Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, Shrimp and Green Beans

Aug-Sept 2009 041Last weekend was my husband’s birthday. To celebrate properly, I made him work on our if-you-touch-it-it-might-collapse garage…all week. Actually, we both took the whole week off from work and called it a “work-cation” to make it sound like so much more fun! But really, there was very little “cation” in it at all. This garage has been on our to-do list since we moved into our house three and a half years ago. We’ve been slowly gutting it of the makeshift cabinets and falling-down plywood walls to remake it into a workshop/storage area. Living in a tiny bungalow built in 1940 means we have precious little closet space, so the thought of having this much extra storage is worth a week of hard work (I think?).

 

 

Green Derby Snap BeansSo, on Friday night, after working so hard all week on our rotting, termite-infested garage, I planned to take Glenn to Bottega for his birthday–kind of a reward to both of us. Turns out it was even more of a reward than I ever thought it would be. Early Friday morning I woke up around 2 am to the sound of something falling. It sounded like a “Wooooosh! Thump!” Being startled in the middle of the night, and having my whole life taken over by garage renovation, my first thought was “Good lord, the garage fell over!”  I got out of bed immediately, tried to wake Glenn who was completely unresponsive, and ran out to the garage. It was still standing (of course!). Thinking that I must have just heard some thunder or had ingested too much wine the night before, I went back to bed. The next morning, Glenn and I woke to the very strong smell of fresh wood and two very large gum tree branches laying off to the side of our front porch–having fallen barely 6 inches from the house. Apparently one branch broke off, hit another branch on the way down, bent the hanging edge of our gutter 180 degrees, and landed in the rhododendron. 

 

Beans, Potatoes and ShrimpYes, we were very, very lucky that we did not wake up to a hole in the house–or worse. We know. But still, there were two giant tree limbs laying in our rhododendron, and picking them up was not going to be easy. On Friday morning, after running a few errands and locating our handsaw, we got to work on cutting up the tree limb and carrying it to the curb for the city to pick up. It took us about two hours. We may have said a few curse words. At the tree. At our neighbors for not helping us. At the garage for being so old and making us already exhausted before having to deal with this. &*$^% garage!  I will never allow you to store my extra stuff!!

 

Toasting Pine NutsThat dinner at Bottega was looking better and better. After long naps, we awoke, cleaned ourselves up to look presentable, and had one of the best dinners ever. Glenn had Rabbit Torino (rabbit, stuffed with plums and rosemary, and wrapped in pancetta). I had the most wonderful duck breast I’ve ever had with farro (a type of grain, sort of like quinoa), apples, braised carrots, and arugula. People, it is HARD to get duck breast and rabbit breast right. It is sooo common for it to turn out tough. Both the rabbit and the duck were very moist, tender, and flavorful, not gamey. For dessert we split a white chocolate bread pudding (what garage? what tree? what stinky neighbors?). But the very best thing I had at Bottega–the thing I kept thinking about all weekend–was my appetizer: handmade pasta with shrimp, new potatoes, pine nuts, and pole beans,  all in a very rich and buttery pesto sauce. Add the full bottle of wine we consumed to this and you’ve got yourself a birthday party!

  

New Potatoes, SlicedI will tell you that I thought about this pesto sauce like a new boyfriend (er, before Glenn, of course). I had to recreate it. So, Monday night, I tried my best to at least get all the elements right. Rather than pole beans, Glenn had just harvested some Derby String Beans. I thought that would be a fine substitution. I also had a lot of basil in my own garden that needed to be harvested soon–so I made a very easy pesto sauce.  New potatoes? No problem. Toasted pine nuts? Got ’em. Shrimp? Got some nice Gulf shrimp right around the corner at the market. Handmade pasta? With not enough time to handmake some pasta, I just used some lasagna sheets and halved and quartered them. (I just tried to renovate a garage for godsakes! Gimme a break, will ya?)

   

 

Frank Stitt Wanna Be Pesto with Pasta, Beans, Potatoes and ShrimpAnd what element did I taste in Frank Stitt’s (Chef at Bottega) homemade pasta that made it truly decadent? What one food item made this dish over-the-top?

Butter! Oh yes, Mr. Stitt does not skimp on the butter–and I was determined to not skimp on it either! We don’t want to make Mr. Stitt angry when we copy his recipes, now do we?

I have to say, though I did not make the wonderfully delicate handmade pasta that I had at Bottega, and I think my version of this dish needed about a quarter cup more pesto (and, yes, even more butter!), for my first attempt at this, it turned out very well. I will definitely make it again–perhaps when I have more time to make the pasta myself. 

 

 

 

Glenn with DrillYou may be wondering just how much work got done on that garage by week’s end. Well? It still looks very much under construction, but we did get some of the worst of the jobs completed–we framed in the front, replaced a wall in the back–but there’s so much more work that needs to be done before we can inhabit it in any way. I think I’m sensing another “work-cation” coming soon–followed by a dinner out!

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is my very loose interpretation of  Frank Stitt’s Handmade Pasta with Pesto, Shrimp, Beans, and Potatoes (I can’t remember the actual name of it!)

This served two people–one of those people was extremely hungry. Also, I really made this up as I went along…so you could add or subtract whatever you wish.

1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts

2 medium new potatoes, cooked and sliced

6 lasagna noodles, cooked, halved and quartered

a handful (about a cup) of string beans (or pole beans), string removed and cut to about an inch

1/2 pound of shrimp, peeled and deviened. I salted and peppered these quite liberally. You know, cause I’m a liberal.

2 tablespoons of butter (if I made this again, I probably would have used even more! WOW!)

about a cup of pesto (see my recipe below)

salt and pepper to taste

 

Here’s basically what I did. First, I toasted the pine nuts in a cast-iron skillet.

Then, I cooked the potatoes for about 15 minutes (or until they were tender). I put the lasagna noodles in the same water for about 10 minutes. Because there were only 6 noodles, it was easy to just lift them out of the water to drain them. Then I removed the potatoes and sliced them and sprinkled them lightly with kosher salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, I put the beans in the same water to blanche them for about 3 minutes.

Then I put everything into a large skillet in this order: butter first (till it melted), then shrimp (for about 3 minutes…until they started to turn pink), beans (I gave them another 2 minutes or so), cut up noodles, potatoes, pine nuts, and finally pesto. Mix everything up until the pesto covers all.

 

My basic pesto recipe (this was not quite enough pesto, in my opinion. Next time I’d probably add about a 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup chicken stock

handful of basil (stems removed)

1 clove garlic (I hate pesto that is too garlicky. Some people like more garlic…so add more if you do!)

1/8 cup parmesean

approximately 1/4 cup olive oil–possibly a little more to bring it to a looser consistency

salt and pepper to taste

Note: I usually add walnuts or pine nuts to my pesto, but because there were pine nuts in Frank Stitt’s recipe, I decided to leave them out. Also, I wanted my pesto to be thin, not thick.

 

Put everything but the olive oil into a blender or food processor. Blend while streaming in the olive oil until it gets to be a nice consistency. Some people like a thick pesto, but I prefer mine fairly thin–like a vinagrette.

Check for seasoning–add salt and pepper if necessary. The parmesean will make it fairly salty, though.

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Chicken and Cous Cous with Cucumber and Goat Cheese

People, I don’t have to tell you…it’s hot. In about mid-July I was still using my oven–I couldn’t part with it. But now? Well, me and the oven are through. I’ve broken up with it and told it to go find love in a more northern clime. It’s not going to get any here. I will consider making up with it in mid-October, right about the time I’m craving pumpkin bread. I’m a user.

For now, I’m only considering recipes that require stove-top cooking for under 20 minutes. That’s all I have to give. Rices and pastas are great for this time of year because many of them you can eat hot or cold and they just don’t require much cooking. Plus, you can add anything you have on hand, and you’ve got yourself a fairly substantial meal.

Have you ever tried pearl cous cous? I LOVE IT. Pearl cous cous is larger than regular cous cous–meaning each individual piece of pasta is about the size of a stud (earring that is. I know what you were thinking). I love the texture more than regular cous cous and it seems so much more filling to me.

  Cucumbers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This a great dish for the summertime, when it’s too hot to cook, and you’ve got so many cucumbers, you are running out of things to do with them. Start out by chopping up a cucumber. Season it with salt and pepper. I always use sea salt to season vegetables.

  Cucumbers + Pine Nuts

 

 

 

 

Add toasted pine nuts

 

  

Cucumbers + Pine Nuts+ Goat Cheese

 

 

 

 

Add goat cheese

 

 

Cucumbers + Pine Nuts + Goat Cheese + Chicken

 

 

 

 

Add cooked chicken breast

 

  Cucumbers + Pine nuts + Goat Cheese + Chicken + Cranberries  

 

 

 

Add dried cranberries

 

    Cucumbers + Pine Nuts + Goat Cheese + Chicken + Cranberries + Cous Cous

 

 

 

Add cooked pearl cous cous

 

 

  Cucumbers + Pine Nuts + Goat cheese + Chicken + Cranberries + Cous cous + Basil

 

 

 

 

Add herb of choice. I like basil.

 

 

 

 

That’s it! This can be served warm or cold. Enjoy! 

 Final_Chicken and Cous Cous with Cucumbers, Pine nuts, Cranberries and Goat Cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken and Cous Cous with Cucumber and Goat Cheese

Serves 2-3

Feel free to play around with these ingredients. Glenn said he would have preferred a little less cucumber. I on the other hand, normally don’t really like cucumber, but I loved it in this dish. I think it really worked well with the goat cheese.

1 medium cucumber, chopped and seasoned with salt and pepper

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

2 oz goat cheese (I absolutely love Belle Chevre goat cheese. It’s local and it’s so creamy and tasty.)

1 large chicken breast, cooked (I seasoned mine with sea salt and pepper and cooked it in olive oil in a cast-iron skillet)

1/4 cup cranberries

1 cup pearl cous cous (cooked according to package instructions). I added a sauteed Vidalia onion to this (about a 1/4 cup of onion)

Salt and pepper to taste

Handful of chopped basil on top (parsely would also be good)

Macaroni and Cheese with Dried Sungold Tomatoes and Proscuitto

 

Blog Macaroni and Cheese 017My dad told me that his mother would make a cake and a pie every week. Oh Grandma, the standards you’ve set are simply too high for me to reach! But perhaps there is something I can aspire to. When I was eight years old my parents took us to my grandmother’s house for some sort of holiday or special dinner. She made macaroni and cheese. Real macaroni and cheese. You know, like not from a blue box. With bread crumbs on top. And real, actual cheese that came from a cow. And what did I do? This Gen-Xer turned her nose up. “No thanks grandma! I’ll take the stuff in the blue box with powdered cheese. Thanks though!”

My poor mother coaxed me to eat it by telling me this was homemade macaroni and cheese, and I should thank my grandmother for taking the time to make it. Bleh.

Like most of us, with age I’ve come to understand there is absolutely no contest between the boxed stuff and the real stuff. And I’m perfectly happy with just simple mac and cheese with pasta and cheese and maybe some onions and mustard powder. But last night I had about ten teeny tiny Sungold tomatoes and some proscuitto left over from this pizza recipe and, heck, who doesn’t like cheese + ham + tomatoes? Nobody in this house. Especially this guy:

Blog 023

So, to get as much flavor out of the tomatoes as possible, I cut them in half, placed them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, sprinkled them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let them dry in the oven at 225 for about an hour. Of course, you can do this ahead of time, and put them in the refrigerator. If you have larger tomatoes, you’ll have to dry them longer; but these adorable little guys didn’t need much. For extra flavor, put some unpeeled garlic cloves on the cookie sheet too.

Blog Macaroni and Cheese 002

 

For the macaroni and cheese, I always start with a roux, add milk, mustard powder, bay leaf, and onions, and finally the pasta and cheese. Grandma would be proud. For this recipe, I added the dried tomatoes, and their flavor had really concentrated after drying them. I also added two large slices of proscuitto, torn into small peices.

Making a roux

Making a roux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add milk, onions, and seasonings

Add milk, onions, and seasonings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add the cheese, tomatoes and proscuitto

Add the cheese, tomatoes and proscuitto

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bake this for about 30 minutes (or until it’s bubbling and the cheese on the top begins to brown) at 350 degrees. Rather than put the whole concoction in another casserole dish, I just bake it right in my *oven safe* dutch oven. It’s easier, and someone in this house (husband) doesn’t have to wash more than one dish. We like to keep the customers happy.
 
 Blog Macaroni and Cheese 006

By the way, dried tomatoes are great on pasta, on pizza, or just by themselves. Drying tomatoes is great for reviving icky winter tomatoes that don’t have much flavor. I got the idea from smittenkitchen.com.

 

Macaroni and Cheese with Dried Sungold Tomatoes and Proscuitto

Fills a small dutch oven or a small casserole dish (if you’re using a 13 x 9 dish, double the recipe. We love mac and cheese in this house, but that’s simply way too much for us).

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 tablespoon powdered mustard

3 cups milk (I use skim, but feel free to go wild and use 2% or !! WHOLE!)

1 small onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 lb pasta (like elbow macaroni or penne)

12 oz of grated cheese that melts well (I always experiment with the cheeses, depending on what I have. Last night I had about a 3 oz mozzerella,  3 oz ricotta*, and about 6 oz of cheddar. My other favorites, if I remember to get them beforehand, are gruyere and fontina)

4 oz grated parmesean to sprinkle on top

 

  1. Heat water (plus dash of salt) in large pot and cook pasta–I usually take it off the heat about 2 minutes earlier than the directions call for since it will continue to cook in the oven.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. Melt butter in dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add the flour and mustard and whisk continuously for about 5 minutes
  4. Add milk, onion, paprika, and bay leaf, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
  5. Once milk has thickened a bit, add the all the cheese except for the parmesean
  6. Stir in the cooked pasta and mix it well until the cheese is all melted
  7. Mix in the proscuitto and tomatoes
  8. Sprinkle grated parmesean on top
  9. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until the mac and cheese is bubbly and browning on top.

*ricotta does not necessarily melt well, but it is a soft cheese and is tasty even if, in the end, it isn’t thoroughly melted.

I promise not all my posts are going to be pasta and/or pizza with lots of cheese (though there is plenty of that!). I’ll get some lighter things on here soon. My rule of thumb is, when I make something heavy, I eat 1/2 a portion and save the rest for leftovers.

Don’t Take Lemons For Granted

Seems that all g.’s traveling to Boston lately has resulted in a diet of sandwiches: sandwiches on the plane, sandwiches in the airport, sandwiches at lunch meetings. when I asked g. what kinds of things he wanted for dinner this week, he said “anything but a sandwich.” We both craved something “fresh” for dinner, and I’ve realized over the last few years that fresh usually equals something with lemons.

Lemons and Knife

Plus, they are just so darn pretty.

Lemons

Especially when it’s still technically winter and fresh veggies are still of the sweet potato and turnip variety, lemons always step up to the plate and lift you out of a cream-based-soup winter rut, which seemed wonderful around November, but is now getting tired.

Here is the first recipe I made this week. It’s from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home. I changed the recipe just a bit by adding about two tablespoons of pesto. I had a ton of basil last summer and made pesto, then froze it in an ice cube tray. I’m trying to use it up, and this was the perfect dish. Basil is another one of those foods that automatically freshens up supper.

I also may have added some white wine as well. It was available and, well, right there in my cup, so I thought it would add a little more flavor.

Shrimp with Pesto Ice Cube

 

The lump of green in the middle is a frozen ice cube of pesto.

 

Lemon Shrimp Scampi

This rather large portion is g.’s.