Tag Archives: basil

Baked Mozzarella Sticks with Butternut Squash Marinara

String Cheese for G-Strings

The weather’s getting warmer and you want to fill your tummy without working on that muffin top.  If stripper aerobics classes don’t put the sparkle in your crystal heels, you might want to shave off some calories another way.

When I first saw the shockingly seductive pics of baked treats using wonton and eggroll wrappers on Pinterest, I was skeptical.  Could some cooking spray and a quick trip in the oven beget lacy, crunchy appetizer happiness?  I ran the first test on my classic crab rangoon recipe and was literally floored – each light and crispy bite was greaseless and guilt-free.  Plus, my kitchen wasn’t covered with a sheen of oil from manning a deep fryer. Continue reading Baked Mozzarella Sticks with Butternut Squash Marinara

Strawberry and Goat Cheese Crostini with Chocolate Olive Oil

Let Me Take You Down, Cuz I’m Going to…

Today I want to talk about straddling in the kitchen.  You know, working the line between flavors, textures and temperatures to your own advantage.  Juxtaposing ingredients to ensure that every bite is both sassy and class.  It’s similar to the way that a chocolate-covered pretzel or a good and salty margarita scratch some primordial itch that occasionally pops up and leaves you clawing the walls for the smallest taste of the intoxicating combination.  And if you don’t scratch said itch, you feel a need to indiscriminately throat chop everyone around you, until someone plies your greedy mouth with a salted caramel cupcake.  I totally approve – desperate times call for desperate throat chops, and I’d kill a man for salted caramel. Continue reading Strawberry and Goat Cheese Crostini with Chocolate Olive Oil

Potato Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Recipe for The Daring Kitchen
When I first learned about The Daring Kitchen, I was excited to join a group that would provide me with monthly culinary inspiration. This month’s assignment (and my very first with TDK) was created by Steph from Stephfood, our Daring Cooks’ July hostess. Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine. She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with! Steph also encouraged us to make noodles that celebrated our culinary heritage. See Full Gnocchi Feast Menu

Authentic-tasting gnocchi are a tall order, but inspired by the charm and panache of the Franks (Falcinelli and Castronovo) of Frankie’s Sputino in Brooklyn, everyone is an expert Italian chef. Although this recipe was a part of my goal to make four gnocchi dishes for The Daring Kitchen, the preparation of the dish proved hardly a challenge. And not because the fickle gnocchi gods* were smiling at me that day, but rather that this recipe must be the master recipe for the most perfect gnocchi. In the amount of time that it took me to boil a pot of water and futz around with a marinara sauce, I had a dough that was pliant, smooth and gorgeous. A little effortless rolling and cutting resulted in photo-ready dumplings. And a quick trip into a jacuzzi of water yielded gnocchi that tasted of heaven. Where were the Franks grandmas so that I could kiss them on both cheeks and throw my hands up in the air? Continue reading Potato Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Grilled Corn with Herb Butter

Get Yer Char On

I have a wacky allergy to corn silk, but it doesn’t keep me from tucking into corn on the cob in the summertime. We always had ears of sweet, white corn boiled to perfection and perked up by sugar, salt and creamy butter. But a while back, when I was introduced to the joys of grilling corn instead of boiling it, I was an instant convert.  No need to steam up the house and the added loveliness of smoky char with the sweet corn goodness.  It was brilliant through and through.

On days that I’m not thinking ahead to grilling corn for the evening, I have my trick of getting around the usual 30 minutes of soaking in salt water and another 25 minutes grilling the corn.  I’ve got into the habit of microwaving the corn in the husk to pre-steam it before grilling, cutting the entire cooking time down to a meager 20 minutes tops.  You top the whole thing off with a delicious compound butter made of fresh basil, chives and parsley.  It’s one of those tricks for the arsenal when a bland barbecue chicken breast or ho hum hot dog is in your grilling future.  This life is too short to be bored with boiled corn.


Grilled Corn with Herb Butter

6 ears of corn
1 stick of butter
3/4 tsp. of salt
1/8 tsp. of paprika
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1/3 c. of basil leaves
1/8 c. of chopped chives
1/4 c. of parsley leaves

Begin by making your herb butter.  Put the salt, paprika, black pepper, basil and parsley in the food processor.  Chop finely and then add the butter and chives.  Blend to combine and then scrape out of the food processor with a spatula.  Chill.

Carefully pull back the husks, leaving the ends still attached.  Remove the silk and discard.  Put the husks back over the corn.  Place a wet paper towel in the microwave and top with two ears of corn.  Microwave for 2 minutes, turn over, and cook for another two minutes.  Set aside.  Repeat with the other ears of corn.

Heat your grill on high and place the ears of corn on top.  Grill for about 6-7 minutes per side, or until the husks char and the corn gets some gorgeous grill marks.  Let cool for a moment and then pull back the husks.  Slather the ears of corn with the herb butter and serve.

Spicy Bucatini with Wild Boar Meatballs

Meatballs have been getting a lot of play lately.  From the incessant features on the Meatball Shop in NYC, to the meatball entrepreneur Joey on America’s Next Great Restaurant and his “Saucy Balls,” it’s as if ballmania has struck and there isn’t an end in site.  For me, though, meatballs have always played a part in my collective food memory.  Although I never got to know my Sicilian side of the family in person, their customs and traditions were passed down to me through my grandmother and mother.  Making a sauce, or gravy as it’s truly called, involved frying off scores of homemade meatballs, and I’d stand close by for the chance to snag a taste.  Apparently the tradition of searing all of the meatballs but one, and then cooking the last one through to give to someone you love came from my grandmother long before I learned it from my mother.  I like to think of my mom as a kid, indulging in the perfectly seasoned and seared meatball as the most loving of gifts in that it was rooted in tradition.  No kids of my own, I have been known to carry on the tradition with my husband – he himself grew up in a part-Sicilian household as well, and where my fam was doling out tastes of meatballs, his was doing the same thing with his mother’s expertly cooked chicken cutlets.  It’s only fitting that we’re together and I can carry on a legacy of culinary “sharing means caring” traditions.

For those in the know, the secret to a good meatball is a good crust on the outside and a tender, juicy center.  Although I’ll still sear off a meatball or two in a pan with olive oil, I’ve since converted to the baked meatball camp.  You still get the lovely outer crust and it’s a whole hell of a lot less messy since you don’t have to tend to these over a greasy stove top.  Because these babies were a part of my dinner party, the Feast of the Seven Boars, I used a combination of traditional ground beef and the less traditional but gloriously flavorful, wild boar.  If you can’t get your hands on any boar, feel free to substitute ground pork or veal.  Depending on how much time you have, you can simmer these the normal way on the stove in a lovely bath of San Marzano tomatoes OR you can take your sweet time and allow them to bubble away in a crock pot for a few hours OR you can be impatient and cook them in a pressure cooker for a mere 20 minutes.  Any way you cook them, you’ll be treated to a perfectly tender treat meant to be served atop a delicious mess of pasta – maybe some bucatini with a heavy dose of crushed red pepper.  Or you could just eat them straight away and skip the pasta.  It is tradition, you know.

Recipe for

Spicy Bucatini with Wild Boar Meatballs

Ingredients
3 lbs. of ground wild boar (or pork or veal)
1 lb. of ground beef
1/2 an onion, finely minced
6 cl. of garlic, finely chopped
1 c. of grated locatelli
1/2 c. of chopped parsley
1 c. of bread crumbs
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
1 tbs. of crushed oregano

1/2 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
3 large cans of whole san marzano tomatoes
1/2 c. of chicken stock
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
salt to taste
handful of torn basil leaves
1 tbs. of olive oil
1 tbs. of butter
1 lb. of bucatini, perciatelli or similar long pasta

Preheat oven to 450°.  In a large bowl or a standing mixer, blend the meat, onion, garlic, parsley, eggs, crumbs, salt, pepper and oregano until thoroughly mixed.  Wet hands and form 1/4 c. of the meat mixture into round balls.  Place on a foil lined cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

In a large pot, add the tomatoes and crush gently with a spoon.  Add the garlic, chicken stock and salt and stir.  Add the meatballs and allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes – longer if you can stand it.  When the meatballs are just about finished, cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Toss with a cup or two of the meatball sauce, olive oil and butter.  Toss the basil leaves in the hot pasta to wilt and top with some of the meatballs.  Serve with grated cheese and extra crushed red pepper.

Basil Ice Cream (Basil Gelato)

I feel like we all need more awe-inspiring, eyes of wonder moments in our lives.  Moments when, on a total leap of faith, our handiwork comes together in majestic ways.  I have to say that, for me, making ice cream for the first time was a blissful moment of awe.  I trusted that my uber-creamy, eggy base would taste good.  I trusted that I had left my ice cream maker attachment in the freezer long enough.  I even trusted that I made the right decision to simply get a KitchenAid mixer attachment rather than a CuisineArt ICE50BS Supreme Ice Cream Maker for a whopping $200+ dollars, as per David Lebovitz.  A little pricey, mister.  And my KitchenAid attachment has yet to fail me.  Case in point, my recipe for Strawberry Frozen Yogurt was a KILLER – so good that I can’t post it yet because my darling husband ate every last bit of it before I could snap a picture.  In the words of Ron Burgundy, “How’d you do that? I’m not even mad…that’s amazing.”

Basil Gelato © Spice or Die

I decided to make a batch of basil ice cream because I am a fan of not only the glory of the celebration of the sweetness of basil, but mainly because of the polarizing nature of this dessert.  It’s a love it or hate it kind of thing.  Maybe for the folks that try it and hate it (my best friend Kate’s mom, Dennis eating Strawberry Fro-Yo and leaving all of this behind in the freezer), they’d need to give it a few chances.  It’s different, yes.  But it is so so very good. Eyes of wonder good.

I first tasted basil ice cream at a special birthday dinner with my mom – I decided to take her to Tosca in DC for her celebration, just the two of us.  She had fallen in love with the place after we took my sister there for her graduation celebration.  The place is gorgeous – uber-minimalist and luxe, bringing your focus directly to the food.  My mom is an August baby, so when we went, they were serving a special tomato menu, celebrating the glorious heirlooms available during that small window of time in the summer that you feast like a king, nay, a tomato demi-god.  So what do they close the meal with?  A sweet tomato tart with basil gelato.  Go through the mental checklist with me: tomatoes and basil go together? Check.  Tomatoes can be sweet? Check. Basil can be sweet? Check.  It was a go on all counts.  And kids, the final result was one etched in my brain on the short list of tastes I’ll never, ever forget.  I swoon just remembering that very first bite.

It was inevitable that I’d make it for myself someday, and once again inevitable that I’d share it with you.  Definitely tuck into this with the tomato tart as well, if you want the full experience, but know that this is a treat all by itself.

Basil Ice Cream (Basil Gelato)

3 c. of basil leaves
2 c. of heavy cream
2 c. of whole milk
1 c. of sugar
2 vanilla beans
1 pinch of kosher salt
12 egg yolks

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  While the water comes to a boil, take a large bowl and fill with cold water and 6-8 ice cubes.  Plunk the basil leaves into the boiling water and stir for about a minute and then drain and place into the ice bath to shock the leaves.  Let them hang out in the ice water for a bit while you prep the creamy good stuff.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the milk, heavy cream, sugar, and kosher salt.  Using a paring knife, carefully split the vanilla beans in half and scrape the black pasty goodness in the middle of the bean into the cream.  Add the whole beans to the milk as well once they’ve been scraped.  Bring the mixture to a slow simmer, making sure not to let it boil.  Once simmering, continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.

Drain the basil leaves and add to a blender along with a cup of the hot cream mixture, making sure not to include any of the vanilla bean pods.  Place the lid on the blender and a towel over the lid to prevent a hot, sticky splatter from the blended cream.  Blend on high until smooth and then strain mixture back into the rest of the cream using a fine strainer or chinois.

Set up a double boiler – you want a metal bowl for the top that fits over a pot on the bottom.  You want to add enough water to the bottom so that it will easily boil without touching the bottom of the top pot.  Wikipedia has a diagram of it that hilariously looks like it was drawn in MS Paint, but gets the point across.

While the bottom pot of the double boiler is coming to a boil, work off the heat and take your top pot and separate 12 egg yolks into the bowl.  Beat until pale golden and smooth and then slowly add a cup of the hot cream, whisking the entire time to keep the mixture smooth and prevent the egg from scrambling.  Set the pot over the now boiling water and continuously whisk in the rest of the cream.  Discard the vanilla pods, or clean them off and reuse them to flavor sugar or coffee – Marx Foods actually has a huge list of suggestions of what to do with the pods.  Keep on whisking until the mixture thickens and the ice cream base can coat the back of a spoon.  Turn off the heat.  Strain the mixture into a large bowl and let the base cool in the fridge.

Once cooled, pour the ice cream base into your ice cream maker and follow your manufacturer’s instructions.  When finished, remove to a tupperware and freeze for a little bit to allow the ice cream to solidify a bit more.  Serve to people with curious palettes looking to try a little something special.

Chicken Paillard with Arugula

Poundin’ It Out

This recipe is a playful take on the humdrum grilled chicken salad.  Rather than constructing the plate as a salad topped with pannéed chicken breast, arugula and sun-ripe tomatoes are piled atop the protein.  The result is lovely and delicious, and the whole flip it around, “Alice in Wonderland” appeal is an approach that we should all take on a wider scale.  God forbid we ever get boring or bored or both.

Chicken Paillard with Arugula © Spice or Die

The dressing for the arugula is basically an Italian pico de gallo salsa – you macerate the tomatoes with garlic, olive oil and vinegar to form a fresh, bright sauce.  If you feel like taking this recipe even further, you can tuck slices of buffalo mozzarella between the chicken breasts for a lovely chicken caprese salad.  It’s the kind of dinner that will make you rue the day you settled for a boring salad. Continue reading Chicken Paillard with Arugula

Basil Fried Rice

Where I live in NYC, we don’t readily have Thai delivery.  Not a huge deal to go out and get Thai food, except for the fact that it’s usually way more expensive than it needs to be and entirely too fancified.  When I was in Arlington, we had some exemplary Thai restaurants, a few of them specializing in homestyle thai that I cannot even find here.  I’m sure it exists – it’s just that it’s such a trial and error process, I rarely want to waste my dough on a new place.

Basil Fried Rice © Spice or Die

My favorite dishes made with a homecooked sensibility (best made in VA at the Thai Square, with a close runner up of Rabieng) all include a heavy dose of chilies and basil.  In an effort to quell my jonesing for home, I started making a few of these dishes for myself with excellent results.  Mostly because I could gauge the freshness of the ingredients and make massive quantities for friends and family at half the price of restaurant dining.  I really don’t mind spending money, but the food quality and difficulty in preparation has to be commensurate to the price.  I can guarantee you that the folks at Thai Square aren’t using caviar and foie gras in their krapow – just good flask steak and fresh veggies.  So why would I pay twice the amount here in NYC for old beef and overcooked veggies?  Forget it.

This incredibly simple fried rice is versatile, and the combination of garlic, chilies and fragrant basil is a lovely alternative to the usual fried rice.  I quite often make it with lean, white meat chicken, but my absolute favorite is to fold in lump blue crab in the last few minutes of cooking.  Try it sometime as a lovely alternative to Chinese takeout.  It suits your taste buds a whole lot more.

Basil Fried Rice

3 c. of cooked jasmine rice, cooled
1 c. of raw chicken, pork, shrimp, or lump crabmeat
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1/4 tsp. of ground ginger
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 c. of thai basil leaves, loosely packed
1/2 of a green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1/2 of a red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1/2 of a small red onion, sliced into thin strips
1 1/2 tbs. of fish sauce
2 tbs. of oyster sauce
1/4 c. of vegetable oil
1 tsp. of crushed thai red chilies
1 thai bird chili, sliced into rings (optional)
6 cl. of garlic, finely chopped
lime wedges (garnish)
cilantro leaves (garnish)

Season rice with the salt, pepper, ginger and scallions.  Stir and set aside.  Heat oil in a wok or large skillet until smoking.  Toss in your protein (unless you are using crab meat or raw shrimp – then you should skip to the next step).  Stir for about a minute and then toss in basil leaves, bell peppers, red onion, chilies and garlic.  Stir for a minute and then add the fish sauce and oyster sauce.  If you are using shrimp, add it now.  Stir to combine and then add the rice.  Keep on stiring until all ingredients are incorporated and rice starts to crisp up a bit on the bottom of the wok, about 2-3 minutes.  If you are using crab meat, add it in the last one minute of cooking.  Serve immediately.  Before eating, squeeze a wedge of lime over the rice and toss some cilantro leaves over the top.

Tomato Bruschetta

I’m hoping that by posting this recipe, I’ll be making my sister Lexi really, really, really inspired to start making this for herself.  It’s her favorite – probably in the top five things that I make that she loves the most.  And accomplished chef and baker she may be, she always cons me into making it for her.  Maybe it’s like how I feel about a good grilled cheese – I can make it for myself, but it tastes so much better when someone else makes one for me.  Come to think of it, Lexi makes my favorite grilled cheese of all time – Tilamook cheddar, feta cheese and a tomato on slices from a pullman loaf.  Maybe we were meant to be sisters.

Tomato Bruschetta © Spice or Die

There are very few ingredients in this bruschetta, so you have to use the best ingredients possible.  Fresh ripe tomatoes, leafy basil and fruity olive oil make all the difference.  This topper is killer on toasted ciabatta, baguette rounds brushed with olive oil and baked, or even focaccia.  If carbs aren’t your thing, try it atop chicken paillard (or a simply grilled chicken cutlet) and a handful of arugula.  It’s a bistro meal without a ton of calories.  You can also toss this bruschetta with boiled, cooled potatoes and blanched string beans for my absolute favorite salad of all time (similar to my Potatoes Vinaigrette).

Tomato Bruschetta © Spice or Die

This bruschetta doubles and triples easily – make enough for friends, but not enough for leftovers.  It’s best eaten the same day before the tomatoes become soggy and too acidic.  It’s a carpe diem kind of recipe, so tuck in post haste.

Tomato Bruschetta

2 c. of chopped tomatoes
1 shallot, finely diced
3/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
5 tbs. of olive oil
2 tbs. of red wine vinegar
7 leaves of fresh basil, stacked, rolled and thinly sliced
toasted bread or crostini

Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, shallot and basil to a bowl.  Toss with olive oil and vinegar.  Taste for seasoning.  Top crusty slices of bread with a few tablespoons of bruschetta and serve with sprigs of basil for garnish.  Or put out the bread and bruschetta and let people assemble for themselves.  For non-vegans, you can serve bruschetta topped with slices of buffala mozzarella as an added treat.

Lima Bean Bruschetta

Luscious Lima Action

This recipe was born of a 100% “oh, crap” moment – I was cooking dinner for myself when I found out that a few good friends were on the way over to share a drink.  My Brazilian/Italian roots are firmly planted in perennial hospitality – if people come over and you’re eating, you absolutely share what you’ve got, small though it may be.  There’s a Brazilian song that says that the more people that come over, the more water you add to your beans to thin them out.  All are welcome.

Lima Bean Bruschetta © Spice or Die

My dinner for one was barely enough to share with 4 hungry ladies, so I found myself rummaging through the freezer and pantry for items to whip into something special.  In a moment of divine inspiration, I threw leftover lima beans, parsley, and lemon into the food processor and blitzed away.  The result, similar to what Cesar Cardini must have felt when he turned lowly anchovies, garlic, eggs and oil into caesar dressing, was majesty.

This recipe is similar to a popular crostini topping that I used to eat all the time in Orvieto – there it was made from fava beans (or broad beans) and drizzled with fruity, golden olive oil.  The lima beans are great because they’re easy to pull out of the freezer in a pinch, and cheaper than fava beans.  That being said, if you see fresh fava beans at the market, grab them and try them as a replacement for the limas – they are so lovely.  I like this bruschetta plain, but for a bit of decadence, you can crumble a bit of ricotta salata over the top for some added salty goodness.  Lowly limas never had it so good.

This recipe is hard to make smooth without a food processor, but you can certainly do it with a mortar and pestle (or a mocajete).  Just make sure to chop your herbs first, and then stage the ingredients in the same order as listed for the food processor in the instructions below.

Lima Bean Bruschetta

10 oz. of frozen lima beans
1 c. of water

1 tbs. of lemon juice, freshly-squeezed
2 tbs. of red wine vinegar
1/3 c. of olive oil
2 – 4 cl. of garlic
4 leaves of basil
5 sprigs of parsley, leaves removed and stems discarded (save stems for stock)
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of crushed red pepper

Put the lima beans and water in a pot and cook until tender, about 6-7 minutes.  Drain and rinse with water to cool.

To your food processor, add your garlic, basil, parsley, salt and red pepper.  Pulse until chopped finely.  Add the vinegar, lemon and olive oil.  Pulse until smooth.  Remove to a tupperware and chill.  Serve spread on grilled bread or crackers and drizzled with good olive oil.