I have started working again, and sincerely hope to continue my blog despite serious time constraints. This week’s recipe is a nod to working people everywhere, who need something (relatively) quick in the middle of the week. There are all sorts of quick, but this is quick and yet presents elegantly – as if you slaved for ages.
I recently started making my own pesto after reading a post that inspired me. Formerly, I would keep the pasta ready and my friend would come over with a brilliantly green jar and dunk it in. She kept telling me it was easy to make, but only now do I appreciate how easy. The reason to make pesto rather than buy it is twofold. First, I can control the balance of flavors (particularly the pungency of the garlic) and second, I can experiment with the greens. After my first attempt, I exultantly called my friend to tell her I made pesto from cilantro, thinking I’d been ever so creative. She took the news casually then informed me of other greens that can be used – and recommended arugula. Pesto Change-o!
In celebration of recent accomplishments, we went to Farina in San Francisco. Ever since I’d read about their Focaccia di Formaggio di Recco in June 2011’s issue of Vogue, I’ve wanted to try it. (This also merits a nod to my pesto-making friend, as she’s the one who hands me down her Vogues when she’s read them. Unfortunately, they don’t make the focaccia on Sundays, but we had an EPIC meal nevertheless. I like reading restaurant menus to get ideas for new dishes that I can maybe make at home. I love finding unorthodox combinations that revitalize favorites. Farina makes a pesto with walnuts, and another with almonds.
NCARB Pasta (a pun on pasta’s carbs, and NCARB – whose exams I’m taking)
Cook up a batch (a 20 oz package should do) of your favorite stuffed pasta, according to the package’s directions. I like a multi-colored ravioli or tortellini with a spinach and ricotta filling for this dish. While the water comes to a boil, work on component 2, and while the pasta cooks, handle component 3.
Wash 13 brown mushrooms and cut them into 1/8″ slices. In a medium skillet over medium high heat, saute them in olive oil with salt and pepper. Once the water they release has bubbled away and they’ve fried for a bit , add 2 Tbsp sun dried tomatoes, and let saute for another minute. Remove these from the pan, and return the pan to the stove. Next, over medium high heat, saute 1/2 lb calamari pieces. (If you need to add more oil to the pan, you may.) The calamari may include rings and legs, should be fully thawed, and should be removed promptly when tender. Do not over-cook them (to rubbery), as soon as the legs hold a curl, start checking for doneness. (I’ve also tried this dish with steamed mussels, which also look dramatic on the plate.)
The first time I made pesto, I measured. Now, it’s a free for all. I have found that arugula pesto maintains its green much better than cilantro pesto, which turns brown on your food overnight. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if color is relevant to you, be advised.
I use the chopper attachment of my hand blender for pureeing. Toast about 1/3 c pine nuts in the toaster (check them frequently so they don’t burn. If you have a temperature setting – lower it from toast to about 350F.) To the chopper canister, add 1/4c olive oil, 1/4c parmesan/romano cheese (grated), and 1 or 2 cloves garlic. Next, fill the canister with greens. I used about 4-6 stalks basil leaves (about 6 leaves per stalk) and about 1/2 c arugula leaves. Add the toasted pine nuts and give it a whirl! I recommend testing it once ground to verify that it has the balance of flavors you want. Sometimes salt and pepper are called for, but the cheese and garlic often serve. Tastes vary widely when it comes to pesto. By the time I’ve adjusted it, I usually only use half and store the rest for another day. If you end up with extra, it freezes well- with a thin layer of oil on top to prevent oxidation.
Finally, combine everything together in the pasta pot and toss it gently.
(Incidentally, with the left-over arugula, I added slices of Asian pear, chunks of bleu cheese, some walnuts, and a dash of dressing. It was a terrific lunch at the office.)