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Archive for the ‘Basil’ Category

I would love to find out how and why we get cravings.  They’re such a mystery, and at the same time, so important in driving people’s food habits.  It may be a combination of biological need, psychological drive, environmental stimuli (e.g. advertising), or completely random.  I have no idea – but I do know that I am not the only person to fall victim to these feelings!  I also recognize that some are more able to indulge in their cravings than others, which has begun to make me think about what being able to fulfill cravings might actually mean.

Some days, all I crave is the deliciously comforting combination of cheese and tomatoes.  And those days are particularly dangerous when I walk into a grocery store, as happened a few days ago.  The result: ridiculous amounts of cheese, and the resolve to make cannelloni for dinner.  I sure am happy I actualized my craving, as it resulted in a delicious meal with copious amounts of left-overs to keep me going for the next few days of unexpected snow.

Cannelloni in the making!

Ingredients

-3 garlic cloves, minced, and separated into 2
-2 + 2 Tbsp olive oil
-1 tsp each dried basil, oregano, and parsley
-1/2 tsp dried thyme
-2 cans tomatoes (purée’d or diced are best)
-pinch salt, pepper
-1 leek, minced
-1 large handful each parsley (flat-leaf is best) and basil, chopped
-1 pound ricotta cheese
-1 package strained cottage cheese
-2 eggs, beaten
-1/2 cup grated mozzarella
-1 package cannelloni or lasagna sheet noodles
-1/4 cup parmesan, grated

Directions

In a frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add 1/2 the garlic, the dried herbs, and stir for 2 minutes.  Then add the canned tomatoes, salt, and pepper.  Simmer this down for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another frying pan, heat the rest of the olive oil.  Add the minced leek, and let this melt for about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic, and then the chopped fresh herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, cottage cheese, 1/2 the mozzarella and 1/2 the parmesan, the eggs.  Mix, and then add the leek mixture, and mix again.

Then, either pipe the mix into the cannelloni noodles, or if you like assembly like me, spoon it/pipe a line onto one end of a lasagna noodle (cut them in half), and then roll it up.  Place the cannelloni in an oven dish that has been oiled with olive oil.  Continue to use up all the filling in the rest of the noodles, and then cover it all with tomato sauce generously.  The noodles soak up a lot of the sauce.  Cover the top with the rest of the cheese.  Bake at 375F for 30 minutes, until the top is golden crispy and the noodles are cooked.

-Sitelle

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The snow is finally all gone in Halifax.  I saw crocuses in bloom today, a sure sign spring is coming.  There is nothing like pesto and asparagus to mark one’s excitement for spring!  (I confess that unlike Sitelle, I have given into the gorgeous looking and tasting asparagus from Mexico).  Pesto pasta is one of my absolutely favorite meals, and one can always count on roasted vegetables to brighten any pasta.  When produce is plentiful, grilling the veggies over the barbecue adds another level of complexity to the dish, but until summer hits, the oven does a respectable job.

This is another dish that uses, as my mother likes to call it, “the little white sauce”.  Like its namesake, this simple béchamel is the perfect versatile base for so many dishes: Add a few cups of cheddar for macaroni and cheese, mustard to make it devilish, or mushrooms and sherry for a delicious mushroom sauce.  Usually I have a few cubes of frozen pesto that I throw into the little white sauce, but tonight I used fresh – a delicate almond romano parsley pesto!

Pesto Pasta with Caremelized Onions, Roasted Asparagus, and Zucchini

(4 servings)

Ingredients:

Roasted Vegetables:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 zucchini, sliced

1 red onion, sliced

1 bunch asparagus, bottom part of stalk snapped off, cut into 2 inch segments

2 tomatoes, cut into eight wedges

Pesto Pasta:

300 grams whole wheat penne pasta

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 generous cup milk

Salt and Pepper

¼ cup pesto (https://gourmeh.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/almond-romano-parsley-pesto/)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Toss the veggies in the olive oil and garlic, and place on a tray.  Roast for 20 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, boil salted water, cook until al dente, and drain the pasta.  In a large saucepan, melt the butter and flour over medium heat.  Allow the roux to bubble for a few minutes, until almost fragrant.  Whisk in the milk and bring the sauce to a boil.  Simmer for two or three minutes, or until thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the pesto, followed by the roast veggies and pasta.  Toss until the pesto sauce evenly coats the pasta.  Enjoy!

–       Catherine

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With spring just around the corner, snow drops popping up out of the thawing ground, I can’t help but feel optimistic these days.  As I walk though the streets, people smile and take their time outside.  I love this change in attitude.

As spring rolls in, my tuber-rich, squash and cabbage-filled winter menu starts feeling repetitive.  The only issue here in Toronto is there’s a mismatch between spring and the first veggies (Toronto warms up faster than the surrounding agricultural land due to the urban heat-island effect).  This mismatch means I have extreme cravings for asparagus that I have to control for a whole other month before I can find some from around here.  Why do you tempt me so, asparagus from another continent?  Ontario produces more asparagus than it can handle (perhaps that is a challenge), and I am keeping all the space I have for it when it arrives in bursting bunches.  Bring it on.

All that is to say the light spring air is turning my cravings towards simple and light dishes.  This one can be made in less than 10 minutes, and is well worth it.  The gnocci, which can at times be on the heavy side, are well complemented with a light summery dressing.

Ingredients – 4 lunch servings

-1 package potato gnocci
-1/2 a shallot, really finely sliced
-basil leaves from 4-5 stalks, minced
-juice from 1/2 a lemon
-zest from 1/2 a lemon
-1 Tbsp capers, rinced
-2 Tbsp olive oil
-grated parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Meanwhile, chop the shallot, mince the basil leaves, and zest the washed lemon.  Combine all the ingredients except the parmesan cheese and gnocci in a bowl and mix.  When the water is boiling, drop the gnocci in, and boil until they float.  This takes around 2 minutes.  Drain the gnocci, and toss in the dressing.  Serve with grated cheese.  Bon appétit!

-Sitelle

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In the strictest sense, a pesto is anything that is made using a pestle via pounding and crushing.   Fresh pesto alla genovese, made with fragrant basil leaves, delicious pine nuts, and salty Parmigiano cheese, is one of my absolutely favourite foods.  In August, when basil is at its finest, I will often make enough pesto to satisfy my family’s pesto cravings for a year.  We freeze it in icecube trays or small Tupperware, and it stays reasonably fresh in the freezer for up to 12 months (still far far tastier than any store bought you can find). Except this year, it is March and I’ve already run out – a true sacrilege!

Basil in March comes in teeny tiny impossible to see containers (at least in Halifax), so I decided today was the day to experiment and learn about an alternative pesto.  Inspired by the cookbook rebar, I mixed basil with Italian parsley, roasted almonds, and Romano cheese.

The result surprised me – slightly milder than pesto alla genonese, but full of flavour and tasting of summer.  Perfect with a sliced tomato, tossed with pasta, or stirred into a soup!

Almond-Romano Parsley Pesto

(About 1 ½ cups)

Ingredients:

½ bunch Italian parsley

2 cups basil leaves

½ cup roasted almonds

2 garlic cloves

½ cup grated Romano cheese

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Place all the ingredients save the oil in a food processor.  Pulse until to combine.  In a thin stream, gradually pour in the oil.  Combine until smooth.

–       Catherine

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You'll devour the pine nut crunch topping!

A mon avis, nothing is more gratifying that to come home and discover your next month’s Bon Appetit monthly subscription is waiting for you.  The next two hours of your life will likely be spent oohing and aahing over the lovely delicious looking food.  This month’s feature was “remarkably sumptuous baked pastas” – and I decided to try one of the vegetarian fares.

My vegetarian adventures this month have taught me that I need to sneak in protein and iron wherever I can in my food.  Basil it turns out has a remarkable amount of iron (3.2 mg/100 grams of basil, just over 25% of your RDA) and pine nuts are full of protein (plus they are amazingly tasty).  The eggplant gives the dish subsetance, perfect for those of learning to live in a meatless world.  This dish – full of cheese, basil, and eggplant – certainly did the trick of delicious and nutritious.

The pasta recipe was a little more finicky that I am used to – nothing challenging, per se, but with a surprising number of components.   It is also incredibly creamy – the first few bites I had were overwhelming (I confess to rarely eating a rose sauce made with whipping cream), but by the end of my first bowl, I was lapping up every last drop.  The winning part of the dish is the topping: the pine nut crunch and mozzarella combo is superb.

Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

(12 servings)

Ingredients:

Roasted Veggies

Olive Oil

1 unpeeled large egglplant, cut into ½ inch cubes (I actually used 3 chinese eggaplants because my grocery store was out of North American eggplant)

2 medium bell peppers, cut into ½ inch squares

2 cups grape tomatoes, halved

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt and pepper

Pine Nut Crunch:

1 cup fimly packed fresh basil leaves

½ cup Parmesan cheese,

¼ cup pine nutes

1 garlic clove

Pasta Sauce:

1 pound rigatoni

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves

1 garlic clove

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

½ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat over to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss veggies to roast with oil and salt and pepper.  Roast vegetables until tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until tender, but still firm to bite stirring occasionally.  Drain and return to pot.

In a food processor combine all ingredients to make pine nut crunch.  Blend until crumbly and set aside.

Create rose sauce by blending tomatoes, cream, basil, and garlic until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

Mix roasted veggies with sauce, Parmesan cheese, and pasta in pot.  Transfer to 13x9x2inch baking dish.  Sprinkle with pine nut topping followed by mozzarella.  Bake pasta until heated through, 25 to 35 minutes, and topping is brown and bubbly.  Let stand 10 minutes and serve!

– Catherine

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