Marcella Hazan’s Pesto, but with a twist.

Marcella Hazan is the chef that taught me how to cook authentic Italian. She was tough and demanded authentic ingredients and no short cuts, but the recipes are timeless and still work today as well as them did 20 years ago. If you want one cookbook on Italian cooking, you can’t go wrong with her classic, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”.

Summer is the perfect time to make pesto. With all the rain we’re been having, my basil in pots has been going crazy.

There are many recipes for pesto, but I think Marcella gets the balance just right. I make a small change, because I’m not a huge fan of pine nuts. I’ve even seen authentic recipes from Genoa where they use walnuts, but I love pecans, so that’s my hack.

The basil, washed and patted dry, olive oil and butter
 
 
Use a food processor, with garlic, pecans and basil to begin.
 
 
Pesto, finished by hand.
 

Ingredients

1 lb Pasta, I think Spaghetti, linguine or spaghettini work best. But if you can’t manage that, fusilli, orecchiette or farfalle can work too.

2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, crushed with flat side of your knife and finely minced
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
4 Tbsp Pecans or Walnuts or pine nuts if you like them.

2nd Set of Ingredients

3 Tbsp Butter
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
1/4 cup finely grated Romano

Put all the first set of ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you get a smooth consistency. Then transfer into a bowl and fold in the second set of ingredients by hand until the mixture is smooth and put into the refrigerator. I find it improves after about one hour.

Take your pesto out of the refrigerator. Start the water for pasta, give it at least 1 Tbsp of salt. Once it’s boiling add in your pasta.

About 4 minutes before the pasta is done scoop out some hot pasta water and set aside.

Cook the pasta for another 2 minutes, drain and add the pasta back to the cooking pan. Add the pesto and a splash of the pasta water over medium low heat and stir to coat the pasta for an additional 2 minutes. You may not need all of the reserved pasta water. Serve with additional cheese as desired.

Note: If you have the time, any of the nuts can benefit from a roasting in the oven. Just put on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven at 325F for 5-6 minutes and then let them cool.

Pan Fried Cod with Gochujang Glaze

This is very good recipe for any firm fish, but is particularity well suited to cod. Additionally, this would also be good on a grill.

If you are unfamiliar with gochujang, it is a Korean fermented chili paste which is packed with flavor and recently has become a very popular ingredient in the food press. Now there\’s gochujang catsup, mayo and potato chips.

I used a pan and it created an amazing glaze on the cod. One day I will tackle the Black Cod Miso from Nobu. Stay tuned.

Ingredients

Marinade:
1 Tbsp Gochujang Paste
1/2 cup White Wine or Rice Wine
Freshly ground Black Pepper

2 Tbsp Shallots, minced
3 Tbsp Clarified Butter
1/2 cup White Wine
4 pieces Atlantic Cod loins or evenly sized filets.

Mix up your marinade and thoroughly coat the cod loins. Cover and put into the refrigerator. I find they improve with at least an hour in the marinade.

Remove your cod from the refrigerator. Add your shallots and white wine into a small saucepan and gently simmer them for 5 minutes and set aside.

Heat your sauté-pan and add the clarified butter and bring it up to a high temperature. Gently lay in the cod and allow it to cook for 3 – 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Flip and allow same on the other side. Remove to heated plates and begin to prepare your sauce.

Add your reserved white wine and shallots mixture directly to the cooking pan and deglaze the pan. The sauce will turn reddish from the gochujang residue. Spoon the sauce over the cod and serve.


Many thanks to Yummy Bazaar for the pic.

Pan Seared Scallops

These are so simple to make, yet people seem to shy away from preparing them. You often see them on the menu in fine restaurants. They are a popular and tasty restaurant dish, so why not learn make them at home.

I find the frozen raw Costco scallops to be very good. They are not treated with chemicals and are frozen immediately after harvesting. Just thaw them, rinse them and pat them dry and they are ready to go.

The key to getting these seared to perfection is to make sure they are absolutely dry before they go in the pan. The pan must be very hot, hence why you need to use clarified butter. Normal butter would burn before the pan got hot enough to sear.

If you do not have clarified butter use a sturdy vegetable oil, but the clarified butter gives them an amazing flavor.

Finally, and most importantly, do not over cook them. Literally, they need 2 minutes on each side.

Ingredients

10 dry Sea Scallops, 15-20 ct or slightly larger
Celery Salt
Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Clarified Butter
1/2 Lemon, juiced
1/4 cup White Wine
1 Tbsp fresh Chives, chopped

Begin by preparing all the ingredients, as once you start cooking it will go quickly.

Put your oven on its lowest setting and put your dinner plates in there, so they will be slightly warm. This is important, as you will transfer the seared scallops to them while you prepare your sauce. Season your scallops on both sides with celery salt and black pepper.

Heat your pan until it is very hot, add your clarified butter and once it starting to smell nutty and turn a bit golden, quickly add your scallops. Don’t disturb them while they are searing. Two minutes on one side turn them over with tongs. Two more minutes and transfer them to your heated plates.

Add the white wine and lemon juice and deglaze the pan. As the sauce starts to thicken, add the chives. Then spoon over the scallops and serve immediately. They are great with my seafood rice pilaf.

Seafood Rice Pilaf – Updated

This is an interesting pilaf recipe because it uses Thai brown jasmine rice rather than normal white long grain rice. Also, I’ve omitted the traditional orzo, as I just don’t feel it adds anything to the recipe.

I find the resulting pilaf has more flavor and when prepared with the seafood stock it’s the perfect side for any sort of fish or seafood. Or, any grilled or roasted dish for that matter.

With the seafood stock and the addition of the Thai fish sauce, I don’t find that additional salt is needed.

Ingredients

1 cup Brown Jasmine Rice
2 cups Seafood Stock. I think Imagine stock is very good.
1 tsp Thai Fish Sauce
3 Tbsp Butter
1/2 Onion, chopped
1/2 Red Bell Pepper, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground Turmeric
2 Bay Leaves
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1/8 tsp Smoked Paprika

In a saucepan, add the butter and sauté the onions, red pepper and garlic. After these are translucent, add the rice and brown it until it starts to smell toasty.

Add your seafood stock, fish sauce, bay leaves, black pepper and smoked paprika and bring it up to a lively simmer. Cover and lower heat and cook for 20 minutes. Stirring occasionally.

Once it’s done remove from the heat and allow it to rest covered for at least 5 minutes. Serve with fish or seafood.

Note: If you can’t locate a good quality seafood stock, you can substitute low sodium vegetable stock, and increase the fish sauce to 2 tsp.

Pasta, the long and short of it.

I have probably had this conversation with more people than just about any other subject in Italian cooking. The usual comment is, “Isn’t all dried pasta basically the same”? “Are the imported pastas really worth the extra money”?

Well, let me get the first question out of the way. Yes, if you are looking at a reputable brand, which we will discuss later, they should all be made with 100% Durum wheat semolina and water. As for the second question, well that requires a bit of explanation.

If the ingredients are basically the same, then what could contribute to a better tasting pasta? I believe there are a few fundamental differences. One, the wheat used should be 100% Durum wheat semolina, not durum flour. This is one the most basic differences. And, how does this effect the final result? If a pasta is made with durum flour, it will tend to be starchy and not really hold up to be al dente when cooked. This durum flour is commonly used in American pastas, and is cheaper. Remember, just because it says it’s the number one pasta in Italy, it doesn’t mean that the basic recipe is the same as in Italy.

The other major difference is the speed with which the pastas are dried. This appears to be a very fundamental difference and from my taste test really does effect the final result. Bottom line, the slower the pasta is dried, the better it will hold up to cooking and the better it tastes. The easiest way to describe it is, it has body and depth of flavor. Your artisan pasta brands from Italy will have been dried very slowly on racks.


Finally, the higher end Italian brands most often use bronze dies to extrude the pasta, and thus the surface texture is a little rougher, which means it holds the sauce better.


So, where does this leave us? I have rated a few of the pastas I have personally tried. Some are expensive, but others are more reasonable. I suggest you try a few and find one that you like. It really does make a difference.


Basic Can’t Go Wrong Pasta


De Cecco – This is probably the easiest to find of the premium pastas and it is good quality and reasonable. It’s the blue box. Available in most grocery stores.


One Step Up Pasta


Martelli – This is the one in the yellow bag and is normally available at Williams Sonoma and some other higher end retailers. A very good choice with wonderful flavor. Great when you just want a pasta with butter and cheese. Available online at www.gustiamo.com


Rustichella D’Abruzzo – This is one of my absolute favorites. Amazing taste and texture. This is the pasta that really changed my mind about how good a higher quality pasta could taste. Available at Amazon.


Faella – Not easy to find, but really top notch. This is pushing into the premium brand category. Available online at www.gustiamo.com


The Best Of The Best


Columbro – One of very best and not easy to find in stores, but easy to find online. It is expensive, but the flavor is like nothing you’ve every tried. This is a special occasion pasta. Available online at www.olioandolive.com


Preparing your pasta


Now that we have reviewed the pastas, let me share a few fundamentals to make sure your pasta turns out perfectly.


1) Use a lot of water. Do not skimp on the water. Pasta needs to be able to move around the pot. You do not need to add olive oil to the water.


2) Salt the water heavily. This will infuse the salt into the pasta and then most will be poured away, so no need to worry about it being too salty.


3) Choose the right pasta for the sauce. Use thin pastas, like spaghetti and linguine for oil based and cream sauces and larger shapes for more robust sauces like marinara.


4) Do not add too much sauce. The sauce is a complement to the pasta, not the other way around. If there is one thing that ruins good pasta, it\’s too much sauce, because it covers up the flavor of the beautiful pasta.


5) Finally, do not overcook. Follow the directions and check it at the lowest time and then check every minute from then on. Example, if it says to cook from 8-12 minutes, then check at 8, 9, 10, etc.


6) Scoop out a little of the pasta cooking water about 4 minutes before the pasta is done, and set it aside. I use a Pyrex measuring cup.


5) Finally, to finish your pasta, drain it and add it back to the cooking pan, add a bit of sauce, a bit of the reserved pasta water, then a bit of cheese and stir until it starts to glisten. Add a bit more cheese on top and serve immediately. Cold pasta is a travesty.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Fresh Figs

This is a wonderful dish from Yotam Ottolenghi. It is a stable in his famous London restaurant, Ottolenghi. 

It is not difficult to prepare, but just takes a bit of time to roast the sweet potatoes. It is infinitely better with fresh figs, but in a pinch, you could use dried figs. 

Yotam’s suggestion to use a balsamic glaze is a good one and really saves a lot of time. If you can not find a balsamic glaze, then you can make your own by slowly reducing balsamic vinegar with some added sugar.

Ingredients 

4 medium Sweet Potatoes (2 lbs in total, try to get them in a similar size, so they will cook evenly) 
5 Tbsp Olive Oil 
3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar Glaze
12 Spring Onions, halved lengthways and cut into 2 inch segments 
1 red chilli, thinly sliced 
6 fresh and ripe Figs, quartered 
1 tsp Sea Salt 

Black Pepper 

Preheat the oven to 475F.  Wash the sweet potatoes, halve them lengthways and then cut each again similarly into three long wedges. Mix with three tablespoons of the olive oil, sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. 

Spread the wedges out on a parchment covered baking sheet, skin-side down, and cook for about 25 minutes until soft but not mushy. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down. 

Heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and add the spring onions and chilli. Fry on a medium heat for 4–5 minutes, stirring often, making sure not to burn the chilli, and then spoon the oil, onions and chilli over the sweet potatoes. Dot the fresh figs among the wedges and then drizzle over the balsamic reduction. 


Thank you to Yotam Ottolenghi for the amazing pic.

Hummus, the ultimate mezze.

I’m always trying to improve my recipes, so when I get in the mood to make some hummus, it’s time get out the chemistry set. Hummus is so simple to make, yet so easy to ruin. It can be too garlicky, too much lemon or coarse and lumpy.

 

After quite a few batches, I have a very good recipe and one secret technique to produce the most creamy hummus you\’ve ever tasted. After making this, you will never want store bought hummus again. Often, I find that people add too much garlic in hummus and it becomes bitter and sharp. The garlic should be an afterthought, not front and center. My way to avoid this, is to roast the garlic prior to adding to the hummus.

Additionally, I always use organic chickpeas, because the non organic will have preservatives and it leaves a bitter taste that can not be washed or rinsed away.

Ingredients

1 29 oz can of Organic Chickpeas, drained. Or water retained for other uses.
5-6  cloves of fresh Garlic, roasted.
1/2 cup Tahini
Juice of 3-4 Lemons
1 Tbsp Lemon Zest
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 tsp Sea Salt
Smoked Paprika-Optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and put peeled garlic cloves in a small ramekin with the 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Roast until they are nicely browned. It normally takes about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.

Place the drained chickpeas into a food processor, and pulse to bring them to a smooth blended consistency.

Add the lemon juice (start with 3 lemons, you can always add more), salt, lemon zest, roasted garlic and olive oil and pulse again. Then add the tahini one tablespoon at a time. It may get thick, but it will loosen up again.

Now, here\’s the secret tip. Turn the food processor on again and as it is blending, start dropping in ice cubes one at a time. It usually takes 3-4 cubes to really make the hummus creamy, but you will see the difference. When it starts to lighten slightly and turn a cream color, it is done. Taste and adjust for lemon and salt. Put into the refrigerator

Then just before serving, sprinkle with smoked paprika and drizzle with additional olive oil if desired and serve with pita bread or veggies.

Babaghanoush – Smoky and Delicious

This is a traditional “mezze” dish. Mezze are small dishes that can be served for either lunch or dinner and can also be starters for a larger meal. I personally like to have 3 or 4 different ones and serve them as a meal.

There are many versions popular throughout the Middle East, but fundamentally most are quite similar. I like this one because it is smoky and richly flavored.

Ingredients
3-4 Medium Eggplants
2 cloves crushed Garlic
4 – 5 Tbsp Tahini
Juice of 2-3 Lemons
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is heating, take the eggplants and prick them all over. This is essential so they will not explode when you cook them. Turn on a gas flame and brown the eggplant skin on all sides, turning them frequently. A pair of tongs makes this very easy. This will take about 5-8 minutes, but keep a close watch on them.
After they are well browned, put them onto an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and into the preheated oven for approx 45 minutes or until they are wrinkly and soft.
Take them out and allow them to cool. Then slice them in half and take a soup spoon and gently remove the flesh. Make sure to get all of the darkly colored flesh close the skin, as this is where you will get the smoky flavor. Make sure not to get any of the skin.
Put the flesh into the food processor and pulse and then add the remaining ingredients. Begin by adding the lemon juice, garlic and then the tahini a bit at a time. Finish with one tablespoon of the olive oil and the reminder of the olive oil can be poured over the top just prior to serving.
I prefer this after it has rested in the refrigerator for a few hours. Once it has cooled, taste again for salt and serve with warm pita bread.
Note: This dish is made by tasting, as some eggplants can be bitter and some less so. 

Gai Pad Prik Grapao/Chicken with Hot Chilies and Basil

I love making Thai food at home, and I\’ve always prided myself on getting that authentic Thai flavor, but if I’m completely honest, I have to admit it always seemed to be missing a little something. 

Well, I have found out what that little something was. It’s called Golden Mountain Sauce and it has been called the “secret of Thai cooking” and has been used in Thailand for over 50 years. Use it as you would soy sauce, but mix it equal parts with fish sauce to get the real Thai flavor. 

Thais’ love fresh basil, and use many different types. Most of us are familiar with Sweet Basil, and this is easy to find in any market. However, it’s the “Holy Basil”, known as Bai Grapao, which is the most flavorful and authentic. 
 
This basil has an anise type of flavor and gives this dish an amazing flavor and dimension that just doesn’t taste the same with sweet basil. 
 
You should always use fresh basil for this recipe, as the dried variety will not give acceptable results, unless you can find the authentic dried Thai Grapao.
 
Ingredients 

¾ lb. skinless, boneless Chicken Breast, coarsely ground and marinated in about 1/2 Tbsp. of Fish Sauce, and 1/2 Tbsp. of Golden Mountain Sauce.
1 large Onion, Sliced
1 Sweet Red Pepper, sliced
2 Thai Chilies, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. of Peanut or another vegetable oil
3 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Fresh Ginger Root, Finley chopped
Handful of fresh Basil, pulled apart just before adding to the dish. Chopping fresh basil causes it to turn black while cooking.
 
Sauce, this will be added at the end.
 
1 Tbsp. Fish Sauce
1 Tbsp Golden Mountain Sauce
2 tsp. white sugar, brown sugar or palm sugar
 
 
Start the heat under your wok, or a large skillet may also be used. Add the oil and then quickly add the ginger and the garlic. Stir-fry for about 1 minute. 
 
Add the chicken and stir-fry until the pinkness is just gone. This takes only about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Add the onions and peppers, and cook until they soften slightly, then add the sauce and the fresh basil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the basil starts to release its wonderful fragrance. Serve with steamed white or brown Jasmine rice.

Goong Pad Gra Phrao- Stir Fried Prawns with Basil

This is a common dish in Pattaya and also in Phuket as these areas have a lot of seafood This is simple to make and very tasty. There are so many versions of this recipe, as each chef or street vendor has there own trick. The brilliance of Thai cuisine is it’s inventiveness, so experimentation is encouraged.

The key to make this perfectly is to not over cook the shrimp. It’s hard to believe it, but once they curl, they are done.

Ingredients 

1 lb. raw Prawns, shelled. 18-20 count is good size.

2 Tbsp. of Peanut or another Vegetable Oil
4 cloves chopped Garlic1 tbsp chopped fresh peeled Ginger Root
1/2 large Onion, sliced

1/2 Sweet Red Pepper, sliced

2 finely chopped Thai Chilies, or you can substitute Serranos chilies.
Handful of fresh Basil, pulled apart just before adding to the dish.

Sauce, this will be added at the end.

1 Tbsp. Oyster Sauce, use a premium quality brand.

1 Tbsp. Fish Sauce

1 Tbsp low sodium Light Soy Sauce

2 tsp. white sugar, brown sugar or palm sugar

Heat your wok, or a large skillet may also be used. Once the wok is very hot add your oil and add the ginger, garlic and chopped hot chilies and sauté. This will take 1 minute. Be careful to not let the garlic burn.

Then add the onion and peppers and stir-fry until almost fully cooked. This takes only about 2 to 3 minutes max. Add the prawns and cook until they just begin to curl and turn pink. This usually takes no more than 1 to 2 minutes.

Now add the sauce and the fresh basil and cook for an additional minute. Serve immediately with steamed jasmine rice.