Saturday, February 14, 2015

Simple Supper: Roasted Broccoli and Lemon Farfalle

Although I think that there is nothing more comforting than warming stews and braises when blasted by the snowy days of winter, I sometimes feel the need for something a bit fresher and lighter on the tongue. Something that hints that Spring is coming. This dish fits the bill with the freshness of lemon adding zest to the broccoli and pasta.  The broccoli is roasted which gives a heartier flavor than if you simply sauteed or boiled it. Roasting vegetables in a hot oven like this, simply tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper, can transform even the most mundane into something lovely.  Try it with cauliflower, brussel sprouts, zuchinni, eggplant, and peppers! As a bonus, my kids almost always eat vegetables that I prepare this way.  As there is nothing so frustrating for a parent than preparing dinner and having the kids turn their faces away after a bite or two, this last advantage should not be taken lightly!

Feeds 4

2 to 4 heads of broccoli, depending on the size  (more perhaps than you think you need---it shrinks when it cooks)
1 onion
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
1 lemon
a few rashers of bacon, optional
500 grams of farfalle or your favorite pasta.
parmesan cheese to taste
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put a big pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil.  Salt generously and throw in your pasta.  Cook the number of minutes as indicated on the box.  Take a cupful of the cooking water before you drain the pasta and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, heat your oven to 225 C (450F).  Prepare the broccoli by cutting off the stems and breaking the heads into bite-sized florets. Don't throw away the stems! Cut the hard skin off and the inside piece is tender and delicious. The kids and I usually eat these pieces raw as I am cooking but if any survive, they can be roasted with the rest.  Put the cut broccoli onto a baking sheet and sprinkle very generously with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to make sure that the broccoli is evenly coated in oil. Spread out in one layer on the baking sheet and put in the oven.  Stir once or twice while it is cooking.  They are done when they start to have some color and some bits take on a slight char.  It takes about 15 minutes, depending on the size of your pieces and your oven.

While the broccoli is cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Slice the onion in half and then slice again into strips.  Peel the garlic and slice. Slice the bacon into thin strips crosswise, if you are using it. Zest the lemon with a grater and then cut the lemon in half.

Heat a pan on medium high heat and put in about two tablespoons
or so of olive oil.  When the oil is hot, put in the bacon, if you are using it, and the onion.  Saute for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts taking on some color.  Throw in the garlic and stir. Cook further, stirring occasionally, but keeping an eye on the garlic because you don't want it to burn.  As soon as the garlic starts taking on a tiny bit of color (or starts to smell very aromatic) throw in some of the pasta water--about half a cup.  Throw in the lemon zest and squeeze in the juice of half of the lemon.  Stir, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to get any lovely caramelized bits into your sauce.  Season with salt.  You can add more pasta water if it all evaporates.

When the pasta is done, mix the pasta with the sauce in the pan and the roasted broccoli. Generously grate in some parmesan.  Toss to mix everything up.  While this pasta does not have much sauce, if it looks and tastes too dry, add in some more olive oil and pasta water.  Taste and adjust the salt, peppar, and lemon juice.

Serve hot with more parmesan and black pepper.  For those who like heat, some red chili pepper flakes would be lovely added into the sauce as it is cooking.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


One of my first cooking memories is of baking cookies with my mother.  Once every couple of weeks, she would tell me to go choose a cookie recipe from the cookbook and we would bake whatever I chose.  There were sugar cookies encrusted with nuts, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and a few times, we even made our own doughnuts.  These cookie journeys with my mother inspired my love of cooking.

I think cookies feature highly in the fantasies of all American children and as an adult, I still crave a warm cookie right out of the oven with a cold glass of milk.  Snickerdoodles are a classic cookie, simple and delicious. These cookies fulfill all my cookie criteria, crisp and cinnamony on the outside and soft and chewy inside, and they go perfectly with that glass of ice cold milk.  My boys love to help roll the cookies and dip them in the cinnamon topping.

Makes about 30 large cookies

Cookie Dough:
1 cup (225 grams) butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon light corn syrup or honey
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla
3 ½ cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

5 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large bowl, cream butter until fluffy.  Add sugar and beat until combined.  Add eggs, corn syrup and vanilla and mix together.   Mix together the dry ingredients and then beat into egg and sugar mixture.  The mixture will look dry and crumbly but will easily form a big ball.Mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl.

Take walnut sized portions of the dough and roll into a ball with your hands.  Roll the cookies into the topping mixture until it is evenly coated.  Place the balls on a cookie sheet.  Resist the temptation to press the balls down.  They will expand while they are baking.

Bake at 375ºF on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 ½ inches apart for 10 to 12 inches until the cookies have spread out and they are golden brown. 

P.S. If you have left-over cinnamon sugar, save it to use on cinnamon toast....

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Pecan Pie with Rum and Orange

I always loved the detail in the TV series Twin Peaks, where the main character Dale Cooper was fixated by pie and a cup of coffee and commented “That’s a damn fine piece of pie.” It was only once I lived outside the USA that I realized how American a pie is.  Oh, other countries have pies, and they are also delicious.  But they are not the same as an American pie, although of course the English come very close.  The French have the tart.  But a tart is not a pie.  The crust on a French tart uses egg and is more of a cookie dough, and is strong enough to stand up, once cooked, without a pan.  The American crust is a flakey affair that is too delicate to stand without the support of the pie pan.

When my boys were young, we didn’t live in the USA, so I realized I had to teach them the way of the pie.  It was not hard for them to pick up.  Both my sons love pie now and, indeed, my older son prefers pie to cake and orders pie every year for his birthday. 

Pecan pie is an American classic.  I make it every year for Thanksgiving, of course, but there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy this pie anytime of the year.

The classic flavor of pecan pie is just pecan nuts, carmelized sugar, and vanilla.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that combination but I like to jazz it up a bit with rum which just tastes right with these nutty sweet flavors.  A bit of orange takes the edge off of what is essentially jellied sugar, and a smidge of cardamom, which must be my favorite spice, gives an exotic touch, without distracting unduly from the main event.

There is a wonderful cookbook for those of you who want to delve into piemaking called simply “Pie” by Ken Haedrich.  With 300 recipes, this book is an opus magnum, with almost 60 pages devoted just to pie crusts.  I thought I knew about pie but realized that I knew nothing as I flipped through this huge tome.  The pie crust recipe here is adapted from this book and can be used in any standard pie recipe.

The half and half refers to the shortening in the recipe.  This recipe uses half butter for flavor and half vegetable shortening for more flakiness.  If you do not have access to shortening, you can also use lard.  In fact, many argue that lard makes the best pie crust, although I have not tried it.  I sometimes also just make it with all butter, since that is what I usually have in my kitchen, which tastes the best but lacks a bit of the flakiness.

Most of the work in the pie is in making the crust.  For a one crust pie, like pecan pie, I still make the recipe for two crusts and put half of the dough in the freezer for another time.

Classic half and half pie crust 
(2 crusts)
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick/115 grams) cold butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup cold vegetable shortening (115 grams), like Crisco, cut into small pieces
½ cup cold water

With a food processor:
Put the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse several times to mix.  Add the butter to the mixture and pulse 6 or so times.  Fluff up the mixture with a fork, making sure to get all around the sides.  Add the shortening and pulse again about 6 times.  Fluff with a fork again.  Add about half of the water and pulse 6 times.  Fluff again.  Add the final half of the water and pulse 6 times.  When it is ready, it will be starting to form some clumps.  Don’t let it completely form a big ball, because you will over process it.  You want the butter to be in tiny pieces, not completely amalgamated.  It is the process of the butter melting and steam forming in the dough that makes the pie dough flakey.
Turn the dough out into a big bowl and knead once or twice.  Pack the mixture into two even sized balls.  Wrap each ball in plastic wrap, flattening them out while you wrap.  Put the balls in the refrigerator for at least one hour.  You can also freeze the dough now, if you want to save it for a later use. 

By hand:
If you do not have a word processor, you can do it by hand.  After adding the butter and shortening, use your fingers to smear the butter into the flour.  After a bit, you will find the mixture resembling a coarse crumble.  Try to work it quickly so that the butter doesn’t melt and don’t overwork the dough.  It should not be smooth and even, but have little blotches of butter in it. Add the water and mix the dough, kneading it a few times, just enough so that the dough holds together and can form a ball. Beacause this pie only uses one crust, pat the second piece of dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, and put into a freezer bag and pop into the freezer.  When you want to use it, you simply thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for a few hours.

Rolling the crust:
Take the ball of dough out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you want to use it to let it warm up a little bit. On a floured pastry cloth or floured piece of wax paper, roll out one of the pieces of dough, large enough to fit your pie pan.  Because the dough is cold, it will have a tendency to crack, so don't roll with too much pressure at the beginning.  If the dough is not yet malleable enough to roll, just leave out for another 10 minutes and try again.

Roll the dough over your rolling pin and lift it onto your pan.  Smooth the dough out into the pan, leaving the excess dough hanging over the edge of the pan. Tuck any long edges between the crust and the pie pan, leaving the dough up a bit higher than the edge of the pan. Using your fingers, squeeze the crust to form a pretty edge.  Stick the prepared crust into the freezer while you prepare the filling.  Freezing the crust helps it from getting soggy in the beginning of the baking and also helps to protect the crust when you are putting the filling.
I like to use a pastry cloth which is covered with flour.  The crust never sticks and there are helpful guidelines to help me keep the crust round, although you can see that the crust has its own ideas about that.

I find that rolling the crust onto the rolling pin is the easiest method of getting the crust onto the pie pan.

Lift the crust onto the pan and then unroll it.

Adjust the crust so that it is centered as much as possible and make sure that you pat the crust down into the pan.  If you were making a double crust pie, you would simply leave the crust like this, put the filling in and then the second crust on top.  For a one crust pie, tuck in the extra bits in between the pie pan and crust, leaving the crust about 1/3 inch higher than the edge, and then pinch the edges with your fingers to create a pretty edging effect.  If you have too much extra crust like you see on the botton left, you can cut some off with a knive and put where you need a bit of extra.  This "tucking" method ensures you have an extra thick crust at the edge where you need it.
Here is the finished crust!  Be proud.
Pecan Filling

3 cups pecan halves
1 cup corn or sugar syrup (In Sweden I use ljussirap, in the UK golden syrup works well)
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
4 tablespoons rum
zest of one orange
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla

First, preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Then, melt the butter in a small pot on the stove or in the microwave.  Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the filling. 

In a large bowl, crack the eggs and lightly beat. Add the sugar and mix until it is incorporated.  Add the syrup and mix again. Then add the run, orange zest, and cardamom.  Add the pecans and the butter and stir until all the pecans are coated and the butter is nicely incorporated.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and put the pie into the oven for 30 minutes. Turn the pie around 180 degrees so that it cooks evenly on both sides.  Cook for a further 20 to 40 minutes until the filling has puffed up and is only slightly jiggly at the center.  How fast this takes will depend upon your oven.  If it looks like the pecans are getting too dark, put a piece of tinfoil over the pie and continue cooking.  Don't worry if the pie has puffed up and looks warped and funny.  It will settle back flat as it cools. 

Serve the pie at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla icecream.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Simple Supper: Sushi Rice Bowl

This is one of my favorite dinners ever. EVER.  It is tasty and delicious but yet it feels fresh when you are eating it.  It is fast and simple to make, and you can vary it depending on your mood.  Need I say more?  It all came about one day when I was planning on having the kids make their own sushi.  I had prepared the rice and all the toppings that the kids like (salmon, cucumber, and avocado) when I realized that I was out of seaweed.  So, I told the kids we would have sushi in a bowl and that is exactly what we did.  Which is when I realized that sushi in a bowl may actually be better than sushi sushi.  At least when prepared at home.  I would love to say that I invented this dish, but no, the Japanese actually already figured it out.  They call this kind of dish donburri, which literally means bowl in Japanese.

First let's talk rice.  You will need to have sushi rice, which is a short-grained rice which has some stickiness to it.  If you get, for example, a Chinese rice, which is medium grained, you will not have sufficient stickiness to make good sushi.  In California, you are spoilt for choice because sushi rice is grown there.  Here in Sweden, I just get the brand that is sold in every market in the international section.  This is my favorite type of rice and I serve it with everything, unless I am specifically wanting a different texture.  Now, here is the trick that turns a bowl of rice into sushiness. Ready?  Seasoned rice vinegar.  Sprinkled liberally into the hot freshly cooked rice and then tossed until it is fully incorporated, rice vinegar adds salt, sugar, and a touch of acidity which makes the rice extra delicious.  Make sure that you buy seasoned rice vinegar.  If you are unsure, check the ingredients list. If it containes sugar, then you are good.  I let everyone sprinkle soysauce on, to their taste.  To be honest, the rice tastes so good with just the vinegar, you barely need soysauce.  When buying soysauce, the best kind is feremented and brewed naturally. Modern techniques have allowed soysauce to be made more quickly using hydrolyzed soy protein which also allows it to have a longer shelf life but tastes a bit different.  While we Westerners tend to think of soysauce as a single item, there are dozens of different types of soysauce which vary in thickness, sweetness, and saltiness.  For a reliable soysauce, I always buy the Japanese Kikkoman brand, which is traditionally fermented and brewed.

Let's talk fish.  Any kind of fish would taste great in this dish.  I tend to use salmon because that is the easiest to get here in Sweden. While any good salmon will be delicious, if I can get it, I buy Salmalax.  This is salmon that has been processed within four hours from catching it.  It is beautifully butchered into perfect pieces with no bones or skin and tastes clean and fresh.  So when I want to do a raw salmon preparation, or seared, as I like for this dish, then Salmalax is perfect.  It is more expensive but I think the results are worth it.

Last but not least, what kind of additional toppings go on the rice?  If I am really in a hurry, I just peel and slice a cucumber and an avocado and I am done. But if I have a bit more time, I like to add soybeans.  These beautiful little green gems taste delicious and are easy to do.  Why?  Because they are sold pre-cooked and frozen. This is one vegetable that is not better fresh because the raw bean is actually toxic.  You just grab a box of these from your freezer, throw them in a pot of water and bring it up to a boil.  Drain, sprinkle with some seasalt and you are done.

Finally, if I have time, I like to add a green vegetable.  Bok choi, a mild flavored Chinese
cabbage is my number one choice, if I can find it.  But otherwise, any green like spinach, kale, or cabbage will be equally delicious, stir-fried quickly with some garlic. Green beans or broccoli are also delicious cooked this way.

The last touch is to add some seaweed to the dish.  I like to get seasoned and roasted seaweed, which I then cut into small pieces. Even in Sweden, you can sometimes find this sold as a little snack packet.  If I can't find that, I mimic it by brushing sheets of sushi seaweed with a bit of oil, sprinkling some salt and then searing it for a second or two in a hot pan.  It is definitely not necessary, but my kids love it, so I try to get it if I can.

Phew!  That is a lot of explaining for a dish that is so easy to make.

Serves 4

For the rice:
1.5 cups sushi rice
3 cups water
seasoned rice vinegar

Put the water and rice in a pot with the lid on.  Bring the water to a boil and then turn down the heat to the lowest possible setting on your stove, and leave it to cook for 20 minutes, by which time it should be perfectly done.  Take the pot off the stove and shake in some rice vinegar.  Start with two or three tablespoons, and then toss the rice with a fork to incorporate.  Taste and add more vinegar if you like.

While the rice is cooking, prepare your other ingredients.

For the Salmon:
About 600 grams of salmon fillet
oil for the pan
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the salmon into 4 to 6 pieces.  Rub each piece with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a pan to very hot.  Add a bit of oil to the pan and lay in the salmon.  The fish should sizzle when you lay it in the pan.  If it does not, the pan is not hot enough.  If you want the fish just seared, then lay it in the pan for not more than a minute and then flip over for another minute.  The fish (depending on the thickness of the piece) should be raw in the center.  If you like it more well done, simply cook it for longer.

For the soybeans:
Take a packet of frozen beans, normally about 250 grams. Cook as per the instructions on the box, i.e. by putting the beans in water and bringing to a boil.  Drain and then sprinkle with sea salt.

For the greens:
Vegetable of your choice
cloves of garlic
salt to taste

Slice 4 cloves of garlic.  Slice whatever greens that you have chosen into bite sized pieces.  For example, spinach can be cooked whole but kale should be chopped up.  Put a cup of water to the side of the stove. Heat up a frying pan to very hot and put some oil in it.  Throw in the garlic, stir once, and then immediately throw in the greens. Season with a bit of salt.  Stir and cook until the vegetable start to take on a little color, making sure that the garlic does not burn.  If you feel like the garlic might start to burn, throw in a bit of water in the pan. It will start to evaporate immediately, steaming the vegetables. Continue to add water until the vegetable is cooked to your liking. Spinach will need little, if any water, while green beans will need quite a lot to become tender.

To serve, put a portion of rice in a bowl.  Arrange the toppings on top.  Sprinkle with soysauce and seaweed, if desired.  Eat heartily because it is as healthy as it is delicious!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Simple Supper: Zucchini and Leek Pasta

"No onion," scolded my friend Jessica.  She had just come from Italy and was showing me how to make a zucchini pasta sauce that she had there.  "Ok," I replied, "but how about a little garlic, then?"  "No garlic," Jessica said exasperatedly, "Just the zucchini."  Jessica's sauce was very simple.  Just grated zucchini, sauteed slowly in a lot of olive oil until it melted down into a thick sauce.  On pasta with grated parmesan, she was right.  It didn't need anything else.  It tasted fresh, like the essence of summer.  However, in the middle of winter with zucchini out of season and without much flavor, Jessica's sauce would need a bit more.  I couldn't quite bring myself to put an onion in it, but surely Jessica could have no objections to a lovely leek?  And really, some garlic couldn't be wrong.  Of course some basil to add a bit of zest. This is fresh and yet warm and comforting.  A glimpse of summer for the winter.

Serves 4
2 to 3 medium sized zucchini
1 leek
4 cloves of garlic
generous handful of basil
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
500 grams of your favorite pasta

First, put a big pan of water on the stove for the pasta.  Salt generously once the water is boiling and cook the pasta for the number of minutes indicated on the packet.  I like to use a penne or farfalle pasta which will take up plenty of the sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables.  Rinse off the zucchini and grate them.  Slice the leek in half.  Rinse carefully to get any grit from between the leaves.  Slice into rounds.  Roughly chop the basil.  Peel the garlic and chop.

Heat a saute pan and add a generous amount of olive oil, about 3 to 4 tablespoons.  When the oil is hot, throw in the leek and a pinch of salt and stir for about a
minute on high heat until it starts to wilt.  Throw in the garlic and stir for another minute.  Then add the grated zucchini.  Add another pinch of salt and stir.  Add some more olive oil if you feel it is getting dry.  Turn the heat down to medium and let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally.  When the zucchini starts to break down, the sauce is ready.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and throw in the basil and give it a final stir.

Drain the pasta when it is cooked, saving a cup of the water. Toss the hot pasta in the sauce and stir until it is coating all the pasta.  I like to do this with a pair of tongs.  Add a bit of the pasta water if it seems a bit dry, and you can even add a bit more olive oil.

Incorporate about two tablespoons of grated parmesan into the sauce and stir.  Serve the pasta hot with more parmesan on top.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Slow Cooker: Oriental Beef Stew

This fragrant stew is an easy riff on a classic Chinese dish called red-cooked beef. When I was a child, my Chinese grandmother would make a similar type of dish for special occasions like my birthday enriched with boiled eggs and glass noodles.  The eggs, which were my favorite part, would be boiled and peeled and then cooked with the beef, and would end up colored and tasting of the delicious broth.  The eggs symbolized fertility and the noodles symbolized long life.  Sometimes, my grandmother would have a dish of red colored eggs where the red color meant prosperity, good luck, and happiness.

The flavor of the stew comes from star anise and five spice powder which is a mixture of spices normally including cloves, cinnamon, sichaun pepper, star anise, and fennel. I love using star anise because they are so amazingly pretty.  The five spice powder can be used as a spice rub on meat, in stir fries, or even stirred into mayonaise for a dip.  It makes everything taste vaguely Chinese!  Orange and ginger are complementary flavors that I throw in, if I happen to have the ingredients around.  But the stew will taste also good without them.

For everyday, I usually don't bother to do the extra step of boiling the eggs. Making it in a slow cooker makes it easy to serve on a weekday, but you can also make it on a pot on the stove.

Serves 6

1.5 kilo stewing beef
1 large onion
2 to 3 carrots
2 to 3 turnips or half of a daikon radish
2 star anise
2 teaspoons five spice powder
4 tablespoons soysauce, adjust to taste
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, optional
grated zest of one orange, optional
8 cloves of garlic
black pepper
oil for frying the beef
4 to 6 boiled eggs, peeled (allow one per person), optional

First prepare all the ingredients. This can be done the night before, if you just want to throw it all in the slow cooker in the morning. Cut the beef into bite size chunks.   Chop the onions into large dice.  Peel the carrots and the turnips or radish and chop into large bite size pieces.  Peel the garlic and chop each clove into two pieces.  Peel the ginger and slice thinly.

Take a large pot or skillet and put on the stove on the highest heat.  Put some oil in the pan and brown the beef in three to four batches.  If you try to brown all the beef at once, the heat will drop in the pot and the juices will come out of the meat and you will end up boiling the meat instead of browning it.  For each batch, drop in pieces in a single layer to cover the bottom of the pan, making sure that each piece has contact with the pan.  Turn the pieces over until they are nicely brown on all sides.  Put the browned pieces in a bowl (or straight into the slow cooker pot), and then repeat until all the meat is done.  In between batches, if the browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan look like they might burn, throw in a quarter cup of water and scrape the bottom of the pan.  Add this water to the bowl with the browned meat.  It is these caramelized juices that will form much of the flavor of the stew, so you want to make sure you get it all! Then, heat the pan again and add a bit more oil and continue browning the meat.

When all the meat is browned, add a bit of water to the pan and scrape the bottom of the pan, stirring until all the browned goodness at the bottom is dissolved into the water.  Pour this water into the bowl with the meat.

Put the browned meat and the juices into the pot (or your slow cooker), add the vegetables, onion, garlic, and peeled boiled eggs if you are using them, and pour in water about half way up (about 2 cups of water).  Put in the spices and soysauce.  Pepper generously. If using a slow cooker, then turn it on, according to how long you will be away and put on the lid.  

If cooking on the stove, then bring the stew to a boil.  Let the stew simmer at a light boil for an hour with the lid off (this will evaporate some of the liquid to make a stronger tasting broth).  After an hour, taste the stew liquid for salt.  Add some salt or more soysauce if necessary.  The liquid should taste fairly full bodied.  If it tastes a bit weak, leave the lid off to reduce the liquid further, but be careful to salt with a light hand.  If the liquid already tastes good, then put the lid on and lower the heat until the stew is just simmering.  Simmer until the meat is very tender, a further one to two hours. 

Whether made on the stove or in the slow cooker, taste and adjust the salt before serving hot over white rice.  Stir fried bok choy, spinach, or other greens make a nice accompaniment.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Simple Supper: Basil Pesto Pasta

I can still remember in the 1980s when basil pesto (pesto alla genovese) became fashionable in Los Angeles where I grew up.  Suddenly, it was on every restaurant menu and bottles of pesto appeared in the pasta aisle in the supermarket.  No one really knew how this mysterious sauce was made, but it seems to involve a lot of hand grinding, so the best course of action was to buy the jar, or even better, the sort-of-freshly-made-plastic-canister in the refrigerated section.  We didn't know any better and it tasted pretty good.  Fast forward to the 1990s and my first trip in Italy. There, in any grocery store, you could find a big bowl of what looked like freshly made pesto. Glistening bright green with flecks of cheese, this looked and tasted amazing.  It tasted reminiscent of the pesto of my childhood but better. A lot better.

Some years later, my best friend was married in Italy and the first course of her wedding supper was basil pesto.  It was served in the traditional way, with green beans and potato mixed in with the pasta.  It was so delicious that I had two helpings, despite that this was just the beginning of a five course meal.

When I finally made pesto myself, I was shocked to realize how
simple it was to make at home, and I find it now hard to understand how anyone could buy the jarred kind.   Perhaps the mystery lies in that you really need to have a food processor or what I like to term a "woozy woo", which is a mini food processor (if you don't have one of these, I suggest you buy one immediately).  If you don't have one of these two items, then indeed, making the sauce by hand in a mortor and pestle could be time consuming...although I bet it really isn't that hard...maybe I will try sometime.  In the meantime, here is how to make one of my family's favorite dishes.  I have substituted tomatoes for the potatoes in the traditional dish, which I think makes for a fresher dish.

Feeds 4 as a main course, 6 to 8 as a side dish

For the pesto sauce

2 bunches basil
50 grams parmesan
75 grams pine nuts
pinch salt
1 to 2 garlic cloves, according to your taste
about 1/3 cup olive oil

For the pasta
150 grams haricot vert
300 grams cherry tomatoes
400 grams spaghetti or other pasta

grated parmesan
a sprinkle of pine nuts

Put a big of water to boil.  Don't forget to liberally salt it.

While you are waiting for the water to boil, prepare your pesto.  In
your food processor, put in a pinch of salt, the pine nuts, parmesan,
garlic and basil. Add in about half of the oil.  Pulse to mix.  If the mixture seems dry and is not grinding smoothly, add some more oil.  You want a thick paste that still has some texture.  You can always add more olive oil if necessary.  Taste.  It should be very flavorful. If it tastes a bit flat, then add a pinch more salt or some more parmesan.  If it is too strong, then add a bit more pine nuts to give it a creamier mellow taste.  Remember, though that the flavor will be very diluted by the pasta so it should be strong.  Set aside.

Prepare the green beans by chopping off the tops and tails.  I like to chop mine in half because it makes it easier to eat.  Slice each cherry tomato in half.

When the water is boiling, add in your pasta and cook for the number of minutes it says on the packet.  About 3 to 4 minutes before the pasta is done, put in the green beans.  When the time is up, take a mug or measuring cup and scoop out a cup of the pasta water and set aside.  Drain the pasta and green beans in a colander. Put the pasta and beans back in the pot (or in a big serving bowl) and pour over the pesto sauce.  Using a big pair of tongs, toss the pasta until the pesto evenly coats the pasta.  If it seems a bit dry, add a bit of the pasta water.  Add the tomatoes, and do a last toss.

Serve hot with more grated parmesan and a sprinkle of pine nuts.