Adventures of a Salad Barfly

Have you ever scored a pickup at a salad bar?  It can happen.  Flattering lighting, arrays of exotic beauties calling for a closer look. Taking them all in with your eyes and finally choosing one to take home.  Once you score, you’ll find yourself hanging out at the salad bar more and more often… and maybe venturing to the hot foods bar, the olive bar, the ceviche bar and on and on.

With a focus on cooking for one or two, it is easy to get hooked on the salad bar scene.  No need to worry about planning for leftovers, pick up something fresh in a useable amount and enjoy.  It is a nice way to get variety in your side dishes and concentrate on a great main dish. It makes mealtime a pleasure instead of a chore and sure beats take out fast food or yet another sandwich supper.

For example…

A craving for cruciforms, but not for whole heads of cauliflower, romanesco or broccoli is satisfied by a few florets of each from the salad bar. Take them home, roast them on a sheet pan and your side dish delimma is solved.

Florets of cauliflower, romanesco (a green cauliflower) and broccoli pan roasted in the oven provided a healthy fiber-rich side dish without a ton of leftovers in the crisper.  Since the oven was hot, a small oven-roasted sirloin steak was a wonderful main dish treat. A bonus was the discovery of a watermelon, feta, mint and jalapeño salad that could not be passed up!  What more could a salad barfly ask?

And on another night at the salad bar…

Sometimes, it is hard to decide between two toothsome beauties, so take them both home and enjoy!  Rainbow carrots with a mix of kale and radicchio were terrific with a light vinaigrette.   And the house rule of three tiny roasted potatoes provided the starch for the meal.

Rainbow carrots atop kale and radicchio brighten up a steak and potatoes supper. By the way, steak is not an every night protein here.

 

 

Cooking for one? Play with the salad bar.

It is fun to reduce the servings in a given recipe and succeed.  We’ll be doing a lot of that in the new category “A New Season.” Still, there are those days when you just don’t want the bother of reducing, prepping and cooking. There are alternatives. A visit to Whole Foods turned up a chilled bar featuring different takes on ceviche, a cold salad in which seafood is “cooked” in acid such as a vinegar or citrus juice.  A ceviche of shrimp and scallops called my name and resulted in the creation of a cold salad supper just right for a triple digit temperature day.  A small container of the ceviche – enough for topping two tostadas,  a few large cooked shrimp for garnish, a mango for color and sweet balance to the ceviche,  and an avocado for a third tostada featuring guacamole tostada completed shopping for dinner. Since the ceviche is sold by the pound, getting just enough for two tostadas didn’t require a bank loan for shopping at Whole Foods.  There were enough other ingredients in the fridge at home to complete the meal.

Shrimp and scallops ceviche, guacamole and mango – a cool treat to beat the heat.

 

Ingredients (made without an actual recipe)

Three corn tortillas (or more if you want tortilla chips)

About four or five tablespoons of deli bar ceviche

One medium to large avocado

Five or six grape tomatoes

One or two scallions

One or two lettuce leaves

One ripe mango

Garlic powder, to taste, or one small finely minced garlic clove mushed into a paste with a sprinkle of salt and the side of a chef’s knife.

One lime, halved

Salt to taste

Olive oil or neutral oil cooking spray

Method

Tostadas, flat, crisp tortillas.  These may be bought in a package, fried in a quantity usually too big for one or two servings.  You can fry them at home or bake them in the oven for a “healthyish” version.  I’m stealing this term from Bon Appètit because they have been publish lighter recipes in the magazine and online. Sprinkle your chips lightly with salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Place three tortillas on sheet, and spritz lightly with cooking spray.  If you want to make chips, cut a couple of tortillas into wedges and place on sheet with whole tortillas and spritz the, with cooking spray. Place in heated oven.  Check after 10 minutes, turn tortillas and chips over and spritz again.  After 10 minutes, check again and turn.  Return to oven.  Check every five minutes or so to make sure tortillas and chips are toasting crisp – no soft spots in middle or edges when done and not burned edges.  Rotate the sheet pan in the oven to help with even cooking. Remove from oven and let cool.

Guacamole, an avocado dip or spread that every cook swears that his/hers is best.  I assure you, mine is the absolute best!  This version is for a single guacamole tostada and slices of avocado for garnish.  If you want to use the whole avocado and sue some for dip on your tortilla chips, go right ahead.

Chop grape tomatoes into small pieces; slice scallion very thinly at an angle. Slice all the white and an inch or inch and a half of the gree.  Mince and mash garlic clove into a paste.  A pinch of salt helps to break up the garlic as you mash it.  If you wish, you may use a light sprinkle of garlic powder (not garlic salt) instead of the garlic clove paste.

One avocado, halved.  Lay one half cut side down to prevent oxidation (turning brown). Spoon the flesh from the other have into a small bowl. Cut it up with the side of a fork, then mash it.  I like to leave a little texture when I mash it with the fork.  When I’m by myself, I squish it between my fingers and then get to lick my fingers clean – chef’s bonus!  I don’t do that when making guacamole for guests – at least not where they can see me. Stir tomato, some of the scallion, garlic paste or powder and some of the juice of lime.  The lime will delay oxidation, but you don’t want to overdo the lime juice when making this small quality of guacamole. Scoop flesh from remaining half of avocado, cut into six slices for garnish and sprinkle lightly with lime juice.

Sliced mango, sweet, but not too sweet taste to balance the acidity of the ceviche.  Remove pit from mango, slice flesh and plate on a bed of lettuce leaf.  You might enjoy a couple of drops of lime juice on the mango. (The OXO mango slicer actually works and is well with a little drawer space in your kitchen.)

Serving, spread guacamole on one crips tostada, garnish with slices of avocado and a couple of large shrimp.  Place on plate.  Spoon ceviche on tostadas, place on either side of guacamole tostada and garnish with large shrimp and avocado slices.  Add lettuce leaf and mango carefully to the plate and enjoy your cool meal at the end of a hot day.

A Detour on Memory Lane

Remember the wedge salad from the late 50′ and early 70’s? A wedge of iceberg lettuce, that must have been a quarter of a head, drenched in creamy chunky bleu cheese dressing, and if you were lucky enough to be in the right restaurant, heavily sprinkled with crumbled crispy bacon. It still appears on the occasional menu.  When it does, I look for beef carpaccio to be there, too.  Creamy bleu cheese and delicately thin sliced raw lean beef! Forget the rest of the menu, these two appetizers become my meal, and no, you cannot have a taste!

I am addicted to food magazines and websites.  When I saw a new take on a wedge salad in one, I was up and off the the grocery store.  Actually it turned out to be two stores were needed to find all the ingredients.

My excitement was a grilled bok choi wedge salad.  One small to medium bok choi, split in half and spritzed with olive oil, then grilled over low heat until the leaves wilt and get a little char and the stem is warmed through, but still retains it crunch. I topped the bok choi with halved yellow grape tomatoes, thinly sliced raw ripe shishito peppers and marinated Peruvian peppers.  Then I drenched the salad with creamy bleu cheese dressing and lots of extra crumbles.  The salad was served with a small sirloin steak, grilled to 145 and tented to rest for five minutes. It was a perfect medium rare.  I wish I had sliced and photographed it, but I couldn’t wait do dig into the plate.

My standard three baby potatoes halved and grilled provided a bit of starch for the meal.  Because I am still working on my bag of shishito peppers, I grilled a few of the ripe ones.  Their caramelized sweetness was a great foil for the slight saltiness of the bleu cheese!

I cooked this on the grill last night after the temperature dropped to 100.

Grilled bok choi wedge salad with “sides” of beef sirloin, baby potatoes and grilled ripe shishito peppers.

Something New on the Plate!

Last fall, the Master Gardeners were looking at some new ideas to enhance the varieties of produce at their market garden. They were looking at eliminating some that were not the best for us such as okra which does’t respect our work and market day schedules.  It  grows too fast and gets woody before we can harvest and market it. For something different, I suggested shishito peppers (enunciate the name carefully). They are a  mild wrinkled green Asian snacking pepper that is usually sautéed. I found them at a local grocery store last year, tried them and really enjoyed them as something good and different! About one in ten has a kick which adds to the excitement of eating them. I have been tossing a few on the grill until they are tender and pick up a hint of char.

Last weekend, one of the garden co-chairs brought me a bag if shishitos to try.  It had both green peppers and some that had ripened to a bright red.  On the drive home, I had to taste one of each – a green one, with the expected not quite raw bitter flavor, rather than pepper heat, and a red one which was surprisingly sweet!

I grilled a couple of chicken thighs and a few green peppers. I also made a salad of mache greens, yellow cherry tomato slices and slices of red shishitos with a light vinaigrette.  It was a wonderful salad!

Visit Ardovino’s Farmers Market on Saturdays and give the shishitos a try. You’ll enjoy them green or red.

Grilled chicken thighs with grilled green shishito peppers and a salad mache rosettes yellow grape tomatoes and sliced raw ripe shishito peppers in a light vinaigrette. Dinner cooked on an outdoor gas grill after the temperature dropped below 100.

A New Season Means New Experiments and New Favorites

Still making many adjustments to all the facets of a new season, but things are moving along…

It is fun to pare down a recipe, even when you know it might have been a little better at six or eight servings. Sometimes, it is great to whip up something from what you have on hand and enjoy the creativity.  And, at other times it is good to visit something from the past and reimagine it.

Being only slightly removed from generations of Texas and Arkansas farmers, I’m very fond of okra in many variations.

Back in May of 2014, I started grilling okra on skewers. I like that it retains some texture and that it loses the sticky secretion of boiled okra and doesn’t make the mess of fried okra.  I’ll love fried okra wherever I find it on a menu and am thrilled when I don’t have to clean up the mess of frying.

Grilling red okra in 2014. Heat changes the red chemical color and it turn out green. Threading on two skewers makes it easier to turn. Elevating the skewers on clean bricks get’s it off the grate and helps it cook more evenly.

I found okra at the grocery store the other night and, since I was grilling chicken thighs, thought it would be a good side.  I have a stainless steel thingy I put over my old grill grates and decided to try grilling okra on that  instead of on skewers. It occurred to me I should  grill some tomatoes and onion at the same time because I know that works!

I cut the stem ends off the okra, sliced some onion and washed some grape tomatoes.  If you feel you need a recipe here’s how I did it! I used a dozen pods of okra, two sliced of onion separated into ring and 10 grape tomatoes. I tossed it all with olive oil and a little salt and pepper. and put in on the grilling thingy over medium heat.  I kept an eye on it, tossed be veggies as the cooked and tested the okra’s doneness with a fork.  I wound up with a light char on tender vegetables. The tomatoes softened and wilted. When pierced with a fork, they yielded a hot delicious tomato juice to mix over the other vegetables. My chicken thighs cooked on another part of the grilling thingy at a higher temperature.

I like to have two or three very small potatoes as a side ( inch to inch and a half diameter). That satisfies my potato craving without a serving the size of a football.  I cheat with them. I microwave them for a few minutes (remember to pierce the skins or they will explode in your oven) then split them and finish them on the grill for a little color and extra flavor

Grilled chicken thighs, okra, onion and tomatoes with grill-finished potatoes. The okra was tender but with a little texture and now sticky secretion. Delicious with the onion and tomatoes and reminiscent of boiled tomatoes and okra without the slick texture.

The okra was so good, I decided to make it again the next evening.  The store where I bought my first batch, was out.  I went a sister store in the chain and found some.  It looked a little long and I was concerned about it being stringy and tough.  It was, but at least it photographed well.

I was a very hot evening. Still over 100 at 6:30 p.m.  Too hot to stand over a grill, so I decided to cook on a sheet pan in the oven.  That gave me a chance to try making a roasted onion flower I had been wanting to try.

Oven roasted onion flower, tomatoes and okra. Delicious and not sticky.

Pan roasting the getable at 425 until tender worked.  I cut a thin slice off the stem end of a smallish onion, then carefully removed the roots.  I sliced the onion almost to its base six times to make reasonably narrow petals. I drizzled the vegetables with olive oil before cooking and a couple of times while they cooked. The okra was done before the tomatoes and onion, so I removed it and set it aside until time to plate.  I want to find small red onions next time I have guests and make little onion flowers to put on top of something. My white flower was tender and delicious with the okra and tomatoes and a pork chop. Left from the other night. Part of this New Season is cooking enough of a protein to have a second serving a couple of days later. I warmed the cooked pork chop for a few minutes while, the vegetables finished cooking.  In the upper right corner, you see the tip of a roasted ear of corn.  At eight ears for $1, I had to buy one for this meal.

I will be doing more grilled okra this summer but only using smaller tender pods.

Paring Down Can Foster Indulgence, so Play with Your Food!

Some of us subscribe to cooking and recipe sites on the web.  Interesting things appear that tantalize the eye and the appetite.  Some arouse curiosity and other demand to be made. All those happened when I ran across Chile-Lime Clams with Tomatoes and Grilled Bread.  My curiosity was peaked by the inclusion of chick peas (garbanzo beans) in the recipe.  I’m most familiar with chickpeas as hummus and don’t have much experience with them as whole beans.  What the heck, give it a try!  And this recipe for four servings appeared easy to reduce per my goals in this New Season of reduced quantities. It also was flexible enough to allow for loose measuring of ingredients. For instance, it called for 24 clams. Six clams per serving? Pikers!  I ordered 12 clams to make one serving. I love clams and had no guilt over this indulgence. When cooking for one, or som times two, indulge and enjoy! I used the recipe below as a guideline for this dish.  I played with parts of it, hence inclusion in the Play with Your Food Category.

Chile-Lime Clams with Tomatoes. As good as it was hoped it would be! A keeper.

The original recipe suggested cooking in a cast iron pan on a grill outside. Think this over… acid foods (including tomatoes)  cooked in cast iron can acquire a metallic taste and cause the pans to lose their carefully built up seasoned finish. I read that acidic foods cooked in cast iron for no more than 15 minutes will not acquire a metallic taste, nor will the harm the finish.  Not worth the risk on my older than I am cast iron hand-me-downs from early in the last century!

It has been unseasonably hot so far this spring and summer.  I’m convinced hot air from the Capitol fanned by Tweet kindling is the cause, but that’s a different rant. I chose to cook on the stovetop in an anodized aluminum pan that has a non-teflon, dishwasher safe non-stick finish.  I had to forgo grilled toast, but was satisfied with torn chunks of bread with a schemear of butter for sopping up the pan sauce with the meal. This photo is of the pan on the stovetop.  I knew a dozen clams in my serving bowl, would be too crowded for a good picture.  Indulge me and imagine chopped cilantro sprinkled on top.

CHILE-LIME CLAMS WITH TOMATOES AND GRILLED BREAD

4 servings

INGREDIENTS

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, divided

2 large shallots, chopped

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup beer

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed

2 tablespoons (or more) sambal oelek

24 littleneck clams, scrubbed

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

4 thick slices country-style bread

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

1/2 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems

Lime wedges (for serving)

METHOD

Prepare a grill for medium, indirect heat (for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off; for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill). Place a large cast-iron skillet on grill over direct heat (move it around to cooler part of grill as you cook if needed) and melt 4 Tbsp. butter in skillet. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until paste darkens to a rich brick-red color, about 1 minute. Add beer and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until beer is reduced nearly by half and no longer smells boozy, about 4 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and sambal oelek, then add clams. Cover (if you don’t have a lid that fits, use a sheet of foil) and cook, stirring occasionally, until clams have opened; this could take from 5–10 minutes depending on size of clams and the heat level. Remove from heat; discard any clams that don’t open. Stir in lime juice and remaining 2 Tbsp. butter.

While the clams are cooking on the grill, drizzle bread with oil and season lightly with salt. Grill until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.

Transfer toast to plates and spoon clam mixture over; top with cilantro. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.

 

 

 

Still Playing with My Food

We made a late morning decision to stay home rather than fight the Mother’s Day crowds at restaurants today. That saved a couple of chairs for lucky Mom’s out there!

I had some ideas for putting together a late started meal that would look better planned, so I rushed off to the store for pork tenderloins, baby white potatoes and asparagus. Luckily for me, one of the stores had  sugar snap peas, so I was able make a spring vegetable salad side dish.  The potatoes became crispy smashed potatoes, an idea lifted from last night’s dinner.

I didn’t have a recipes for this meal, so I played around and came up with some good stuff!

Pork Tenderloin, Spring Vegetables and Crispy Smashed Potatoes

Ingredients and What I Did

Spring vegetables: asparagus, sugar snap peas, red onion boiled together for about 5 minutes until tender/crisp and bright green, then plunged into an ice bath, cooled, strained and patted dry. They were dressed with . red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes: baby red and white potatoes tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted in a 425º oven until done enough to pierce with a fork.  Take about 30 minutes. Halfway through, turn and make sure they are still covered with olive oil.  When you can pierce them, gently press them with a potato masher to flatten them to about a half inch high. Make sure the are still covered with olive oil.  Return to the oven for about 10 minutes, turn them and give them another 20 minutes too get good and crisp.  Remove from oven and let coo.

Pork Tenderloin with Mustard Sauce: I used a pack of two tenderloins so I’d have left overs.  Increase the oven temp to 450º.  Remove silver skin from the tenderloins carefully. Tuck thin end under tip for even cooking.

I combined smooth Dijon mustard, whole grain Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and brown sugar adjusting ingredient volume one at a time until it tasted good. At a the end, I stirred in some smoked paprika for color and a hint of smokey flavor.  The tenderloins were basted well and put on a rack in a foil-lined baking pan popped them in the oven.  At 15 minutes, I checked their internal temperature with a meet thermometer, turnned them over and basted the underside.  Back in the oven for 20 minutes, another temperature check, a last turned over and light brush with olive oil to encourage browning. Back in the oven for 8 minutes.  One last temperature check and they had reached 145º.  Out of the oven and on to a platter, tented with foil to rest for five minutes.

The salad and potatoes were carefully tossed, then plated. I pulled the now dressed potatoes out and made the plating you see above.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients you know go together to do something like the mustard sauce. Mix the sugar and mustards and use the vinegar for balance and to thin the sauce a little.

Caldo de Pescado

The lenten season is over. My favorite seasonal bread pudding, capirotada, is off the menu until next year in local Mexican restaurants. Fortunately, many offer Caldo de Pescado, (fish soup) year ’round so all is not lost.

Last night was chilly and called for a Mexican style fish soup. I didn’t want to go out to a restaurant. How difficult could it be, I figured, so it was a quick trip to the store and back to the kitchen to play with my food!

Jim’s fish soup with cod, shrimp, vegetables, jalapeños and hot sauce. Just right for a cool and windy evening.

Caldo de Pescado al Jim

Ingredients to play with

For starters, there are plastic packets of ready cut vegetables for caldo in most of our groceries.  I picked up one that had a wedge of cabbage, two carrots, two small potatoes, a shucked ear of corn, a small onion, a Mexican gray squash, half a turnip, a lemon and two jalapeños.  I picked up another ear of corn and two small potatoes to be sure there was enough. Good thing I did; the corn in the package had started to dry up and one potato was past its prime. That spur of the moment decision saved the day.

Better than Bullion cooking bases are a staple in my pantry and refrigerator.  They are thick pastes reduced from meats and vegetables.  While salty, they are not as salty as bullion cubes and ever so much better.  They come as beef, chicken, vegetable and fish bases and are the company is starting to offer lower sodium versions.

I used a good size dutch oven about 3/4 full of water and roughly three tables spoons of  fish base for starters.  That’s easier than the tradition Mexican recipes calling for boiling grouper heads and bones to make a broth. Besides, being from El Paso, it wouldn’t know a grouper if I met one..

One Mexican thing was boiling the potatoes and carrots separately because they are starchy and can cloud the water.  The other vegetables went into the dutch oven for about 20 minutes. As the veggies were got tender, I added a pound of  bite size chunks pacific cod for an additional 10 minutes.  Pacific cod is firm yet tender and not too fishy tasting. It is still reasonably priced.  Next came a half pound of raw shrimp peeled and tails clipped before going into the soup.  A can of diced tomatoes (non-traditional ingredient) rounded out the flavors of the broth.  Just before serving, the potatoes and carrots went into the big pot and it was all stirred together.

On the side, lemon wedges, a seeded and sliced jalapeño and a bottle of Franks Red Hot Sauce stood by to liven things up.

This first-time fish soup goes on the “Let’s have it again” list.

 

Spring Greens

Spring Salad of snap peas, asparagus and leeks on a bed of leaf lettuce and mâche with a lemon vinaigrette and a garnish of pepadew peppers stuffed with ricotta salt. In this photo, a rosette of mâche rests on the edge of an oven roasted pork chop.

While we were at a meeting the other day, sweet Alice Parra slipped me a generous bag of snap peas from her garden. They were beautiful. At every traffic light on the way home, I pulled the strings off a couple and munched on them raw.  I couldn’t wait to get them into the kitchen.

I had been inspired by a recipe for chicken thighs braised with peas, asparagus and leeks.  It sounded good, but I thought the combination would be better as part of a salad.  Those snap peas needed to be bright and crisp instead of braised. So, once more, I had to play with my food.

Spring Salad

Ingredients

1 small leek, white and light green parts only, split, washed and sliced into thin half-moons

4 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 lemon

1/2 lb. asparagus

1/2 lb. or so fresh snap peas, string removed and left in the pod.

pepadew peppers form the deli olive bar

ricotta salata to stuff pepadews

green leaf lettuce

mâche

Method

Sauté leeks on medium heat until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.  Trim and slice asparagus at an angle, string the peas. Sauté asparagus and peas in the leek pan until crisp/tender and bright green. Plunge into a bowl of ice water and stir to stop cooking, drain and set aside.

Stuff pepadew peppers with ricotta salt.  They are so good, that you must let your conscience be your guide about how many to make.

Was and dry lettuce and mâche, tear lettuce into bite sized pieces.  Pinch root tips off mâche rosettes.

Zest lemon, halve and squeeze juice of 1/2 lemon onto greens, place and juice of remaining lemon half in a bowl with 2 tbsp olive oil.  Whisk until emulsified. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Toss greens with lemon vinaigrette.  Add leeks, asparagus and peas to greens and toss lightly to mix.  Plate the salad and place a few stuffed peppers on top for color and garnish.

I served this salad with a pork chop and a delicate salad of curried chickpeas with minced vegetables.

FRIDGE-DIVE PESTO PASTA

A recipe called Fridge-Dive Pesto Pasta caught my eye.  Described as a rewarding way to clean out the fridge hooked me.  My fridge has a way of collecting leftovers from a recipe that needed a pinch of this or a quarter cup of that.  I deal with it by buying spices from the bulk purchase jars at a couple of the better markets in town.  I can get things such as a teaspoon of turmeric for pennies rather than a one ounce jar for dollars.  It’s a good way to try out new flavors without breaking the bank or cluttering up the cabinet with more little jars. I can even get loose carrots one at a time, but somethings just come in larger sizes and result in leftovers.

There is usually a mystery bag in the bottom of the crisper drawer  that may or may not contain something that had been there way too long. Fridge diving seemed a good idea to cope with those mysteries.

Below is the inspirational recipe followed by what actually happened one night in my kitchen. Yes, I was playing with my food — again!

Fridge-Dive “Pesto” with Pasta and Shrimp. Really good sauce made (mostly) green stuff in your refrigerator crisper. It’s cooked, a little, and has no basil, so put the “pesto” in quotes and dive into it!

FRIDGE-DIVE PESTO PASTA – ORIGINAL RECIPE

This pesto pasta recipe is the solution for any leftover hardy green, lettuce, or herb you don’t know what to do with. Cleaning out your fridge has never been so rewarding!

 INGREDIENTS

4 SERVINGS

½ red onion, quartered through root end

8 cups (lightly packed) torn mixed greens and tender herbs

Kosher salt

¼ cup toasted sesame seeds, plus more for serving

½ cup grated ricotta salata (salted dry ricotta), divided

3 tablespoons plus ¼ cup olive oil; plus more for drizzling

8 garlic cloves, smashed

12 ounces tripoline or mafaldine (wavy-edged ribbon pasta) or fusilli (spiral-shaped pasta)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

METHOD

Cook onion and mixed greens and herbs in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes. Using a spider or tongs, transfer to a bowl of ice water and swish around in the water to cool down as quickly as possible (this helps retain the bright color). Drain and gently squeeze to remove excess liquid, then press between a double layer of paper towels to remove as much remaining liquid as possible. Reserve pot with greens cooking liquid.

Process ¼ cup sesame seeds in a food processor until finely ground. Add onion and greens mixture and ¼ cup ricotta salata and process until a coarse paste forms. With motor running, stream in 3 Tbsp. oil and process, adding water by the tablespoonful if needed to thin, until pesto is very smooth.

Heat ¼ cup oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add pesto and cook, stirring, until sauce looks like most of the moisture has been cooked out, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, bring reserved pot of greens cooking liquid to a boil and cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.

Using tongs, transfer pasta to pot with pesto and add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing, until each strand of pasta is coated. Remove from heat, add butter, and toss to combine.

Divide pasta among bowls. Top with more sesame seeds and remaining ¼ cup ricotta salata and drizzle with oil

The Recipe, reality based in my household:

As I inventoried my crisper drawer, I thought about pesto.  Originally, pesto was an uncooked sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan or pecorino cheese and olive oil. Now we chop up almost anything and call it “pesto.”  I am putting the “pesto: in quotes for this recipe because it has no basil and it is cooked! What I appreciate most about this recipe is its flexibility.  The technique for building the pesto was very helpful.

GRINGO GOURMET FRIDGE-DIVE “PESTO” WITH PASTA AND SHRIMP

My Fridge and Pantry Inventory of Ingredients on Hand and Ingredients Needed

1 gigantic head of Bok choy purchased in desperation when I couldn’t find baby Bok choy.  I found the baby bok the next day and the gigantic one was just sitting there sadly abandoned.

1 bunch flat leaf parsley

1/2 head cabbage

Onions

Garlic heads

Olive Oil

Butter

A variety of pasta shapes

So far, so good.  I wasn’t about to put pricey pine nuts into an experiment, so, I though let’s go for a different spicier crunch!  I bought four snack packs of chile peanuts, a couple of limes and (per the original recipe) ricotta salata because it is a terrific dry, slightly salted ricotta that crumbles nicely.

I decided to add some more protein to the dish, so I got shell-on raw shrimp.

My Method

Rinse and drain shrimp, blot dry with paper towels,  toss with a liberal amount of Tajin Chili Lime powder and let sit while you do the rest of the prep and cooking.

Experience the joy of washing and chopping the Bok choy, parsley, some of the cabbage and savor smashing garlic cloves!  Note: You’ll have to jump back and forth to the original recipe what I  did how it influenced what I actually did.

Blanche the chopped greens until the Bok choy and onion wedges until tender, the immerse them in ice water to stop cooking and retain the bright green color.  Use a spider or tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the greens.  Save the vegetable water, or broth if you want to call it something fancy, for cooking your pasta.

More fun will be had draining, squeezing and patting the greens dry. Be sure to squeeze as much water out of the vegetables and pat them as dry as you can or you’ll have soggy “pesto.” Place one packet of chili peanuts in a food processor and chop into a coarse powder. The peanut powder will help with moisture when you add the greens.  Process until a paste is formed.  Add a good shot of olive oil, pulse until blended.  Add a packet of chile peanuts and a couple of tablespoons of crumbled ricotta salata.  Pulse a few times to reduce size of peanuts and mix the peanuts and ricotta into the “pesto.”  Add the juice of half of lime.

Lightly brown the smashed garlic cloves in olive oil, then add the “pesto” and cook over low heat while the pasta cooks, according to package directions, but keep it al dente.  I didn’t have a wavy edged pasta, so I used my favorite bucatini noodle.  I figured it would work as a base for the shrimp when coated with the “pesto.”

When the pasta is done, use tongs to transfer it to the pot of “pesto.”  Gently stir to blend and add the butter called for in the recipe.  Reduce the heat to low and cook the shrimp in butter until curled and flesh is bright pink throughout.

Place pasta and “pesto” mix in a shallow bowl, top with shrimp, sprinkle with whole chile peanuts and crumbled  ricotta salata and a couple of lime wedges.  Dive in.