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Basilicious! Fresh Pesto and Sundried-Tomato, Olive Tapenade… Now and Later!

Basil from my garden in early September

Basil from my garden in early September!

Pesto cubes.

Pesto cubes.

One of my favorite herbs to grow each year is BASIL! I just love it… the scent and flavor is so distinctive and comforting. When I have a good crop ready in early September, I look forward to making a nice big batch of pesto! The wonderful thing about pesto, is that it stores fresh in the fridge for a decent amount of time (perhaps a week or two with a film of olive oil over the top), but that it’s also very convenient to make extra and freeze it for the off-season. I use spare ice cube trays, as I think that it’s very easy to store this way, and grabbing a cube or two is a perfect serving size to add to marinara or even to cream cheese to make a spread. I use it to make a simple dressing or marinade for pork or chicken by adding balsamic vinegar.

If you search, you will find many recipes for pesto, with the ingredients remaining more or less constant, and the proportions of each changing slightly for different tastes and preferences. This is how I make mine, but by all means, feel free to adjust to your liking! I changed it up just a little this year… I usually use only pine nuts, but this time I also added some walnuts to make up for not having as many pine nuts as I would have liked. Different olive oils will result in stronger or milder flavors, and it will depend, as well, on the strength of your garlic! While I used Parmesan cheese, you could also use some asiago, romano or a hard Swiss for variety.

Tapenade with cream cheese on Rosemary Focaccia bread.

Tapenade with cream cheese on Rosemary Focaccia bread.

 

This year I also made a tapenade with one batch of the pesto. I had some lovely sun-dried tomatoes to add, and then my creativity kicked in and I added a few more ingredients that resulted in a delicious concoction! If you don’t make your pesto from scratch, you can still buy pesto at the store and then “enhance” it with the remaining ingredients to have something really special. We enjoyed it with some cream cheese and Rosemary Focaccia bread by Dr. Davis, author of Wheat Belly. It was an amazing treat!

Just starting my next batch of pesto! You can see the previous batch as well as a bowl of grated Parmesan.

Just starting my next batch of pesto! You can see the previous batch (upper left) as well as a bowl of grated Parmesan.

Basil Pesto

  • 4C fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic (or to taste)
  • !/4C pine nuts
  • 1/4 C walnuts
  • 1C good olive oil
  • 2/3C finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Either finely dice the garlic by hand, or pulse in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Add basil a bit at a time, and process until finely chopped.
  3. Add nuts and process.
  4. Add oil a little at a time, allowing the basil mixture to incorporate the oil before adding more.
  5. Add grates cheese and process to combine.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pesto in an ice cube tray for freezing.

Pesto in an ice cube tray for freezing.

 

When storing pesto in the refrigerator, I prefer a glass jar, and will pour a thin film of olive oil over the surface of the pesto to prevent air from getting in and oxidizing it, causing it darken in color. It can also be frozen in ice cube trays and then stored in ziploc bags to use in the off-season.

 

Sun-dried Tomato, Olive Tapenade with Capers

  • Tapenade

    Tapenade

    1 batch of Basil Pesto (above recipe)

  • 1 can black olives, drained and chopped medium-fine
  • 1/4C diced green olives
  • 1/2 C sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced
  • 4 Tb capers
  • olive oil as needed to make a spread
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Combine first four ingredients.
  2. Add olive oil by the tablespoon to get the tapenade to a spreading consistency.
  3. Season as desired.

Serve as is, or combine with cream cheese to make a savory cheese spread. Tapenade can also be stored the same way as pesto, both in the refrigerator and the freezer. 

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Sundried Tomato Basil Crackers with Almond Flour

Sundried Tomato Basil Almond Flour Crackers.

We haven’t had almond flour crackers in a while, so today I was thinking that I wanted to experiment with a different flavor combination. What came to mind was sundried tomato and basil, which is a classic pairing that we used to enjoy when we made home made bread (I know, I know… banish the thought!) The result was delicious! I also included homemade gomasio (sesame salt), since I just made a batch earlier today. This is a slightly chewier cracker than the ones I have done before that include shredded cheese, but very tasty and satisfying. They are super simple to make, I hope you enjoy!

Combine all ingredients in food processor.

 

Place dough between sheets of parchment, and roll out to 1/8″ thick

Cut into shapes, sprinkle with gomasio and bake per recipe instructions.

Remove from oven and cool on wire rack. Don’t they look yummy?!

Sundried Tomato Basil Almond Flour Crackers

  • 1 C almond flour
  • 1 Tb olive oil (or coconut oil)
  • 2 Tb water
  • 1/4 C sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp gomasio (or 1/4-1/2 tsp salt to taste)
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  1. Heat oven to 325.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and combine until the mixture comes together.
  3. Form dough into a ball and flatten between 2 sheets of baking parchment.
  4. Using a rolling pin, roll dough evenly until about 1/8″ thick.
  5. Leaving the dough on the parchment, smooth out the jagged edges, and cut the crackers into squares or rectangles, whichever you prefer. (If desired, sprinkle with more gomasio before baking.)
  6. Gently separate crackers, keeping them on the bottom parchment, and bake for about 6 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven, carefully turn each cracker over, and put back in oven for an additional 4-6 minutes. Watch crackers carefully, as almond flour can burn easily.
  8. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Serve with cheese or toppings of your choice. We used extra sharp white cheddar today.

 

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Socca Saga! Or Chickenpea Flat Bread Pizza Crust (tried and tried again…)

Socca pizza is new to me, but I think I may be on the tail-end of this trend, as I found numerous recipes and blog entries about this flatbread style pizza made from chickpea flour. The quest for socca actually started out as a quest for a good grain free pizza crust recipe using garbanzo bean flour, as I scored a nice bag of organic at a local bulk store, and was interested in using it in recipes. Chickpea flour is one of the healthier alternatives on my flour chart, because it is low in net carbs and has a decent amount of fiber and protein.

This is the “flopped” version. Still delicious!

The concept of this crust is pretty simple, but it took me a couple tries to get a pan that cooperated with my intentions 😉 The recipes that I found all called for a cast iron skillet, but the only cast iron one I have is enameled, and unfortunately it didn’t work the way I had hoped. The flatbread wouldn’t come loose from the bottom to be flipped, so I ended up broiling it for a couple minutes to get the top set before adding toppings and baking it. It turned out more like a pizza casserole, but my son was totally thrilled with it, and thought it tasted like lasagna!

 

 

The next attempt was MUCH better (at least in terms of making a flippable crust), as I used a stainless steel Cuisinart skillet that I have had for ages (it is really heavy and beautiful); it was a garage sale score for just a few dollars! I have been very lucky to combine retail purchases with amazing finds at thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets to help outfit my kitchen with the essentials (and NON essentials as well!)

 

Basil fresh from the garden

Basil and Mozzarella

For toppings, use whatever you wish that fits into your dietary plan. I love tomato sauce, but am careful to choose those that are low in carbs. Organicville Gluten Free tomato basil sauce has only 6g of  carbs per serving, while many others are well into the teens… so be sure to read labels! I love garden fresh basil on pizza, so I combined chopped basil with the mozzarella cheese to be sure the flavor was infused into every bite!

 

Tomatoes on my half!

Socca Pizza Crust (Chickpea)

  • 2/3 C chickpea flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 C cold water
  • 1 Tb olive or coconut oil
  • optional: add seasonings such as garlic powder, cracked pepper and dried herbs
  1. Mix all ingredients together and let sit for 30 minutes, then whisk in the oil. The batter will be relatively thin.
  2. Batter

    Heat skillet over medium/high and grease well with oil (I used coconut oil.)

  3. While skillet is heating, also preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Gently pour the batter into the pan in a round shape, smoothing out if needed. It’s best to do this quickly, as the batter will begin to cook as soon as it hits the heated surface.
  5. As the edges start to get set, I worked a sharp spatula underneath to keep it from becoming too stuck. When the edges are browned and it seems set (a few minutes), carefully flip. I used two spatulas to make this easier.
  6. You can bake on the same pan if it is oven proof, or transfer to another baking sheet. Add whatever toppings you desire and bake until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Delicious with crispy edges!

 

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Caprese, So Easy!

Fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, herbs and olive oil, tastes and smells just like summer!

 

It’s mid-May and Michigan is just gorgeous! Sunny weekend coming up with temps in the 70’s and 80’s, I feel so fortunate! We had an early spring that stayed moderate, with enough moisture, which should be good for all the growing things. Especially gardens… I get so excited for the vegetable garden to start producing, and I am especially looking forward to the tomatoes and basil!

While none of this is from my chunk of land (yet!) it still smells and tastes like summer, and is a delicious and easy side dish that goes well with all sorts of lighter meals.This recipe serves 3, but you can tweak it for more or less, this is just a guideline. The herb paste I used was refrigerated and in a tube; it was a combination of basil, parsley and oregano. (If you have fresh basil, layer the basil leaves in between the tomato and cheese, and drizzle with olive oil.) Cilantro would also yield a very fresh flavor maybe with a squeeze of lime, for a different spin. Mmmmmm, love fresh herbs!

Insalata Caprese (“Capri style salad“) is a very simple salad which is said to come from the Campagnia region of Italy. Ideally, every ingredient would be local and freshly harvested, but if you have good quality ingredients, it will still be delicious!

Layer in 3 individual dishes:

  • 9 fresh tomato slices (about 2 tomatoes)
  • 6 slices of fresh mozzarella (8 oz)
  • 2TB herb paste (made fresh or purchased)
    mixed with: 2TB good olive oil to make a pesto
  • 2TB pine nuts (optional)
  • drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction (optional, I did not use it this time)

 

 

 

 

 

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