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Spaghetti Nero with Pesto, Sausage, Shrimp

spaghetti nero

I’ve actually waited a long time to find a recipe I wanted to make with this spaghetti nero. It’s not that it’s ALL that hard to find, but you generally have to make a little effort to locate it, and even once you can get some at one store or another, it typically seems to disappear rather quickly (and often because it really doesn’t sell all that well, I’m guessing). That said, in the right recipe, it can be amazing. And that’s how this dish came to be.

FYI, if you’ve never had spaghetti nero, it’s made with squid ink in the pasta and basically, looks black as you might imagine. The squid ink adds a very subtle flavor, but not so much you’d really notice it, unless you were paying close attention.

The typical spaghetti nero recipe generally comes with a red (or possibly a white) sauce with shrimp, calamari and maybe some clams or mussels — essentially a seafood sauce. But I had some very good sausage I wanted to try, along with some good pesto, so this sauce kept the shrimp but otherwise, I decided to up the garlic and onions, add some mushrooms and used the sausage and pesto. The result was better than good and I can promise we’d have eaten twice what was on the plate, no kidding. It has just the perfect mix of flavors.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Sage-Cashew Pesto

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage Cashew Pesto

If you visit Discovery Cooking very often, you’ll probably know that I’m a big fan of Page and Dornenburg’s Flavor Bible. Whenever I have an idea for a recipe, that book is one of the first places I look for inspiration. This butternut squash soup is just one example of how that goes. I knew I wanted to make a butternut squash soup with some squash I picked up at the farmer’s market, but I also wanted something a little different. A quick look at the Flavor Bible and I had the flavor profile I was looking for: butternut squash+bacon+maple+sage.

To get there I used a pretty standard soup base of red onions and stock. (I’ve made this with both chicken and vegetable stock, and while I prefer the chicken stock, a good homemade veggie stock is every bit as good.) The rest is pretty straightforward, but for the addition of the maple syrup, which really sends this soup over the top, although I found that it was necessary to add a little cider vinegar to brighten up the flavors at the end. This recipe yielded between 3 and 4 quarts of soup. Enough for a lunch or dinner with plenty for the freezer. It scales pretty well, so it’s easy to make more or less, as needed.

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Grilled Pesto Chicken with Sweet and Sour Onions

Grilled Pesto Chicken with Sweet and Sour Onions

The grill is working overtime these hot, humid days of August, and that’s fine with me. I swear I’d fire it up for three meals a day, everyday, if I could. So lately, I’ve been looking for things to offer up here at Discovery Cooking that I’ve made over the years on the grill. In digging back through some old cookbooks, I found a scrap of paper with part of a pesto recipe on it, and that immediately brought to mind this grilled pesto chicken dish. It’s simple and easy, and pairs really well with some Italian sweet and sour onions and a nice Caprese  salad.  

Italians call their version of sweet and sour “agrodolce,” and these onions in agrodolce are fantastic with grilled meats of all kind. They’re like a good American barbecue sauce: sweet, tangy and — if you like — a little peppery heat. They’re a great dish for a neighborhood grilling party or a pot luck, too.

You can use prepared pesto for the rub for the chicken, or you can make your own. I usually make mine so I can control the amount of oil in the rub, which is important for preventing the bonfires that can burn the chicken skin black in a second. The pesto paste you can buy in a tube also works pretty well. In a pinch, I wouldn’t hesitate to use either. You can use chicken parts (quarters work best) or if you’re looking to impress, you can spatchcock a whole chicken, which makes getting the rub under the skin a little easier, I think.

The best way to get the pesto under the chicken skin is with your hands (wear disposable plastic gloves, if possible) but you can do it carefully with a spoon, too. The chicken benefits from sitting in the fridge for an hour, or overnight, before grilling. A liberal sprinkling of sea salt on the chicken before it goes into the fridge helps dry out the skin, making it crispier when cooked, and tenderizes the meat, too.

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Shrimp Salad with Lemon Herb Pesto

Shrimp Salad with Lemon Herb Pesto

This time of year, we’re having some very warm days lately, along with the frequent thunderstorms and downpours that always seem to hit in the early evening, right about the the time when dinner is ready to serve. On days like that, it’s nice to have something that’s quick, light and full of summer flavor, but flexible enough to switch from grill to saute pan, should the need arise. This shrimp salad is perfect for that.

Apart from the prep, some of which can be done the evening before, this dish can be on the table in 15 minutes or less from the start. The trick is to make the peas and couscous ahead of time and have them at room temperature, and make the pesto a day or two ahead. Then, a few minutes before dinner, mince the garlic, toss the shrimp with that and some EVOO, and then, if the weather is right, toss the shrimp on the grill or, if not, give ’em a quick saute. While the shrimp cook, plate the salad and as soon as the shrimp are done, you’re ready to eat.

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Scallops Orecchiette with Pesto

scallops-orichiette

Some of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed are quick and easy to prepare and Scallops Orechiette is one of them. It takes just 10 minutes or so to get the pasta ready for the table and while it’s cooking, you’ve got plenty of time to pan sear a batch of scallops. Freshly made pesto can be made a day ahead of time, and even that takes no more than 15 minutes.

What makes this dish special is the quality of the ingredients, so let’s talk about that for a minute. To make the pesto, you’ll need pine nuts, good parmesan cheese, fresh garlic and especially fresh basil. And above all, the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford. If you have the time and the inclination, use a mortar and pestle to grind the pesto. A food processor is quicker and works equally well.

Good pasta also is important. Of course, it’s not necessary to use orechiette. I like it for this dish because the little cups are great for holding the pesto.

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Grilled Grouper with Roasted Pistachio Lime Pesto

grilled grouper

When it comes to preparing most kinds of fish, I generally stick to the rule that simple is better. And this grilled grouper certainly adheres to that guideline. The grouper is grilled over a cherry wood fire, nothing more. What sets it apart is the pesto, which uses roasted pistachio nuts instead of the traditional pine nuts and lime, rather than the lemon I sometimes use.

Grouper, by the way, is the perfect fish for the grill. It usually comes in fillets that are thick enough (a half-inch or more) for grilling and it stays nice and firm throughout. It also flakes in a predictable way when it is done, which takes some of the guesswork out of timing. About 3-4 minutes per side is sufficient.

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