Food column returns with new Italian meal with friends
by Alan Reed
May 28, 2008 | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Many of you have asked me what has become of my column in the past few weeks. Honestly, with summer fast approaching, I’ve been about as busy as can be with one story or another. Last week, my mother came to visit and I took a few days off to spend time with her.

Spending time with mum is great. Our family welcomed seven-pound Elizabeth Rose Sanborn, daughter of Cousins Laura and Rick to the fold last Thursday. She’s a beautiful little girl, and mum and I both could not be happier for her parents and grandparents. We got to meet her on Saturday. What a cute little one.

With mum safely back in Florida, Hawkins asked me for dinner on Sunday night. We were joined by his sister Elsbeth. Hawkins requested pasta with Alfredo sauce, though with my mother taking me out to eat several times during her visit, I decided we needed to eat a lighter sauce on our pasta.

Growing up, mum made plenty of pastas. One of my favorites turned out to be pesto sauce, made with ground basil leaves, nuts- either pine or walnuts and plenty of cheese. She always omitted garlic, never liking its flavor even in the slightest, though I never had a problem with it. Were she joining us, I would have probably skipped it for that meal.

Surprisingly, pesto sauce is very easy to make. The best sauces start with fresh basil leaves instead of dried. I lucked out and found just what I needed in a local grocery. It takes a lot of basil, four of the plastic packs containing fresh herbs.

Hawkins went to work plucking leaves from stems as I prepared other vegetables for the meal. In all, we probably had two cups of bright green aromatic leaves when we were done. Place them in a blender with three whole, peel cloves of garlic and grind them up until smooth. To emulsify the sauce, use a half-cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Again, I champion the extra-virgin oil for its strong flavor that compliments the sauce perfectly. To give the sauce some body and a nutty flavor, add three tablespoons of walnuts. Some recipes call for toasted nuts, though I added them raw for a natural flavor. The sauce needs cheese too, so add a quarter cup of the best grated Parmesan cheese available.

That’s the basic pesto, but you know I like a little heat in my food. Fire the sauce up with just a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. With all the ingredients ready, use the blender to grind everything into a smooth paste. If the sauce seems thick, or the blender has problems chopping everything, add an extra tablespoon of oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Now that the sauce is ready, add whatever you want to your pasta. I sautéed some chicken tenders in olive oil, seasoned with oregano, basil, minced garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. As the chicken begins to sizzle, cover the skillet to roast it evenly, then flip it over to brown the other side.

Pasta is always better with some vegetables. I began by sautéing a chopped sweet onion and a green pepper in oil before adding a pack of precut carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. When the vegetables are tender, they are ready for the pasta.

For my pasta, I opted for whole-wheat penne. It provided plenty of body and carried the pesto from plate to mouth perfectly. Boil the dried pasta according to directions, adding maybe a chopped clove of garlic, a tablespoon each of oregano, basil and parsley with two tablespoons of oil prior to boiling. As the pasta nears readiness, take four tablespoons of the boiling water from the pot and add it to the pesto paste to thin it out.

Once the pasta is ready, drain it and throw it into a bowl. Add the pesto, and toss it with the chicken and vegetables. Top it all off with Parmesan cheese and serve it as a delicious one-dish meal for about six diners, or just three of us, with plenty of leftovers.

As we ate our pasta, we watched the new HBO movie “Recount,” about the Presidential election in my home state of Florida. At the time, I got sick of Flori-duh cracks and ‘hanging chad” jokes. Seeing it seven years later through the eyes of participants gave me a new understanding of what really happened. Anyone who follows politics would do well to see the movie. If nothing else, perhaps the knowledge of the event will prevent it from happening again. Denis Leary, Kevin Spacy, Laura Dern and John Hurt turned in excellent performances. With the supper gang back together, tasty, yet light pasta and savvy political drama, a good time was had by all. Good eating.
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