Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Uses for Spinach Hazelnut Pesto

The post right before this one was for spinach hazelnut pesto.  If you haven't made it yet... go do it.  If you need some inspiration on uses, here are two delicious ways I used the pesto.

Asparagus Pizza w/ Spinach Hazelnut Pesto:
I made a whole wheat rosemary dough for the crust.  Spread a good layer of the pesto over the pre-baked crust, about 1/2 C for a 12x8 (~11 in circ.) pizza.  Load it up with a low moisture mozzarella, about 1 1/2 C.  Top that with 1/2 bunch of asparagus cut on a bias into ~1 in pieces and toss with a little bit of oil, salt and pepper.  Dust the top with parmesan.  Bake until golden and bubbly.  This pizza is faaaantastic!

Grilled Vegetable and Pasta w/ Spinach Hazelnut Pesto:
We simply grilled a variety of vegetables--peppers, squash, onions, tomatoes-- that we tossed in oil, salt and pepper.  I grilled them in large pieces and then cut them up after they were cooked.  Tossed the veg with cooked pasta and added the pesto.  I did add a little more extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice to the whole thing so the pesto coated everything more easily.  Kind of the perfect side for anything... or a light meal all on its own!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spinach and Hazelnut Pesto

If you couldn't guess by my sparse, yet recent posts... I am really digging spring cooking.  Like most vegetables, I eat spinach year round.  But even the bagged stuff just gets better this time of year.  Basil isn't quite in full swing yet, so when I was contemplating making my own pesto over (the good, but not great) jarred varieties, spinach seemed the cheaply logical choice of greenage.  Hazelnuts... well, we just had them.  If you can't find them, or they are just wildly expensive, I suggest walnuts as the alternative.

Spinach and Hazelnut Pesto
2 C chopped spinach
~ 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp toasted, chopped hazelnuts
3 lrg cloves roasted garlic
1 Tbsp fresh basil (1 tsp dried)
zest of 1/2 a lemon
juice of 1 lrg lemon (~2 Tbsp)
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

   Combine ingredients.  Puree using a food processor, high powered blender, or immersion blender.  Adjust seasonings as necessary.  The consistency should be an easily spreadable, loose paste; adjust amount of oil/lemon juice as needed.
   Makes about 1 C pesto.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Creamy Zucchini and Cauliflower Soup w/ Bleu Cheese

This soup was inspired by a recipe in our ever-off-the-bookshelf cookbook, Vegetarian by Linda Frasier.  The hubs has been wanting this soup for months, but I really wanted to wait until spring when I could get tender, flavorful zucchini at the regular grocery store.  (It will be even better when I get them from the farmers market!)  This springy soup is the perfect compliment to roasted fish or grilled sandwiches.

Creamy Zucchini and Cauliflower Soup w/ Bleu Cheese
1/2 lrg vidallia onion, chopped
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1/3 head cauliflower, chopped (~2 C)
~1 3/4 lb zucchini, chopped (4 med)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/4 tsp herbs de provence
1 bay leaf
4 C water + 1 tsp vegetable base (or 4 C vegetable broth)
4 oz bleu cheese, crumbled
2 oz neufchatel cheese
1/4 C cream or half and half
salt and pepper

   Heat butter and oil over med heat in a large pot.  Saute onion until soft, 5 min.  Add cauliflower, cook about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally so no color develops.  Add zucchini, cook 5-7 minutes.
   Add water, veg base, garlic, herbs, bay leaf, 3/4 tsp salt, and ~1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper.  Cover with lid slightly tilted and simmer over med heat for 20-25 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft.
   Remove bay leaf.  Use an immersion blender (or food processor) to puree soup.  When it is about half way pureed, add cheeses.  Blend until smooth.  Add cream.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Reheat over medium, but don't heat it too much.  The soup should not be piping hot when served.  I find the flavors get lost when it is too hot.
   Serves 4.

Friday, April 6, 2012

First Cookout of the Season

 Last Sunday, my parents came over for the first cookout of the year.  Yes, we have grilled before this.  I consider a cookout to be a meal of at least 2-3 grilled items, shared with people who don't live in your house, and eaten outdoors.  It was fantastic!  My parents brought the protein and we did everything else.

First Cookout of 2012 Menu
Coastal Blend Goat Cheese Dip w/ Veggies and Crackers

New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, grilled
Slightly Smoked Filet Mignon seasoned w/ Pirates Bite
Salad w/ Roasted Asparagus, Bacon and Roasted Garlic Mustard Vinaigrette
Roasted Potatoes w/ Thyme

Grilled Pineapple w/ Greek Yogurt, Honey Berry Sauce, and Hazelnuts

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Basic Spingtime Minestrone

Even through spring is here, you sometimes get those kind of cold rainy days where a warm, comforting soup is called for.  But transitioning from heavy winter soups to light summer soups can be a challenge.  This minestrone, and minestrone in general, are a great way to celebrate the fruits of the season with a body and flavor that is honestly perfect for the whole year.  Zucchini, bell pepper, and carrots get me excited for the rest of the season to come and the beans and pasta keep is cozy.

Basic Springtime Minestrone
1 lrg onion, diced
2 med-lrg carrots, diced
2 lrg stalks celery, diced
2 med zucchini, diced
1/2 a lrg red bell pepper, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
6 C water
2 tsp vegetable base
1 14oz can cannellini bean, drained
1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
~1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano (1 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp dried thyme (1 tsp fresh)
1/4 tsp red pepper flake (optional)
1/2 lb short cut pasta, like macaroni, cooked*
extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper

   In a  large pot, heat about 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat.  Saute onion, carrot, and celery for 5-7 minutes until just getting tender.  Add zucchini and bell pepper.  Cook 3-4 more minutes.  Add garlic, cook 1 minute.
   Add water, vegetable base that has been loosened in a little of the water, beans, salt, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flake.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer.  Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
   Add vinegar.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer 4-5 more minutes.
   Serve over pasta.
   Serves 4-6

*The pasta is really good cooked in the soup.  When you add the vinegar, bring soup back to a boil and cook pasta in it for 5-6 minutes, until pasta is al dente.
However, if you aren't going to eat all the soup right away, the pasta absorbs the liquid and gets mushy so it is best to cook it separately.  In plenty of boiling, salted water, cook pasta 30 sec shy of desired doneness.  For storing, allow pasta and soup to cool completely then combine them in containers.