Everything Pesto

Anyone who knows me, knows that I HATE to waste food. I’ve had a challenge in my home for a while now with a refrigerator that freezes my produce. I’m not real sure what the heck is going on, either the door is being left slightly open, or someone is messing with the temperature on the outside of the fridge, or it’s just malfunctioning, but I am getting REALLY tired of buying beautiful fresh food only to have to throw it out when it’s ruined by my stupid fridge.

Not all foods fall victim to ruination, of course. The strawberries (an unexpected find on my trip up to Frostburg) were hulled, rinsed, popped into FoodSaver bags and then into the big freezer. The cheese too, was not adversely affected by the unexpected deep freeze. However, the spinach and the arugula were another story.

Luckily, only the top layer of leaves were frostbitten, however after getting rid of the damaged parts, I had greatly reduced amounts of each. And quite frankly, I was angry. So I got creative instead! I had to empty out the fridge anyway, so I pulled out the damaged greens, the frozen cheese (all hard varieties – two kinds of Parmesan as well as a bit of aged Gouda), I had roasted garlic too (that hadn’t been frozen) and I thought PESTO!

Wait a second.. pesto is made with basil! Well yeah, and I had that too, out in the herb garden. So I broke out the food processor and went to work.

The first thing I did was roughly chop up the cheese and put it in the processor. Pulsing, I ended up with these delicious little mixed crumbles. I dumped the cheese out onto a paper plate, and then added in the arugula. Again, pulse, pulse, pulse until the arugula was chopped up and it went into a bowl. I repeated with the spinach, and added it to the arugula. Same deal with some basil I clipped out of my garden. I wish I could tell you what the measurements were exactly, but I maybe had 1.5 cups of arugula, 1.5 cups of basil leaves, and 3 cups of baby spinach. I put all the greens back into the bowl, and added in about 10 cloves of roasted garlic, along with about half a cup of the cheese crumbles. I didn’t have pine nuts, but I DID have almonds, and so a half cup of almonds also went into the processor. I turned the processor back on until the mixture got smooth and lovely. I drizzled in olive oil until it was creamy and smiled to myself about how clever I was to create something delicious out of near ruination.

HOWEVER… when I tasted the finished product it was… bland. I mean REALLY REALLY bland. Almost boring, and pesto should never be boring. The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t really taste garlic at all. The roasted garlic, I think was too sweet, too mellow… so I grabbed a head of raw garlic and added 6 cloves to the bowl. I also remarked that the sweet basil and spinach were almost TOO sweet. The bite from the arugula was getting lost. So I added a few red pepper flakes to give the sauce a little bit of zip. I also grabbed a lemon and squeezed the juice from half of it into the bowl. Re-processing, I sprinkled in a bit of Kosher salt, made sure everything was well mixed, and then tasted the finished product.

This turned out to be one of those times that my instincts proved to be spot on target. My pesto was no longer boring! The addition of the garlic and lemon really woke up the flavor of the greens and the red pepper flakes left a very tiny bit of heat at the finish. And the color was STUNNING. Bright green, with teeny flakes of cheese, garlic, and red pepper. The whole batch just looked so alive! Not a bad effort for a rescue mission.

So now I have a bowl of brilliant “everything” pesto, just ready for some chicken or pork, or even some of the few fresh tomatoes I have left. Best of all, it’s completely Paleo…so I can eat it even after my challenge starts on Monday. Maybe I should thank my flaky freezing fridge?



I mounted a sauce tonight

Okay, I admit that title is for the laughs… because not so deep down, I have more in common with my adolescent son than I’d like to admit.

But I really did mount a sauce… and it was gooooooood. Go ahead… snicker all you want. I am!

Seriously, mounting a sauce is to take a water (or broth) based sauce and whisk in cold butter at the end. This thickens the sauce, gives it a glossy appearance, and also gives it a buttery finish or taste. I had a small beef tenderloin in the fridge, so I trimmed it of its silverskin (for instructions on how to do this, look here), seasoned with salt and pepper, put a garlic and herb rub on it and let it sit a moment. I pre-heat my oven to 350, put my cast iron skillet on the stove top with a little olive oil, and as it heated, I sliced some button mushrooms and set them aside. Once the oil began to shimmer, I seared the roast in that skillet, letting the surface develop a beautiful brown crust all over. Once it was well seared, I placed it into my Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker with some garlic, small onions, and a splash of organic beef broth. Into the oven it went. I added a bit more olive oil to the skillet along with a small knob of butter (about a tablespoon), and when it heated, I laid the sliced mushrooms in the pan.

Here’s the thing about mushrooms… they’re like little bits of magic in a funny looking package. They will soak up flavors like a sponge (like that infused oil/butter mixture), but they also ADD a distinctive earthy flavor when they later release that fat and their own juices while browning. This is a culinary WIN-WIN! To brown the mushrooms, use a mixture of olive oil and butter (higher smoke point), DO NOT SALT them, and for goodness sake, make sure they aren’t crowded in the pan. Too many mushrooms in the same pan will all release their juices at the same time without enough surface area to cook it off, and you’ll end up with flabby steamed mushrooms rather than beautifully browned ones. You don’t really need to futz with them much either… just turn them a couple of times to make sure they get beautifully brown on both sides. It usually takes than 5 minutes a side for me to get gorgeous mushrooms.

Now you can salt them a bit, and add some black pepper… and it’s time to free up all that flavor on the bottom of the skillet. This stuff is GOLD – the meaty taste of the roast and tiny bits of browned mushroom! I added some of that beef broth to the skillet to de-glaze it, using my flat wooden spatula to scrape up all those amazing brown bits. The broth came to a boil pretty fast, so I turned the heat down and just let it simmer, lid off, with the mushrooms happily floating along.

My tenderloin finished cooking (I pulled it when the internal temperature reached 120 and let it rest, covered, on a serving plate) and I emptied the pan juices (and those cooked onions and garlic cloves) into my skillet as well. Again, I let the sauce cook down a bit, and found that the onion and garlic practically dissolved into the sauce too, also helping to thicken it. Bonus! My spouse sliced the beef after about 15-20 minutes rest time, and just as he finished, I whisked in about 2 Tablespoons of cold butter (cut into fairly thick slices) into my mushroom sauce. In no time the butter melted and emulsified with the pan juices, giving the sauce a gloss and thickening it further. Please note this is NOT a gravy… it is not as thick as if it had been thickened with a starch, but rather it is a lovely sauce with medium body and a deep brown sheen. I grabbed some fresh parsley, chopped it up (a couple of Tablespoons) and as I took the sauce off the heat, I added the herbs and gave it a quick stir to incorporate.

Man oh man was that the perfect accompaniment to the slices of beef! Rich, deep in flavor, I clearly tasted not only the mushrooms, but roasted garlic, the sweetness of the onion, a little spice from the black pepper and finally that parsley just sang through the buttery mouth feel. I paired the beef with fresh green beans, and a Caprese salad made from not ONLY locally grown tomatoes, but also locally produced fresh mozzarella.

Nothing like a little mounting before eating, I always say. Well I don’t ALWAYS say it, but maybe I should.

By the way you can also mount cheese sauces and risotto. And if the end result is tasty enough, you might get mounted yourself.

Go mount something! You’ll be glad you did.

Oh dear, I may have gone too far there. I’d apologize… if I could JUST STOP GIGGLING.