Basil Fest!

 

 

 

 

Put basil in just about anything and I will try it.  Kinda like bacon.  I think it’s got a place in both sweet and savory dishes from apps to desserts and this time of year I can’t get enough of it.

If you’re lucky, and you’ve been an attentive gardener this summer, right about now your basil is blowing up.  Fortunately for me, my blooming basil timed out with my favorite sous chef (my sister) spending some time in town.  We love spending time in the kitchen together.  And we love preparing big family feasts together.  She had a brilliant idea this go ’round: Basil Fest.  We picked as much as we could from my garden, my parents, and a neighbor and went to town!

basil harvest

I had a bucket full of bright, big, flawless green leaves to work with, so coming up with the menu wasn’t tough.  There were still plenty of fresh, juicy strawberries to be had and tomatoes are just starting to ripen around here.  So those, plus all of our basil harvested, and another neighbor’s fig tree were the inspiration for the menu.

basil fest menu

I started with the lemonade.  I love making home made lemonade!  It’s a few extra steps compared to dumping the powder and mixing it with water of course, but I think the fresh tasting results are worth it.  I used Paula Dean’s recipe for strawberry basil lemonade.   I halved it, since I didn’t have the time or energy to juice a whole bushel full of lemons, and it was easy and fabulous.  Bonus: makes a good mixer for cocktails, too!

strawberry basil lemonad

Next, I moved on to my panzanella.  I like to let mine sit for a while to soak up all the juices and really marinate.  This is where my Cheftovers magic comes into play.  Panzanella is a salad that combines bread (leftover or stale, preferred actually) and fresh veggies.  So I cut a handful of rolls we had left over from the previous weekend’s barbecue into cubes, and toasted them up in a pan.  Voila!  What would have been trash is now an essential component to my colorful salad.

IMG_8176

There are plenty of routes you can take with panzanella depending on your taste and what yo’ve got on hand.  I used fresh tomatoes, yellow and orange peppers, cucumbers, red onion and a ton of BASIL, naturally.  I tossed everything together and dressed it with a simple red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing (seasoned with only salt and pepper).  If they made a panzanella print I would wear it as a dress!  Isn’t it beautiful looking?

panzanella

I took more of those same leftover rolls and used those for the base of my bruschetta.   No surprise, more tomatoes and basil at play here.  But instead of finely chopping the garlic to add to that killer combo, or painstakingly shaving garlic and scraping the freshly cut cloves on to the toasted bread, I decided to finally break in my “brand new” mortar and pestle I scored from cookbook author, Michael Ruhlman’s estate sale.  By using that tool, I created a smooth garlic paste to mix in with the fresh basil (minced) and tomatoes (diced).  Drizzle that with olive oil and pile it on to toasted bread and you’ve got a bright, crunchy bite with a more gentle and evenly distributed garlic flavor that other methods will deliver.

 

Now it was time to move on to the real work-the pasta.  This is where my sister shines.  I have tried, and tried and listened and watched.  But my homemades never seem to turn out the way hers do.  So I let her go to town, making fresh noodles with the help of my 3 year old, a real chef in the making.  The only secret I can share that maybe you won’t find in other recipes: she pours white wine into the shell of the empty egg she uses for the dough and adds it to the mix.  It’s magic.

While those beautiful noodles rested, I made the pesto.  More BASIL! Lots more basil.  Recipe follows.  One trick that will help you keep your pesto that beautiful bright green of the leaves, and not brown from bruising them-add a little ice to the food processor!  And if you don’t keep pine nuts in your pantry (I usually don’t because they’re so expensive but for this dinner we were sticking to tradition) substitute almonds for a cheaper, super food solution.

pasta with pesto

When it was time to cook and toss the pasta in with the pesto, I warmed it up in a large pan, and loosened it up with some olive oil.  I added grilled chicken for some protein, but shrimp is nice with pesto too.  And be sure to sprinkle your pesto generously with some Parmesan or Romano.  While the pasta was cooking we sliced up the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and more juicy tomatoes then hand picked the prettiest and largest basil leaves left to top off our caprese salad. (BONUS: We learned a new hack from the cheese vendor where we bought the log of buffalo mozzarella-slice it with dental floss for a smooth even cut)

better caprese salad

This is an easy finish after you’ve sliced and stacked the components.  Just drizzle it with the best olive oil you’ve got and then top it with balsamic vinegar, or even better, balsamic glaze for a sweeter touch.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and let the flag of Italy inspired salad sing!

When we plated everything up it made for a stunning tablescape of BASIL centric dishes.  I set a nice table and we feasted on our hard work.

AND-we couldn’t forget dessert! Using a recipe from Fabio Viviani’s new cookbook (Fabio’s 30-Minute Italian) as inspiration, I combined ricotta, honey, mascarpone cheese and put a dollop of that on a freshly picked fig (halved), courtesy my parent’s neighbor.  Drizzle that with more of the balsamic glaze and top it with another perfectly petite basil leaf and you have a sweet and savory finish to Basil Fest.

Now you know there is more where that came from!  Still plenty more of my favorite herb growing in my garden.  So, inspire me!  What are you making with your basil? What should I try? 

Basil Pesto

1/2 c. Pine nuts (pignoli) or almonds
2 c. Loosely packed fresh basil
1 Clove of garlic
1/3 c Parmesan cheese (or Romano)
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt as the cheese is salty already)
1/2 c. Of olive oil

Add the nuts to the food processor first. Blend until they are crumbs.
Add everything else but the oil. Turn on the processor and slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and adjust (you add more of anything you like to find the perfect balance)

 

 

Advertisements

Veggie U Food & Wine Celebration

When the wine is flowing, the food is great, and the cause is even better…it’s hard to say no, right?!  That’s why I’ll be at Veggie U’s Food & Wine Celebration on April 30th.  And you can be too!  Read on to see how to win a pair of tickets to the event, valued at $200.  

You may recall I posted about Veggie U at the beginning of the school year.  They’re an incredible organization, a non-profit dedicated to increasing children’s awareness of healthy food options, and teaching them how real food reaches their plate.

food and wine girl planting

For nine years, Veggie U has been taught in every Cleveland Metropolitan School District Elementary School.  That adds up to more than 40,000 Cleveland students who have “graduated” from Veggie U!  They’ve been encouraged to play in the dirt and learned the importance of good nutrition, as well as how food really reaches their plate.  Here’s the rub: the program costs more than $80,000 to place 180+ gardens in CMSD this year alone—and they are underfunded.

Their upcoming event represents their biggest fundraiser of the year.  And this time around, they’ve got a pretty incredible venue, the 925 Building, formerly The Huntington Bank Building.

food and wine band

 It will feature several food stations, spirits, signature cocktails and live music from The Discovery Band.  A wine pull and silent auction will round off the evening while providing further opportunities to donate to the Veggie U mission.

“Our goal is to provide great food and great fun for our guests, but to also make sure the Veggie U story is told. Veggie U believes children who are exposed to growing their own food are more likely to include vegetables in their diet. Our national non-profit organization supplies Classroom Gardens and a standards based, five-week science program to elementary and special needs students. Locally, Veggie U has been part of the learning process for every Cleveland grade schooler since 2007, as well as hundreds of suburban children,” said Executive Director, Nadia Clifford.

Some of my favorite chef/philanthropists, and local restaurants will be represented.  And these people don’t disappoint.  Featured establishments include: Momocho, Dante’s, Hodge’s, Cork&Cleaver, Graffiti Social Kitchen, Urban Farmer, and AMP150, with more establishments planned to join.

Tickets for VUFWC are $100 per person. To purchase tickets and learn more about the event, visit click here, or call 440.774.8344. Sponsorship opportunities are available and food and wine vendor applications are also being accepted.

Want to WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS to the Veggie U Food & Wine Celebration?  Send an email to Enter@VeggieU.org and put “Cheftovers” in the subject line.  The winner of the tickets will be chosen at random (tickets sent electronically).  You have until April 27th to enter.  See you there!

 

 

 

Drying Garden Herbs

The time has come, I hate to admit, to ready my garden for the winter.  I took one of the last glorious fall days, warm and sunny, to dig out what was left of my herbs.  But, in true Cheftovers form, I had to do something with the stragglers.  And since I don’t have a greenhouse to preserve the plants, I decided to try drying them in the microwave.  It was remarkably easy and not as tedious as I thought.  And when jars of dried herbs can run $5-10 each…why not give it a go?

garden herbs

After I transplanted all that I could into smaller pots close to the house, I trimmed up a bunch of basil, rosemary, and parsley.  I took a long hard looks at the volume of parsley I had (looked like a bushel), and the thousands of little needles on the rosemary bush, and decided basil would be the only one I’d be experimenting with for now.

garden herbs leaves

I plucked the individual basil leaves from the stems and placed them in a single layer on a paper towel.  I also placed another layer of paper towel on top.  Then it was time to fire up the microwave.  Since mine doesn’t have temp control (low/medium/high), I only heated it for a short amount of time initially.  And I didn’t want to burn them or start a fire with “dry” leaves on a paper towel.  But I was banking on the fact that these freshly snipped leaves still had enough moisture in them.

drying garden herbs

After thirty seconds, I examined the leaves and was pleased that it was working!  Not enough time yet…

So I put it back in for another 20 seconds, then another 15.  Each batch varied in terms of size and number of leaves, but in the end each round I dried needed about 1:00-1:15 in the microwave.

dried garden herbs

I transferred the dried leave to a Ziploc bag and crushed them by hand.  In the end I generated about 1 cup of dried basil leaves.  As you probably know, that will get me pretty far (two full batches of Picciano family pasta sauce, in fact!)  And all for free.  Not bad!

jarred herbs

As for the rosemary and the parsley I have…I opted for the tried and true “hang and dry” method.  Besides, I think they look kinda cool in my kitchen.

hanging rosemary

I will probably need to give those a week or more to dry out completely.  Then I’ll do the same with those (remove them from the stems and crush the dried leaves).

What are you doing to ready your garden for winter?  I’m always looking for tips from those with a green thumb!

Veggie U: Teaching kids to grow, harvest and thrive on fresh veggies

How many times have you tried to talk a child into eating their veggies?  It’s a monumental task in some households.  Equally daunting is the fight against childhood obesity.  But the green-thumbed folks at Veggie U and their partner teachers are helping fight that battle…one vegetable at a time. 

Veggie U set up

I came into contact with the non-profit while attending a speaker I featured in a previous post (Robyn O’Brien).  I was immediately drawn to their display of seedlings and indoor grow lights.  When I started inquiring about who they are and what they do, I knew it was something worth sharing.

Veggie U tasting

The mission of Veggie U is to teach kids about where vegetables come from, and how they grow.  And the idea is if they understand it better and take pride in cultivating them, they are more likely to eat them.

veggie u feast day

It was started by a family of farmers in Milan, Ohio…the same people behind The Chef’s Garden which focuses their output on the need of chefs.  Several local chefs are also involved in supporting the program, as it educates the next generation of restaurant-goers about good food.

Veggie U lesson plan

The organization provides schools with everything they’ll need for an indoor garden.  They ship the seeds, soil, grow lights, root viewers…even composting worms (a big hit among the 3rd grade boys, I’m told).  They provide 25 one hour science-based lessons that can be taught during designated plant science or health class time.  The classroom eventually harvests 17 different vegetables, showcasing them in a “feast day.”

Veggie U studying

“I have always been interested in helping my students make better choices about food and daily exercise and this was the greatest gift to have a program that was designed to do just that. To top it off, it was already aligned with the Ohio Academic Content standards-Extended version (which are used for students with learning disabilities). This was such a bonus as an educator, to have a complete comprehensive curriculum that was already aligned with the standards and had all the materials that you needed to teach sensory friendly lessons of such an important nature,” said Kristin Dickerhoff, Intervention Specialist at Murray Ridge School.

veggie u teacher

Dickerhoff’s classroom has students with Autism, many who have severe sensory issues and avoid various food textures and smells.  Those kids often fixate on a narrow list of foods and therefore don’t get proper nutrition.

“Having the Veggie University curriculum and the opportunity to show children hands on how “Good Food” reaches their plates was such a blessing.  I was completely blown away at how these precious students who on a typical day would only choose to munch on crunchy chips or soft yogurt were trying raw veggies during the first week’s “veggie Testing” lesson,” said Dickerhoff.

Veggie U comparing soil

Now that Veggie U is part of their routine, Dickerhoff has launched “Healthy Snack Wednesday” in their Primary wing of 50 students.  Each week every student in the wing gets a healthy snack prepared by her class and delivered to each classroom.  Her special needs kids use this opportunity to practice communication skills during drop off.

“I can’t say enough about how much this curriculum has changed the lives of each and every one of my students and how it has evolved into so much more,” said Dickerhoff.

veggie u shipping

Shipping is their number one expense.  Kits are put together by volunteers, but they run $450 for new kits, $225 for refills or renewals.  They operate through grants, corporate sponsors, fundraisers and sponsorship.  Only 6% of schools fund their own programs.

The take-aways are real.  Veggie U reports a 30% improvement in willingness to eat veggies among their graduates.  Students develop writing skills as they journal the process.  Even vocabulary skill are incorporated. (Examples: hypothesis, variable, conclusion, germinate)

Veggie U watering

Veggie U is now in 36 states and 6,500 classrooms, with more than 164,000 graduates.  They have indoor gardens in every Cleveland Metropolitan School District elementary building, as well as Toledo, Akron and Canton schools.  They’re currently trying to grow their presence in Hawaii, where 85% of their food is imported, hoping to encourage future farmers.