Tag Archives: basil

Summertime Bliss: Sun-Warmed Cherry Tomatoes

6 Jul

Few things beat the taste of a tomato that’s come straight from the garden. And cherry tomatoes offer that extra, satisfying little pop as you bite into them. The photo below shows our first harvest of the season, but the tomatoes in this bowl won’t make it into any recipe; these sun-warmed beauties are all going to be eaten just as they are–as a snack straight from Nature. However, there is a reason these tomatoes are called Sweet 100s: before long, I’ll be wondering what to do with all of them. I see lots of salads on the horizon, as well as our favorite Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil. And cherry tomatoes would also work in Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic with Basil–though I’d start cooking the onions and garlic first, adding the cherry tomatoes toward the end of the roasting time. I detect a common theme in both recipes: basil. And now that I recall, last I saw it, our basil was in danger of being overtaken by the flowering oregano that has run riot in the herb garden…. Time for some triage in the name of good eats!

 

Recipe: Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic with Basil

28 Jun

This year, I planted three tomato plants, which are beginning to completely take over the vegetable garden. If that weren’t enough, a fourth rogue plant sprung from the seeds of  last year’s tomatoes is giving them a run for their money. Which means I’m soon going to be faced with a bumper crop of tomatoes and the challenge of figuring out what to do with the ones I keep. This recipe is one of my all-time favorites for tomatoes, and I often serve it at brunches as an accompaniment to cold roasted meats. It is a very flexible recipe: it can be made ahead, served warm or at room temperature–and you can play around with the ingredients depending on what you have on hand. However you tweak it, it’s hard to go wrong with tomatoes, red onions, garlic, basil, and pine nuts.


Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic with Basil
12 servings

3 lb. roma tomatoes (other smaller types work well, too)
2 large red onions, cut in half, each half cut into eight wedges
30 cloves garlic /2 bulbs, peeled (slice large cloves in half)
2/3 c. olive oil
2 tsp. sambal oelek (or sweet chilli sauce)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. bottled pesto (or fresh, if you have it)
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. shredded fresh basil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1/2 c. pine nuts, toasted

Preparation

1. Heat oven to 400º.
2. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place tomatoes, cut side up, in large baking dish, then nestle the onions and garlic around the tomatoes.
3. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, sambal oelek, sugar, pesto, and salt. Pour over the vegetables.
4. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or until tomatoes, onions, and garlic are soft.
5. Meanwhile, dry toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over medium-high heat (watching carefully), until they start to turn golden. Remove them from the skillet and reserve.
6. Once the tomatoes come out of the oven, add the vinegar, herbs, and pine nuts, and mix gently. Serve warm or cold.

Recipe: Roast Leg of Lamb with Red Wine and Herbs

17 Apr

On the Thursday before Easter, we always have a leg of lamb as part of our evening meal, a tradition that started before my husband and I were married–when we were young and foolish. We bought our first leg of lamb on impulse at a butcher shop in Greenwich Village, New York, on the Wednesday before Easter (we happened to be visiting NYC). We sprinkled some herbs over it, doused it with a bottle of wine, wrapped it up, refrigerated it overnight, and then drove it to Washington, DC the next day in time to roast it for dinner. It was a slightly boozy, but very delicious lamb we ate that evening; the excess alcohol probably helped preserve it, unrefrigerated, during the 4-hour trip.

Though we have very fond memories of that lamb, I have since refined the recipe, ensuring proper food-safety techniques and (unfortunately) eliminating the need for any road trips.

Lamb6

Roast Leg of Lamb with Red Wine and Herbs
Serves 6-8
Note: This lamb needs to marinate overnight (or for at least 8 hours) prior to roasting.

1 bone-in leg of lamb (6-8 lb.)
salt and pepper
4-5 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
fresh rosemary, separated into small sprigs

Marinade:
1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. red wine of your preference
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. each dried basil, oregano, parsley, mint, etc.
1/2 tsp. sugar

Preparation

1. Rinse lamb and pat dry. Then, using a sharp knife, cut off  as much of the top, papery thin layer (the “fell”) as possible; it is not necessary to remove all of it. (Some cooks prefer to leave it on to help keep the lamb moist. Others remove it because they think it has a strong flavor. I remove it for aesthetic reasons; family members don’t like seeing the fell on the lamb.)
2. Trim off  excess fat, but make sure to leave a nice layer to ensure moistness and to help carry the flavor of the rosemary, garlic, and marinade.
3. Using the same sharp knife, make deep slits into the meaty portions of the leg.

L1
4. Insert one sliver of garlic and a small sprig of rosemary into each slit in the lamb. Sprinkle lamb with salt and freshly ground pepper.

L2
5. In a bowl, combine marinade ingredients.
6. Place lamb in 2-3 layers of clean, plastic grocery bags (or other large sealable bags) on a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the lamb. Holding the bags open, pour the marinade over the lamb, taking care to pour some of the marinade into each of the slits filled with garlic and rosemary.

Lamb
7.  Tie the plastic bags together tightly so that the marinade cannot leak out, then place the lamb (still on the baking sheet) in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 8 hours). If you are so inclined, feel free to massage the marinade into the lamb every so often.

Lamb2
8. In the morning (or after about 4 hours), turn the lamb over so that the other side of the lamb can soak up some of the marinade.
9. Preheat oven to 450 °F. Remove the lamb from the bags (reserving the marinade), pat dry, sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper, then place the  lamb on a rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet or pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the lamb, but not near the bone. Cook lamb at 450°F for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 °F. Roast lamb until meat thermometer reaches between 145 °F (medium rare) and 160 °F (medium), basting periodically with leftover marinade. For a 6 lb. leg of lamb, total cooking time should be about 2 hours, depending on preferred degree of doneness.
10. Remove lamb from oven, then let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.

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Recipe: Meatballs for Spaghetti

21 Nov

On Thanksgiving and by long tradition, 15+ family and friends join us to eat an almost equivalent number of dishes. This means that on Thanksgiving Eve, things can get a bit nutty. I usually have various items scattered about in various stages of preparation,  and it’s hard to think of what to make for dinner–or muster up much enthusiasm for cooking it on top of everything else. Enter one great husband, who this year chose and prepared a classic Italian dish far removed from the traditional Thanksgiving offerings: Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Except Spaghetti and Meatballs isn’t a classic Italian dish, since most Italians would never eat meatballs with pasta. In fact, we have Italian friends who would rather stab themselves with a fork than contemplate such a gastronomic travesty.  But those friends weren’t at our house this evening, so we were free to enjoy what is for many Americans a match made in heaven–one made even more heavenly by the fact that I had no hand in preparing it on this night of all nights. These fresh-tasting meatballs are adapted from the timeless New York Times Cookbook, by Craig Claiborne.

Meatballs for Spaghetti
Serves 8

Meatballs
1.5 lb. ground turkey
1 c. dry breadcrumbs (seasoned breadcrumbs are nice)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp. half-and-half, or cream
4 tbsp. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
4 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon rind
salt and pepper to taste

olive oil
spaghetti sauce
1 lb. spaghetti

Preparation
1. Mix all the meatball ingredients and blend well. Shape into about 24 meatballs.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet and brown meatballs, making sure not to crowd them (if necessary, cook in batches). Add sauce to skillet, and cook meatballs in sauce for about 15 minutes. (Or put sauce in a large saucepan, and add the meatballs to the sauce.)
3. Prepare spaghetti al dente, according to directions on package.
4. Serve meatballs with spaghetti and more Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Recipe: Mediterranean Chicken/Vegetable Wrap

19 Aug

This is a recipe you can adapt in countless ways to suit omnivorous or vegetarian tastes. It is an excellent way to use up leftovers, though pan frying or grilling the chicken/vegetables just beforehand works, too.  The overriding theme is a Mediterranean one. Our kids rummage through the fridge, take out whatever appeals to them at the moment, cook what they need, and make killer wraps out of it all.

The open wrap pictured here is courtesy of my daughter, who waited very patiently to eat her lunch today until after I had taken the photo. She used a tomato-basil wrap, hummus,  leftover grilled chicken and eggplant (both of which she reheated in a small cast-iron skillet), Kalamata olives, lettuce, and tomatoes. The one constant is the hummus. Other ingredients that make frequent appearances include feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, other grilled vegetables, etc.  Fresh oregano or basil from the garden and a drizzle of Italian dressing or vinaigrette add the finishing touches.

Mediterranean Chicken/Vegetable Wrap
Servings: Flexible

Possible Ingredients

Wraps or tortillas
Hummus
Grilled/pan-fried chicken breast (marinated in olive oil, garlic, oregano, other herbs of your choice, and salt and pepper, then sliced or chopped after cooking)
Grilled/pan-fried eggplant or other vegetables
Kalamata olives (chopped)
Fresh tomatoes (chopped)
Sun-dried tomatoes (drained if in oil and sliced)
Lettuce (shredded)
Feta cheese (crumbled)
Red onions (thinly sliced)
Fresh/dried herbs (oregano or basil)
Italian dressing, or a vinaigrette of your preference

Summer Sloth

11 Aug

The sad fact about gardens  is that it takes work to look good. The flowers and herbs in my garden have a great deal of natural beauty, but that beauty requires maintenance — and those poor plants have only me to provide it. So, at the moment, the garden is looking a bit sorry. I am trying to figure out where to apportion the blame for this state of affairs, and have settled on 1) intense heat, 2) mosquitoes, and 3) the Olympics, combined with a houseful of vacationing children, guests, and a couple of impromptu trips. But the reality is, I have slacked off in my gardening duties due to summer sloth.

For starters, a spectacular weed has taken up residence and is now taller than I am;  I left it in place partially out of curiosity to see just how far it would go (whereupon it proved that it can outgrow anything else in the yard, even without water) — but the truth of the matter is procrastination: I assured myself I would take care of it “next time.”  However, even I acknowledge that its time is now, though it did put on an impressive display.

But that’s not all: I need to cut down spent plants, yank out the grass that is trying to creep into the flower beds, do some more preventative edging, resuscitate the latest dog-trampled plants, undertake an emergency transplant operation, and do a lot of dead-heading: roses, gaillardia, echinacea, oregano, and basil to name just a few plants in need of a trim. Here is the flowering basil–the bees love it, but if I don’t pluck off the basil flowers soon, the plant will put its energy into the flowers rather than the leaves, and there goes our pesto.

Following on this theme of neglect, our garden has become pretty quiet. Why? Because I have failed to refill the bird feeders. I am a sad friend to the local avian community. And this slump has extended to the canine members of the family as well–Shaggy Schnauzers 2 and 1, who by now must be embarrassed to be seen by other, perfectly coiffed members of their breed. So, by the end of this weekend, I hope to have made significant headway on the garden, lured the birds back, and cornered at least one of the dogs for a buzz cut.

Recipe: Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil

18 Jul

This dish has two advantages: First, it is another fantastic meal for hot summer days since the only part of it that requires cooking is the pasta. Second, it is a very nice way to use up some of that bumper crop of cherry tomatoes or basil from the herb garden.

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil
Serves 6

1 pint cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, or Roma cherry tomatoes
1 tsp. salt
freshly grated black pepper, to taste
1 7-8 oz. container bocconcini or ciliegine (baby mozzarella balls), drained
1 large clove garlic, very thinly sliced
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. finely shredded basil (can use an entire .75-oz. pkg from the store)
1 lb. trofie, gemelli, or any spiral pasta
1/3 c. grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese

Cut tomatoes in half and place in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add sliced garlic and olive oil; mix well and let marinate.

Cut the mozzarella balls into quarters (bocconcini) or halves (ciliegine). Add to tomatoes, folding in gently. Stack the basil leaves, roll them up tightly lengthwise, and slice finely, starting at one end of the roll and continuing until all the basil is nicely shredded. Sprinkle the basil on top of the tomato/mozzarella mixture.

Bring a large pot of water to boil; add a sprinkle of salt and the pasta and cook according to package directions just until pasta is al dente. Shortly before pasta is ready, remove about 1/2 c. of the cooking water and set aside.

Call all guests to the table; pasta waits for no one.

Drain pasta and return to pot. Pour tomato/mozzarella/basil mixture over drained pasta in pot and mix in the Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese. If pasta seems dry, add reserved cooking water, 1/4 c. at a time. Check seasonings; add more salt/pepper if necessary.

Serve immediately.

Link

2011: Herb Garden

21 Jun

On Mother’s Day, 2011, my children and husband gave me a gift that will always keep on giving: an Herb Garden, which they dug out in front of Garden 1 (G1) . It was a wonderful present and with their combined muscle, it was created in one day. Here it is about a month afterward; the Yarrow in G1 is in full bloom behind the Herb Garden.

I planted rosemary in the center of the Herb garden with basil behind and tarragon in the front, oregano at the far left and thyme at the far right, Italian parsley to one side, and cilantro to the other, with some mint thrown in for good measure. I didn’t plant a lot of mint knowing it would take over the garden soon enough. But, I admire the tenacity of mint, and whenever it gets out of hand and I have to yank it out of the places it does not belong,  I console myself with the fact that it makes a nice iced tea.

The basil in the photo soon exploded, giving us a bumper crop. And so our four children decided they would make pesto one day. They weighed the pros and cons of several recipes and finally chose one, adjusting as they went. They blanched the basil to a perfect green, then added garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and tangy Pecorino Romano (non-traditional, we know, but it is our go-to cheese because of its tang). By the time they had  parceled out the resulting sauce into freezer bags for future meals, the kitchen was in need of some attention. But I would make that trade any day. Their efforts yielded a lot of pesto, the last of which made an appearance (and then a disappearance) last week, almost a year later. Pasta with Pesto and Pan-Grilled Chicken (with some cherry tomatoes for color) is a family favorite, though the last batch was used for Salmon with Pesto in Puff Pastry. Luckily, this year’s basil is growing nicely, so I will remind the children of what a wonderful job they did last year….

The one herb I have not mentioned yet actually deserves a special mention. In each corner of the herb garden, I planted Hidcote Lavender, in honor of Hidcote Manor Garden in England, an absolutely lovely National Trust property near Stratford-upon-Avon.  If you ever find yourself in that part of the world, do stop there; it will be well worth the visit. In the meantime, take a look at this blog.

Hidcote Lavender is a smaller variety, with a wonderful fragrance. And it is gorgeous. Here is a close up of the lavender this year: