Tag Archives: walnuts

Homemade Pesto

Although we’re almost to the home stretch of Lent, I still try to maintain certain food items in my refrigerator.  Going completely without meat for 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS is certainly a test of self-discipline, but it CAN be accomplished!  And I have to be honest, each year it becomes easier and easier.  It’s not so much that we crave meat, as much as the daily meals, the weekly menus, shrink significantly in variety and assortment.  Can you visualize the undertaking of  having NO CHICKEN for this period of time?  I mean, at the very least, you’re somewhat limited as to what you can throw on the grill!!  It’s easy to get bored and easier to fall into the pattern of the same few dishes done over and over and over… It’s hard if you LIKE to cook, I can only imagine the drudgery and monotony if you DON’T like being in the kitchen.  So I have something I TRY to always maintain in the refrigerator.  And that is homemade pesto, which is fabulous, easy, keeps well, and marries superbly with so many ingredients, not just pasta.  One day last weekend we were to be out in the evening so my cooking was just our lunch.  I sliced and toasted some whole grain bread and, when it cooled to the touch, I spread it with a little pesto.  I then topped each piece of bread with freshly sliced tomatoes and finished with a bit of Armenian string cheese I found at the Dixie.  The cheese was fabulous, with Nigella seeds running through it.  The seeds have a wonderful exotic kind of perfume flavor.  I ran the guilty little pleasures under the broiler until they were golden and bubbly.  Ohmygosh, were they EVER good!!  That same pesto is light yet substantive mixed with your favorite whole grain pasta, a little of the cooking water from the pasta to thin the pesto, and some grilled chicken slices, or shrimp, or thin slices of grilled beef or pork tenderloin. Add to that some frozen edamame, shredded carrot, scallions, maybe some crisp asparagus pieces.   Can you say, “great leftovers”?!  How about pesto pizza or basted on salmon as it grills?  For a pretty and easy appetizer roll out a sheet of grocery store puff pastry.  Using a spatula, spread a thin layer of pesto all over pastry leaving a quarter-inch border without.  Roll up pesto pastry tightly, slice into rounds maybe 1/4 inch thick, and bake the pinwheels at 400° until puff pastry is golden. Oh, man, are those good!  You can make a great stuffed mushroom mixing a little pesto, remember this stuff is strong, with breadcrumbs, top with parmesan cheese and bake.  It’s delicious spread on boneless, brainless chicken breasts, cover with some thinly sliced mushrooms and top with a slice of provolone or a little grated fontina.  Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked but still moist inside.  So good.  Vegetables and potatoes are sublime tossed in this pesto and roasted at 425°…try brussel sprouts, bell pepper and onion chunks, whole, peeled garlic cloves and split grape tomatoes.  Here’s another fast dinner.  Take equal sized sheets of tin foil, one for each packet, and spray with non-stick spray.  In the middle of the foil, stack a few thin slices of potatoes such as Yukon Gold, a white fish fillet like dolphin, spread A LITTLE pesto on the fish and top fish with tomato slices, zucchini slices, and whole leaves of basil.  Salt and pepper to taste, crimp and seal edges of tin foil to make snug packets, put onto baking sheet with a lip and bake at 375° for 20 minutes or vegetables are fork tender.  I love that recipe!!  Just make sure your baking pan has a lip because the packets are LOADED with the juices from the fish and vegetables and if any of them leak the oven won’t get soaked.  I serve the packets in a shallow bowl, like a pasta bowl, with some good, whole grain bread, sliced and toasted, most probably with a garlic clove run over the bread, a little olive oil drizzled over it and a quick toss of salt and pepper.  Heaven!  The broth which comes out of the packets is out of this world and extremely healthful.  The number of grilled or pressed sandwich combinations one can make is endless.  Grilled turkey, pesto with provolone or mozzarella.  Try thin slices of rare, roast beef.  This recipe yields quite a bit of pesto but it freezes superbly!  Try freezing the pesto in small, individual containers and pour a small film of good olive oil to cover before sealing and freezing.  The olive oil will protect the pesto from turning dark and will help keep it a brilliant green.  I’m tellin’ ya, it’s great stuff.


  • 1/2 cup walnuts, (they’re a super food and more flavorful than pine nuts)
  • 1 large head of garlic, cloves peeled and roughly chopped
  • 5-6 packed cups fresh basil leaves, no stems, they’re bitter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1-1 1/2 cups good olive oil
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. In the bowl of your food processor, fit the steel blade and add walnuts and garlic and process for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the basil, salt and pepper.
  3. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the feed tube and process until the pesto is well processed.
  4. Add the Parmesan cheese and puree for another minute.  You don’t want it completely smooth.
  5. Use and store as needed.

Bad Day? Meze, MY Way

How did this black, foul mood get started? When my little eyes fluttered open at 5:45 a.m., I was not unhappy.  Then again, I wasn’t thrilled either.  But something, something, got under my skin, riiiight up next to me and by the time I had reached worked I was enraged.  I felt murderous.  On the way to work, my anger was just boiling over.  The first time I can remember feeling that I’m-out-of-control-and-I-really-don’t-care sensation was back in the eighties when I was living in Atlanta and my then boyfriend was catting around behind my back.  Again.  And not bothering to cover his tracks.  I had gone home for the weekend and, upon returning, stopped by his house, unannounced.  He wasn’t home, but I could see there had been some weekend company.  As Dad would say, “a little nocturnal activity”.  The signs were everywhere and I was livid.  Crazed.  Unhinged.  And someone was gonna pay.  I was a smoker then, and as I paced and swore and paced some more I ended up in his walk-in closet.  He fancied himself a stylish dresser.  NOT.  Without a moment’s hesitation I took my cigarette and burned a large, but not immediately noticeable, hole in every piece of clothing in that enormous closet.  Cigarette after cigarette, I chose to burn holes in the armholes and back collars of suit jackets.  The cuff or elbow of a shirt.  And the crotch of every pant.  Natch.  Lord, did that feel good!!  Sweaters, belts, shoes, everything.  I mean, he REALLY did deserve it.  He made absolutely certain I saw his collection of girl’s names and phone numbers in the junk drawer in his kitchen.  We had decided not to see other people.  Cocktail napkins, matchbooks, deposit slips, torn scraps of paper, they were everywhere.  He was just hateful.  He was a runner and when he would leave his house to go on a run, there would always be a blue jay that would swoop down and attack him.  I’d see that bird and think, “Good.  Hope he pecks your eyes out.”  Even that bird knew he was evil!!  Behind his back, my friends called him “BC”, short for “Black Cloud”, or just plain “Larry the Loser”.  Can you just not mess with me?  And why DO we put up with that?  But I don’t remember anything like that happening today.  And yet, here I was in a dark, dark mood.   Hurtling down Bayview bitter and resentful.  Now, if I see road-kill on the way to work in the form of, say, a ‘possum that typically perks me right up.  And if I can share that with my friend, Selene, then I feel even better!  She loves road-kill as much as I do.  As she put it, “Honey, I’m from Texas.  We celebrate road-kill!”  Well, there WASN’T any road-kill today so, with no dead raccoons in sight, no flat, red squirrels, I thought about what I’d prepare for dinner if I could have anything in the world.  That ALWAYS makes me feel better!  I came up with appetizers.  I wanted three of them.  And no meat.  So, here’s what we had for dinner and what kept me out of prison.  Tyrokafteri, spicy-hot feta dip.  Melitzanosalata, roasted eggplant salad, but it’s more like a dip.  Hand sliced mushrooms sauteed with garlic and fresh mint, ALL on whole wheat crostini.  It was heaven and now, after  a glass of my methadone, (wine), I’m actually kind of mellow!

Melitzanosalata  Roasted Eggplant Salad

yield: 3-4 cups

  • 3 medium to large, unbruised eggplants
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar, red wine vinegar is also fine but balsamic is too dark
  • 4 handfuls of chopped walnuts (I’m on a walnut kick.  They’re a super food.  I said to Jimmy that maybe I should bake a tray of baklava so we can be REALLY healthy!)
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Set oven to broil, high broil if you have the choice.  Line a small baking sheet with tin foil, for easy clean up, and place clean, whole eggplants on baking sheet.  With eggplants as close to broiler as possible, broil for 30-45 minutes, depending on size of eggplants.  Turn every 15 minutes or so, for even broiling.
  2. While eggplants are in oven, add all other ingredients to food processor.
  3. When eggplants have cooked completely, remove from oven to cool.  With a sharp knife, make a slit from stem to bottom in skin.  When cool to the touch, carefully squeeze liquid from pulp.  Using a spoon with a relatively sharp edge, I use a soup spoon, scrape out all the pulp and put in food processor.  Process mixture until smooth, scraping down sides of processor every once in a while.
  4. Taste for seasoning.  Between the seeds of the eggplants and the walnuts, the mixture will still have a lot of texture.  This can be served hot, cold or at room temperature.  It can be served as a side or as an appetizer.  The eggplants can also be cooked on a grill, just keep your eye on them and don’t forget to turn them occasionally.  This stuff is like crack to me!  I love it!

Tyrokafteri or Spicy Feta Dip

yield: 2 cups

  • 1/2 pound good feta cheese, or the best available
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeno or scotch bonnet pepper, we like ours spicy so I use 1 whole scotch bonnet.
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup good olive oil

  1. Roughly crumble feta into food processor.
  2. In a small saute pan, sear outside of pepper.  When cool, cut if only using part of it.  For those who don’t care for heat, carefully cut out ribs inside and scrape out seeds.  That’s where the heat is more concentrated.  Since I’m a contact lens user, I always use disposable, rubber gloves so I don’t get the hot oils on my fingers and then transfer the heat to my eyes.  You only have to do that once to learn your lesson!
  3. Put pepper in processor and add olive oil.  Process until smooth.  Serve with crostini.  It’s great to take to a party.  And you can make it a day in advance.

Sauteed Mushrooms with Garlic and Fresh Mint

yield: 4 cups

  • 2 16-oz. containers large, white, button mushrooms, thinly sliced and sliced by hand
  • 4 or 5 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

  1. Heat a large pan on medium high heat and add olive oil then mushrooms. As the mushrooms cook they will begin to release liquid.
  2. Add garlic and salt and pepper.  Stir so mushrooms cook evenly.
  3. Cook until mushroom liquid begins to evaporate and then add mint.  Allow some of the mushrooms to brown on the bottom of the pan, but be careful not to burn them.  They will darken to a beautiful chestnut color.  Serve on top of crostini with lots of wine!  This is also good hot, cold, or at room temperature.