Cilantro Serrano Pesto Pasta

CilantroIMG_3302

This is an herb that I am not sure I realized how much I liked it until about ten or so years ago.  It was around that time that I realized how nice the flavor was and what cilantro could do to a recipe.  Fresh herbs are great, but the problem I find with so many fresh herbs is you purchase them in bunches.  Rarely does a recipe call for that much.  Now if you are able to plan really well you can ensure that several foods you prepare that week will include the same fresh herb and then none is wasted.  But hello reality that does not work every time and some times just because you bought cilantro or another herb you may not want the same meals each time. Thus if you have the space or the energy growing you own herbs helps this dilemma considerably.  However I have tried growing cilantro and it is not easy.  You see I do not have a green thumb in fact I kill most house plants, but when it comes to garden herbs and plants I seem to manage usually, but cilantro is tough in the south.

The one good thing that came of my brief stint of trying to grow cilantro was some more recipes that utilized the herb.  When cilantro flourishes it does really well, but it has a short growing season and does not do well in heat.  Unlike basil and mint which as you snip them they grow more, my cilantro plants did not do that.  Rather they began to brown.  So in an effort to use all my nice cilantro I started cooking.  If you have been following my blog for anytime you know I love pesto.  So when I ran across this recipe that is a pasta dish but can just as easily be served as a pasta salad, I had to try it.

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Cilantro Serrano Pasta with Chicken 

Ingredients
1 1/2 Cups fresh cilantro
1/2 Cup fresh mint
1/2 Cup parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp toasted pecan halves
2 garlic cloves
1 serrano chile, seeded and sliced
2 Tbsp extravirgin olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast**
Cooking spray
3 Cups hot cooked penne pasta
2 Cups cherry tomatoes, halved (I used a variety of heirloom cherry tomatoes)

Directions
Place cilantro and next 5 ingredients (through chile) in a food processor; process until well blended. With processor on, slowly pour oil through food chute; process until well blended. Place pesto in a large bowl; stir in vinegar and black pepper.
** Chicken can be prepared one of two ways.    1)Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat chicken with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until done. 2) Poach or boil chicken until cooked.IMG_3851IMG_3853

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Add chicken, pasta, and tomatoes to pesto; toss to combine.  Serve and Enjoy.

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* adapted from Cilantro Serrano Pesto with Grilled Chicken and Penne that appeared in Cooking Light Magazine

If you like pesto, be sure to check out these recipes that use different pesto sauces in a variety of ways.

IMG_2637Arugula Pesto

IMG_2644Shrimp Pesto Pizza

Arugula Pesto, Caramelized Onions and Fontina

Arugula Pesto, Caramelized Onions and Fontina

Fancy Grilled Cheese

IMG_2833Snap Pea Tortellini & Pesto

Gazpacho

DSC_0519Gazpacho is one of those things that I live for in the summer. It is the perfect meal on a hot summer night. For years it has been one of the reasons I needed a blender.  In fact there were probably a few years when I only used that trusty kitchen aid for a batch or two of this delightful summer concoction.  Of course that was before smoothies became more common in our breakfast rotation, and I broke down and got a Vitamix.  Regardless when the kitchen aid gave out last year around mid March, I knew I had to find a replacement before gazpacho season.  Thankfully when July rolled my kitchen was more than equipped to make gazpacho.

Over the years, I have tried several recipes.  For several years, I found no matter what combination of vegetables I used, I could not replicate the flavor of the wonderful bowls I would order at restaurants.  I did not like the recipes that used canned tomato juice, but found the need to try them in my search to find that perfect blend.  Then after having had a wonderful bowl at a Jose Andres restaurant in Washington D.C., I stumbled upon a recipe of his.  Funny thing was it was actually his wife recipe.  Well Thank you Patricia Andres because of you I no longer find myself searching recipes each summer, but rather I make batch after batch of this wonderfully refreshing cold soup.

I have always been a fan of gazpacho, and you will still find me ordering traditional gazpacho or other varieties when we dine out.  But I think this recipe is the one that made Mr. Mixture a believer in the soup as well.  No one complains when this version is served alongside some fresh bread.  I often toss a few cold shrimp in it as well like a gazpacho cocktail.

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GAZPACHO

Ingredients

      • 2 lb ripe red tomatoes(original recipe calls for about 10 plum tomatoes, I prefer 2-3 large red tomatoes and 1 heirloom)
      • 8 oz cucumber (about 1 cucumber or 2 kirby cucumbers)
      • 1/2 bell pepper (I prefer red, orange, or yellow)
      • 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
      • 1 garlic clove, peeled
      • 3/4 Cup extra virgin olive oilIMG_3450IMG_3454

Directions
1. Cut out and discard the core at the top of the tomatoes, chop the tomatoes into quarters and place in blender and liquify.
2. Peel the cucumber(s) and cut into chunks. Add to the blender and liquify.
3. Cut the pepper in half, removed the core and the seeds and cut into large chunks and add to the blender mixture.
4. Once all the vegetables are liquified. Add the garlic and sherry vinegar. At this time you can taste for acidity. Based on the sweetness of the tomatoes the flavor may vary. If you think it is not balanced add a small amount more of vinegar. Sometimes I have added as much as another 1/2 Tbsp.
5. Add the olive oil and reblend to ensure it is mixed well. The original recipe calls to run the gazpacho through a strainer at this time. I have always omitted this step as I do not mind a slightly chunky gazpacho, and I find the Vitamix can liquify anything so it is the perfect texture for me.
6. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
7. Top with any of the recommended garnishes or just enjoy plain and simple.

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You can garnish with any of the following:

          • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
          • chopped tomatoes
          • green onions or chives
          • Shrimp
          • rustic bread or croutons

* adapted from Gazpacho al Estilo de Patricia that appeared on delish.comIMG_3462

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Grilled Fattoush – Meatless Monday, What we ate this week

With the local produce starting to filtrate the markets I start to change over to my warm weather recipes. Warm weather recipes involve less using the stovetop and oven because when the Carolina heat hits the last thing a person wants to do is heat their house up more.  I like to have big salads and a lot of food made on the grill during this time of year.

I tore this recipe from Bon Appetit years ago when I first started to become queen of the grill. Over the years I have made some changes to it and it has become a constant during the summer months.  It is a great mix of grilled vegetables, cold vegetables and fresh herbs.  This is just another reason to grow your own herbs as you have what you need when you need it.  And nothing is more fresh than cutting it and washing it yourself for dinner.

Fattoush is in fact a salad of Levantine bread that is fried or grilled.  When I initially made the recipe I decided to use the naan bread I had in the house rather than buying a pack of pita breads.  Naan bread is slightly doughier than pita and after trying it both ways, we preferred the naan bread as it was more similar to pizza dough that is crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle.

Grilled Fattoush

2 Medium orange or red bell peppers , stemmed, seeded, halved
2 Medium zucchini , trimmed, cut lengthwise in half
2 – 3 Naan Bread
Olive oil (for grilling)
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, cut into 1/2 – inch cubes
20 cherry tomatoes, each halved or 1 tomato cut into small pieces, about 1/2″
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 Cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 Cup fresh mint leaves (packed)
1/3 Cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 Cup olive oil
1/4 Cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin
5 oz Feta cheese, cut into chunks or crumbled per your preference

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Directions

  1. Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Brush peppers, zucchini, and bread on both sides with oil or place in gallon size lip lock bag with olive oil and shake to coat.  Grill peppers and zucchini until slightly charred and just tender, turning often, about 6 minutes. Transfer vegetables to foil-lined baking sheet. Grill bread until lightly charred and just crisp, turning often, about 3 minutes. Transfer to sheet with vegetables and cool. Cut bread into 2 inch pieces. DO AHEAD Vegetables and bread can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
  2. Cut grilled peppers into slices then cut the slices in half.  Cut zucchini lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in large bowl. Add cucumber, tomatoes, green onions, olives, mint, and cilantro and toss to combine. Add bread pieces. Whisk 1/2 cup oil, lemon juice, and cumin in small bowl to blend. Add dressing to salad; toss to coat. Add feta and gently mix into salad
Note: You can easily make this meal without the feta cheese.
Printer Version :  Grilled Fattoush
Recipe adapted from Grilled Zucchini and Bell Pepper Fattoush in BonAppetit
What we ate this week ( May 12- May 18)Monday – Grilled FattoushTuesday – Jambalaya – Recipe to be posted this week

Wednesday – Salad & Leftover Pizza

Thursday – Mixture of Stuff – Mr. Mixture surprised us by coming home from a business trip early. Love that but no real dinner had been planned for him. He happily ate leftover Jambalaya while Little Miss Mixture and I had Mushroom & Pepper Quesadillas

Friday – Date night, so my night off

Saturday – Artichoke Pizza

Sunday – Mushroom Swiss Burgers and Grilled Okra

Simple and Stunning

Isn’t that what every girl wants to hear?

Tomato Mozzarella

Unfortunately the compliment was not exactly toward me.  It was referring to the above pictured salad.  Not exactly the compliment I was expecting, but I will take it.

It is not quite tomato season, but there is nothing better than a simple salad during the peak of the season when the tomatoes are bursting with flavor.  In my first trip of the season to a local farmers market, I got a little ahead of myself.  I knew the tomatoes were not perfect, but seeing the fresh herbs ready for planting and some tomatoes that actual had color and a couple varieties, I could not resist.

I enjoy cooking, but I am most happy with an easy fresh meal that does not require twenty plus ingredients and a laundry list of steps requiring I begin the meal two hours before we want to eat.

This salad is in fact simple and can be stunning with a variety of tomatoes or with the national colors of its country’s origin scattered or stacked on a plate.  Perfect for a weeknight meal or a dinner party.  This salad is comprised of 5 simple ingredients.  Though consider the freshness and quality of your ingredients as that will have an impact on the overall flavor.  The salad can be made in a variety of ways, but here is my version.

Tomato Mozzarella Salad   (Serves 2-4)

2-3 Large Tomatoes

1 Lb. Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella

4-5 Fresh Basil Leaves

Olive OIl

Balsamic Vinegar

Ground Black Pepper

 

Cut the tomatoes and mozzarella in 1/2″ thick slices.  Wash, dry and cut or tear basil leaves into 2″ inch strips.  I prefer the basil to be manageable to eat rather than serving the entire leaf.

Tomato Thick Slices

 

Mozzarella

The salad can be put together on individual plates or one serving platter.  Drizzle the plates/ platter with olive oil.  Just enough to provide a light base.  Assemble your salad starting with tomato then mozzarella.

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I throw a few basil strips amongst the layers, ensuring the top layer has some as well.  Build the salad to your desired height (typically 3 alternating layers).  Drizzle with a small amount more of olive oil.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Finish the salad with some fresh ground pepper.  Serve and enjoy.