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I made this pesto for my daughter and her vegan friend. My daughter often is not fond of pesto because of the strong basil taste. This recipe incorporates spinach, which makes the flavor much more mild and eliminates the need for a side salad or veggie. I had mine with macerated tomatoes on the side (diced tomatoes, minced garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, chopped basil and Italian parsley– combine and let sit for an hour or more).

Pesto
In a food processor, combine (amounts are approximate– adjust for your taste– I added a little extra basil when I made it again for myself):

1 (packed) cup basil leaves, rinsed
2 (packed) cups baby spinach, large stems removed if you’re ambitious, rinsed (don’t worry about residual water)
3 cloves of garlic
1 t sea salt
1/3 cup lightly toasted pine nuts, cooled
1/3 cup raw walnuts (adjust nuts to your taste– I like a lot. The walnuts add good protein)
Olive oil until the pesto is combined and soft– approx 1/3-1/2 cup. I like a lot of olive oil– it makes the pesto creamy and soft.
If you like, add a couple 1″ cubes of Reggiano cheese.
Blend until creamy. Combine with cooked pasta– something that hold the pesto well. Serve with macerated tomatoes and red wine (water for the kiddies).

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How to get my daughter to eat her greens… I’m getting desperate. I don’t like to eat much wheat, so I no longer make pasta very often. She loves it, however [really, who doesn’t], and if i throw the green stuff in there she’ll happily consume it. Well maybe not totally happily, but…

I found some gluten- free pasta. Usually this means corn, which I pretty much never eat since it’s hard on my blood sugar, but I found some in the refrigerator at New Seasons under the brand name “Cucina Fresca” and it’s main ingredient was garbanzo bean flour — a good source of protein. It cooks fast — like in under three minutes, so I started the spinach first.

Actually, I browned a chicken apple sausage for her in a pan first. When I removed it I added a little olive oil and sauteed the spinach. I added the spinach about the same time I added the pasta to the boiling, salted water. When the spinach was done I added grated Reggiano, sea salt, pepper, a grating of nutmeg, and about 2 T of cream. I had started with about 4 cups of spinach, just to give you an idea for the amount of cream that was added. It was just enough to meld with the cheese and give the dish a slightly creamy texture. I drained the pasta and added it to the spinach, then threw it on her plate where once sat the chicken sausage. I threw in a few red chile flakes to mine. Fast and really good.

The pasta was really pretty good. It had that slightly grainy texture that non-wheat pasta has, but not nearly as gross as the brown rice pasta, which I consider a complete waste of time, money, and calories.

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don’t make this; it takes too long and makes too many dirty dishes.
but if you’re hell- bent…

PASTA

i wanted to use saffron in the pasta, but the saffron i had was kind of old and didn’t really soften properly. i still used the water and it gave it a little tint of color.

you can make the pasta in a food processor, or by hand. i use my cuisinart; it’s just so easy. put 2 cups of flour in the bowl and a little salt. you can also add herbs and spices,
i used some black pepper, smoked salt, and a little chile powder. combine the dry ingredients, then add 2 beaten eggs. pulse to combine.  i find that the regular blade works better than the dough blade, which leaves the dry ingredients around the edge. add about 2 T of water, a little at a time, until the dough comes together. add a little more if necessary. the relative humidity in the air and moisture in the flour are variables. it should be firm and smooth, but not sticky or soggy. run the food processor for a minute after the dough forms a ball. take out dough and knead until its smooth.
put in a sealed container, bowl, or plastic bag and let it rest.

FILLING

i sauteed four cloves of pressed garlic and one large shallot. you can make the ratio of greens to garlic and shallots whatever is to your taste. add about 4 cups of finely chopped greens. i used a mix of turnip, collard, and mustard greens. remove the stems and ribs before you chop. saute until the greens are quite soft .

let the greens cool slightly. season with salt and pepper and some freshly ground nutmeg. add some chopped chicken or turkey [or whatever you like… italian sausage?]. beat one egg and put about half into the greens and reserve the other half for sealing the ravioli. add about 1 teaspoon of flour.

divide the dough into about 6 pieces, and roll out into thin strips; i ended on the “5”.
if your dough is a little soft at this point, dust with a little flour so it will not tear or stick going through the pasta roller. you can also roll it by hand if you’re a sadist. try to pair the strips to those that are similar to one another. brush the egg wash along the edges, and where you will be sealing and cutting between each ravioli. make small spoons full of the filling in the areas you have indicated with the egg wash. add a few chunks of stilton cheese. you can also add bacon, pancetta, whatever you like. carefully place the matched sheet of pasta over the one with the filling on it, pushing out the air as you go. i’m really not so good at this part. take your pasta cutter or a knife and cut around pasta to shape ravioli.

to make the croutons, slice a stale piece of baguette into matchsticks. toss in a pan with olive oil and toast in a pan until dry and crunchy. salt lightly.

boil the ravioli in salted water for a few minutes, until the center is cooked. if you have trapped air in the ravioli, hold them down in the water with a slotted spoon, or stab them gently with a knife after a minute and push the air out against the side of the pan.

i served ravioli in broth with the croutons, chopped italian flat- leaf parsley and some chopped green, ripe olives.

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this is how i make pasta any day of the week. it’s not a recipe as much as a technique, and you can use vegetables and meat you have no other plans for. it’s also one of the only ways i can get flora to eat vegetables, she will like one veggie one day, and hate it the next. i can get her to eat just about anything with reggiano on it. this pasta is one of those meals that you don’t have to shop for, just use what you have.

penne is the pasta staple in our house; it holds up to anything, unlike more dainty pasta which can easily become overcooked when you’re cooking very casually as i tend to do. put a large pot of water on for the pasta. you want to salt the water, but not until it’s boiling, or it can create pits in the pan. the boiling of the water and cooking of the pasta takes longer than preparing the other ingredients, so start the pasta ahead of time. you can even cook the pasta, drain, add a bit of olive oil, toss, and replace the lid. put it back on the warm burner, turned off; it will remain warm for awhile.

separate your ingredients into those that have similar cooking times, the slowest to fastest. i’m using broccoli, scallions, dark kale [sliced into 1/2″ ribbons, tough parts -but not all of-  the stems removed], roasted red pepper [see technique below], and leftover chicken, cut into small chunks. other favorites include broccoli rabe [rapini], beet greens, fresh peas, roasted tomatoes, roasted winter squash, and ricotta salata cheese. really, the list is endless…

heat a saute skillet, then add some olive oil. you should always heat the skillet a bit before adding fat, it keeps things from sticking. add the most hearty vegetables, those that will need some time to cook: broccoli, pearl onions, cloves of garlic… let them brown slightly, then add about 1/4 of water or stock, put the lid on, and steam for a few minutes until the vegetables are partially cooked [they are still going to cook on the heat, if they are fully cooked by now they will turn mushy by the end]. remove lid and let water evaporate. add a bit more olive oil and add the next vegetable that needs the most time to cook, from the remaining veggies. in this case, i added scallions, chopped in 1″ size pieces, white and green parts. saute for a minute, then add your next ingredient until you have everything combined. i added the chicken [already cooked…
if using uncooked chicken, brown in the pan with the broccoli at the beginning], strips of kale, and the roasted red pepper, cut into strips.

add about 1/2 cup of white wine or stock, and scrape the bits of brown from the bottom of the pan.; it’s a lazy deglazing. add a couple tablespoons of butter and toss until all the ingredients are combined and the butter is melted [you could add more olive oil instead of butter].

season the vegetables and toss with the pasta.

there are lots of options at this point; you can toss in [or serve on top after plated] toasted bread crumbs, grated cheese, red chili flakes, walnuts or pine nuts, cooked bacon, fresh tomatoes, chopped parsley, or chopped herbs like basil or thyme. i served it with chopped italian late leaf parsley and parmaigano reggiano grated with a serrated knife. i like the uneven texture it creates. you can also use a potato peeler to make strips, or grate.

a grind of pepper and eat.

to roast a red pepper, place pepper on top of the burner grate over a flame, right on the electric coil on your stove, or under a broiler. allow the pepper to char, then turn. keep turning until most of the pepper is black. don’t walk away, if the skin chars and continues to burn, it will catch fire for a few seconds. use tongs to turn the peppers.

when the pepper is done, you need to put it in a closed container to steam [and cool].
a glass microwave container with a top is good, a brown bag works well, or a plastic bag. i try not to use plastic bags, but when it comes time to peel the charred skin off the pepper, you can just push the pepper around in the plastic bag to remove the skin without getting your hands messy. if using aother container, remove the pepper and peel away the skin. get off as much of the blackened skin as you like. i don’t rinse them; i like a bit of the charred skin remaining. cut around stem, pull out top and core, and remove seeds and ribs.

this technique can be used for chiles as well, for stuffing or making chile rellenos.

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