Monday, September 14, 2015

Pesto Cream Cheese

Pesto. Cream Cheese. Earthy, spicy and sweet pesto in rich, tart cream cheese. Need I say more to sell you on this idea?

It's a great thing to serve while entertaining, or to bring to a party. Served alongside bagel chips, it is a flavorful spread to bring to brunches. With just three steps, it is incredibly easy to make Make it with fresh pesto and it will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

I prefer my summer pesto a little sweeter, so I make it with cashews in place of pine nuts, which lends the pesto a subtle rich sweetness that pairs especially well with cheese, particularly creamy cheese. If you don't like cashews or don't think you would go in for a slightly sweeter pesto, you can instead use toasted pine nuts. The pesto recipe I used makes extra and it is awesome over tortellini, ravioli, gnocchi or roasted potatoes.

Pesto Cream Cheese

Serving size: adjustable

For the pesto:

1 1/4 cups cleaned basil leaves
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
1/4 cup cashews, chopped roughly
salt, to taste

1. Make the pesto: combine all ingredients in blender and pulse for 1-2 seconds at a time until pesto achieves desired consistency (I go for a slightly rough paste, about 3 - 4 two second pulses).
2. Fold pesto into softened cream cheese on a 1:2 ratio (for example, 1/2 cup cream cheese to 1/4 cup pesto).
3. Cover and refrigerate for about one hour.
Serve with bagels, bagel chips, toasted pita or bread of choice.

Monday, September 7, 2015

"Italian" Burger with Tomato & Herb Concentrate

The inspiration for this post came from last week’s craving: I was really yearning for a fresh, basic tomato sauce before all the good summer tomatoes disappeared. It had to have just a few basic ingredients to be a great, simple sauce: tomatoes (roma), olive oil, garlic and fresh basil. It only needed a little fresh basil, so I was stuck with nearly an entire bunch of basil, wondering what to do with it. Pesto was the obvious answer, and while my recipe would use all of my remaining basil it would also make an abundance of pesto. More than enough for one pasta dish, even two. Within three days I would have to freeze it and before that I was trying to use it in as many dishes as possible. I enjoyed it with raviolis and smeared over plain cream cheese on a bagel (I may even post in the future about how to make pesto cream cheese at home; is there interest in such a recipe?). What else could I use it in? Well, I’d always loved pesto potatoes.
This weekend is a long weekend for Americans: Labor Day weekend, where most of us also get Monday off and for many a last official chance to grill. Of course I had to get in on the fun. Since I already had the pesto potatoes planned out as my starch I decided to let the flavors of Italy inspire my burger as well. Thus the "Italian" Burger was conceived. I flavored my burger with a zesty, herbed tomato sauce concentrate and topped it with fresh mozzarella and some grill roasted grape tomatoes. The result was a fabulously flavorful burger that was a great compliment to the pesto potatoes. Whether it's the last of the grill weather for you and you'll have to be making these in a pan indoors, or you live in a climate where you can grill this time of year, you have got to give these a try. I roasted about 4 - 5 grape tomatoes per burger on skewers by brushing them lightly with olive oil and seasoning with salt & pepper before grilling them over direct medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side.

"Italian" Burgers with Tomato & Herb Concentrate

Makes 6 patties

2 lbs ground chuck
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. Make the tomato sauce concentrate: in a small saucepan over the lowest heat, sweat garlic in olive oil for approximately 2 minutes to infuse the oil. When the smell of garlic fills up the house, add basil and oregano. Cook for another 2 minutes.
2. Add tomato paste, 1/2 cup of water and salt, to taste. Stir to thoroughly combine.
3. Reduce over the laziest simmer for about 15 minutes.
4. Remove concentrate from heat and allow to cool completely.
5. In a medium bowl, very gently mix together ground chuck and tomato sauce concentrate. As delicately as possible, form into 6 equal patties.
6. Brush grill with olive oil and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Flip and add sliced mozzarella. Cover the grill and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Serve on a toasted bun and topped with roasted tomatoes. Goes really well with pesto potatoes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Spinach, Cheddar & Garlic Mini Arancini (fried rice fritters)

This is my first leftovers post, and I'm pleased to say it is one solution to what to do with leftover rice. In my case I already had a side dish prepared of jasmine rice tossed with spinach sauteed in garlic. However, since I think this would make a great snack with any old leftover rice you have laying around, I'm going to share my method of cooking the spinach here. I used a lot of garlic and a lovely sharp cheddar, because cheddar and spinach were what I was craving. Back in NYC at a cute little bistro called Elephant and Castle, I used to get an omelette called gold n greens, and that's all it was, wrapped in a luscious French style egg omelette. I wanted to recreate a little of that magic, so I decided to add cheddar to my rice mixture. You can add Gruyére or any soft, meltable cheese. Even Parmesan, if you want to make it more Italian.
What does Italian food have to do with this snack? Quite a bit. In Italy there is a popular fried rice fritter called Arancini. Its shape and filling will vary, from region to region. Their name means little orange, as many are rounded and will come from the deep fryer a golden color reminiscent of the orange. My choice of fillings is rather unusual, but it was what I had on hand and it turned out very nicely. Enjoy! Or as the Italians would say "Mangia! Mangia!" (Or is that just in the popular imagination?)

A special nod to Lisa Watson of Italian Kiwi, a good friend, whose post and recipe for Arancini was the first I'd ever looked at.

Spinach, Cheddar & Garlic Mini Arancini

Makes 20 - 24

2 cups cooked rice
4 ounces fresh spinach, stems removed
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 ounces grated sharp cheddar
2 eggs
2/3rds cup breadcrumbs
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups oil for frying

1. In a large pan over medium heat add olive oil, then spinach. Add crushed garlic, season with a little salt and pepper and cook until just wilted. Remove from heat and roughly chop spinach.
2. Mix rice, spinach, cheese and a bit more salt and pepper together. Form into balls of approximately 1 heaping Tablespoon. I used my rounded Tablespoon measure, then pressed it in on all sides to form the rounded shape.
3. Set in fridge to firm up for about 1 hour.
4. In a small bowl beat eggs with a fork. Set breadcrumbs in a shallow dish.
5. When arancini have firmed up, dip in egg batter, then cover with breadcrumbs.
6. In a small saucepan with high sides, heat oil to about 200. Cook arancini in a single layer in small batches, 4 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook an additional 3 minutes, or until golden brown.