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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Broccoli Pesto: Low-Fat, Vegan, Extremely Tasty

We love pesto. On pasta, or on pizza. However, there are two potential problems with it. 1. Basil is not available most of the year. 2. If you're watching your cholesterol, the wonderful parmesan edge in traditional pesto is no-no if consumed too often.

We came across this broccoli pesto recipe in a Vegetarian Times eLetter the other day and altered it just a bit. We expected blah pesto and were more than pleasantly surprised by how good it was. The bonus is that it's also vegan, meaning no dairy, and low-fat — without tasting like it's food penance.

Broccoli Pesto on Pasta
3/4 cup toasted walnuts (toast them in a hot skillet, flipping almost constantly so they don't burn). Save a few for garnish.
(The VegTimes recipe calls for blanched hazelnuts, but we didn't have any on hand.)
2 cups broccoli florets (1 small bunch was about right)
1-1/2 cup loosely packed parsley leaves (we chopped the stems off a supermarket bunch)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup mint leaves (fresh from our yard because you can't kill this plant)
4 tsp lemon juice (1 juicy lemon or 1-1/2 regular lemons)
1-1/2 tsp grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon's worth)
1-1/2 tsp capers (VT says rinsed and drained and optional, but we threw them in from the jar)
3 large garlic cloves (VT said 5, but 3 was about right for us; 5 for real garlic LOVERS)
1 tsp salt
1 lb bowtie or ziti or other pasta (VT called for 12 oz. but we found 1 lb just right)

1. Toast the nuts 3-5 miutes in a skillet or until golden brown. Chop very coarsely and set aside.
2. Boil a large pot of water. Blanch/cook broccoli in boiling water until tender, maybe 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon, rinse with cold water, set aside.
3. In a food processor, pulse nuts, broccoli, parsley, oil, mint, lemon juice, lemon zest, capers, garlic and salt. Use a little cooking water if too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Cook pasta. Reserve cooking water.
5. Toss pasta with pesto. Add small amounts (1/4 cup at a time) of cooking water if too thick. (It should be thick, but it should coat the pasta.) Garnish with a few nuts. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

6. Open a bottle of crisp, rich white wine or a red Zinfandel — something that can stand up to garlicky, rich, strong green sauce — and enjoy as a main dish or as a filling side.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mango "Hollandaise" Sauce

Asparagus is plentiful right now, and although we love this beautiful vegetable roasted, steamed, stir-fried, or merely barely blanched, sometimes we want a little bit . . . more. So the other day we experimented with a low-fat substitute for Hollandaise sauce, and in our opinion, we got it just right on the first try (very rare!).

This sauce, which tastes surprisingly mustardy despite its lack of mustard, worked great on steamed asparagus and as a light salad dressing; there are doubtless many other ways to use it. With only two tablespoons of olive oil, it's delivers maximum flavor for minimal fat.

Mango Sauce

1 small mango (the Champagne variety would be perfect; you could also use half of a big mango or simply double the other ingredients and use the whole big thing)
1 small shallot (either a small Asian shallot or one section of the bigger American variety)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 T. olive oil
Pinch salt
Grinding of black pepper

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and whiz until smooth and emulsified. Then use liberally on whatever you like.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Muscadet

There are certain bargain wine categories that rarely strike out. Aussie Shiraz. Spanish wines, especially Rioja. Chilean Carmenere, especially from the Colchagua Valley. On the other hand, it is hard to find good bargain white wines. And bargain wines from France of any color are as rare as a corkscrew in a dive bar.

Here are two that never seem to miss and they're both from the Loire Valley: Muscadet and Sancerre. The Loire River is in west-central France. It is less well known than Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone. But it is relatively inexpensive and it mostly bottles white wines.

Sancerre, which is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, is at the inland end of the Loire Valley. Pouilly Fumé is the other appellation that uses Sauvignon Blanc grapes and it is immediately across the river from the town and appellation of Sancerre. Lots of grapefruit and citrus flavors matched by acidity. They are very crisp and delicious white wines — slightly weightier than Muscadets. We buy Sancerre moderately often, but it tends to cost a bit more than Eat Well, Eat Cheap's $10 wine limit.

At the Atlantic Ocean end of the Loire Valley is the town of Nantes, home to the Muscadet appellation. Muscadet is so crisp, it is close to sparkling wine. Muscadet is made from the unknown Melon de Bourgogne grape, which is rarely grown anywhere but in the Muscadet appellation.

When we recently bought a case of wine at, we found a Muscadet for $8.95 that Robert Parker had rated 91. You don't see that combination often. It was a bottle of Domain du Haut Bourg 2009 Muscadet Cote de Grandlieu Sur Lie. The Sur Lie is a way of getting more flavor out of white grapes by leaving the wine after fermentation "on the lees," which includes sediment, grape seeds, yeast cells, pulp and stem and skin fragments.

The wine smells of lime, herbs, shrimp and the sea near its vineyards. It is a remarkable value and a great food wine as well as a good porch wine.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Three Ways to Use Stale Pita Bread

The other day we were standing before our open freezer, lamenting the fact that we couldn't squeeze any more food in. Clearly, it was time to use up some of our frozen reserves. So we pulled out the leftover package of whole-wheat pitas from the top shelf, only to spot another partial package of pitas behind it   . . . and another one behind that. Standing there laden with icy bags, we were forced to admit the uncomfortable truth: we are pita hoarders.

Fortunately, it's easy to use up leftover pita bread. Here are three good ways, all of which we are employing this week.

1. Pita Chips. We based this extremely flexible version on a recipe by Ellie Krieger. Whereas Ellie uses cumin and coriander, we had a hankering for garlic and smoked paprika. Any combination of spices and oil would work.

Spiced Pita Chips

3 big whole-wheat pitas, torn into chip-sized pieces and separated so there are no double thicknesses
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. crunchy sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the pita pieces in a good-size bowl. Mix the oil with spices and salt, then pour over the pita pieces, taking care to cover them as evenly as possible.

3. Spread the chips on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, tossing them around midway for even cooking.

2. Pita Croutons. We've written about these before. Like the chips, they can be coated with any spice or no spices at all. Like croutons, they add crunch and interest to a green salad.

3. Pita Toast. Chances are, your leftover pita bread is too tough to stuff with hummus or other sandwich makings. But you can still use it as bread, provided that you don't try to open it up. Cut a pita in half, run it through the toaster, and use the two halves as you would use two slices of regular bread. Or you could dip the crunchy pieces into hummus, tabbouli, or tuna salad.

Leftover stale pita bread may present even more opportunities than its fresh equivalent.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bargain Wines of the Week: Flipflop Riesling and Pinot Grigio

Over the years we've developed a fondness for what we call "porch wines"—unpretentious yet tasty whites that have just enough zip and fruit to pair well with hot weather, appetizers, and a screen porch. A good porch wine should dance on the tongue and spare the wallet, so friends can enjoy a few bottles without feeling wasteful.

We've recently discovered a West Coast winery named Flipflop that sells a range of reds and whites for only $7 a bottle. These days, that's a gimmick we can get behind—especially when the wines are this good. After trying Flipflop's 2010 California Pinot Grigio and 2009 Washington Riesling, we can enthusiastically say that these are extraordinary porch wines, especially at this price.

We tried both bottles with a group of friends, to get multiple opinions. Everyone agreed: the Pinot Grigio is very good, much richer than the average Pinot Grigio—closer to a Sauvignon Blanc, in fact; and the deep, fruity Riesling is a knockout. For $7 you cannot go wrong with either bottle. Even if you aren't personally a fan of porch wine, we're pretty sure that once the temperature is climbing and the weekend is at hand, your friends will love these.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


We're sorry for the long dry spell in blog posts, but unavoidable family business took us out of town. We'll get back on track next week, we promise. In the meantime, here's a wonderful post on Salon about budget grocery shopping. It particularly resonated because after we got home this week, exhausted and sad, we had to scrounge around for dinner and came up with chorizo (well, soy chorizo) tacos.