Every Wednesday, when the schools release the kids early, I drive 45 minutes down to Marin County and pick up my niece from school where she attends sixth grade. We have lunch together and then we drive to her horseback riding lesson. Afterwards, we make the trek up to Sonoma where the three of us – me, my hubby and our niece – have dinner together. My niece’s Dad is one of the world’s great cooks, so she has a very grown up palate and she really appreciates good food. Sometimes we go out for dinner, but as often as possible, I try to cook something. It has to be easy because we’re on a tight schedule.
Last week, I made linguini pesto with the basil I still have growing in the garden. My favorite is to use the pesto on chunks of fresh garden tomatoes with creamy wedges of fresh mozzarella cheese. We’re nearly at the end of the tomatoes and basil for the year, but you can freeze the pesto to help preserve the summer a bit longer.
Here’s the recipe:
Pesto (from Cook’s Illustrated, The Best Recipe):
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 TB fresh parsley leaves (this makes the pesto greener)
7 TB extra-virgin olive oil
1. Toast nuts in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just golden, about 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Place basil and parsley in heavy-duty, large zipper-lock bag; pound with flat side of meat pounder until all leaves are bruised.
3. Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor; process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. (Cover surface of pesto with sheet of plastic wrap or thin film of oil and refrigerate up to five days.)
4. If you are serving the pesto over pasta, stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese after it’s been through the food processor. While cooking the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in 1/4 cup of cooking water into pesto. Toss pasta with the thinned pesto, adding the remaining water as needed.
My grandfather was born in Popoli, Italy, a very small little town in the Abruzzo region of Italy, which is east of Rome. I’ve always taken great pride in my Italian heritage, and studied the language and went abroad for my senior year of college in Bologna, Italy. These details may help explain my love of pasta. Here’s an easy dinner that takes very little work and that my niece loves. I pair it with a crunchy green salad and voila – dinner. (Sorry – I forgot to take a photo!)
8 ounces ziti rigate
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg, (or three of our bantam eggs) lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 jar (24 to 26 ounces) good quality pasta sauce (I use Rao’s Arrabbiata)
1. Preheat oven to 450. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, drain and reserve.
2. In a small bowl, combine ricotta, egg, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and half the mozzarella; season with salt and pepper.
3. In the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish, spread half the tomato sauce. Top with the ziti, then ricotta mixture and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and remaining mozzarella. Place casserole on a rimmed baking sheet (so it doesn’t boil over into the oven), and bake until top is browned and sauce is bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes.
I find most modern-day brownies terrible. Full of non-hydrogenated fat, high fructose corn syrup and poor quality chocolate, they are easy to pass up. I’ve even had friends who are wonderful bakers share their recipes for brownies that don’t leave me satisfied. I finally found the best recipe EVAH from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess cookbook and here it is:
1 2/3 cup soft unsalted butter
13 oz best bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghiradelli)
6 large eggs (or about 15 of our bantam chicken’s eggs)
1 TB vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups chopped walnuts
pan measuring about 13 x 9 x 2 1/2
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan with parchment (sides and bottom).
1. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large heavy pan. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla and sugar. Measure the flour into another bowl and add the salt.
2. When the chocolate has melted, let it cool a bit before beating in the eggs and sugar, and then add the flour and nuts. Beat to combine smoothly and then scrape out of the saucepan and into the lined pan. Do not eat more than 1/4 cup of the batter…
3. Bake for about 25 minutes.
My niece also loves two of my crazy simple sides. She wants zucchini all summer, which is great because anyone who has ever grown a zucchini plant knows that it produces at a relentless pace, and the biggest problem is figuring out how to use it all.
I use the shredding disc on the food processor with our garden zucchini. I then sauté the zucchini with olive oil, garlic powder and salt until it’s nicely fried up with some bits a little overdone. Sorry this is so ridiculously easy.
Set the oven to 350 (I use the convection setting to make it all go faster)
I use a combination of red, Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes. I peel the sweet potatoes, and just scrub the others, then I chop them into evenly sized chunks and plop them all in a big bowl. I douse the potatoes in olive oil, and sprinkle them with kosher salt, and chopped rosemary I cut from the countless plants we use as part of our landscaping around the house. I roast the potatoes until they are soft outside, and a bit browned and crispy outside.
Here are a few more shots of my niece riding. I have to admit that I get a huge thrill watching her navigate between the awesome power of these animals with the thrill of freedom they give us.