Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Night Cookin' Part II: Garden Bruschetta

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Toasted Baguette, topped with Cashew Ricotta, Basil Pesto, Baby Spinach Leaves and Rosemary Oven Roasted Plum and Cherry Tomatoes...
(party in my mouth) ^_^
 How we did it:
Friday afternoons, we have a small but amazing Farmer's Market here on the campus where I work. It is literally two steps outside of my building, which is so very convenient. If you get there early, they usually have freshly baked baguettes for sale: perfect for bruschetta!

Fresh Basil for Pesto!
As an unexpected BONUS, Kathy harvested a bunch of fresh basil from her garden, and brought packages of PINE NUTS, the coveted dream ingredient for the perfect pesto. Pine nuts are pricey, to say the least, and I almost NEVER have them on hand. Most of the time, I make my pesto with toasted walnuts instead, so this was a nice treat!

Toasting Pine Nuts for Pesto! (iPhone pic)

Fresh Pesto (iPhone pic)

I have to say, this was one of my better efforts!  I made it in my blender, so I used a bit more olive oil than I usually do.  But, I have to say, I really liked the consistancy of the pesto from the blender a bit better than the food processor.  Go figure...

And now for these gorgeous tomatoes!!

Pre-Oven Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic and Rosemary (iPhone pic)

We decided to oven roast them at 450 for about 20 minutes, along with a head of garlic.  I had some lovely rosemary branches from another friend's garden, so Kathy pulled some of the leaves off and skewered the giant cherry tomatoes on the fresh rosemary branches.  This imparted the most WONDERFUL rosemary flavor, and made my kitchen smell absolutely divine!  It also looks really classy too.

Oven Roasted Garden Tomatoes and Garlic with Fresh Rosemary (iPhone pic)

Out of the oven!

So now we build our Bruschetta: 

Slice your baguette around 1/2" thick
Lightly brush with olive oil and spinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.
I usually broil the bruschetta on high for 3-5 minutes, but since we already had the oven set to 450, we toasted them on the top shelf for 10 minutes or so.
Remove baguette slices and then rub each piece with a garlic clove.
Spread each slice with tofu ricotta and top with a spoonful of fresh basil.
Top each slice with a baby spinach leaf (or two), and then finish it off with some oven roasted tomatoes

Kick back with a glass of red wine, and pat yourself on the back for creating: Bruschetta of the Gods

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Friday Night Cookin' with Becky & Kathy

Another fabulous Friday of cooking with my favorite vegan friendly omnivore!

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In an attempt to highlight the bounty of tomatoes and herbs from Kathy's garden, we planned a night of Bruschetta, and Homemade Garden Tomato Soup.

Kathy was kind enough to bring most of the ingredients right from her garden (YES!).  She only requested I make ricotta cheese, (or "some ricotta cheese vegan thing-y", as she calls it), which, I could gladly oblige.
Tofu Cashew Ricotta (iPhone pic)
This one came out really well. I was pleased!

My new favorite method for making vegan ricotta is actually a mix of the Tofu Ricotta AND the Cashew Ricotta recipes from Veganomicon.  The texture of the tofu is a perfect base, and the pureed cashews, lemon juice and olive oil add just the right creaminess. I also like to add nutritional yeast to taste, which gives the ricotta that extra nutty, cheese-like flavor.  The addition of nutritional yeast is only in the TOFU Ricotta recipe, and not in the Cashew version.  I like to live large and add it anyway.

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And now for the soup:  I think Kathy harvested every plum tomato she had!  So we went to work washing and scoring the bottoms with a little "x", then dropping them into a pot of boiling water.  About 20 seconds later, we plunged them into a giant bowl of ice water and started peeling!  I must say, this task is much more fast and painless with two rather than one! :)  And boy was it worth it.
Garden Tomato Soup (iPhone pic)
No fancy recipe, just taste as you go!
Half a large onion, diced
2-3 cloves, chopped garlic
3 pounds plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Olive oil
Vegetable Stock
Fresh Rosemary and Oregano
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper, to taste

Sautee onions and garlic for 5 mintues until tender.
Add tomatoes and stir well.
Simmer for about 20 minutes, and puree in a blender to dseired consistancy. 

A stick blender would have come in really handy here.  I'll get one of those someday...  We decided to leave the soup with a bit of texture instead of pureeing it totally smooth - mostly because it was molten hot, and we were too hungry to wait for it to cool and safely blend it all the way.

Place 1 large spoonful of cashew ricotta in the middle of your soup bowl, then ladle in the garden fresh tomato goodness...DELICIOUS! ^_^

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Favorite Pesto

My Favorite Pesto

Now that I have a food processor, I find that making pesto is SO much easier than when I used my blender. This pesto contains no cheese, but the nuttiness from the toasted walnuts and the nutritional yeast give it the perfect balance of flavor. Nutritional yeast makes an excellent vegan substitute for Parmesan because of its slightly salty, cheesy and nutty flavor.  It is low in fat, high in protein and B vitamins, and it is not made with any animal products. I do like to take the extra time and toast the walnuts in the oven to really bring out their flavor. You may, of course, use pine nuts as well, but I find I have walnuts on hand more often, since they are a bit less expensive.  The pesto pictured about was made with minimal olive oil (roughly 1/4 cup) and so it is quite thick - perfect for tossing into warm pasta.  I do sometimes add more oil (1/2 - 3/4 cup) to make the pesto more spreadable (or drizzle able), in order to top grilled bread, or use as a garnish.

3 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup walnut halves (or the traditional pine nuts)
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup olive oil, or more to get the blended consistency you like
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
1/8-1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt

To toast walnuts:  Preheat oven to 350
Spread nuts on baking sheet and toast for 5-10 minutes, or until fragrant.
Add toasted walnuts to food processor, and pulse until crumbly.
Add basil leaves and garlic and pulse to combine.
Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth, be sure to scrape down the sides of your bowl to combine evenly.
Check for salt, and adjust as needed.
Pesto can then be used in your favorite pasta recipe, or stored in the fridge an airtight container for up to a week.
You may also freeze your pesto in ice cube trays, and then transfer the cubes to zip lock bags, to enjoy the bright beautiful taste of pesto throughout the Winter!

** For my Italian heritage, a bit of history for you ^_^
Traditional pesto hails from the Liguria region in Northwest Italy.  It is here, in the thriving port city of GENOVA, where the infamous 'Pesto Genovese' gets its name.  One reason this sauce was (and still is) so popular in the region of Liguria is because of the mineral-rich seaside soil and temperate climate, perfect for growing beautiful, green basil. Old Italian legend has it that pesto got its name from the way it was traditionally prepared: with a mortar and pestle (mortaio e pestello).  With a gentle turn of the wrist, sweet basil leaves are squeezed with garlic, pine nuts and olive oil against a ceramic mortar and wooden pestle.  While this slow, yet deliberate process gently coaxed the flavors from the basil, oil, and pine nuts, most modern day cooks prefer the help of a blender or food processor.

I actually do have a lovely marble mortar and pestle.  It sits on my counter, more as a decoration than a kitchen tool.  Perhaps one day, when I am feeling a bit rustic, I will bust it out, and grind me some pesto the authentic way!  ^_^