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Homemade Pesto

homemade pesto by The Culinary ChaseAlmost every cuisine on our planet has found an important role for garlic and is among the oldest known horticultural crop. Egyptian and Indian cultures referred to garlic 5000 years ago and by the Chinese 2000 years ago. Pesto hails from the northern region of Liguria and is a Ligurian superstar! Pasta isn’t the only place you can find pesto on. Try it on bruschetta, in a vinaigrette, tossed with vegetables, in soups, polenta, quiche filling, mayonnaise.

Garlic’s good for you. It acts as a warming herb for the digestion and respiratory tract and is an important antibiotic and antiviral remedy for colds, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other infections. When selecting a head of garlic, look for large, clean, firm bulbs with unbroken, dry skins. Remove any green shoots from cloves because they give a bitter taste that persists when garlic is cooked. Store garlic in a cool, dry place where air can circulate. Refrigerating garlic inhibits flavor and dehydrates the cloves.

pesto recipeThe Culinary Chase’s Note: I prefer to use a pestle and mortar as I like to see the bits of crushed ingredients whereas the food processor tends to make everything smooth. The pestle bruises the basil releasing its perfume into the garlic and pine nuts. Put the basil leaves and garlic in mortar and crush. Add a pinch of sea salt and crush until almost creamy. Add the pine nuts and continue to crush; stir in olive oil.  At this point, you may need to add more salt or any of the other ingredients to your satisfaction.   This makes about 2 cups.  If you have any left over and don’t plan to use right away, place in an ice cube container and freeze for future use.  Enjoy!

Grilled Garlicky-Herbed Shrimp

Grilled Garlicky Herbed ShrimpGrilled, poached, fried, battered, roasted, sautéed, steamed – you name it I’ve tried it.  Shrimp are one of my favorite crustaceans, they take little time to cook and there are health benefits, too.  Shrimp is a nutritious alternative to meat proteins as it is low in calories and saturated fat.  It is an excellent source of selenium and unusually low-fat, low-calorie protein. Many people are confused about the fat and cholesterol content of shrimp. However, based on research involving shrimp and blood cholesterol levels, avoidance of shrimp for this reason does not seem justified.  Read more on this at the world’s healthiest foods.  Start the evening off right and serve these garlicky-herbed shrimp with your favorite cocktail.

Serves 4
inspired by Martha Stewart

3 tablespoons coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (optional)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
20 jumbo shrimp, shells removed

garlicky herbed shrimp CollageCombine all ingredients except shrimp in a large bowl. Add shrimp and toss to combine making sure all parts of the shrimp is coated in the marinade. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Preheat grill on medium heat. Place shrimp on grill and cook, turning once, until pink – about 5 minutes.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
Want a Mediterranean feel?  Serve the shrimp with a roasted red pepper salad. Enjoy!

Roasted Red Pepper Salad with White Beans and Anchovy Sauce

roasted red pepper salad with white beans & anchovy sauce

I enjoy listening to stories of the past and with my mother in-law visiting, it’s the perfect time to hear more.  Aida was born on the tiny island of Gibraltor 89 years ago.  She moved to England in 1946 and has what I call a lovely Spanish/English accent.  We are never short on conversation, our talks cover the whole gamut – travel, current events, fashion and of course food!  While I was preparing this salad Aida told me her mother used  to stuff her red peppers with meat, cheese, eggs and served with tomato sauce (everything back then was done from scratch).  She remembers her mom, Angelina Bocarisa, making her tomato sauce either by blanching the tomatoes to remove the skins or over an open fire.   Ovens were not common in homes back then and the women from the village would take their bread or joints (roasts) to the baker.  A steel sticker would be handed out as a receipt and given a time to come back.   Can you imagine how busy the baker must have been on a Sunday!  The ladies would come and collect their baked goods and walk back to their homes with hot food in hand.  When Aida moved to England she was fascinated with how advanced the country seemed compared to her own…electric irons, washers, tumble dryers, hoovers, ovens etc.

As I sit here typing this post rehashing my conversation with Aida, I look around me and see how much is taken for granted.   Nearly everything is readily available at our fingertips but are we truly grateful?  Hmm, I wonder.

Serves 4
adapted from Martha Stewart

4 small red bell peppers
4 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 can (15oz.) small white beans, drained and rinsed
Parmesan cheese, grated (2 tablespoons)
1 cup packed spicy baby greens, such as watercress or arugula/rocket

Char bell peppers over the flames of a gas burner, turning with tongs until blackened and blistered, about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, broil them 2 or 3 inches from heat source).  Transfer peppers to a bowl, cover with saran wrap, and let stand until cool. Scrape off skins with a paring knife and wipe flesh clean with a paper towel. Keeping stems intact, cut peppers in half lengthwise, then remove and discard seeds. Arrange on a platter and season with salt and pepper.

roasted red peppers & white beansTo make the anchovy sauce, whisk together anchovies, garlic, vinegar, oil, and parsley in a medium bowl.  Add beans and toss to coat. Spoon over peppers and top with Parmesan and greens.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Add 1 teaspoon of sherry vinegar first to the sauce before adding more.  Enjoy!

Cedar Plank Grilled Mushroom Stacks

cedar plank grilled mushroom stacksJohn and I barbeque all year round and when Spring and Summer arrive, it’s full on.   Our barbeque gets used on a weekly basis so it’s not unusual to see me out on our back deck firing up the barbie.  I love it…less mess for me to clean up!  I’ve been noticing more and more these days that most food places I shop carry planks for grilling – some individual and some in packages carrying an assortment (cedar, birch, hickory or maple).  Plank grilling originates from the Native Americans from the Pacific Northwest who grilled salmon on open fires over cedar and alder.  The concept is by far not new but certainly merits consideration.

Serves 4

4 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
2 medium-sized zucchini, sliced
2 medium-sized yellow summer squash, sliced
pesto
tomatoes, sliced
cedar planks
olive oil

Allow cedar plank to soak in water for at least an hour (longer if possible). If using a stainless steel plank saver then soak the plank for 30 minutes. On medium heat, grill portobello mushrooms gill side down, 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove and set aside. Lightly brush olive oil onto zucchini and summer squash slices. Season with salt and pepper. Place on grill for up to 5 minutes and turn. You want the slices to show some grill marks and the flesh to be slightly softened.

portobello mushroomsRemove cedar plank from water and pat dry. Place portobello mushroom (gill side up) on the cedar plank. Followed by zucchini slices, yellow summer squash slices, tomato slices, and pesto. Make sure bbq is at 350f and add plank. Cover with bbq lid and cook 10 minutes. Don’t worry if smoke is billowing out of the bbq – this is normal. The cedar smoke will infuse the veggies. Remove from bbq and serve on a plate and drizzle with olive oil.

Note:  After using, rinse the plank off with soap and water and let dry. Reuse the planks two or three times – if there’s wood left, you can use it. Crumble up charred planks over coals to use as smoking chips and choose planks that aren’t chemically treated.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: This was my first attempt at plank grilling and I liked it. I think I’ll experiment with salmon the next time.   Add freshly grated Parmesan to the portobello mushrooms before adding the vegetables.  Enjoy!

My Husband’s Bolognese Sauce

bolognese sauce with penneWhere to begin?  When John and I were dating, the first meal he ever cooked for me was his bolognese sauce tossed with penne.  I remember to this day how wonderful his condo smelled and how neat it was!  My husband was and still is a neat freak…not that I am at all complaining.  For a bachelor, his place was immaculate – even the cupboards were tidy!  He had the dining room table all laid out: candles lit, music playing and red wine decanted.

We’ve been together 17 years and on the eve of our marriage, he made his bolognese sauce for our family.  The kids love this sauce and he always makes enough for seconds.  Whatever is leftover gets placed in the freezer.  He has no recipe, just puts it in a pot, in sequence of course.  I think fundamentally this recipe captures the essence of how to recreate this yummy dish even though John cooks like his mom, a little bit of this or a pinch of that.  You may need to increase or decrease an ingredient to suit your palate.

Serves 6 to 8

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped or sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped or sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon Italian herb mix
large can Italian plum tomatoes
olive oil
ketchup
1 lb. penne or other favorite pasta
Parmesan, grated

jb prep workIn a large pot over medium heat add 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add Italian herbs and cook until fragrant then add garlic slices.  Add the onions and cook until translucent.  Add ground beef, stir and cook until done (about 10 minutes or until no pink is showing). Spoon canned tomatoes into the meat sauce and add some of the juice. Stir until combined and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.  When the sauce begins to bubble, add a couple squirts of ketchup.  Stir occasionally to break up the tomatoes.  Once the tomatoes have broken up, add bell peppers.  Simmer 20 minutes or until peppers are al dente.  John usually lets this sit for an hour or so.

When ready to serve, cook pasta according to packet instructions, drain and add to bolognese sauce.  When thoroughly mixed, serve in bowls and top with freshly grated Parmesan.
JB relaxing
The Culinary Chase’s Note:
  Many years ago John was told by an Italian friend to add ketchup to the sauce.   If you let the sauce sit, reheat before adding pasta.  Bolognese sauce in Italian is known as ragù alla bolognese (a meat-based sauce from Bologna, Italy).

Buon Appetito!

Grilled Broccolini with Garlic Anchoy Sauce

broccolini with garlic anchovy sauceThe tail end of Spring is drawing to a close and thankfully the warmer weather has arrived.  And because of this, the air in our neighborhood is perfumed with food being cooked on backyard barbeques. If you don’t barbecue you almost feel left out.  When I head out to our back deck to fire up the grill, my stomach grumbles as I get a whiff of someone using their barbeque.  I love this time of year.  Broccolini is a cross between broccoli and gai lan (Chinese kale).  It’s more delicate in flavor than broccoli and can be eaten raw or lightly sautéed.

Serves 4
adapted by The Gardener & The Grill

Sauce:
1 to 2 anchovy fillets, mashed into as paste
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

2 bunches broccolini, trimmed (about 2 lbs.)
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

broccolini on the barbieFor the sauce, whisk together all ingredients and set aside. Light your barbeque to a medium-hot fire. Place broccolini on a plate and brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill until broccolini is al dente, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with sauce.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Fresh and simple! Make sure broccolini is similar in size otherwise the larger pieces will take longer to cook and will result in the smaller ones becoming burnt.  Serve this right off the grill or at room temperature.   Summer is just around the corner…Friday, 21st of June.  Enjoy!