SUMMER & PESTO

Parsley Pesto Pasta

Summertime quickly thrusts itself onto the South. Spring lasts for what seems like only a week, and as soon as the trees lose their bloom, summer appears the very next day. Along with the sweltering heat comes a silver lining in the form of backyard barbecues, bonfires, and nights at the river where the waves that break against the shore never rival the sound of laughter coming from the deck above. Fireflies dance from the water to the woods, blazing a trail as the long, hot summer days come to an end, only to awaken the promise of another day filled with childlike wonder.

Summer is also the season of barbecued ribs, fresh tomato salads tossed with oregano and olive oil, grilled corn on the cob happily gleaming with melted butter, roasted seafood adorned with lemon wedges and Malden sea salt, watermelon slices served with chopped mint for dessert and pasta slicked with an herbaceous pesto. After a day spent soaking in the sun, this is the dish I crave.

This pesto has a warm nuttiness from the toasted almonds, freshness from the parsley and chives, and a slight rich, full-bodied flavor from the olive oil and Parmesan cheese. After a day spent in the heat, my body and mind begins to wind down and all I want is an herbaceous, simple, light pasta to fill my tummy and reenergize my soul for another wonderful summer day.

Recipe: From Bon Appétit, June 2013

Serves 6

1 pound of spaghetti (or angel hair pasta)

Kosher salt

½ cup unsalted, toasted almonds

4 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

¾ cup chopped chives

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup finely grated Parmesan

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 2 cups of pasta liquid for sauce.

Using either a mortar and pestle or food processor, grind/pulse the toasted almonds until ground (the almonds should resemble coarse sand.) Add parsley leaves, chives, oil and Parmesan cheese, and continue to grind/pulse until smooth. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.

Toss pasta and pesto together in a large bowl, adding the reserved pasta liquid ¼-cupfuls at a time until the pesto loosens and becomes saucy. Season with salt, pepper and more olive oil.

Lasagna Bolognese

Those who are from the south know that there is a dish called “Southern Lasagna.” It is heavy with a beef, full-bodied tomato sauce and thick pasta. My grannie, grandma, and my mother all made their lasagnas the same. I could tell when we were having the dish for dinner because the smell of ground beef browning in a pan with fragrant Italian spices lingered in the air. After the sauce was made, I would watch my mom arduously layer the meat sauce and the thick noodles. She would then pile on mounds of shredded mozzarella on top of the dish. I remember watching the lasagna bubble and breathe through the window in the oven. It always seemed like it would never be done. An hour is a long time to wait for a 4th grader. It might have well been ready on my golden anniversary. Finally, the heavy pan was ready to make its debut. This dish is a labor of love that was crafted by the most wonderful women in my life, but if I had my perfect piece of lasagna, it would just be the topping! The cheese and pasta was always my favorite part. My mom would scold me for never eating the meat sauce. This recipe is a classic Italian lasagna and has a creamy texture throughout the whole dish. That way I eat my vegetables and meat too to make my mom a happy camper!

 

Recipe: Adapted from Tyler Florence’s Dinner at My Place: Makes 8-10 Servings

Fresh Pasta:

2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

3 eggs

2 Tbs. of extra-virgin olive oil

Place the flour in a mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt to the flour and mix well. Make a well in the flour. Add the eggs and 1 Tbs. of oil and incorporate with hook. Stop the mixer every so often to scrape down the sides. Knead the dough in the mixer until smooth and elastic. Place the dough on top of cling wrap and cover with 1 Tbs. of oil. Cover with wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough in 4 pieces. Dust the dough with flour and pass through the widest setting in a pasta maker. Fold the dough over itself and pass again through the widest setting of the machine. Pass the dough through the machine, bringing the notch down to make the dough thinner and thinner, until you reach the thinnest setting.

Cut the pasta into sheets and let dry for 20-30 minutes.

Bolognese Sauce:

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 rib of celery

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Small handful of parsley, chopped

½ pound of ground pork

½ pound ground sirloin

1 Tbs. of flour

1 ½ cups of vegetable stock

1 14-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes

¼ cup of milk

½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Béchamel:

4 Tbs. of butter

4 Tbs. of flour

2 cups of milk

Salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

1 pound of fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

chopped parsley to garnish

To make the sauce:

Put the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley into a food processor and grind until the vegetables are smooth. Coat a large pot with oil and sauté vegetables until fragrant and soft. Add the pork and beef to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Brown meat in the pot while breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Dust the tablespoon of flour over meat and vegetables. Add the stock, tomatoes and milk. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 ½ hours. Add Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make béchamel:

In a small saucepan, melt butter and mix in flour. Cook for just a few minutes to cook out the “flour” taste. Add the milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Keep on low heat and keep stirring while the sauce thickens. The sauce is ready whenever it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Preheat the oven to 3500

To assemble the lasagna:

Cut fresh pasta to fit a 9x13x3 inch pan. Set the pasta aside. Make a thin layer of béchamel at the bottom of the pan. Top the béchamel with a layer of pasta. Top the noodle layer with béchamel sauce and layer the meat sauce on top. Add mozzarella pieces. Continue layering with pasta, béchamel, meat sauce and mozzarella. For the final layer, shower the top with Parmesan and parsley. Bake, uncovered for 1 hour on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum. Let the lasagna cool for 15 minutes before cutting into.

The Best Macaroni and Cheese of My Life

There is something exceptionally comforting about a warm bowl of creamy, cheesy pasta. Macaroni and cheese has always been one of my favorite dishes. My palette was distinguished enough as a child to make sure that my mom skipped the powder cheese pack for the velvety shells and cheese. Throughout the years, my aunts made macaroni and cheese every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Half of my plate would be filled with turkey, brisket, dressing and a roll. The other half was purely a superfluous amount of creamy macaroni and cheese. I would trot my plate proudly to the table as my family watched me devour the pasta in awe. My aunts decorated the top with American cheese slices, but I have graduated this dish with the addition of cheddar cheese and a Parmesan crispy topping. I sometimes make this plate with shell pasta instead of penne as a nod to my childhood memories.

Recipe: Serves 4

Note: Make sure that the pasta water is seasoned like the ocean! If not, you will lose out on a lot of flavor!

 ½ pound of penne pasta

4 Tbs. of butter

4 Tbs. of flour

2 cups of milk

2 cups of freshly grated cheddar

Cook pasta with lots of salt until al dente. Reserve and keep warm with 1 cup of pasta water reserved as well. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan on medium-low heat, melt butter and add flour to pan. Cook for 1 minute to cook out the “flour” taste. Add milk and whisk out any lumps. The mixture will begin to thicken after a few minutes. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. The sauce should be taken off the heat whenever the sauce can coat the back of a spoon. Take off heat and whisk in the cheese. Add the pasta with a little bit of pasta water. Mix to combine. The pasta can be enjoyed as is or you can add a crunchy topping for added texture and flavor.

For crispy topping:

Mix ¼ cup of panko, 1 Tbs. chopped parsley, 2 Tbs. of shredded Parmesan cheese, 1 Tbs. of butter and seasoning together in a bowl. Top 4 individual ramekins filled with pasta with topping and broil for a few minutes until brown.