Tag Archives: extra-virgin olive oil

Pesto #1: Basil Pesto

Basil pesto is the most basic and traditional pesto. It is what most people think of when you mention pesto. The basil-based pesto was invented in Genoa, Italy. It is also sometimes called a Genovese sauce. It should be a beautiful bright green and the aroma is almost intoxicating. Just remember when adding the oil, add it slowly. This is so that the sauce is fully emulsified, meaning all the ingredients blend together in a thick, uniform consistency. There are also many types of basil out there in the markets today so be adventurous and try a few of them for their different flavors! And remember you will be using quite a bit in the recipe so if it’s on sale all the better!

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves

¼ cup toasted pine nuts (pignoli)*

1-2 cloves garlic

½ teaspoon salt, plus a little more to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus a little more to taste

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


DIRECTIONS:

1. In a food processor or blender, pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper until finely chopped.

2. With the processor or blender still running, gradually add enough oil to form a smooth and thick consistency. Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate.

Makes about 1 cup. The pesto can be made up to 2 days ahead.

*To toast pine nuts for pesto, bake them on a cookie sheet at 400ºF for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Just keep an eye on them because they can burn very quickly!

**TIP** If using the pesto as a pasta sauce it must be the right consistency. So when your pasta is just about ready you can add a little bit of the pasta cooking liquid to the pest to get it a little thinner so it will coat the pasta. Just be careful you don’t add too much and make it a pesto soup!

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Summer Shrimp Salad

Shrimp salad always reminds me of summertime, the seashore, the beach and a quick easy salad that is delicious. This version adds a little twist, the twist being avocado. It is also a salad without all the mayonnaise, and that means fewer calories. A great light summer delight for lunch or a light dinner with a sandwich or even cup of chowder! This recipe serves 6 but if you want to make it for less people cut it in half. Avocados are so good for us with their good fats and along with the rest of the salad we’re eating much healthier, which is a good thing!


INGREDIENTS:

1 pound large cooked shrimp, peeled

1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved

2 avocados, cut into cubes

1 shallot, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

Grated peel of 1 lemon, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon white wine vinegar

salt and pepper

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil


DIRECTIONS:

1. In a large bowl, combine the shrimp, tomatoes, avocados, shallot and basil.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the lemon peel, lemon juice, garlic and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Slowly pour in the olive oil whisking constantly until combined. Pour the dressing over the shrimp and serve.

Serves 6

Crab Dip w/Garlic Saltines and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Ok, I can’t take the credit for this recipe but I will thank Tyler Florence for it! I saw this on his show on the Food Network one weekend and made it last week. It was delicious! Easy too! And the saltines are incredible! I am going to make another batch this weekend! Even John who doesn’t eat many carbs in the form of crackers loved them! He was adding peanut butter to the crackers! But the dip is awesome on it. It is also better to let it sit over night in the refrigerator. The flavors will meld better. I also used the lighter versions of cream cheese and mayonnaise in my version. A suggestion from John is to heat it up also and serve it as a hot dip. I haven’t tried that yet but when we do I will post the results on here! We had this as our appetizer to our Thanksgiving dinner last Sunday. Washed it down with a bottle or two of Prosecco.

INGREDIENTS:

For the crab dip:

1 (8oz.) cup cream cheese, at room temperature

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (DO NOT USE REGULAR MUSTARD)

½ tablespoon lemon juice

About 1 tablespoon EVOO (Extra-virgin olive oil), optional

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped chives

1½ cups (about 12 ounces) fresh lump crabmeat, drained and picked over (I used claw meat and it was fine)

For the crackers:


2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

½ stick butter, melted (I used a butter substitute)

30 saltine crackers (about 1 sleeve)

For the tomatoes:

1 pint cherry/grape tomatoes

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

EVOO, optional

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

For the crab dip:

1. In a food processor add the cream cheese, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, blend until smooth. Then add the lemon juice and olive oil, if desired and season with salt and pepper. Process until well combined, scraping down the sides as you go.

2. Scoop the mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in the chopped chives and crabmeat. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper then cover and set aside in refrigerator.

For the crackers:

1. Meanwhile, prepare the saltines. Make a garlic butter by combining the minced garlic with parsley and melted butter.

2. Lay out a flat layer of saltines on a baking tray (I just sprayed it with cooking spray) and use a pastry brush to baste the saltines with garlic butter. Bake in the oven for about 5-7 minutes until golden.

For the tomatoes:

1. Split each tomato lengthwise and toss in a mixing bowl with balsamic vinegar. Toss the cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil, if desired, over the top. Season with salt and pepper and bake in oven for 7-8 minutes.

To Serve:

Arrange the three components so they can be assembled by easily. Take a saltine, spoon a little crab dip on top and garnish with a piece of tomato.

Makes 4-6 servings

Fresh Green Bean & Tomato Salad

I made this for the first time yesterday as part of a Thanksgiving in July dinner. Why did we have Thanksgiving in July? Because during Thanksgiving the turkeys are so inexpensive when they are on sale it makes sense to buy one, even if you don’t plan on cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I got a 16.81lb turkey for only $10.06! How could I resist! The only problem though is that it takes up my entire spare freezer! So we cooked it up! And since there were just the two of us I didn’t go crazy with the calorie laden sides. Just made the turkey, mashed potatoes of course, cranberry sauce, gravy and this green bean-tomato salad. It can be served at room temperature or chilled. Either way it tastes great and is a better choice than the traditional green bean casserole! This recipe serves 4 but I thought it would be too much for just us so I cut it in half. Still had leftovers! It was so good!

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound fresh green beans, washed, trimmed and cut in half

1½ teaspoons salt, divided

4 large plum tomatoes, cut into chunks

1 clove garlic, chopped

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons parmesan cheese


DIRECTIONS:

1. Place the prepared beans in a large saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon salt and enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, covered, for 6-8 minutes, or until tender. Drain well.

2. In the meantime in a large salad bowl, combine the tomatoes, basil, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix well.

3. Add the drained green beans and toss. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.

Serve immediately at room temperature or cover and chill until ready to use.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce

With the weather being so warm it’s always great to find recipes that involve minimal cooking. Homemade tomato sauce for your pasta is always better than jarred but who has time to spend making it. This recipe is simple and the only cooking involved is cooking your choice of pasta! It’s a fresh sauce without the fuss. This is great also if you have your own garden and have an over-abundance of tomatoes to use! Put them to good use and have a quick pasta dinner tonight!

INGREDIENTS:

6 large fresh tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons EVOO (Extra-Virgin Olive Oil)

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Coarsely ground black pepper


DIRECTIONS:

1. Chop tomatoes and place in a bowl. Add the garlic, EVOO, basil, salt and pepper. Toss gently.

2. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let stand at room temperature for 2-4 hours.

3. Serve with your favorite spaghetti or pasta

Serves 6

The Italian Kitchen (Part 2)

Today’s  post on The Italian Kitchen is going to be a glossary of some basic Italian kitchen ingredients. Most of them will be familiar to everyone but this will give a little information about each of them.

Arborio Rice: Risotto is usually made with this Italian rice, though other rice can be used. Risotto is Arborio rice that is browned first in margarine, butter, or oil, then cooked in broth. The finished rice has a creamy consistency and a tender, but slightly firm, texture.

Artichokes: You should look for firm, compact globes that are heavy for their size. They should yield slightly to pressure and have large, tightly closed leaves. Sometimes you’ll see leaf edges that are darkened. This is because the plant got too cold but it does not affect the quality. To store, keep fresh artichokes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. To prepare an artichoke, cut off the bottom stem so it sits flat. Cut off about 1 inch from the top. Remove loose outer leaves. With a pair of kitchen shears, snip ½ inch from tips of leaves. Brush cut surfaces with lemon juice to prevent browning.

Balsamic Vinegar: This sweet, dark brown vinegar is made from the boiled-down juice of a white grape. According to Italian law, balsamic vinegar labeled as “aceto balsamico tradizionale” cannot contain any wine vinegar and must be aged at least 12 years. These vinegars can sell from $40-$350 per 4 ounces!! Less expensive balsamics blend wine vinegar with the grape juice. This is what most of us buy at the supermarket. If you can afford the expensive stuff go ahead and splurge.

Basil: My favorite Italian herb by a long shot! Love how this smells! The aroma and flavor of this herb range from peppery and robust to sweet and spicy. It’s leaves can be various shades of green or purple. The leaves can be used in dried or fresh form. The fresh form is amazing but always keep the dried on hand!

Garlic: The ultimate Italian ingredient! As I’ve said before, you can never have too much garlic! The plant  of this strong-scented, pungent bulb is related to the onion. Besides fresh garlic bulbs, you can also use dried. Some people use jarred minced garlic. I don’t recommend this. Garlic comes in the form of garlic powder, garlic salt, and garlic paste. Leave the bulbs whole, once you separate them they tend to dry out. Garlic should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place and used within 6 months. I planted garlic cloves once and they really grew! Pretty cool!

Italian Parsley: Italian parsley has flat, dark leaves and a milder flavor than the more familiar curly leaf parsley.

Mushrooms: Porcini– the most prized wild mushrooms in Italy, have large, meaty, slightly rounded caps that may be white or reddish-brown. The stems are fleshy and wider at the bottom. Another mushroom in Italy is the Crimini/Portobello (Italian brown or Roman), which has the same shape as a regular button mushroom but is light tan to dark brown with a deeper, earthier flavor. When the mushrooms are small they are Crimini. Once the Crimini is fully matured it is a Portobello. To clean, brush mushrooms with a soft brush or damp paper towel. Store them in a paper bag until ready to use. Serve within a couple of days. If you can’t find the fresh version of what you want, look for the dried form. You can add fresh or rehydrated mushrooms to soups, sauces, salads, appetizers, pasta dishes, and entrees.

Olive Oil: No Italian kitchen is complete without a bottle of olive oil. I remember my mother always had one of those gallon type cans in the kitchen when we were growing up. Too expensive now to buy that huge can! The quality of olive oil is classified by the level of acidity, taste, and aroma. Olive oils higher in acidity can be rectified or treated with chemicals to lower the acidity, but are called refined, not virgin.  Olive oil has the same amount of calories that other oils contain–120 calories per tablespoon. But olive oil is highly unsaturated and has been suggested as a healthier alternative to more saturated fat or oils. Additionally, olive oil is a highly flavored oil, so you can use much less than oils with lighter flavors.

Types of Olive Oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is the best grade of olive oil; it meets Italy’s highest standards for rich and fruity olive taste with very lowe acidity (less than 1%)

Virgin olive oil has an acidity between 1 and 3 percent and a lighter taste and aroma. It is considered to be slightly inferior in quality to extra-virgin olive oil.

Pure olive oil is filtered twice after a single cold-pressing to lighten the oil’s color and aroma and lessen the acidity. It has a delicate flavor and a low acidity.

Cold-pressed olive oil is obtained by pressing the fruit. No heat or solvents are used, therefore it is called “cold-pressed.”

Extra-light olive oil refers only to the oil’s flavor, not to the calories it contains compared to the other olive oils.

Olives: Italians prefer to use ripe olives rather than the unripe green variety. Although ripe olives in America are usually black, the color of Italian ripe olives can vary from purplish red and brown to jet-black. They are packed in oil or brine, which may be flavored with herbs or citrus pee. Taste olives before serving. If they’re too salty, rinse them under cold running water. They can become bitter if overcooked, so allow them just enough time to heat through when adding to a cooked dish.

Pancetta (pan-CHEH-tuh): Pancetta is the Italian version of bacon. It’s made from the belly or pancia of a hog. Pancetta has deep pink stripes of flesh similar to bacon. Pancetta is seasoned with pepper and other spices, and is cured with salt, but it’s not smoked. It comes in a sausage-like roll or flat and is used to flavor sauces, vegetables, or meats.

Pesto (PES-toh): I love pesto. It’s so easy to make yourself too. Much better than those jarred ones in the store. It’s a pasty sauce of olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese. It is usually served with pasta.

Pignoli Nuts (Pine Nuts): This is a unique and tasty little “nut”. They can be really expensive too but I’ve found it at a few places that won’t break the bank. The pignoli is a small seed from one of the several pine tree varieties. The pine nut, which has a sweet, faint pine flavor, is commonly known as pignoli or pinon. The small, creamy white nut can be slender and pellet-shaped or more triangular. Pine nuts turn rancid quickly, so keep them in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two months or freeze them for up to six months.

Polenta (poh-LEN-tuh): This is an Italian-style cornmeal mush (as I used to call it as a kid). It’s made by boiling a mixture of cornmeal or farina and water. Polenta usually is served with tomato sauce as a side dish, or it can be served without sauce as a bread substitute. It’s eaten as a thick porridge or can be molded, sliced, fried, or boiled.

Prosciutto (proh-SHOO-toh): I love prosciutto. Maybe it’s the salty flavor. (I am the Salt Monster after all, so my husband says!) Like ham, it’s from the hog’s leg. Salt curing draws out the moisture, a process called prosciugare in Italian. But unlike ham, the cured pork is air-dried, not smoked. (Probably another reason I like it so much). The result is a somewhat sweetly spiced, rose-colored meat that has a slight sheen. Parma ham is the authentic prosciutto of Italy. They are designated as prosciutto cotto (cooked) or prosciutto crudo (raw). The raw is cured, however, so it’s ready to eat. Use small amounts in pasta, sauces, and meat dishes. Add it to cooked dishes at the last-minute so it doesn’t get too tough. I love it around melon. Like most Italian weddings, prosciutto is served wrapped around a slice of cantaloupe or honeydew melon. Delicious!

Risotto (ree-ZHOT-toh): This rice dish consists of broth-cooked rice, butter, cheese and other bits of meat and/or vegetables. Risotto Milanese (from Milan) are always also flavored with a little saffron. I love risotto also. But it’s a treat for me because it’s so high in calories.

Tomatoes: Italian cooks mainly use two kinds of tomatoes. The long plum or Roma tomatoes are usually used for cooking because they have fewer seeds, firmer flesh and thicker juice. I use them is salsa also. The round eating tomatoes are best in salads, appetizers, or anywhere fresh tomatoes are needed. To ripen, store firm tomatoes at room temperature in a bowl or even in a brown paper bag. DO NOT PUT TOMATOES IN THE REFRIGERATOR!!!! This takes away most of the flavor and removes the helpful antioxidants. I only refrigerate when I cut them and have some left over. Though this doesn’t happen often!

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