Pesto Rotini

Rotini Pesto

I’ve talked several times here in Discovery Cooking about pesto (traditional and some variations), but I’ve never really done an actual post by itself, with or without a little pasta. So that’s where we’re gonna work at today. A beautiful, traditional preparations, done the way I think most Italians would do it.

For this post, I used rotini, but you can make many kinds of different pasta with it. Personally, I tend to like the kind of pasta that let’s you pick up the pesto, like rotini, shells, and even spaghetti — which actually works pretty well. And by the way, there are a lot of non-pasta recipes that also are brought alive with a little (or maybe a lot) of pesto. Done right, it might well be the best pasta sauce ever. It’s got a green from basil, a bit of the nut flavor from the pine nuts and some Parmigiano Reggiano. It also has a great olive oil flavor, as well. 

What makes pesto the best? It’s all in the ingredients. The top basil you can get your hands on, the freshest pine nuts you can get, good Parmigiano Reggiano in a piece, some garlic and some good, mild flavored olive oil — something you might enjoy eating with a bit of bread, for example. For my pesto, I use an Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which gives me a very good finish. You may want to experiment to find one that you like.

Here is the recipe:

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Garlic Honey Sockeye Salmon

garlic honey sockeye salmon

Sockeye Salmon is one of those wonderful things that — especially if you can get it fresh — makes all the difference between “ordinary” salmon (farmed with color added) and the real salmon, deep dark red and tender beyond delicious. But like most things with a really good fish, getting the sockeye salmon right means figuring out how to get the best of the salmon and add just a little added flavor, to set it off.

This garlic and honey salmon does just that. the flavors are perfect and there is no doubt that under the glazed coating on the outside, the salmon is perfect on the inside. The trick is to marinate the salmon for about an hour, then simply heat it gently in a pan until it’s done. The only thing to really worry about is how to avoid overcooking the fish, which means you can’t just let it cook and forget about it. You do have to watch it. Serve with a simple salad and you’re done.

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Sous Vide Pork Chops (Grandma’s Style)

sous vide pork chops

As I may have mentioned (once or twice before), I’ve had a very dysfunctional relationship to the good old fashioned pork chop. I’ve made plenty of them (and some very good, as a matter of fact), but every time I set  out to do chops, all I can think about is how bad they can be. Yes, it’s me perhaps, but the idea of failure always reaches out and grabs me by the throat. That’s over now. Not sure why I hadn’t done these sooner, but these sous vide pork chops are just perfect. Not some of the time, but every time. And these grandma style chops, with breading and everything, are very simple and done very easily.

The thing about pork chops in general, and really all meat, is getting them done without overcooking them. Using the sous vide cooking method, I set the time for about an hour at 140 degrees, cook the chops that way, and then, at the end, cook them in a simple flour-egg-bread crumbs mixture (with in my case loads of garlic shreds) that comes out perfectly every time, with none of my grandma’s occasionally overcooked versions. Serve them over onions and mushrooms and you’ve got a feast.

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Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas

harissa chicken

Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas is a fairly simple recipe, and yet that incredible harissa sauce makes it something special despite the simple design.  In fact, apart from the pan-roasting, which takes about 25 minutes, the whole thing can be done in well under an hour, from start to finish.

I’ve probably mentioned harissa one or more times here, but it’s something that every kitchen should make sure is on hand, any time something just needs a little spice to it. It’s a red pepper sauce, I guess, but it is made with plenty of heat — almost a lot like a good chili but with it’s own kind of flavor profile. And the good news is, you can start with a small amount and increase it until you hit the right level of flavor, with almost anything you’re cooking. It’s perfect, in fact with almost any kind of saucy kind of vegetable preparation, especially.

I believe this recipe came from a Bon Appetite, originally, but it’s been modified a bit, especially with the garlic and onions.

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Cornish Game Hens via Sous Vide

cornish game hens

Cornish game hens are very tough to do right — especially without a very good thermometer — and yet, when they’re done well, they are just delicious little chickens and all the diners get, essentially, the whole bird. But that was before sous vide, and that changes everything. With a sous vide set up, each and every chicken comes out perfectly, and a quick little browning in the oven at the end makes them perfect. 

As I’ve done with most chicken, I cooked them in the sous vide at about 150 degrees for at least two hours. This time around, I added a quarter of a lemon slice and a spring of rosemary before adding them to the vacuum sealer. (You don’t need the vacuum device, but it does make things a bit easier.) I also used  two cups of chicken broth, drippings from the birds,  and a bunch of garlic on the top of the stove to make a nice cooked garlic sauce, which really added a lot of flavor at the end.

That’s all there is to it. And in the end, it really adds only a little time to make the dish (say 2 1/2 to 1 1/2 hours) the end result makes up for the difference by a lot.

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Lamb Chops with Ham, Garlic and Basil

lamb chops with ham, garlic and basil

Lamb chops are one of those dishes you can go to with very little trouble and yet produce a spectacular dish — one that will keep company coming back time after time or just satisfy a family. First of all, good loin or center ribs are probably the best a lamb has to offer and yet, served on a plate or on a center dish, they look just delicious.

This lamb dish has a great deal going for it. It can be done in a frying pan. It  doesn’t require much except a little ham (this time from a Honey-Baked ham) but you could also use pancetta to make it just a bit more Italian. The rest is just some olive oil, plenty of garlic and a little basil. The result is unpredictably good, maybe one of the best lamb chop meals I’ve ever made, and with so little effort.

Just make sure you’ve got the pan really hot at the end and that’s all that’s needed.

Add these on a plate of roasted Brussels sprouts and you’ve got a great meal.

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Lemon Garlic Shrimp Alfredo

lemon garlic shrimp alfredo

This lemon and garlic shrimp Alfredo is, believe it or not, a great Christmas dish around our house, in part because you can still get some very good shrimp this late in the year. And there really isn’t any reason I can think of to have a nice lemon garlic and cheesy Alfredo sauce just about any time of the year. Period.

The dish starts with a garlic lemony Alfredo sauce, which is nothing but butter, garlic, cream, a little lemon juice and zest, and cheese. And apart from waiting for the cream to reduce a good bit, there really isn’t much to make it. The shrimp I like to fry in some pancetta and (a little more) garlic, which takes only a little time, as well. (You can serve the pancetta with the shrimp or not — your call.)

Add a little fettuccine and your done. It’s a very nice, quick fix dinner or as a small plate for lunch.

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