Posts Tagged "cheese"

One Method, Endless Pesto Possibilities

The key to learning to cook, and learning to cook well, is a willingness to experiment. If you must have exact recipes and exact ingredients then you will never feel completely comfortable in the kitchen. Cooking is learning a method and experimenting and tasting and tasting until you learn what works well together and what doesn’t.

Take pesto, for example. Sure, you can follow a recipe that shows you how to make a basic basil pesto. Or you can master the method behind making pesto. Once you understand the method, then the possibilities and ingredients are endless.

And so below are the things I have found make excellent pestos:

  1. Herbs, particularly basil. Basil is, of course, the key ingredient in a traditional pesto, and I have found it is by far the best herb to use, but why not throw in other herbs as well? Parsley works well. Even non-Italian herbs, such as cilantro, can give pesto a different twist.
  2. Greens. Not traditional, but such a good way to use greens! Spinach, arugula, and kale are my favorite. Each adds a unique taste and gives you a different pesto. Experiment with using different combinations.
  3. Garlic. Really, can you have pesto without garlic? I usually use at least 1-3 cloves, depending on how garlicky I want it to be.
  4. Nuts. Pine nuts are traditional, but, in my opinion, they are not worth the money. Experiment with other nuts. I personally love almonds and pistachios in pestos.
  5. Cheese. Though not necessary, I personally love adding cheese. Hard cheeses, such as Parmesan and Romano, are best. Also good: feta. Just don’t add too much. A handful will do. You should have far more greens and herbs than cheese.
  6. An acid. Lemon juice is traditional. About 1/2 a lemon will do the trick. Also try: Lime juice. Vinegar.
  7. Olive oil. Just enough to make it smooth.
  8. Salt and pepper. Want it spicy? Add red pepper flakes.

A bulk of the pesto should be herbs and greens. Put everything, except the olive oil, in the food processor and pulse it several times. Add the olive oil while pulsing and process until smooth. Taste and adjust and write down what works well together.

Though my favorite way to serve pesto is on pasta (no surprise, right?), you can also put it on sandwiches or meat or use it as a dressing.

 

Pictured below is a combination of arugula, spinach, basil, slithered almonds, garlic, Ramon cheese, feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

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So what’s your favorite way to make pesto?

 

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Spinach, Arugula, and Ricotta Pizza

Another favorite spring vegetable: Arugula. It’s so peppery and adds a wonderful touch to salads, sandwiches, and pizza.

Local Produce Used:

Spinach from 2 Crows Farm

Arugula from Northridge Organic.

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Recipe (which is enough for three small pizzas):

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix:

1 small container of ricotta cheese

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

red pepper flakes, to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

Spread this mixture on top of the pizza dough (make sure you leave enough for each pizza). Top with spinach leaves. Sprinkle the top of the pizza with oregano and parmesan or Romano cheese.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

When the pizza comes out of the oven, top it with the fresh arugula. The heat from the pizza will hit the arugula and give off the most amazing peppery smell. Give the pizza a few minutes to cool (if you can) and enjoy!

Photo before the arugula:

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Photo after the arugula:

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Another variation:

Add sliced mushrooms and gouda cheese on top before baking. (Photo taken before the pizza went into the oven):

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Gorgonzola Stuffed Artichokes

Artichoke season is here! I look forward to this season every year.

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Growing up, my family always served whole artichokes with melted butter to dip the leaves and heart in. In recent years, however, I learned a new way to enjoy artichokes: stuffed with a sinful amount of gorgonzola cheese (thanks for Giada de Laurentiis). It’s not often that I indulge in this much cheese at once, but trust me. This recipe is worth it.

First you must prepare the artichokes. Cut off the stem so that the artichokes can stand upright on their own. Some people also suggest cutting off the prickly tips of the leaves. I usually don’t do this and just try to be cautious when handling them. If serving guests, it might not be a bad idea.

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Bring a large pot to boil with just enough water in it to cover the artichokes about half way. Add a few lemon slices to the water, add the artichokes and steam/boil them for at least 40 minutes to an hour (depending on how big the artichokes are). When  you can easily pull a leaf off, they’re done. Drain them and set them aside to cool. You can do this step the day before, to save time.

Now to clean the artichokes. Once they’re cool enough to handle, open up the center leaves until you can see the little tiny purple leaves. Keep prying open the big leaves but don’t remove them! There’s a lot of meat on those leaves. Once you reach the tiny purple leaves, pull them out. At this point you’ll see a hairy substance (called the choke). The heart is underneath the choke. Gently scrap off the choke and discard. This is what your artichoke will look like at this point:

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And this is what the choke looks like. Don’t eat this:

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Now to prepare the stuffing, mix together:

about 8-10 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese*

2 tablespoons of half and half or heavy cream

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon of fresh or dried thyme

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley

a pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper

Stuff this inside the artichoke (it should rest between the leaves and sit on top of the heart).

Bake the artichokes, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.

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To eat, dip the leaves in the cheese and use your front teeth to scrap off the meat from each leaf. Once you get through all of the leaves, the wonderful heart will be at the bottom of the cheese, just waiting to be devoured.

*Not big on gorgonzola? My mom isn’t either. She’s tried this recipe using many different kinds of cheese and has yet to find one that melts as well as the gorgonzola. Goat cheese is doable, but it won’t be as creamy.

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Classic French Onion Soup. a.k.a The Soup that Requires a Box of Tissues to Make.

A fair warning. This recipe has a lot of steps. East steps, yes, but there’s a lot of them. See, I’m in my late twenties, I don’t have a family of my own yet, so on my day off, if I want to spend over four hours in the kitchen making soup, I can do it. In fact, when I saw this French onion soup recipe, its main appeal was how long it would take.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for old classic recipes that take hours to make.

The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated Soups, Stews and Chilis. I’ve been searching for a good soup cookbook for years and can now say that this is the one I’ve been searching for. It’s perfect. So all credit goes to the wonderful editors of Cook’s Illustrated.

To begin the recipe you:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut 4 lbs of yellow onions into slices (cut with the grain). Spray a dutch oven with cooking spray, put the onions into the dutch oven, mix with 1 teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of butter (cut into 3 pieces). Cover it and bake it for one hour.

Sounds simple, right? Except they forget to mention one minor detail in the recipe. You’re going to need an entire box of tissues to cut 4 lbs of onions. My eyes have always been sensitive to onions. They started watering after slicing 1/2 an onion. I still had 3 1/2 onions to go, so I knew I was in trouble. The process, for me, went like this: Cut an onion. Run to the bathroom and wipe eyes. Give eyes a minute to stop burning. Go back to the kitchen. Cut another onion. Try not to cut finger off while eyes are on fire and tears are blinding vision. Run back to the bathroom again.

By the time I was done, onions and tissues were all over the floor. I didn’t feel very French at this point.

This is what 4 lbs of onions looks like:

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And this is what the onions look like after baking for an hour:

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Next: stir the onions and scarp the sides of the pot. Put the onions back in the oven, covered partially this time (leave about an inch open) and cook for another 1 1/2 hours to 1 3/4 hours. When you take them out of the oven, they look like this:

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This time, after you pull them out of the oven, you put them on the stove and cook them over medium high heat for about 20-25 minutes. Stir and scrap the pot until the liquid evaporates and there’s a brown coating on the bottom. They will look like this:

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Add 1/4 cup of water and scrap up the brown parts from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water evaporates (about 6-8 minutes this time). Repeat this process 2 or 3 times. By the end, the onions will look like this:

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See how much darker they are? And to think it’s just water, onions, and butter! Anyway, stir in 1/2 cup of dry sherry and let cook for about 5 minutes. At this point I added 4 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of water (the recipe called for beef stock instead of water, but I obviously skipped the beef). Also add thyme, a bay leaf, and salt. Scrap the brown bits and let the soup simmer for 30 minutes.

Finish it off by topping each broiler proof bowl of soup with a piece of toasted bread and a handful of Gruyere cheese. Put under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

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So the verdict? This soup is amazing! The flavor is worth every single step. With that said, this is not a soup I will be doing more than once or twice a year.

And also: buy this cookbook or get it from the library. It is an excellent soup book to have on hand. I will be definitely trying more recipes soon (just maybe ones that don’t take 4 hours to make.)

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Caramelized Onion, Apple, Gorgonzola Pizza

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I love making pizza. Summer is my favorite time to make it, when the tomatoes and herbs are fresh, but that doesn’t stop me from making it during the cold months, too. This was, by far, my favorite pizza that I made this past winter. Warning: it’s not your typical pizza.

Begin by caramelizing onions. This is a slow process that takes time. Heat olive oil over medium low heat and slowly sauté one large yellow onion, sliced (for a small pizza) or two large yellow onions, sliced (for a large pizza or multiple pizzas). You don’t want the onions to brown, so keep the heat low. After about 45 minutes to an hour, they should be soft and have a nice caramel color.

Meanwhile, roast some garlic. To do this, break off the cloves (the entire head) but keep the peels on. Place the cloves in foil, drizzle with oil, and fold the foil over the garlic to form a sack. Stick it in a 375 degree oven for at least 30 minutes. Keep checking them, because the time will vary depending on how big the cloves are. Once they’re nice and soft, remove the peels and place the garlic in a food processor and pulse while adding some olive oil. Add just enough olive oil so that you can easily spread the garlic “sauce” over the dough.

Turn the oven up to 475 degrees.

Once the onions are done, it’s time to build the pizza. The layers:

  • Spread the roasted garlic/olive oil mixture over the dough. 
  • Top with the caramelized onions.
  • Next add sliced apples. I used Gold Rush, for they are in abundance in Ohio during the winter. Any winter apple will do.
  • Top with small chunks of gorgonzola cheese. Remember that it’s a strong cheese and that when it melts, it spreads, so you really don’t need that much.
  • Drizzle the top with balsamic vinegar. I used a special Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar that I had one hand. If you can find it, use it!

Put the pizza in the oven, turn the heat down to 460 degrees and bake for about 10-12 minutes (or however long it takes for the dough to brown).

Enjoy!

 

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