The goal here is to, yes, teach you how to make the most popular Sicilian pasta con le sarde dish, but also to introduce you to sardines. Sardines are very overlooked because people have no idea what they are and assume they’re going to be fishy and gross. Or people confuse them with anchovies which are VERY different. Like anything, there are options when it comes to sardines – fresh from the fish market or cooked and packed in water or olive oil, with skin or skinless, with bones or boneless, plain or smoked. They do not contain mercury, are loaded with anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats and they are very inexpensive. I prefer the boneless, skinless ones packed in oil. If you prefer, you can swap in jarred tuna or canned salmon for the sardines in this recipe. Or vice versa – swap sardines in for canned tuna!
This is NOT a pasta dish that is typically served with cheese. But I’m not in charge of what you eat, so you do you. If you want to cut the quantity of pasta in half and swap in zucchini noodles, I approve!
When asparagus is in season, it’s a sign to me that we are out of the winter woods and it is officially spring!! I love featuring asparagus on every spring holiday menu and this recipe for roasted asparagus with parmigiano-reggiano has so much flavor and is so easy. I thought I would squeeze it in before Easter in case you’re looking for a good side dish.Continue reading
When I was a child, my family ate pesto all the time in the summer and early fall. In fact, to me the smell of basil, garlic and cheese in the food processor is synonymous with warm, lazy days at the beach or on my parents’ hammock under a big, breezy tree. It was one of the few things my mom made without a recipe because she made it so often and could likely do it in her sleep. Also, my father always planted way too much basil so Mom was forced to use it up more quickly than it grew. Traditional basil pesto is the only pesto that I ever knew until I started over-planting my favorite herb, parsley, and mixing it with basil for an ever better (in my opinion) pesto.
But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I heard about the huge spectrum of pestos out there not made from basil but from all sorts of herbs like cilantro and mint to leafy greens such as spinach and arugula and even peas or sun dried tomatoes. The result is a brave new world of pesto-adorned dishes beyond pasta in the summertime. The good news is that all pestos are super simple to make and help me make my boring meals more exciting. “Another turkey sandwich?” No, a turkey sandwich with pesto! Oooh, ahhh. “Grilled fish” doesn’t have the same appeal as “grilled salmon with cilantro pesto!” Although when I introduced kale pesto to my family, they were skeptical.
Kale, which is my absolute favorite superfood, is more nutrient-dense than most any food on the planet, so I try to incorporate it into our meals however I can. I love how hearty and flavorful kale is, but it can be a little bitter for the kids if I don’t try to work around that. My standard pesto is made with pine nuts or pine nuts and walnuts. Both are soft nuts that get ground very easily, but can be also be a tad bitter. So I subbed blanched almonds to keep the pesto from getting too harsh and loved it, even though almonds don’t grind up quite as finely. The only other change I made was to add a touch of lemon juice which brightens the whole thing up and again, cuts any bitterness.
I made kale pesto in two different ways. The first with all kale and the second with mostly kale plus basil. All kale pesto tastes reminiscent of broccoli which makes sense since they’re both in the cruciferous family. It’s so totally yummy with a hearty whole wheat or spelt pasta, stirred into soups like lentil, mushroom-barley or minestrone or slathered on a quesadilla with leftover roasted veggies and cheese. I imagine it would be great on a baked potato with veggies or in an omelet with goat cheese and mushrooms. Then I made another version with mostly kale and some basil and it tastes much more like the version you’re used to, but more substantial and maybe with a little more bite. So many people in my classes this month thought it was even better than an all-basil pesto. In class we ate it poured on a grilled chicken paillard. Sunday, I took some pasta with kale-basil pesto and chickpeas in Chinese takeout containers for a beach picnic and then used the leftovers yesterday on a grilled whole wheat pizza with ricotta, sauteed garlic spinach and fresh mozzarella. Insane.
Feel free to use whatever kale you can find, but the curly green variety tends to get processed more finely in the food processor if that matters. Although in these photos I did use the Dinosaur (Tuscan) variety because I typically have that on hand for salad and juicing. However you try it, and I hope you do, pesto is a busy cook’s good friend anytime of year. Tell me your favorite ways to enjoy it!
½ cup blanched almonds, walnuts, pine nuts or a combination (use sunflower seeds for a nut-free pesto)
1 large garlic clove, smashed
3 cups kale (dinosaur or curly green), stemmed and torn into large pieces (so it’s easier to measure)
2 cups basil leaves (or use all kale)
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup unrefined, cold pressed, extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup grated Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese
Toast nuts, stirring frequently, in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly golden. If you are a “nut-burner,” just skip this step and put them in the food processor raw. Remove from heat and allow to cool. If you're using sunflower seeds, just use those raw.
Place nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until very finely chopped.
Add kale, basil, salt, pepper and lemon juice and pulse until chopped.
With the food processor running, add olive oil in a steady stream until you achieve a smooth texture. Add cheese and process until well combined.
Taste for seasoning and add additional olive oil to make a looser pesto.
I know it’s still February, but I think a spring bug bit me. The new strawberries, asparagus, sugar snap peas and artichokes were calling my name last weekend at the farmer’s market and I felt myself thinking ahead to the next season. Just noticing that the sun is setting later and later is making me giddy. Yesterday I was working at home and felt inspired to make one of my favorite quinoa dishes with baby spinach, fresh dill and mint. It was like a bowl of fresh air.
This salad is based on the ingredients in spanakopita, the very rich and tasty Greek pie made from layers of phyllo dough (and butter), stuffed with cheese, spinach and herbs. My friend John gave me his mother, Libby’s heavenly recipe for spanakopita which I have been making for at least 10 years now, but not quite as often as I used to since loads of dairy, processed wheat and fat aren’t friendly to a certain someone. So these days spanakopita makes an appearance only once a year at our Yom Kippur break-the-fast dinner. Don’t feel sorry for me too fast.
Since I still crave those flavors, I came up with a lighter and fresher way to enjoy them. Hence this salad was born. Would you think I was lying if I told you I like this quinoa just as much, maybe more than spanakopita? Of course, I acknowledge this is still a salad and not a flaky, buttery hot mess of three kinds of cheese bound by chopped spinach. But I do like this quinoa better!! I like that it’s fresh, zingy and makes me feel energized instead of weighed down. Quinoa has that effect on me. It’s gluten-free and full of high quality protein, fiber and healthful minerals. For something so nutritious, it is also bouncy and light. Plus I can prepare this salad in a faction of the time it takes me to butter 20 sheets of phyllo dough.
My girls came home from school yesterday and polished off what was left in the serving bowl. I was hoping to ask Mr. Picky to try one bite. In the past, he has only been willing to eat the spinach leaves after he wiped them clean with his napkin. But lately I’ve noticed he has been a little more tolerant of quinoa, not minding if a spoonful or two gets mixed in with some kale salad or sugar snap peas. This is part of the slow and steady process to which I have committed.
For those of you with actual dietary restrictions or aversions, this is an incredibly flexible recipe. Vegans and dairy-free people can omit the feta and add some kalamata olives for a salty bite. I know there are mint-haters out there (really? very hard to believe!), so feel free to leave that out, especially since Libby’s recipe calls for only dill. And for those of you who would rather not use pine nuts, I have also used sliced almonds or roasted pistachios before with success. I love quinoa with a little crunch. This salad is the perfect lunch or light dinner on its own, but I have also served this with dozens of different sides including roasted carrots and beets, grilled zucchini, sauteed green beans with shallots or minted snap peas. Can you say “Spring It On?!”
¼ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces feta, preferably made from goat or sheep’s milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Rinse quinoa in a bowl with water or place quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Drain and transfer to a medium saucepan with a pinch of sea salt and 1 ¾ cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Let sit, covered for 10 minutes. Quinoa can remain in the pot until ready to combine with other salad ingredients or transfer to a serving bowl and fluff with a fork. Allow quinoa to cool slightly.
To the quinoa add remaining ingredients and toss to combine. * Or you can place the spinach on a serving platter and toss with 1 Tablespoon of the lemon juice and 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil. Combine quinoa with remaining ingredients and mound on top of the spinach leaves. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Other additions can include Kalamata olives, halved cherry tomatoes, diced cucumbers, and/or fresh corn kernels.
I am willing to bet that I have eaten more pesto in my life than all of you. Let me give you a little background. My father has an expert green thumb and has maintained amazing gardens throughout my life. Every year, he plants one large plot with a wide variety of beautiful vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, cucumbers, arugula, kale, and so on. And he also plants one plot of basil. Just basil. And every year he has so many basil plants that he has to give them away. Same story this year. “Pamela. I have enough basil plants for all of New York.” I know what you’re thinking. Why does your father overplant basil every year? Trust me, don’t ask.
Well, it’s a good thing we all liked basil growing up! Because as you might imagine, we were putting it on everything, from our morning eggs to tomato salads to sauteed green beans to macerated strawberries. But using a few handfuls of green leaves everyday was not putting a dent into our basil farm. My father would rant and rave (in Italian). “Do we not eat basil in this house? I planted so much beautiful basil and no one eats it. Mah!” I can still picture the kitchen sink most summer mornings with freshly cut bushes of basil. “Pamela, if we don’t pick it now, it will turn to seed and then the plant will die.” Really? Well I heard you can die from a basil overdose.
My mother had no choice but to turn to pesto. What better way to use an overabundance of the herb? Mom pulled out the blender and ground up pine nuts and fresh garlic. She packed down as much basil as would fit, sprinkled it with salt and with the motor running, slowly poured in the olive oil. That distinctive aroma would fill the house and still today reminds me of the summers of my youth. Next came the grated parmesan cheese and we had glorious pesto. I say glorious, because my sisters and I loved it. I think my mother probably would have started drinking hard liquor if we didn’t.
Lucky for me that I married someone who loves pesto and gave birth to kids who do, too. We put it on lots of things — pasta, sandwiches, grilled vegetables, ho-hum chicken or fish, minestrone soup, scrambled eggs, boiled potatoes, pizza and so on. But I make it my own way with a combination of pine nuts and walnuts; pecorino-romano, which is made from sheep’s milk cheese and a little easier for some to digest than cow’s milk; and dare I say, with half basil and half parsley. I am obsessed with parsley, which I consider a superfood. It is loaded with chloropyhll and incredibly rich in nutrients from iron to calcium to Vitamin C. But parsley also contains some interesting volatile oil compounds that are considered to be “chemoprotective,” which means they can help neutralize certain carcinogens. The flavor of a basil-parsley pesto is still dominated by basil, but somehow a little lighter. I actually prefer it to an all-basil pesto. Of course, the real reason I even started to do half and half is because I always manage to plant way too much parsley.
1 cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
½ cup grated pecorino-romano or parmesan cheese**
Place the walnuts, pine nuts, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until finely chopped.
Add the basil and parsley leaves, salt and pepper. Start the food processor and slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is finely pureed. Add the parmesan cheese and puree until well blended. Pesto freezes beautifully.
**To make a dairy-free/vegan version, eliminate the salt and cheese and substitute ¼ cup brown rice miso or other hearty miso. Taste for salt.
Swiss Chard is one of the most nutritious greens you can find year-round. It is related to beets – in fact, beet greens taste very similar to Swiss chard. Do eat your dark green leafy vegetables regularly as they are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can choose. Traditional Chinese Medicine considers green to be the master color, and I think it is the color that should dominate our diet. Like other green leafies, Swiss chard is full of Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Folate, Vitamin C and Carotenoids, with few calories – a nutritional bargain!
My maternal grandmother was Sicilian and she used to make this dish with raisins. One night, this was on the dinner menu and I went to the pantry to reach for raisins and we were out. Gasp. But we had dried apricots. So I soaked a handful of apricots to plump them up a bit and presto, I liked the dish better! If your kids are not fond of greens yet, try this recipe with their favorite dried fruit.
Heck, let them put a few chocolate chips on the chard if it will get them to eat their greens. One step at a time … soon chard might be a staple in your kitchen, too.
Optional: best quality balsamic vinegar for drizzling
Place the dried apricots in a bowl with hot water to cover. Soak 10 minutes and drain. Chop coarsely or slice into slivers.
Separate the Swiss chard stems from the leaves. Dice the stems and keep separate. Coarsely chop the leaves.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly tender, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped chard leaves and apricots. Lightly season with sea salt and pepper and sauté until the leaves are tender, about 5 minutes.
Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve immediately or at room temperature. You can also drizzle a few drops of balsamic vinegar, if desired.