Classic Basil Pesto

Pesto never goes out of style and it’s application is wide and varied. Add it to pasta or roasted vegetables. Slather it on chicken or use it as a pizza sauce. And the best part? You can make large batches, while the basil is overflowing in the summer, and freeze it for later use. Hooray for pesto!

pesto1

Classic Basil Pesto

Yield: 1 cup

 

2 ¼ packed cups fresh basil leaves

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly (2 teaspoons)

½ cup pine nuts

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, not pre-grated

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

In a food processor, process to combine, the basil, ¼ cup oil, garlic, and pine nuts. Scrape down the sides, then add the remaining ¼ cup oil, and the cheese. Process until the desired texture is achieved, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. For the record, I add about ½ teaspoon salt and a few good cranks of pepper. No need to rush; taste as you go. Take your time and enjoy.

Note: Care for a nuttier flavor in your pesto? Try using toasted pine nuts.

 

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Grilled Zucchini with Pumpkin Seed Romesco and Crostini

We are heading into the time of year when zucchini becomes the front runner of produce – bursting from backyard gardens and farmers’ fields.

With its versatile use, from raw salads to baked casseroles, zucchini offers a lot. One of my favorite preparations/cooking methods for zucchini is grilling. Getting those nice grill marks lends a depth of flavor that you don’t normally get when sauteing or baking.

For this recipe, another drought friendly one, Super Sous and I are grilling the zucchini and serving them with crositini and pumpkin seed romesco. Romesco is a sauce often made with almonds, but since the drought, we are exploring alternative nut/seed options, which makes pumpkin seeds, which take little water to produce, a great alternative. Taste wise, you won’t miss the almonds and price wise you’ll be happy too!

Enjoy this recipe and let us know what you think. Happy cooking!

Zucc slice

1/4-inch slices

Zucc Grilled

On the grill

Zucc and Crostini

Grilled crostini and zucchini

Zucc Final Crostini

Grilled Zucchini with Pumpkin Seed Romesco and Crostini

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

 

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

4 medium-sized zucchini, sliced lengthwise in ¼-inch slices using a mandoline or vegetable peeler

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 lemon, cut in half

Homemade Grilled Crostini (recipe below)

Pumpkin Seed Romesco (recipe below)

6 medium-sized fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled, and sliced very thinly (chiffonade)

 

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Once hot, clean the grill, then, using tongs, lightly dip a cloth in grapeseed oil and wipe to coat the grill rack.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil over the sliced zucchini. Using your hands, coat each piece evenly with the oil; season with salt and pepper. Taste a piece to see if it needs more seasoning, adding more to taste.

Grill the zucchini with the cover closed until nicely colored, 5 minutes per side. Do not move the zucchini slices for the first few minutes.

Once nicely caramelized, flip each piece and continue cooking until equally caramelized on the second side. Put your lemon, flesh side down, on the grill now.

Transfer the cooked zucchini and grilled lemon onto a plate until ready to assemble. Once the lemon is cool enough to handle, squeeze the juice over the zucchini.

To serve, top the crostini with some romesco sauce and then a few slices of the grilled zucchini, finish with the basil.

 

Homemade Grilled Crostini

1 loaf fresh bread, such as French baguette, sourdough, or ciabatta

Grapeseed oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Set your grill to high. Once hot, clean the grill, then, using tongs, lightly dip a cloth in grapeseed oil and wipe to coat the grill rack.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Using a bread knife, slice the loaf on a 25- to 45-degree angle (the greater the angle, the higher the surface area) half an inch thick.

Lay each piece, side by side, on the sheet pan in one layer, drizzle grapeseed oil over each piece, then season them evenly with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Arrange the slices on the grill and grill until lightly toasted with grill marks.

Flip the pieces and repeat.

Remove from the oven and transfer the crostini to a plate until needed.

Note: If using a round loaf of bread, be sure to cut the loaf in half first. Then, with the flat (cut) side facing down, starting from one side, cut straight down, making even slices. This method of slicing bread will prevent your slices from being smushed as you slice them.

 

Pumpkin Seed Romesco Sauce

Yield: 2 cups

 

5 tablespoons grapeseed oil, divided

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced small

3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced

¼ teaspoon red chile flakes

1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika

1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes

1 roasted red bell pepper, diced medium

½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds

2¼ teaspoons sherry vinegar

¼ cup grapeseed oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Add 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil and the onion to a medium sauté pan over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent.

Add the garlic, chile flakes and paprika, stir and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes and bell pepper, stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost all reduced, approximately, 7 to 10 minutes.

Carefully transfer ingredients from sauté pan to a food processor and add the pumpkin seeds and sherry vinegar.

Process until well combined, scraping down the sides of the food processor as needed.

While processing, begin slowly streaming in the grapeseed oil. Continue until is combined.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Yellow Peach and Basil Shrub

I declare this the summer of shrubs! Not the lawn “decoration.” No, the delicious, refreshing and fizzy fruit/vinegar drink that’s popping up at coffee shops and restaurants around the country – a call back to a common drink popular during America’s colonial era.

Simple to make and a perfect way to  store your summer fruit for months on end, here’s our recipe (yup – it’s another Drought Friendly Recipe from me and Super Sous) for a Yellow Peach and Basil Shrub.

 

Yellow Peach and Basil Shrub

Yellow Peach and Basil Shrub

Yield: 28-ounces shrub mix

 

1½ pounds ripe yellow peaches, pit discarded, diced large (3 large peaches)

1 cup organic granulated sugar

1 tablespoon orange zest

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

30 medium basil leaves, bruised with your fingers

½ cup white wine vinegar, plus more to taste

 

Add diced peaches and sugar to a large bowl. Mash the peaches with a potato masher until mostly pulverized and the sugar is fully dissolved. Stir in the orange zest, orange juice and bruised basil leaves.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring once, after 1 hour.

Place a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl and strain the mixture, pressing on the solids with a spatula to extract as much liquid as possible.

(Use the solids in your next smoothie!)

Stir in the vinegar. This beautiful liquid is your “shrub” mix.

Transfer shrub mix into a bottle or jar, close to seal, and store in the refrigerator until ready to enjoy.

Serve one part peach shrub mix for every four parts sparkling water.

Garnish with basil leaves and a few thin slices of peach.

Note: You can make it “adult” by adding a shot of alcohol, like whiskey or vodka.

Fusili with Pesto and Sun Dried Tomatoes

It’s just not summer without fresh homemade pesto. Here’s my recipe paired with pasta and sun dried tomatoes. Grazie.

Fusili with Pesto and Sun Dried Tomatoes

Fusili with Pesto and Sun Dried Tomatoes

Yield: 4 servings

 

For the Pesto

2 ¼ packed cups fresh basil leaves

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly (2 teaspoons)

½ cup pine nuts

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, not pre-grated

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

In a food processor, process to combine, the basil, ¼ cup oil, garlic, and pine nuts. Scrape down the sides, then add the remaining ¼ cup oil, and the cheese. Process until the desired texture is achieved, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. For the record, I add about ½ teaspoon salt and a few good cranks of pepper. No need to rush; taste as you go. Take your time and enjoy.

 

For the pasta

¾ pound fusili pasta

2 tablespoons kosher salt

¼ cup sundried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped roughly

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (stacked, rolled and sliced thinly)

 

Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil.

Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Stir the fusili into the boiling salted water and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente (almost done, or “to the tooth”).

Drain (do not rinse) the fusili, reserving 1/3 cup of the pasta water.

Toss with 1/2 cup of pesto, sundried tomatoes and some of the reserved pasta water if needed (to loosen the pesto). Add additional pesto if needed.

Divide onto plates and top with pine nuts and fresh basil.

 

Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Basil Lemon Ricotta

Summer means sweet, ripe tomatoes in abundance and I just love when they start going off like wildfire in the garden and at farmers markets. This is usually the signal for me to start making big batches of  tomato sauce, freezing in abundance and roasting and snacking endlessly on cherry and grape tomatoes. And, of course, there’s one of my favorite tomato stand outs – the tomato sandwich. Bright, sweet, acidic, of the earth – it’s truly a summer delight – and here’s my take on it.

 

Heirloom Tomatoes Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Basil Lemon Ricotta

 

Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Basil Lemon Ricotta

Yield: 4 servings

 

For Basil Lemon Ricotta

1 cup whole milk ricotta, drained (I use Angelo and Franco brand ricotta)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Zest from one lemon

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil

2 small garlic cloves, minced

kosher salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Whisk all ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

For Sandwich

1 small ciabatta loaf or sourdough boule, cut in half widthwise and lengthwise, seasoned and toasted in the oven with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and rubbed with a peeled garlic clove

2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, different colors if possible, cut into ¼- and ½ -inch slices

16 medium basil leaves, hand torn

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

 

Season tomatoes with salt and pepper.

Spread basil lemon ricotta over toasted ciabatta and arrange 1 layer of heirloom tomatoes on top.

Put some of the hand torn basil on top of the first layer of tomatoes and then add another layer of tomatoes.

Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil on top.

Roll up your sleeves and dive in.

 

 

Italian Bread Salad with Crispy Prosciutto

It’s a classic and beloved Italian dish – panzanella – and once you try it, you’ll know why. Croutons soaked in extra-virgin olive oil and diced summer tomatoes. What more could you ask for? How about some bacon?! I like to add crispy prosciutto to my salad. It adds some texture and, of course, lots of flavor. Either way, this is the perfect salad for the summer. I mean, who’s to argue with the Italians? Capisce?!

 

Italian Bread Salad with Crispy Prosciutto

 

Italian Bread Salad with Crispy Prosciutto

Yield: 2 servings


1 1/2 cups large hand torn croutons from Sourdough bread (crusts removed)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 slices prosciutto, torn into medium pieces

2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar

4 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 small shallot, diced small (3 tablespoons)

¼ teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano

1 large tomato, diced medium, seeds removed and reserved

1/2 hothouse cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced on a bias

1/4 cup green olives, pits discarded and chopped roughly, optional

8 medium basil leaves, hand torn

 

Place an oven rack on the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, toss to combine the hand torn croutons with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Spread the croutons and prosciutto pieces on a parchment lined sheet tray. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the croutons are toasted, but still soft in the middle and the prosciutto is crispy. (You may have to take out the croutons before the prosciutto.)

In a small container with a tight fitting lid, add the vinegars, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the tomato seeds. Close the lid and shake vigorously until well combined.

Place diced shallots and oregano in a small bowl. Using a tea strainer, strain the vinaigrette over the shallots so the tomato seeds do not combine with the shallots. Discard the tomato seeds.

In a large bowl, gently fold to combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, olives (if using), basil, croutons and the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide onto plates, drizzle each plate with olive oil and top with some of the crispy prosciutto pieces.

P.S. The quality of olive oil is always important, but especially in a salad where you can really taste its flavor. I’m partial to my favorite brand, Lucini Italia. Their olive oil is perfectly balanced and their vinegars are excellent as well. It can be found at most grocery stores or you can buy it online – in bulk!

Cooking for the Gastric Cancer Foundation

Tonight, I had the good fortune to cook with my brother and fellow Next Food Network Star competitor, Hans Rueffert. Hans is chef and co-owner (with his lovely wife) of the Woodbridge Inn in Jasper, Georgia, (if you are ever near – you must go – quaint, beautiful and delicious food, of course) author of the cookbook “Eat Like There’s No Tomorrow” (a steal at only $25!), father of 2 fantastic kids (and 1 more on the way) and is a gastric cancer survivor. Hard core. He is also a health and nutrition coach, chef/teacher, advisor, mentor, and inspiration/coach for others…  definitely one of the most generous people I know. He is close friend and was even there to support Super Sous’ mom when she fought cancer last year. A true genuine hearted person.

So, it was a huge honor (and a blast) for me to cook with him tonight for a Gastric Cancer Foundation private dinner in San Francisco. Here we are serving up the soup course: Summer Corn Soup with Chanterelles, Creme Fraiche and Basil Pesto.

Rueffert and Lyon

 

And my Mixed Berry Crostata – how much more summer can you get?!

mixed berry crostata

Thanks for the invite, brother Hans! Let’s cook again soon.

If you want to support kicking cancer in the ass!, you can click to donate to the Gastric Cancer Foundation.