Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Making pesto red...

I was looking for a different kind of side to serve with a pasta dish I was making for dinner tonight - when I was menu planning this past weekend, I came across a tempting recipe for these Parmesan Spinach Cakes that sounded good!

We tossed handfuls from a bountiful bunch of trimmed mature spinach (you could use baby spinach, but we wanted a stronger flavor for this) into a food processor to finely chop it - do yourself a favor and do this step in a few batches. If you just packed it all in there, the blade would just spin and nothing much would happen.

To the green mound, we added ricotta cheese, sharp Parmesan cheese, a couple eggs and a garlic clove. Because I wanted to boost up the flavor, I also added a few flakes of crushed red pepper and a pinch (don't go crazy!) of fresh grated nutmeg (nutmeg goes surprisingly well with spinach). You could certainly bake these in a muffin tin, but I used those silicone baking cups that I got back in '05. I like using them for recipes like this that tend to stick, chocolate work or to bake eggs in - I do occasionally use them for muffins or the like, but they don't brown the baked goods as well as a regular muffin tin would. If you do use a muffin tin for these, pour a little water into the empty wells so they don't scorch in the oven.

They rise up as they bake, but will deflate a little once taken out from the heat of the oven, so they are fairly dense, yet the eggs still give them a fluffy quality. You don't necessarily taste the nutmeg we added, but it rounds out the earthy flavors from the spinach. With just a few grates of fresh Parmesan on top to serve, Jeff has already requested that we keep the recipe for these savory and quick cakes handy to make them again soon. If you want to chance things up, how about switching out the Parmesan for feta cheese or using cottage cheese instead of the ricotta? It's also worth thinking about making them in a miniature muffin tin for a more appetizer-sized portion!

The basil plants are not lookin' too hot after the drop in temperatures lately, so I made sure to get this Angel Hair Pasta with Red Pepper Pesto and Basil made before I strip the rest of the leaves off for other uses.

Instead of being basil heavy, the weight in this pesto comes from three medium sweet red bell peppers. To intensify their flavor and remove their thick skins, I set them under the broiler until they were well-charred on all sides - you could also do this on a grill or even over the gas flame on your stove (I wish... I'm stuck with an electric cooktop). While they are now blackened, you do need to set them into a bowl and cover it for a few minutes to give the steam from the hot peppers time to release the skins. When you remove the skins, don't fret if there are some black spots - just think of it as more flavor and whatever you do, do not run them under water to try and wash the bits off. You would be washing all the work down the drain!

The pesto is created by placing toasted pine nuts (walnuts or pistachios would be good in this too), the softened peppers, garlic and the fresh basil leaves into a food processor and pulsing just until the ingredients have been coarsely chopped. Extra-virgin olive oil is added in a steady stream and you'll want to process just long enough to incorporate it - leaving the mixture a little chunky is good for texture. We tossed the fresh pesto with thin angel hair pasta and once plated, weaved in shavings of nutty Asiago cheese. Saucy enough to thoroughly coat the pasta, yet not be downed in it, you could add a little of the starchy cooking liquid from the pasta if you wanted to thin it out - we thought it was fine as-is though.

I think I'll be at the market this weekend picking up more peppers so I can make the pesto again just to freeze - it would be good for a spread on pizza, on sandwiches or even added to the soups we plan on making when winter sets in to remind us of the sweet rewards produced by the warm summer weather.


  1. i bet those would be great appetizers made in a mini muffin tin :)