Friday, February 10, 2012

Walnut-kale pesto.

Sunday nights at Brillobox.

I'm sorry I've been remiss in posting this recipe. The plate of pasta with walnut-kale pesto--actually a wildly oversimplified name for it, has mushroomed into a nice neighborhood buzz dish. It is easily the most commonly requested recipe in my Brillobox repertoire. I like it too.

When it comes to weights and measures I approximate everything, so please take these instructions, and more importantly these measurements for what they are: nearly total bullshit. If it seems bland add more tomato sauce; too dry, add cream and pasta water. You can always add more cheese. Parsley never hurt no one. And the rest is as follows...

Feeds four as a main course.


Sauce Number One.

RED SAUCE (I really like this sauce on spaghetti, by itself, finished with grated hard cheese and a splash of cream. So if it's a rainy day quadruple the recipe and freeze what you don't think you'll use.)

A. Chop 1 lg. YELLOW ONION and 4 peeled cloves of GARLIC, saute over low heat in 3 tbsp OLIVE OIL, along with 1 tbsp TOMATO PASTE.

B. Meanwhile, halve 1 oiled med. EGGPLANT, Tending cautiously, broil skin side up til it has charred, then turn. Broil flesh side til it has browned well--but not blackened. Again, keep an eye on it!

Remove from heat to a bowl, cover in plastic film, and allow to steam for twenty minutes or so.

C. In a food processor pulse 1 peeled med. CARROT and 1 rib of floss-shaved CELERY, then add to the translucent onion-garlic mixture. Continue to simmer, watchfully. Once the carrots have softened a bit add 1 large can of San Marzano TOMATOES. Continue to simmer low.

D. At this point the EGGPLANT* can be handled. Uncover, peel away and discard the blackened skin and stems, adding the pulpy, soft flesh and collected juices--don't be fussy about the charred particles that stick to the eggplant. A little bit of residue, just like the murky juices, will embolden the flavor. Add to the TOMATO-ONION-GARLIC mix as it continues to simmer, moisturizing with a splash of sweet-leaning RED WINE or, ideally, SWEET VERMOUTH.

*Note, in the kitchen I call the red sauce eggplant Bolognese as the roasted flesh of the eggplant contributes a silky quality sought in a classic meat sauce, while the seeds mimic (uncannily!) the fine texture of the ground meat.

E. Puree with an immersion blender or; in a food processor/blender, or; mash with a potato masher, or; roll your sleeves up and use a fork or any other simple machine at hand. (I've employed each of these methods over the years; you'll find them listed in ascending order of labor-intensiveness.) Season with salt and red chili flakes to taste.


Sauce Number Two.

PESTO (Much as you can with the red sauce this pesto is versatile--and completely vegan. So make a little extra to spread on crostini, or add it to minestrone to give it a rich finish. So too, like with the red sauce you can add the cheese and cream at this step and have yourself a perfectly fine condiment. Never forget that sweet ricotta was invented for just such things as this.)

Strip 1 lg. bunch of raw KALE, COLLARDS, MUSTARD GREENS (my favorite), or CHARD, adding the leaves to a food processor. Doing your best to balance the amounts of the greens and nuts--tipping a bit to the side of the former, you'll add toasted walnuts. Add 3 cloves of GARLIC, 1 generous bunch of herbs, single or mixed--my personal formula consists of BASIL, PARSLEY, MINT and ARUGULA. Grind in a food processor, while streaming in olive oil slowly til a mixture of ivory, jade and emerald has formed in a loose paste--think hippie peanut butter consistency. Taste it, then season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Remember, if you're adding cheese to finish the final dish you will want to employ a light hand with the salt at this stage.



PASTA SHAPES (Choose something with crevasses and eaves and other little places where the sauce can hide when you bring it together--GEMELLI is my favorite, though the rustic twists called TROFIE are fantastic, too!) Boil in heavily salted water, stirring frequently, and remove to a colander to drain when the pasta is a hard al dente--you will want to see a tiny filament of uncooked white at the thickest part when you bite into a piece*. Reserve the pasta water, then shower the pasta shapes in cold water. Allow it to drain, toss in a tbsp of olive oil, cover with a damp paper towel, then set aside.

*Note: Bite into five pieces--stirring the water between bites, before you're satisfied the pasta is cooked satisfactorily. It's better to have a handful of overcooked pasta mixed into an otherwise perfectly rendered dish than to have even a few undercooked. But in the end stirring should eliminate any inconsistency.


Gather the elements.

At this point the chemistry becomes highly idiosyncratic. You will want to taste often and really think about what's going on. If you like you can completely shake up the recipe. But this is how I bring it together. Add 1c. RED SAUCE to a large saute pan, returning it to a simmer. Follow with 1c. PESTO, 1/4c HEAVY CREAM, and grated CHEESE to taste--I use pecorino pepata in my kitchen. I use immoderate handfuls. Continue to simmer--the sauce will develop a nuanced color-complexity. I like it best when it's unclear whether it's a red sauce with green specks or vice versa.

Now, before you add the pasta to the sauce you'll want to ensure the consistency. If it's too thin let it simmer a bit longer, to reduce--or just add more CHEESE. No harm. If it's too thick resort to the pasta water you kept--a spoonful at a time.

Add the PASTA, stirring, still mindful of the sauce's body. Once all the elements in the saute pan have achieved their ideals--the pasta is tender but chewy, and the sauce is as salty and tangy and peppery and herbaceous as you want it, you plate.



Finish the plated dish with additional CHEESE, good OLIVE OIL, CRACKED BLACK PEPPER or a small HERB SALAD. I have also enjoyed adding mildly mustard-inflected, vinegary shaved red cabbage. The flavor-brilliant counterpoint can also be achieved without the aid of garnish by simply using more RED SAUCE than PESTO when assembling the dish. But all of this is extraneous.

As you like.

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