of heat desired)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tbsp. Fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • Handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Chicken seasoning

  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Method

  1. Place large pot of water on stove to boil for the pasta.  Once it boils lower it to a simmer until everything else is ready.  The pasta only takes 4 minutes to cook so it’s the last thing you want to do, but you want to have the water ready to go.
  2. Place skillet on medium heat and add olive oil.
  3. Saute onion, garlic, salt and pepper for about 5 minutes.  You want the onions to turn opaque; you don’t want them to brown.
  4. Add diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and tomato paste.  Stir in Italian seasoning and red-hot chili peppers and return to a low simmer.
  5. Carefully spoon out about half the mixture and place it in a food processor.  You can also use a blender but be careful and hold the lid down tightly since the heat will want to push it up.
  6. Blend half the sauce and add it back into the skillet.  This will add richness to the sauce while still keeping some texture.
  7. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano and lower heat to low.  Now it’s chicken time!
  8. Turn grill on medium~high (350 degrees)
  9. Mix chicken spices in a small bowl and sprinkle on top and bottom of chicken breast
  10. Spray hot grill with PAM and place chicken over direct heat.
  11. Close lid and cook for approx. 6 minutes, then flip and cook another 6 minutes with the lid closed.  Chicken’s done at 165 deg. There is no rare or med rare for chicken. You have to cook it done every time! Try not to prick the breast much, it will make the juices run out and cause it to be dry.
  12. Remove chicken from grill and let it rest while you cook the pasta.  Don’t slice immediately; wait until you’re ready to serve.
  13. Return water to a boil, salt water (1 tbsp. salt) and add pasta.
  14. Stir well and let boil for 4 minutes.  Start the 4 minutes as soon as you drop in the pasta.
  15. While pasta cooks, add parsley and basil to the sauce.
  16. Drain well and reserve a cup of pasta water to add to the sauce.  This thin pasta is very delicate and will turn to mush if you over cook it.
  17. Add drained pasta directly into sauce and stir.  Add some of the pasta water if needed; it will help loosen the sauce if it gets too thick.
  18. Fill a large bowl with a healthy serving of pasta and top with sliced chicken breast.

Diverti!

December 6, 2011

Thyme Couscous

Like pasta, couscous doesn’t have much of a flavor itself.  But that’s one of the best things about it; you can add a variety of flavors, textures and spices to make it fit any mood.  When I’m already busy putting together a main dish, couscous is the perfect addition when you have your hands full.  It only takes 5 minutes to create fluffy, delicate pillows of joy.

Since couscous is so delicate, you need to be careful with the spice level and what you use.  It will add a great deal of flavor; so if you add something spicy like cayenne that’s all you’ll be able to taste.  I also want to steer you away from using dried herbs, fresh ones are in a completely different category.  It’s like comparing a fresh, crisp Fuji apple to those chewy dried fruit slices better known to me as foamy rubber nothingness.  Couscous cooks in 5 minutes, so the dried herbs don’t have a chance to reconstitute and end up getting stuck in your teeth apart from anything else.  So have fun with fresh herbs, and enjoy these combinations.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Line baking sheet with foil and distribute pine nuts evenly
  3. Toast pine nuts for 10 mins.  Remove when they’re slightly golden around the edges and set aside to cool
  4. In medium saucepan, add couscous, water, butter, salt, fresh thyme and garlic powder. Stir with fork to distribute thyme.  I pinch the thyme with my fingers before adding it in as it helps release the oils and favor.
  5. Bring to a light boil, quickly stir with fork, remove from heat and cover
  6. Let stand 4-5 minutes
  7. Fluff with fork
  8. Add cooled, toasted pint nuts

Here are some of my other favorites!

Basil and Sun-dried Tomato Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (add it after the couscous has cooled or the leaves will turn dark brown)
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. black olives (optional)

Curry and Raisin Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. curry powder
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tbsp. fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. toasted ground peanuts

Cranberry & Feta Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup crumbles fresh feta
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted, slivered almonds
  • Fresh parsley for garnish
October 2, 2011

Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Creamy Tomato Sauce

It’s starting to cool down (well, maybe not in Houston) but my mind-set say it’s time for Fall, and with it comes a new array of dishes for the colder weather.  Pasta is my all time go to, there is so much you can do with it and I always fee like it’s a perfectly balanced meal, especially when you add a side salad.

Instead of starting from scratch with ground pork or beef, I start with hot Italian sausage, which already has a great base of spices and seasoning.  It just needs a little doctoring up, and you have a great base for any pasta sauce.  I love the heartiness of this dish, and the spice you get from the sausage.  The auburn color of the sauce reminds me of the leaves changing in Vermont, and it pops with the addition of the fresh green basil and the creamy specks of Parmesan cheese.

Ingredients

  • 18 oz hot Italian sausage
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground back pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 6 roma tomatoes, diced with seeds and juice removed
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 chicken bullion cube
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 lb. spaghetti pasta (or whatever’s your favorite)
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese (I highly urge you to buy the real stuff, not the cheese in the green can that shall remain unnamed)
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves for garnishing

Method

  • Heat medium size skillet to medium~high
  • Peel the casing off the sausage and crumble into skillet
  • Add fennel, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes
  • Brown sausage and continue to break it up with a wooden spoon into bite size pieces, it doesn’t have to be even, just break it up as much as you can.  Takes about 5-10 minutes for sausage to cook through
  • Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel lined plate, leave the oils and juices in the skillet, you’ll use this to cook the onions and garlic
  • Lower heat to medium~low and add onion, garlic salt and pepper, cook for 10 minutes (this is sweating the onions, you want them to become translucent, not brown)
  • Add canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, tomato paste and stir for 1 minute
  • Add bullion cube, water, sugar and cooked sausage
  • Simmer on low for 10 minutes
  • While sauce simmers, place large pot of water on high and bring to a boil for the pasta
  • Once boiling, add 1 tbsp. of salt and pasta and boil for 9 minutes, or longer depending on the type of pasta you’re using.  I like mine al dente, so I boil mine about 30-60 seconds less than what the package recommends.
  • Strain pasta
  • Add cream to sauce and stir, then remove from heat
  • Usually I would recommend stirring the pasta in with the sauce, but tonight I wanted to put it on top so you could see the vivid color and velvety consistency of the sauce
  • Top with parmesan cheese and basil
  • Repeat for seconds!

Feel free to use different sausage or mild Italian if you’re sensitive to the heat.  I don’t find this dish too spicy, but it would be for kids, so just mellow it out to match your taste.  Happy Fall!

September 9, 2011

Pesto

Break out the food processor; it’s attack of the basil plant!

It all started with two small, innocent looking basil plants I picked up at Lowe’s.  I went with two plants, thinking they’d both be dead within a week based on my record.  The leaves would start to wilt on the way home knowing they were about to be subjected to over watering and lack of sunlight in my small apartment.  I’ll admit I do not have the necessary gardening skills to keep even a cactus alive.  So you can imagine my surprise when I found 3-foot plants with more basil than I knew what to do with?  I guess my luck changed in Houston… sadly not due to anything I did, but thanks to the hot, humid weather.

Basil’s pervading, clove-like aroma is intoxicating; it’s extremely aromatic with a scent of pepper, anise, and mint.  The minute the smell hits me I’m transported to an Italian café where I wait for a fresh margarita pizza.  The taste is sweet, but savory, and just like the smell it’s peppery with a hint of spicy mint.

In an effort to control my garden, I went on a pesto fest, and started making jars of herby goodness to share with family and friends.  Below please find 3 of my pesto recipes.  All you need to do it combine all ingredients in a food processor and process on high-speed till evenly chopped and mixed.

Basil Pesto

  • 3 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Walnut Pesto: Substitute pine nuts for 1/2 cup walnuts; it has a slightly nuttier flavor and can also help you stretch your dollar since pine nuts can be quite pricey!

Mint Pesto: Substitute 1 1/2 cup basil for 1 1/2 cup mint leaves


While basil is abundant at the moment, I also suggest that you experiment with other herbs.  Pesto does not need to be basil based; I’ve tried mint, cilantro, rosemary and arugula.  Each one has a unique flavor, and can be added to bread, fish, meat, or enjoyed straight from the jar with some cheese.  With a basic formula you can come up with a myriad of variations by replacing the basil and pine nuts. Try these combos:

  • Arugula & toasted walnuts
  • Mint & toasted almonds
  • Cilantro & cashews
  • Basil, Rosemary & toasted walnuts
  • Cilantro & toasted pumpkin seeds

The other great thing about basil is it can be frozen and stored successfully for a few weeks.  The best method I’ve found is to place a small bunch in a clean Ziploc bag, blow some air in to inflate it, and place in the freezer where it won’t get squashed. You’ll find it quite convenient to then snip off a few leaves any time of year to add to pasta sauce, salads, or dressings.

August 31, 2011

Pasta Ponza

Wait for it…. go!  I dash for the sink where I scoop up a big clump of freshly cooked pasta and try to navigate it into my mouth before I got caught.

I guess my Italian heritage runs strong, as I’ve always had a strong love for pasta.  In fact, you might call it an addiction.  No matter what time of year, pasta always has a place on my menu.  I remember my mum cooking her homemade spaghetti and the smell of fresh garlic and leeks throughout the house, no matter how much I try to replicate it never seems to come out the same.  During the summers, I would load up on pasta carbonara the night before a big swim meet, hoping the pasta gods would help me pop my time and qualify for the county swim meet.   While the ratio of sauce to pasta has changed over the years, the aroma and flavor of a warm bowl of pasta will always be the same.  I’ll eventually share all my favorite pasta dishes, but the one I have today is something you can whip up on the busiest of nights, and I promise you wont go to bed hungry.

If you’ve ever picked up a container of bright cherry and pear-shaped yellow tomatoes and couldn’t resist buying 2 or 3 cartons, then this recipe’s for you. Their sweet, crisp flavor breathes summer, and they’re the main ingredient in pasta ponza. Part of the attraction of this recipe is its adorable name. Wouldn’t it make you smile to say (even to yourself) that you’re going home to make ‘pasta ponza’ for dinner?

The sauce gets most of its flavor from combining several varieties of tomatoes. The recipe suggests half red cherry and half yellow cherry tomatoes, but you could use any combination you’d like.  The sauce is so simple, you start by placing the tomatoes and capers in a baking dish, drizzling them with olive oil, sprinkling them with seasoned bread crumbs and roasting the mixture in the oven for about 30 minutes.  Done, that’s it!  I know, could this be any easier?!?

When it’s ready, the breadcrumbs will be golden-brown and crunchy, and the tomatoes will be slightly broken down, juicy and very intense.  Once added to the pasta, the salty bite of the Pecorino-Romano really brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, and the breadcrumb topping coats each piece of pasta with mild Italian herbs and creamy cheese.

This is a staple in my busy workweek, and it’s just as good the next day for lunch.  Quick tip: when you reheat it the following day, add a splash of water to the bowl to get the sauce back to its creamy consistency.

This recipe is inspired by Giada De Laurentiis, and of course I tweaked it to make it my own, and I encourage you to do the same.

Ingredients

  • Butter for greasing
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) red cherry or grape tomatoes cut into halves
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) yellow cherry or grape tomatoes cut into halves
  • 1/3 cup capers, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped (if you really like capers throw in a few more, I usually do)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs (plain breadcrumbs are too bland, I really recommend these, and if you can;t find them throw in a handful of Italian seasoning to give it some flavor)
  • 1 pound ziti or other short tube-shaped pasta
  • 1 1/4 cups Pecorino Romano or Asiago cheese, grated (Please don’t buy the cheese in a green can, buy the good stuff, you’ll thank me later)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • If you need to make this pasta more appealing to a meat-loving loved one, feel free to add grilled chicken, Italian sausage or crumbled bacon.

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish.
  • Place the tomatoes, capers, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the prepared baking dish. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the tomato mixture. Drizzle the top with olive oil and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden.
  • Cool for 5 minutes.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat (add the salt after it’s boiling so it flavors the pasta… go, on, throw in a small handful, do it!).
  • Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water to add later when creating the sauce.
  • Place the pasta in a large serving bowl. Spoon the tomato mixture on the pasta. Add the cheese and toss well. Add a little of the pasta water to help create a sauce, it helps the cheese melt and coat the pasta tubes.
  • Sprinkle with the chopped basil and more cheese and serve immediately.
  • Return for seconds!
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