Linguine and Spinach Pesto

Pesto and pasta are a natural. Nothing flavors a good pasta dish than a dollop of pesto. And when it comes to pesto and pasta, nothing beats fresh.

Recently, Therese and I were talking to a friend who told us about making fresh pasta. He said there was there is no comparison between fresh and store-bought pasta.

The same can be said of fresh pesto. I can attest to that firsthand. At the end of each summer, I make fresh pasta from the basil that we’ve grown in our garden. Combined with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil, the basil makes a rich pesto.

I’ve yet to make any pesto from this year’s crop but hope to do so soon. A new recipe I would like to try follows. The pesto also contains another favorite of mine, spinach. Here, it’s put over cooked linguine — or your favorite pasta — and topped with feta cheese. It sounds delicious.

Linguine and Spinach Pesto
1 pound spaghetti, linguine (or your favorite pasta shape), uncooked (see note)
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed, well drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons margarine (or butter)
1/3 cup water
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
In a blender (or food processor), combine spinach, oil, Parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and basil. Mix at medium speed until finely chopped. Melt margarine in water. With blender or processor running, gradually pour in melted margarine mixture until blended. Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside. Toss pesto with pasta. Sprinkle feta on top and serve.
Note: Whole-grain, multigrain or whole-wheat pasta varieties may be substituted.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 325 calories, 11grams fat (3 grams saturated), 45 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 1 gram dietary fiber, 420 milligrams sodium.

Grilled Pesto Chicken

People have been stuffing food with other foods for a long time. A Roman cookbook from more than 2,000 years ago suggests that.

And whether you’ve thought about it or not, stuffed food recipes give people a two-for-one. Consider the following examples:

— Green peppers with a meat filling.
— Cabbage stuffed with meat and rice.
— Baked tomatoes that are infused with vegetables such as onions, spinach, carrots and nuts.
— Manicotti pasta with a luscious, creamy cheese inside.
— And the modern-day rage turducken, duck stuffed in a turkey.

Here’s another fowl idea: grilled chicken stuffed with basil pesto, a recipe that has been adapted from Cook’s Country magazine, the sister publication of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. It uses different versions of a pesto — without cheese for the marinade, with cheese for the stuffing and with more olive oil for the serving sauce.

It’s a three-step process but takes little time, according to Detroit Free Press food writer Susan Selasky.

Grilled Pesto Chicken
2 cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup flat-leaf parsley
½ cup olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 large, about 1¼ pounds, (or 4 small) skin-on, boneless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat
In a food processor, place the basil, parsley, ¼ cup oil, garlic, lemon juice and ½ teaspoon salt. Process until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping bowl as needed.
Remove ¼ cup pesto from processor and reserve for marinating chicken. Add Parmesan to pesto in processor and pulse until incorporated, about 3 pulses. Remove 2 heaping tablespoons of pesto for stuffing chicken.
Add the remaining ¼ cup oil to pesto in processor and pulse until combined. Set aside for saucing cooked chicken; you should have about 1/3 cup pesto.
Starting on thick side of breast, cut a horizontal pocket in each breast about 2½ inches wide, stopping ½-inch from edge so halves remain attached.
Season chicken, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of Parmesan pesto in pocket of each breast.
Fold the nonskin side of the breast in toward the pocket so the skin side folds over some. Using kitchen twine, tie the breast at intervals.
Place stuffed breasts in bowl and add pesto reserved for marinating. Rub pesto all over chicken, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat or prepare the grill for indirect heat. (For charcoal, place ash-covered coals on one side of the grill and replace grate. For a gas grill, light all burners to high and then turn all but one to medium-low.)
Oil the grill grate. Place chicken, skin side up, on grill away from the heat. Cover and cook about 10 minutes. Flip chicken skin- side down. If using charcoal, slide chicken to hot part of grill. Cover and cook until well-browned, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken to brown on all sides, and cook until it reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Transfer chicken to platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Remove twine from chicken, and cut into ¼-inch thick slices. Serve with remaining pesto sauce on the side.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 433 calories, 43 percent of calories from fat, 20 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 2 grams carbohydrates, 58 grams protein, 332 milligrams sodium, 153 milligrams cholesterol, no fiber.

Mozzarella, Tomato and Pesto on Ciabatta

There’s a big difference between fresh herbs and dried ones. Dried herbs are convenient and are good for dishes that require longer cooking times. But they generally don’t have the same purity of flavor as fresh herbs, which is what you want if you’re making pesto.

The key ingredient in pesto is fresh basil, although you can make it with other herbs such as parsley. I generally like to plant some basil in my garden each spring, but this year, it somehow slipped my mind.

Luckily, a friend of mine, Pete Hougum of Grand Forks, had a bumper crop of basil and gave me a large bag of it recently. While a lot of people like to use fresh basil with tomatoes and mozzarella in a Caprese salad, my preference is pesto.

So, you can guess what I did with the basil Pete gave me. I made a two batches of pesto, one with pine nuts and the other with walnuts. Both are quite tasty, especially when spread on a piece of crusty bread such as sourdough (pesto recipe follows).

And for those of you who prefer your basil on a sandwich with tomatoes and mozzarella, here’s a recipe that looks quite satisfying.

Mozzarella, Tomato and Pesto on Ciabatta
4 slices ciabatta
4 tablespoons prepared pesto (recipe follows)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 tomato, thinly sliced
2 leaves red leaf lettuce
Spread each slice of bread with 1 tablespoon of the pesto.
Top 2 of the bread slices with mozzarella, tomato and lettuce. Cover sandwich with remaining two slices. For the lunch bag, wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per sandwich: 495 calories, 53 percent of calories from fat, 29 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 55 milligrams cholesterol, 675 milligrams sodium, 36 grams carbohydrate, 22 grams protein, 3.4 grams fiber.

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
Put all ingredients in food processor and pulse until leaves are chopped finely.

Fresh Summer Basil Burger

I’ve been busy harvesting basil lately. I’ve made two batches of pesto (with pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese), with some of it going into the freezer. I’ve also included fresh basil in a couple of sauces that we’ve served over pasta.

This time of the year, whenever a new recipe that calls for the fragrant herb comes to my attention, I stand up and take notice. And with only a couple of more weeks left before a frost will take away my fresh basil, I’m in a zone to use it while it’s available.

So, it was with interest that I discovered that the most recent addition to The Associated Press’ “20 Burgers of Summer” series is a Fresh Summer Basil Burger, courtesty of Melissa D’Arabian, the star of Food Network’s “Ten Dollar Dinners.”

In an interview with AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch, D’Arabian said, “I’m a purist when it comes to burgers. I know a lot of people like to mix things into the meat. I’m really about just treating the meat right and grilling it right and getting a really juicy piece of meat.”

She told Hirsch that she drew her inspiration from chimichurri sauce, a zesty sauce traditionally made from parsley, garlic, red wine vinegar and olive oil that is used to garnish grilled meats in Argentina. Her version uses peppery-sweet basil.

“Nothing says summer to me like fresh basil. You take a raw sauce and you put it on some warm meat. The idea is that the warm meat heats the sauce just enough for the flavors to really bloom in your mouth. The warmth of the burger just makes the flavors come to life. It’s a simple recipe, but it really works.”

Fresh Summer Basil Burger
1¼ pounds ground beef (80 percent lean)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 large tomato, sliced and lightly salted
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
4 hamburger buns, toasted
Basil sauce (recipe follows)
Heat a grill to medium-high.
Form the ground beef into 4 patties, making a small indentation in the top of each. Brush each burger with a bit of vegetable oil, then season with salt and pepper.
Cook the patties on the grill for about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Two minutes before removing the burgers, top each with the mozzarella cheese.
Top each bun with a burger and a tomato slice. Spread a tablespoon of the basil sauce onto the bun top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Serve with additional basil sauce on the side for dipping.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 484 calories, 218 calories from fat, 45 percent of calories from fat, 24 grams fat (7 grams saturated, no trans, 93 milligrams cholesterol, 31 grams carbohydrates, 36 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 812 milligrams sodium.

Perfect Basil Sauce1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil
1 scallion, chopped
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
In a blender, combine all ingredients and puree until creamy and pale green in color. Season with salt and pepper.
Yield: 1 cup.