VDP: Penne with Cauliflower and Pesto-Ricotta Sauce

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Having a bounty of basil in the backyard gives me more of an excuse to eat pesto. I love the stuff on almost anything. Here as a pasta sauce for cauliflower. I was hoping to make some fresh pasta for this dish, but on a Tuesday in a busy week, I had no time. First, I par-boiled the cauliflower. Then it went in a pan with olive oil, onions and garlic while I boiled the pasta, Penne in this case.

For the sauce I mixed pesto with homemade ricotta, minced garlic and parmesan cheese. When the pasta was done and the cauliflower fully cooked, sweet and starting to brown I tossed everything in a large bowl and mixed in some lemon zest for good measure. The addition of the lemon zest was a spur of the moment thing, but it really made a big difference and transformed a good dish to an excellent one. I served it with chilli flakes, more grated parmesan and olive oil toasted breadcrumbs.

If it sounds a bit odd that I add toasted breadcrumbs to the pasta, let me write a couple of lines of background. It is not something I made up or thought of myself. First time I read about it was in one of Jamie Oliver’s books. It’s correct name is Pangriata or Pangritata and it’s origin goes back to poorer Italian cooks who used it as a substitute to the more expensive grated cheese topping. It really is a wonderful way to add crunch and extra flavor to pastas and risottos especially. Anything can be mixed in it too, like maybe some herbs or chilli flakes.

VDP: Summer Risotto with Pesto and Ricotta

Saturday, July 26, 2008

This is the first risotto I made without using chicken stock. Instead if the customary butter in there I also used olive oil. The result was quiet good, but I did miss the goodness of a rich stock in there. Instead, I used some fresh vegetable stock to cook the risotto.

The process is classic. The onions and some celery get saut√©ed in fat (in this case olive oil), then in goes the risotto¬† rice (Arborio in my case). I make sure the grains are well coated with oil and after a minute or two they get a bit translucent around the edges. At that point I throw in some white wine and let it cook until evaporated. Now, hot stock gets added in ladlefuls until the rice is cooked. That’s a basic risotto and it can be flavored a hundred different ways. The most basic flavor is butter and Parm cheese added after the heat is turned off and allowed to mingle for a few minutes.

In this summery version, I added diced zucchini, peeled and chopped tomatoes and roasted red peppers. I also finished it up with Parmigiano cheese.

To serve it I topped the risotto with homemade ricotta cheese and almond-basil pesto. I have a bunch of basil in my garden, so pesto was a no-brainer. I had no pine nuts on hand so I used almonds instead in it. I bashed the herbs and nuts with garlic and salt in my mortar until fairly smooth, then mixed in olive oil, Parm cheese, and a touch of lemon juice. The sharp and deliciously fragrant pesto really made this dish perfect. I counter-balanced the sweetness of the peppers and the blandness of the zucchini perfectly.