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Past Supper #18 – Use-Up-All-Those-Herbs Trinity

herb based dinner

It’s rather nice having to deal with good problems. Like the one of getting way too big boxes filled with way too many herbs from various farmer friends, and this at a weekly basis. So last night I used the one batch of pesto I had prepared – no basil, but chervil, mint, lemon balm and dill – on bruschetta. I pepped up a salad with all my beautiful garlic chive. And I infused the baked potatoes with potent rosemary. Oh boy, what a supper. – And now our fridge is ready for new arrivals.

Have a Crush!

herb pesto without basilNo basil? No worries! You still can prepare and enjoy pesto. The classic and ubiquitous recipe from Genova, a busy port town on the Ligurian coast of Italy, calls for basil (plus olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and finely grated, aged cheese) in its cold sauce. But pesto – meaning “crushed” or “pounded” in Italian – can be made of any fresh herbs, really.

So when I received more mixed herbs from a farmer friend recently that fit into my fridge, no kidding, I decided to preserve them in the form of pesto (which I prefer so much more than dried herbs). I took out my food processor, gave it a long and grateful look, cut the garlic chive, vietnamese coriander, parsley and lemon thyme into about two inch long pieces, peeled plenty of garlic and grated a good amount of Paglierina, a wonderfully well balanced sheep milk cheese from Italy. And into the groove we went, my food processor and me: I poured some oil, added some greens, garlic and cheese, and in barely any time the mighty machine worked it down into a smooth, luscious paste. More oil, more solids. Out of the bowl the pesto went with the help of a spatula, into  a very large pan, so that there was space for the next batch. On and on, until those pounds of herbs all were turned into thick, concentrated sauce – and ready for a long, long life around many happy eaters.

triple cream brie cheese sandwich with pesto

jars full of herb pesto

Don’t stop thinking outside the box once the ingredients of your pesto are chosen. Do the same when it comes to its application. Of course pestos are great on pasta. But they can do so much more! They perk up any kind of sandwich. They make for big eyes and surprised “aahhh’s” as the base layer of savory tarts. They hide in the middle of a horizontally cut wheel of Brie and, once discovered, turn out to be the star of the show. Pestos can be added to salad dressings. They bring zing to tomato based pasta sauces. Or to pizza. A little dollop of pesto does not only make a polenta look better, but also taste richer. Same with boiled, baked or fried potatoes. Fish adores pesto. Soup, anyone? It too, loves your pesto. Oh, and if you dress your favorite nuts in some pesto and then bake them shortly, your guests will love you – and your drinks will taste so much better.

So, yes. Have a crush! It is so delightful. Even the unorthodox way.

pasta al pesto

Fifty Shades of Green

tomatillos and herbsThere’s days when things just align, every detail simply falls into its ideal place and the ending is nothing but perfect. – Days like the one when I stepped into my favorite hispanic food shop, because I was in the need of some specific cuts of meat (that I can’t steadily find in other stores). On my way to the butcher department, between narrow aisles,  I – literally – ran into an enormous basket full of tomatillos. They were green and gorgeous, bright and bold, tart and tasty looking. Irresistible.

While filling a brown paper bag with my favorite rounds, feeling the husks and taking in all the colors, the vision of my next lunch dawned. Just like that. And promising it was! So by the time I had paid and left the store, it was clear that the next stop wasn’t home, but rather the Italian market. Which suddenly appeared to me like a Fata Morgana to a drenched, starving person: I couldn’t get there fast enough.

husked tomatillos

I am not quite sure what to call the sandwich I came up with. Maybe The Multi Cultural. Or Multi Culti. Opposites. Or Harmony.

sandwich, done, with salsa

The name doesn’t really matter, though. More important is the idea this sandwich was built on: The target was to create a flavorful, complex, perfect marriage by combining a fresh, tangy, tart Tomatillo-Salsa – one with a twist, that is – with the sweet richness of a Prosciutto di Parma and the slightly acidic creaminess of a Mozzarella di Bufala. It totally did its job. Not only the flavors, also the textures – although contrasting each other when looked at individually – blended into a tasty, satisfying unity.

tomatillo salsa, jarred

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No Rules Fish & Seafood Soup

Fish & Seafood Soup in the bowlThere’s six people, five males, four persons who drive, three different schools, two parents and one bunny who rule this house. There’s also countless passions, many tasks, several jobs, few clubs and one business that influence all of us and our lives together daily. In relation to our meals – around which not only my thoughts and dreams usually float around here – this often translates into suppers that can be served in stages and taste as great at 10pm, when the last one comes home, as they did four hours earlier, when the first one sat down to eat.

One of our favorite such dishes has turned out to be a Fish & Seafood Soup. It is flexible and a little different, yet vibrant and rich in flavors each time, and most every time we serve it, at least one of us claims that it never has tasted as good as in the current version. Not following any set rules keeps this dish interesting and perhaps even is the main reason that we never get tired of it.

The instant we decide that dinner will be “The Soup”, as we refer to it, we immediately also agree if it will be “the clear” or “the tomato” one. The latter one contains tomato paste and fresh or canned tomatoes, and it is the one we usually prefer. (Unless there is a specific ingredient we want to incorporate and highlight, like we once did with saffron.) Fish and seafood wise we often choose fresh product that is quick to handle (shrimp, fish fillet, etc.) and, I admit, I admit, retreat to the monger’s frozen case for the items that require more elaborate prep (and he already has done for us – mussels, clams, octopus, etc. Hey, it’s an anti hectic dish, after all). Any combination of creatures has proven to be possible and delicious here, really. As for the vegetables, we like to add chopped onions and garlic, cut up a few potatoes, sometimes peppers, fennel or leeks. Herbs, fresh or dried ones in the form of a bouquet garni, usually are part of the mix as well. As is broth and, always, a little wine (white or red, depending on what’s on hand. Or what we are trying to find an excuse to open for…)

Besides the fact that it is simple and satisfying, doesn’t cause much prep nor clean up work and tastes even better when reheated a day or two later (please, make a mental note that there never is too much of it), “The Soup” offers one more very pleasant aspect: The longer it cooks, the better it tastes – and the longer and more deliciously it smells. The flavors just seem to melt into each other, deeper and deeper. The texture becomes smoother, thicker, more soothing, the chunks turn more tender over time. So don’t even try to stay under six hours! On the other hand, you can leave this soup on the stove for a whole day without having to worry about it. As long as the happy party gets a stir every hour or so, it will behave very well. – And so will the ones who sit down to supper that night. No matter how many there are.

eating the fish & seafood soup

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