Monday, December 20, 2010

Nothing "Beets" This Salad: Five Leaves Beets with Blood Oranges, Arugula and Macadamia Nuts

On Saturday night I went to Saul for a close friend's "surprise" birthday party. (I put the word surprise in quotations because it was blown the day of the event.) The conversation was great, we dined for over 3 1/2 hours and the food was delicious. I had an incredibly flavorful beet salad for my first course. The salad contained heirloom beets, honey crisp apple, fennel, toasted hazelnuts and was dressed with a golden apple vinegar vinaigrette. It was great. I got inspired to try a unique beet salad of my own and this recipe (below) immediately came to mind. 
Five Leaves in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, puts a unique spin on the ubiquitous beet-and-goat-cheese salad.  This recipe substitutes goat's milk yogurt dressing for goat cheese and adds arugula, toasted macadamia nuts and sliced blood oranges. Delish! This recipe was featured in The New Brooklyn Cookbook- my new cookbook which contains recipes from Brooklyn's brightest culinary stars. (Mentioned in this post.) It has more steps than your typical salad, but it has more flavor too. The beet vinaigrette is so wonderful I might make it on it's own if I am crunched for time (and happen to have half a roasted beet lying around).   I make this salad when my entree is simple to assemble/cook or only needs to be reheated (i.e. Martha's Macaroni and Cheese). 
In addition to being delicious, this recipe also helps me with one of my most recent resolutions. Namely, eating very colorful foods that are rich with antioxidants. Of course this was much easier to do when it was CSA-season. Now that we are entering the duldrums of winter I need to remind myself to go with bright, high-impact fruits and vegetables. Check.
Goat's milk yogurt dressing with honey, orange zest, honey and a pinch of cayenne. 
Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Arugula, Macadamia Nuts, and Goat's Milk Yogurt Dressing (From Five Leaves Restaurant)
Serves 4 to 6
For the beets
3 medium red beets, about 4 ounces each, stems and root ends removed
2 medium golden beets, about 4 ounces each, stems and root ends removed
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 fresh rosemary sprig
2 garlic heads, broken into cloves, skins on, lightly crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups coarse salt, plus more to taste
For the yogurt dressing
6 ounces goats milk yogurt
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch of cayenne pepper
For the vinaigrette

2 shallots, peeled
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the salad
1/2 cup whole macadamia nuts
6 ounces baby arugula, about 4 cups
3 blood oranges (about 1 pound), peeled and sliced into rounds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the beets and pat them dry. In a large bowl, toss the beets with the herbs, garlic, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Cover the bottom of a square baking pan with the two cups salt. Set the beets, herbs and garlic on top of the salt, cover the dish with foil, and bake until the beets are tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 75 minutes.
Set the pan aside to allow the beets to cool, then peel the beets and cut them into wedges, reserving half of 1 red beet for the vinaigrette.  Keep the red beets and golden beets separate or their colors will bleed together.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

To make the yogurt dressing: Combine the yogurt, zest, honey, and cayenne in a small bowl. Set aside.
To make the vinaigrette: In a blender or food processor, puree the shallots and the roasted red beet half with the vinegar and mustard. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream, blending until emulsified.

Place the macadamia nuts in a shallow baking dish in a single layer. Bake for three to five minutes, shaking the pan once halfway through to evenly brown.  Allow to cool slightly, then roughly chop.

Combine the red and yellow beets with half the yogurt mixture in a medium bowl and toss to coat. In another bowl, toss the arugula with the beet vinaigrette to coat.

To serve, divide the beets and blood orange slices among the four to six plates, top with the arugula, and garnish with the macadamias and a drizzle of the remaining yogurt dressing.
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ina's French Toast Bread Pudding

Two weeks ago I got a text from my good friend Kathryn of Cooking Inside the Box. She wanted to know if I had any plans for Monday, December 6th. I texted back that as long as Matt (my husband) could watch Otis (my son), I was free as a bird. She wrote back, "Great. I have a surprise for you. Casual dress, no need for the heels." I tried to figure out what the surprise was and begged Matt to tell me. No go, he's really good at keeping confidences.
Fast forward to the end of the week. I was walking back from the Brooklyn Children's Museum with my friend Charlotta (Swedish Chokladbollar/ Chocolate Balls). We were talking about single ingredients that make dishes pop. I referred to a Barefoot Contessa episode where Ina was talking about the relationship between chicken and tarragon, chocolate and espresso, and how just a pinch of certain ingredient make others pop. Kinda like the espresso in Charlotta's Swedish chocolate ball recipe.  Anyway, Charlotta said, "You know, Ina is going to be signing books in the city on Monday." And I was like, "Aw man, I wish I could go, but I have's a surprise...wait a minute..."  I put it together. Well, it was still a great surprise!  
The lines at the Crate & Barrel on 59th and Madison were very, very long. Lucky for me, Kat was able to hold down a spot (after purchase of Ina's new book How Easy Is That?). And then we met Ina. In person! I told her that she was a huge inspiration, that I started a food blog because of her and that she has totally transformed my life in the kitchen. I told her that I grew up in a non-cooking household (though now my mom cooks a lot).  She asked me, "What do people eat for dinner in a non-cooking household?"  I replied, "frozen blintzes, of course!"  Laughter filled the room.  It was a spectacular moment. 
This is a recipe from How Easy Is That?  
Serves 8
1 challah loaf, sliced 3/4 inch thick.  I made 10 slices.
(Note:If challah is fresh, not stale, slice and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees)
8 extra-large eggs
5 cups half-and-half or milk (I used 1 cup half-and-half  and 4 cups milk)
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Confectioners' sugar and pure maple syrup for serving
* Next time I may add some cinnamon!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Arrange to bread into two layers in a 9x13x2-inch baking dish, cutting the bread to fit the dish.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, honey, orange zest, vanilla and salt.  Pour the mixture over the bread and press the bread down.  Allow to soak for 10 minutes.
Place the baking dish in a larger roasting pan and add enough very hot tap water to the roasting pan to come an inch up the side of the baking dish.  Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil, tenting so the foil doesn't touch the pudding.  Make two slashes in the foil to allow steam to escape.  Bake for 45 minutes, remove the aluminum foil, and bake for another 40 to 45 minutes, until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set.  Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
With a small sieve, dust lightly with confectioners' sugar and serve hot in squares with maple syrup on the side.
How easy is that?
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins

Espresso and chocolate go so well together. Add bananas to the mix and you are talking about the most wonderful triumvirate of flavor.  
This recipe for Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins is from the Baked Cookbook (which I've mentioned quite a bit recently).  These little treats are an excellent way to start your day and a great way to turn those over-ripe bananas into something more delicious than compost mush.
Note:  Instant espresso powder is not the same as ground espresso - it dissolves instantly in hot water.

1 1/2 cups mashed, very ripe bananas (about 4 medium bananas)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (I usually go with Ghiradelli.)
Yield: 12 muffins (Halving the recipe is simple, except for the egg part...)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.  (I take a paper towel and use the remaining melted butter from the saucepan to grease the muffin pan.)
In a medium bowl, stir together bananas, sugar, butter, milk and egg.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, instant espresso powder, baking soda and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients into the well and stir until just combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips.
Fill each cup about three-quarters full.  Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
Move the muffin pan to the cooling rack, and let cool for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, remove the muffins from the pan and let them finish cooling on the cooling rack.
Muffins can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes with a side of Dreidel!

The holiday season is in full swing.  Some of you will put up a Christmas tree or dust off your Kwanza kinara.  Others will lament the holiday season and put their head in the sand until January. But for me, I get out my dreidel and start rolling gimmels. I'm not a religious person (not at all), but I do like cultural celebrations that revolve around light and food.  
And I'm really excited about Chanukah this year because: 1. I like lighting the menorah 2. I just received the gift I sent myself (the Baked cookbook) 3. I really like to eat latkes and 4. *and most importantly* I like having people over to our teeny-tiny living space (only a few at a time) and celebrating the holidays with close friends.
This recipe for Curried Sweet Potato Latkes came to me by way of Jane, the mother of our very close friend.  We got to taste these last year and they are a wonderful alternative to your standard potato latke.  And they have a little kick due to the curry powder and cayenne.  Bring these to your next Hanukkah party and you'll be a real hit!  
(In case you aren't familiar with latkes, they are a shallow-fried pancake, usually potato, that are traditionally eaten on Chanukah.)
Happy holidays.
CURRIED SWEET POTATO LATKES (Adapted from The New Prospect Cafe by Jewish Cooking in America)
Serves 16 2-inch pancakes
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
peanut oil for frying
Grate the sweet potato coarsely.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking power, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, salt and pepper.
Add the eggs and just enough milk to dry ingredients and make a stiff batter.  (I used less than the 1/2 cup of milk.) Add the potatoes and mix.  The batter should be moist but not runny; if too stiff, add more milk. 
Heat 1/4 inch of peanut oil (I used a bit less) in a saute pan until it is barely smoking.  Drop in the batter by tablespoons and flatten.  Cook several minutes on each side until golden. Drain on paper towels and serve.
Note: I think next time I make these I will cook the sweet potatoes and mash them, then follow the rest of the directions as written.  I guess it comes down to this: do you like your latkes smooth or stringy?  I think I'm a smooth type of gal.  
Also, I made another batch of these latkes tonight.  They were so good.  I left the batter and sweet potatoes in the fridge overnight, and the potato was really soft and all the spices were absorbed beautifully.  But either way, the make a nice holiday treat.
So eat those latkes, light that menorah and spin that dreidel.  
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Calendar, Cookbooks and Poached Egg on Parsnip Puree

To me the holidays mean celebrating with good food, wonderful friends and close family. It also means that 2011 is just around the corner and I need to get a new calendar, lickity-split. Well, I did. I went onto Etsy and did a search for handmade calendars. A nice bunch of options came up, but one in particular caught my eye. Heidi from Redcruiser made a seasonal garden/market calendar that I just had to have. As many of you know, I am completely obsessed with my local CSA, and some of my favorite dishes have come from our weekly farm-share bounty:Panzanella, Pasta with Swiss Chard and Leek Sauce, Polenta with Corn and Thyme, Scalloped Tomatoes, Zucchini and Basil Soup and Tagliatelle with Fresh Pesto (just to name a few). Sadly, the CSA ended for the season and I'm really missing it. This is where my new calendar comes in...
Each calendar month contains a beautiful illustration that corresponds with what is grown at that particular time of year. It matched-up perfectly with what we picked up every week. I'm looking forward to using my new calendar and counting down the months till our CSA starts up again...

Since it was the holidays and all, I also decided to pick up  two new cookbooks that I'm absolutely thrilled to have in my growing collection:
                                                The New Brooklyn Cookbook 
                                           Baked: New Frontiers in Baking 
If you live in Brooklyn (or anywhere on the eastern seaboard), a trip to this bakery in Red Hook is well worth it.  It's absolutely fantastic. This weekend I'm making their Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie. and, maybe, the Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins.  Of course Pumpkin Whoopie Pie will get made post-haste as well.  
The New Brooklyn Cookbook features many of the borough's best restaurants. Al Di La, Applewood, Buttermilk Channel,  Convivium, DuMont, Dressler, Franny's, The Good Fork, Marlow & Sons and Rose Water are just a few examples featured in the cookbook.  Rose Water is one of my favorite spots. And if you are lucky enough to get a table, you will probably agree. 
Around the same time as these new cookbooks came into my life, I stumbled upon this recipe for Poached Egg on Parsnip Puree with Mushrooms in edibleBrooklyn. It's an adaptation of a recipe that originally came from Rose Water's then-chef Marcellus Coleman. I adapted it only slightly by adding stock, minimizing the heavy cream (just a bit) and using porcini mushrooms instead of the more costly Black Trumpets, Maitakes, Trumpet Royale and Honshimejis. Serve the puree in a small, shallow bowl. It's very rich, so you don't need much to fill you up...
Enjoy it and happy holidays!
Poached Egg on Parsnip Puree with Porcini Mushrooms
Parsnip Puree
2 large parsnips, peeled and diced
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable stock (more if you want to thin out the puree)
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
pinch of salt, more to taste
Simmer all ingredients in a saucepan until parsnips are completely tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, transfer to a food processor and blend puree until smooth. You can also use an immersion blender, which is much easier.

2 lbs. porcini mushrooms
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
pinch of salt
2 cups of vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
fine herbs to garnish such as parsley, chives, chervil or tarragon
Saute mushrooms in oil and salt over medium-high heat until mushrooms start to brown and soften, about 4 minutes. Add stock, butter and thyme; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces to a glossy, stew-like consistency, about 4 more minutes.  Remove thyme sprigs. Add herbs.

1 egg per serving (this puree makes 4-6 servings)
capful of vinegar
Bring a pot of water to a simmer and add vinegar. Carefully crack egg into water and cook for 3 minutes.

Serve in a small, shallow bowl. Place one large dollop of warm parsnip puree in the bowl, with a divot in the middle to hold the egg. Gently lift the egg out of the water and place atop puree.  Spoon mushrooms around the puree and season with sea salt and optional garnishes.  
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Monday, November 29, 2010

Red Pepper Soup & Portobello Mushroom Grilled Cheese

A couple of weeks ago we spent an afternoon in Central Park. We wandered through the park, marveled at the beautiful scenery and the (still) falling leaves. We ended up at the Alice and Wonderland sculpture near 74th street, where I used to hang out when I was in high school.
The Alice in Wonderland sculpture always reminds me of a painting my father made for me the year I was born. He is a mathematician so the painting has a geometric angle. The piece has an incredible yellow and black tile floor, doors of all shapes and sizes, plastic keys, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and Alice herself. I really love this painting.
Anyway, the sculpture and painting got me thinking about childhood and this post is dedicated to Childhood Classics.  (For another Childhood Classics click this previous post).
Nothing say "childhood classic" like tomato soup and grilled cheese.  Well, this recipe is a twist on that classic-- Roasted Red Pepper Soup and Portobello Mushroom Grilled Cheese on Sourdough Bread.  The recipe was featured on Top Chef, Season 2, when contestants were challenged with "updating a childhood classic for T.G.I. Fridays."  This was the winning entry.  I did not adapt the soup at all - it follows the Top Chef cookbook verbatim. I very, very loosely followed the  recipe for the grilled cheese sandwich.
Roasted Red Pepper Soup (Courtesy of Top Chef: The Cookbook)
3 medium red bell peppers
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium celery rib, diced
1 large red onion, diced
Two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Roast the red peppers and coarsely chop.  For suggestions on how to roast peppers, click here.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the carrots, celery, and onion. Cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the peppers, tomatoes, basil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, and simmer until the tomatoes begin to break down, 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from heat, transfer to blender, in batches, and blend until smooth.  I use an immersion blender which simplifies this step significantly.
Return the mixture of the pot (if you used a blender), add cream, and stir until combined.  Serve, garnished with basil. 

Portobello Mushrooms Grilled Cheese
2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 large portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly group pepper
1-2 tablespoon of unsalted butter
3 fresh sprig of thyme
1 loaf of sourdough bread (8 slices)
1 cup grated provolone cheese
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
In a medium skillet, combine extra-virgin olive oil and red onion.  Cook until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add thinly sliced portobello mushrooms and cook until they begin to soften.  Add balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, butter and sprigs of thyme.  Cook on medium-low flame for at least 15 minutes, mixing occasionally.  
Remove the thyme sprigs and turn off the flame.
Cut sourdough bread into 8 slices (or more/less, depending on how thin/thick you like your grilled cheese).  Add some cheese and mushrooms to each sandwich.  Lightly butter a griddle or skillet and cook each sandwich until golden brown and cheese has melted.  You can also use a panini press to get the job done. 
Serves 4.
Now dunk your sandwich in the soup and enjoy memories of childhood!
I added a little bit of mustard when I made left-overs...but not recommended if you serve with the soup.
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie

Oh lord, this sweet potato pie is fantastic. It's an absolute winner! It's sweet, quintessential southern cooking that just screams "Thanksgiving" and "The Holidays." One piece of pie is like tasting a little slice of heaven. Should I go on?
I used three sweet potatoes, which I picked up at farmers market yesterday afternoon- the day before Thanksgiving. In order to cook 2 cups of sweet potatoes, I peeled them and cut them into rounds and then quartered each round. I put a very small pat of butter in a sauce pan and then added the sweet potatoes. I added 1/2 cup of water to the pot and then covered it. I repeated this step as necessary, basically each time the water evaporated or was absorbed. The steam and water cooked them perfectly...within about 15 minutes they were ready for mashing. For other suggestions on how to cook sweet potato- click here
Once the pie was half way done baking in the oven, I started working on the meringue. It was a cinch to whip up. I topped the pie with little peaks of meringue and put it back in the oven for 10 minutes.   
When I took the pie out of the oven the whole house smelled sweet and wonderful. It's one gorgeous looking pie, if I do say so myself! I served it for dessert and while there were only three of us, there was almost nothing left in the pie pan by the time we were done.  
Enjoy and happy holidays!

Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie (Courtesy of Paula Deen)
  • 2 cups peeled, cooked sweet potatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 stick melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup milk
  • 9-inch unbaked pie crust
  • 3 egg whites


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the filling, using an electric hand mixer, combine the potatoes, 1 cup of the sugar, the butter, eggs, vanilla, salt, and spices. Mix thoroughly. Add the milk and continue to mix. Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean - the original recipe says it takes 35-45 minutes, but my not-so-great oven took about 1 1/4 hours). Place the pie on a rack and cool to room temperature before covering with meringue.

For the meringue, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form; beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is glossy and stiff, but not dry. With a rubber spatula, spoon the meringue onto the pie, forming peaks. Make sure the meringue touches the crust all around. Sprinkle with a pinch of granulated sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until delicately browned. Cool and serve.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hipstamatic Wave Hill and My World's Famous Pesto Minestrone

This past week I took Otis up to see my parents, his grandparents. Since they live in Riverdale that meant I had to make a little pilgrimage to my favorite NYC destination -- Wave Hill(featured in this previous post). It was windy and a bit chilly, but the leaves were still magnificent-- tons of golden and red hues. Though some of the trees were already bare, there were enough that still had turning leaves. And the views across the Hudson River were breathtaking. I picked up an absolutely delicious salad at the cafe-- a spinach, pumpkin and blue cheese salad-- but I wished that I had packed up some of my pesto minestrone soup and made a picnic with some French bread. But alas, my soup was all sealed up in a Ball jar and sitting in Brooklyn...
This pesto minestrone is my "go-to" winter soup.  If I hear that a Nor-easter is heading my way and expected to dump many inches of snow, I get this going on the burner.  It's perfect sit-on-the-couch-wrapped-in-a-great-big-blanket (snuggie!) soup.  Okay, I know there are still 4 weeks till it's officially winter and it's another month-and-a-half before the big storms hit, but when the temperatures go below the freezing point it's time to make this amazingly flavorful, hearty soup.   
This adaptation is based on a recipe I found in "Vegetarian Cooking" -- a tome/bible I picked up about 12 years ago when I moved to New Orleans.  I've tweaked this recipe a smidge by adding my own pesto and adjusting a few proportions.  I think this is the gold standard of minestrones!  I like to use fresh pesto if I have it, but you can easily use store bought pesto.  I like to make this in the early evening so that the whole house smells incredible.  You can eat it immediately, but I like to let the finished product cool in a dutch oven and then put it in the fridge for one day before serving--  all the herbs, vegetables, legumes and broth meld together after 24 hours. Delish!  
If the soup becomes too thick, you can use some stock or water to thin it out a bit.  Then remember to season accordingly.  Enjoy this soup-- it will instantly become one of your classic "go to" mains.  I hope you like this minestrone as much as we do...
Carrots from our penultimate CSA pick-up. They got thrown right into the minestrone!
My World's Famous Pesto Minestrone 
(Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking by Linda Fraser)
Serves 6-8
Minestrone is a thick mixed vegetable soup that usually has short cut pasta or rice added to it.  This one includes a home-made pesto sauce.  
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced 
2-3 carrots, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into small uniform dice, about 1/4 of an inch
6 cups of vegetable sock (you can use water, but stock gives the soup more flavor)
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
3/4 - 1 cup of tubetini, small shells or elbow noodles
3/4 of a cup of frozen peas
2 zucchini, finely chopped
15 ounce can of white beans, such as Cannellini or Great Northern Beans (For this recipe I use BPA-free canned beans. You can also use dry beans-- soaked overnight and cooked.)
1/2 tablespoon of salt (more to taste)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons of pesto (I like to use fresh, but you can use store bought as well.) Recipe follows.
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Stir in the onions and leeks and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and garlic,and cook over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes more.  
Pour in the stock and stir well. Add the herbs and season with salt and pepper.  Add small pasta. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for 10-12 minutes.
Stir in the peas, if fresh, and the zucchini. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the frozen peas, if using. Cover the pot and simmer for 1o minutes.
Stir in beans (without liquid if using canned) and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the pesto sauce. Simmer for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat. Enjoy!  
This minestrone tastes even better the next day so you can make it in advance. Garnish with fresh grated parmesan. 

Basic Pesto Sauce  (An amalgamation from a bunch of different sources)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pignoli (pine nuts)
  • 2 cloves garlic-- more if you like it garlicky. 
  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 good olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Clean basil in water and then spin them very dry in a salad spinner.
Place the walnuts, pignoli, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

Caring for Pesto: Air is the enemy of pesto. Pack it with a film of oil or plastic wrap directly on top with the air pressed out.
Yield: 4 cups
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