Category Archives: Dips, Sauces and Gravies

Perfect Pesto Proportions

I am just dashing this post off to make sure I remember what turned out to be perfect proportions as to amounts of greens to olive oil, nuts, garlic, and Parmesan  cheese in a pesto. However, it also serves as a reminder that pesto is not just for basil. Many other greens or combination of greens also work well, especially if you are looking for a lighter but just as tasty pesto as when made with basil only.

pesto and greens

Never too much green

I made pesto today because I had way more pea tendrils and arugula than I was going to use in the next several days.  I had made a quick batch of pesto last week using a 1/3 basil to  2/3 the amount of pea tendrils, and loved it, so I figured I would continue along that line.

When making that quick batch last week, I had to use tahini for the nut part because I discovered I had no walnuts on hand.  You know what? Tahini worked just fine.  But for this batch, I went back to walnuts.

Here’s the recipe for 6 ounces of greens.  FYI, I doubled and used 12 ounces and the whole double batch fit in the food processor. I forgot how much the processing reduces the volume!

Anyway, here is the recipe:

  • 6 oz fresh greens (one or more of basil, arugula pea tendrils, etc. – the garden is the limit!)
  • 2 oz walnuts
  • 1.5 oz fresh peeled garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 oz grated Parmesan cheese, freshly grated if possible

Just for the record, for the 12 oz of greens, I used 3 oz basil, 4 oz pea tendrils, and 5 oz arugula in this particular batch.

When processing, I starting with 3 oz of the greens and 1/8 of the olive oil and process for a bit, then add another 3 oz (the rest if you are doing the 6 oz amount) and 2 ounces of walnuts,  1.5 oz garlic and the another 1/8 cup olive oil and process until well mixed, then, if doing a double batch, repeat the process. Once all is very well processed, add the Parmesan cheese and process as desired or stir the cheese in after removing from the processor.

NOTE: Especially if using finely powered store bought Parmasan cheese, you can stir it in after removing the pesto from the processor.  I hand-grated mine so I figured it could use a bit more breaking down.

The good news about using other greens with or instead of the basil is that the other greens don’t oxidize in the same way as basil, so the pesto stays bright green.

Although there is nothing so wonderfully rich yet healthily decadent as basil pesto, I often find that I prefer a pesto with other greens, and I am now totally hooked on using pea tendrils!  Just a lovely fresh flavor.

A note about the pea tendrils: I remove the very skinny strings are the ends of the tendrils.  They can end up introducing an unpleasant “stringy” component to recipes.  The stalks at the bottom, unless VERY tough, are fine to use in this any recipe or salad.

When making pesto, try experimenting with other greens and see what works for you.  It’s an easy way to get your greens, that’s for sure.


Fresh Pressed Olive Oil

I guess I could be considered a food snob or foodie, or both. Why? Because I pay a chunk of change, like $90 plus the shipping, every three months for three very modestly sized bottles of olive oil from Fresh Pressed Olive Oil.  But, you know what? The flavors of these olive oils that have been pressed recently from all over the world taste…out of this world.

Green was the first word I used to describe the flavor of the first olive oil I received from the club, and that descriptive has worked for all subsequent olive oils I have received.  Very green and fresh.  Some even have a bit of a bite – something not usually associated with olive oil.  And each batch does have its unique taste.  And so far, they have all tasted just heavenly.

Here is the latest. The color is amazing. Never mind the flavor.

Mind you, I don’t cook with the hi-test!  Steve and I enjoy it predominantly as a dip for bread – sometimes with some red pepper flakes and/or freshly ground black pepper added to the oil.  I always add a bit of this wonderful olive oil to just cooked pasta, and also  use a splash of it when appropriate to finish off a soup, stew, or sauce after it is cooked. And, of course, when summer is with us, I use only the fresh pressed olive oil with the fresh mozzarella cheese and just picked tomatoes and basil.

Another view. Hard to really show the wonderful green color!

Yeah – I know it is an extravagance.  $360+ a year for a small amount of olive oil. But then again, there are expenses that other folks see as necessities for them that I would never consider, so I guess it is all relative. Whatever, it works for me! And, it may just be worth a try for you.  🙂

Doctoring the Sauce :)

I usually make my own pasta sauce these days.  If I am in a hurry, I will at least add some fresh herbs from plants that I bring indoors for the winter and a fresh tomato or two to a jar of sauce and give it at least a bit of a simmer. But the other night, I REALLY wanted homemade sauce but ran out of time.  So, off to Farmland I went to see what I could find.

One of the reasons I like to make my own sauce from canned or “frozen from my summer gardening” tomatoes is because I have control over the sodium level. I look for canned tomatoes with little or no sodium, 15-30 grams per ½ cup, versus the usual 200-300 mgs or so.

And, goodness knows I like to support charities, as does buying the Newman’s  Own™ brand, but Newman’s sauces, as tasty as they are, are all on the higher end of sodium levels, with an average of 600 mgs sodium per ½ cup.  I have often bought Classico ™  since it tastes pretty good and some flavors come in at350-450 mgs per ½ cup.

But, imagine my surprise when I discovered Pastene’s ™ Chateau Marina Sauce coming in at 190 mgs sodium per ½ cup, and my even greater surprised when I tasted it right out of the jar.  It is REALLY tasty!

I was totally surprised at how good this sauce tastes!

Bright is the word I would (well, did, I guess!) use to describe the flavor. That and fresh. I highly recommend it as is. But of course, I seldom leave jarred sauce well enough alone.  <grin>  And, what I discovered was a way to create an amazing, truly homemade, all-day simmered tasting sauce in under two hours. I will add that the sauce tasted so good from the beginning that I didn’t even bother to add additional dried or fresh herbs.

When at Farmland, I bought 2 sweet and 2 hot sausages, a bit over ¾ lb. ground sirloin, 6 medium fresh mushrooms, and two 24 oz. jars of the Pastene ™ Chateau Marina Sauce.

When I got home, I immediately sliced the sausage crosswise about an inch in thickness (4-5 slices per sausage) and also cut a big fresh red bell pepper into very thick slices.  I mixed in about 3 Tablespoons of EVO and popped it all into a 350 degree oven, uncovered, with the timer set to check them at 45 minutes.

Then I made some meatballs – just a very basic recipe – there are a million online.  I added chopped onion, dried oregano, marjoram, and thyme, an egg, breadcrumbs, and oatmeal to the ground beef.  I just realized that I did NOT add freshly ground black pepper!  That was probably a first.  I put that in just about everything!

Once the meatballs were formed, I set them aside in the fridge while put the jarred sauce in a pot and over a medium flame to get it up to heat. Then I chopped up an onion and a green bell pepper, sliced the mushrooms, minced a few cloves of garlic, and sautéed the lot in some olive oil until tender.  After putting the sautéed veggies in the sauce, I added a bit more olive oil to the frying pan and browned the meatballs.  That was a little messy and the meatballs did not stay round, but once in the sauce, the looks didn’t really matter.  J

Once the meatballs were well-browned, I added them to the sauce, and added the baked sausage and red pepper when that was nicely browned and sizzling a bit – 50 minutes, I think it was.  I did NOT add any of the remaining fat in either pans to the sauce.

I then let the sauce simmer on low for about 45 minutes. And that was that. It was scrumptious!!  I will still make my own sauce when I can get an hour or two earlier start, but this worked for me in a relative pinch.

When done, I tossed the pasta with fresh pressed olive oil and also complicated the meal with a wonderful multigrain flaxseed bread from Farmland and more of that fresh pressed olive oil. Sometimes, it doesn’t take hours and hours or a ton of money to create a little heaven on earth.

I forgot to take a picture until it was almost all gone. 🙂

[NOTE:  Next time I may bake or broil the meatballs if the timing works out. Although, I have seen recipes that say to just form the meatballs and pop them right into the sauce to simmer until done. If baked sausages is also used, perhaps there is no need to get the extra flavor from browning the meatballs and a step can be saved.]

Tomato Sauce – my favorite using canned tomatoes

I have discovered the perfect tomato/pasta sauce. You can leave out the sausage for a delicious vegetarian version, or use another type of meat.  Use just one or all or less or more of the optional ingredients, simmer for as short or long a time as you want, but use this (or Mark Bittman’s original recipe) as your basis for sauce from canned tomatoes and you can’t go wrong.  I used all the optional ingredients but the mushrooms when I took the pictures for this post.  But the last time I made it, I used all but no bell pepper.  And, my first version had no meat and no mushrooms. Each was super. Just have fun with this one!

Note: if using sausage or another sort of meat, be sure to brown it in the same pot you are using to saute the veggies and simmer the sauce.  You don’t want to lose any flavors.

All-purpose tomato sauce

Based on a recipe by Mark Bittman

chili salsa peppers

From the plants that wintered over in our bedroom. Still going strong in March!

Here is my version:

  • 5-6 Italian sausages, sweet, hot, or both. (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (optional if using sausage)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion or 2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 cups lightly packed, give or take)
  • 3 -4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup of chopped green bell pepper (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups  (or so) chopped fresh mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 green chili salsa peppers, de-seeded and chopped (optional)
  • 2 red chili salsa peppers, whole – to be removed later. (optional)
  • 2 28 oz can whole tomatoes, liquid reserved (4 cups or so) chopped or broken apart by hand.
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or basil leaves (optional)

Just one of my "bunch of ingredients" shots. 🙂


If using sausage, heat the 2 T olive oil in pot over medium heat, add the sausages, and brown each side, about 8 minutes total.  Remove from pan, set aside, and cut into pieces before adding back to the sauce.

Brown the sausages at least 4 minutes per side.

Put the 1/4  olive oil in the  pot over medium heat.

Add the 1/4 olive oil to the leftover fat and brown bits from the meat, if using.

When the oil is hot, add the onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 minutes.

Then add garlic and, if using, chili salsa peppers, bell pepper, and/or mushrooms and cook for another few minutes.

All the veggies - no mushrooms in this round.

Next, slice and add the browned sausages or other meat, if using, the tomatoes, and as much liquid as you would like depending on desired thickness and how long you have to simmer the sauce.

Next - the sausage, or other meat, if using

Add sugar and dried herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture comes together and thickens.  The longer, the deeper the flavor!  Although, it still tasted great with a shorter simmer. But, be sure to taste for spiciness as you simmer if using the fresh hot peppers and remove if the fire gets more than you like.

starting to simmer

Once it is at the thickness you want, taste, adjust the seasonings, stir in any fresh herbs, and keep warm. (Or let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to several days; reheat gently before serving.)

Close to being done - time to take out the salsa chili pepper!

I am so pleased with this recipe.  Never mind the vibrant taste with no extra sodium, etc., it makes more the the 24-26 oz that comes in most jars of sauce.  I am sorry, 26 oz is just NOT enough if you want more than a smidgen of leftovers!

Oh, I need to include an apology, here.  I recently used this recipe for a church potluck .  I was careful to chop only one hot pepper and then put only one whole not pepper to simmer in the sauce for a while.  I kept checking the level of heat while simmering and took out what I thought was the ENTIRE hot pepper almost two hours before serving time…Unfortunately, the pepper had split and I had taken out only HALF of that pepper when I deemed the sauce flavorful but safe for a potluck…  Church and cooking friend Marjorie, whom I told about my error, did report that it was hot, but I didn’t see anyone in active distress – I am hoping everyone who tried it liked it hot!

But, next time, the hot peppers will go in cheesecloth for easy and complete retrieval!

Finally – Ultimate Hummus!!!

I love Middle Eastern food, and have been making hummus for years – and doing a pretty darn good job it too, I might add. 🙂 However, being prone to experimenting, combining recipes, and just plain guessing on measurements, sometimes the texture or flavor would be just “okay” and, a few times, I added too much liquid and couldn’t fix it, having run out of garbanzo beans. Making hummus thicker with more tahini doesn’t work too well because the flavor and texture of the tahini become too overwhelming.

BUT – I believe I have it down, now. First, the basic recipe, than I’ll give a tip or two for an extra flavor boost.

This makes about [have to go measure the container it filled to tell you! I’ll update if I end up posting before I get this. My guess is 3 or so cups.]

Hummus with Roasted Red Pepper

1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans (chick peas) drained and rinsed
2 cloves of garlic, minced (I use big cloves)
1/3 chopped parsley – not firmly, but not lightly (mediumly?) packed when measuring
1 medium carrot, grated
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup olive oil
1/3 cup of tahini (sesame pasted from lightly toasted sesame seeds)
1 roasted red pepper (medium/smallish – measuring about 3×3 when flattened)

I always prep everything, first, and wash up any dirty dishes or utensils, then start filling the
food processor: [NOTE – remember to use a spatula to scape down the ingredients from the side of the bowl as you go along.]

I put the garbanzo beans in, and then added the next three ingredients, minced garlic, chopped parsley, and grated carrot, distributing each somewhat evenly in the food processing bowl.

Then I ran the processor, pulsing a bit, to get them mixed up and the garbanzos to a coarse texture.

Then I added the lemon juice, and pulsed a bit, then the olive oil, and let that run for a bit.

Next, I added the tahini and ran the processor for another bit, sometimes stopping to scrape down the sides, until well-mixed.

Last to go in was the roasted red pepper. Just toss it in whole, and don’t bother patting it dry, first. It will blend in nicely.

And, that’s it! So easy! So delicious!!!! And healthy!!! Can you tell I am excited about this? Colorful, too.

NOTE – many hummus recipes call for a little water. DON’T use water unless, at the very end, the hummus seems too dry. I used water previously, not considering the water content of the added veggies, especially the roasted red pepper, and it came out a tad soupy.

I doubt you’ll need any water with this recipe. However, factors can vary – maybe the tahini is dry, or the chickpeas have a lower water content for some reason. But, wait until the end before considering adding the H2O.

Now, for the flavor boosters. First, this hummus is great when using store-bought tahini and bottled lemon juice. And, obviously, it uses canned garbanzos. I also use store-bought, jarred roasted red pepper. I bet roasting a fresh red pepper and cooking up one’s own batch of dried garbanzos would give a boost, as well as reduce the sodium content of the hummus from these prepared items.

But, I can tell you for sure that squeezing the lemon juice fresh and making your own tahini really adds a punch!

Fresh squeezed lemon juice is easy – I have a little hand juicer (plastic and thus not as stable as I would like) that works fine. After cutting the medium-sized lemon in half, I had more than the 1/4 of juice I needed.

Making tahini isn’t difficult, but it is more time consuming than squeezing a lemon. But the flavor is well worth it. I am sure I’ll keep a jar from the market on hand, but I am also going to make sure that I always have sesame seeds around, as well!

To be honest, while I almost always have fresh lemons on hand and use bottled lemon juice in a pinch, I don’t think I had ever made my own tahini. Today I did because, part-way into prepping to whip up a quick batch of hummus, I realized that I had finished off my last jar… Luckily, I had a bag of sesame seeds in the fridge. Whew!

Now, tahini can be made from either toasted or raw sesame seeds. My understanding is that Asian tahini is made from raw sesame seeds and Middle Eastern tahini is from toasted sesame seeds. So, how to toast?

Many recipes say to spread the seeds on a baking sheet and put in the oven, but I prefer the quick, easy, and more energy efficient method of dry-roasting in a frying pan. Just make sure it is a heavy frying pan. I prefer to use a cast iron pan for dry-roasting nuts, seeds, and grains, but a sturdy stainless steel pan should work, too.

To make just a tad more tahini than you needs for this recipe, put 3/4 cup raw sesame seeds in a 10 inch or larger skillet/fry pan, that has been preheated on medium. Just stir them around as they heat up, start popping here and there, get a bit darker, and release a wonderful aroma. Lightly toasted with do the trick.

Then, put them in a wide bottom bowl or other container so they will cool off a bit, then put them in the blender. Run the blender on “grind” for a bit until they start looking ground up. Then, (and this is where I didn’t measure but think I “eyeballed it” okay) add maybe 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil (I used canola) and see how it looks. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and mix things up a bit before continuing. Then add a tad more oil, grind some more, see how it looks. I think I used 3 tablespoons of oil.

WOW – REALLY good!!!! I’ve always enjoyed tahini from the store, but it rocks when you make it yourself. Also, the store-bought kind always separates, and that can cause problems as to getting the right texture in foods in which tahini is an ingredient.

So, the recipe is great even without doing the “from scratch” ingredient thing. But, I highly recommend 1) fresh squeezed lemon juice and 2) homemade tahini.

Now I am going to have to try roasting red peppers. Although, I doubt I’d do that just for hummus…seems like a waste of heating fuel. But, my curiosity may get the better of me… However, if I have time, I might cook up a batch of garbanzos if I am making hummus for a big crowd or plan to use them in other recipes, too.

Anyway – that’s the scoop.