Archive for June 2016

Pesto: What’s in a Name?

It seems to be everywhere…and not just the molto famoso “Ligurian” pasta with potato and green beans or with trofie pasta but dribbled or drizzled on anything you can imagine. But is that really “pesto?” Or, has the term “pesto,” which derives from the Italian pestare, meaning to pound or grind using a mortar and pestle, come to mean any kind of uncooked sauce? Kind of reminds me of our use of Kleenex when what we really mean are tissues. Perhaps this statement found in “Essentials” by Marcella Hazan says it all, “pesto may have become more popular than is good for it!”

DSC_8166 nx2Food Historian Gillian Riley refers to pesto as “simply being a mass of aromatic HERBS being pounded in a pestle and mortar with salt, garlic, olive oil, cheese and perhaps nuts which then can be diluted with vinegar or verjuice or broth and used as a sauce or relish with all kinds of things.” And it seems that in the past pesto was not unique to Liguria.

Who knew? My introduction to pesto was way back in the late ‘70’s when a friend made a batch, tossing it with fresh pasta she had picked up at a shop that made quality fresh pasta. Sad to say it didn’t last more than a couple of years. Sad for our city, that’s for sure! We could do with a place like that now! Anyway, back to my first pesto…it was absolutely the most wonderful thing I had tasted in a very long time…it was love at first bite. Hence the abundance of basil plants in our garden, in pots and where ever I can find a sunny spot! You can never have enough basil, right?

_DSC1319.jpg nx2Then a few years ago I made a new pesto discovery with fresh cherry tomatoes, basil and almonds that’s a specialty of Trapani in Sicily and so good I always want to lick the plate! Guess what? There are more cherry tomato plants that ever in our garden these days!  Click here for a link to the recipe.

As of late I’ve been having discussions with other cooks in my FB circle about calling it Spaghetti Carbonara when what makes up a Carbonara is changed up by adding or taking away key ingredients. For instance, in Rome I enjoyed a Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe (one of my all-time favourites) that included zucchini blossoms…oh for shame! Does it still qualify as Cacio e Pepe? Or take Bolognese sauce…what if it doesn’t include the traditional 3 meats, the milk or for that matter is meatless and uses lentils instead?

Or in my “research” on pesto I found things like green pea pesto, a tagliatelle with corn pesto or god help me, collard greens and kale.  Do they qualify as pesto? I have my doubts!

Mea culpa, for my spaghetti with a so called pesto made with green onions or ramps, or a parsley, almond version…at least the parsley one does include a herb! Should I change up the name of the other one? Maybe I should call it green onion or ramp “relish” or a “condimento” instead…

DSC_8436 nx2And what about that uninspiring “sort of green stuff” in a jar labelled as pesto? Please, can you tell me why anyone would pay good money when, if you own a food processor, (I know, can we call it a true pesto if a mortar and pestle is not involved), is dead-easy to make?   And all that’s required is a bunch of fresh basil, pine-nuts, Pecorino or Parmigiano, your best extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. It would make a Ligurian Nonna proud (what do you bet she even uses a processor these days)…

And then I must add a word about the nuts…Gillian Riley says they don’t have to be there but they do thicken the sauce a bit, it would depend on what you are using the sauce for is my guess. Back to the nuts, the ideal would be Italian pine-nuts which cost an arm and a leg here.  A small packet that contains perhaps 3 tablespoons, is close to $5.00.  Failing the procurement of precious pine-nuts, I’ve been known to substitute slivered almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and for another fantastic version of pesto,  pistachios.  Not cheap either, especially if you’ve been fortunate enough to get your hands on Bronte ones from Sicily, picked up, perhaps, on your last trip to Italy. The Californian ones we easily come by are not inexpensive either but they do make a nice treat!

Gareth Jones, the “Last of the Independents,” wrote a great post discussing pesto. Click here for the link.

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More Adventures With The Big “A”

I just had my second steroid injection in a month…I can almost throw away my cane! Well, not totally but I sure have a lot more mobility!

DSC_1443 nx2I want to be able to walk the Appian Way again like I did in this photo!  And I want to be able to spend hours walking around Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villa which we had to take a pass on last October because we didn’t think it possible.  Not only that, if we went I’d be unhappy because I wouldn’t be able to see all I wanted to!

But we took a little excursion last week…actually left the property to visit a friend in Washington State! Amazing! And I walked without pain, thank goodness for my cane and urban walking poles for that extra bit of support!

The past, almost two months, have been what you might call “interesting”…or what I might call “painful.”

When you write a blog you are always on the lookout for interesting (hopefully) things to blog about. This time out it’s more sharing about my knee…lucky you, readers…but please, if you know someone who is suffering with arthritis in their knees or hips, please share this with them.

villa e'esteAbout six weeks ago I began to experience serious pain (like not being able to walk without big-time pain) which made my world a lot smaller. How the heck can you post about fun, interesting things your readers might want to read about when you can’t even leave the house to get fresh ideas and take photos?

I have written a few posts about my adventures with the OsteoArthritis I have in my left knee and what I have been doing to keep my knees in the best possible condition in preparation for knee replacement surgery. I had thought perhaps next January would be a good time for the surgery…well my outlook on that time frame has altered considerably…I want my life back!  I’m still awaiting the appointment with the surgeon (a request was sent in January). Then there’s a wait for the actual surgery, plus the rehabilitation time.

hadrian's villaAnd then there is the bit about not being able to spend time cooking because I couldn’t stand on my leg for more than a couple of minutes without pain. What in the world does a cook do who can’t stand and cook…good question, I’m still searching for an answer.

Four weeks ago I received my first steroid injection. The pain was reduced by between 50 and 60% meaning I could stand and do some cooking with sit-down breaks in between…breaking down the tasks to manageable standing times…very interesting indeed! But that injection has allowed me to return to my pool fitness programme even if it hurts like hell to do the exercises and I’m unable to do some of the things I could six weeks ago…frustrating to say the least, because the whole point was for my knees to be as strong as possible before the surgery and I worry that I will lose what I have worked so hard on over the past few years.

Back to the blog! No cooking, no staging and photographing food shots…things have gone all to hell in a hand basket in that regard! And no “real” travel either…this is not good! How can I write about our trips and food tasting experiences if we can’t travel? You can see the problem!

Talking about trying to get back on track, perhaps now I can get out and about and start posting about things from our beautiful city! Things are always changing so I’m Looking forward to actually exploring some of those changes and sampling some of the newer establishments that are popping up. Fingers crossed!

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24 Hours in Ferndale

OK, so it’s not Italy! But what the heck, it’s a trip out of town!

The story began last year before our trip to Italy, when I had become FB friends with Timothy. Tim was planning on travelling around Italy then returning home via Rome and as luck would have it, we would be in Rome at that time . Soooo…we should meet up, right???

DSCN1362 nx2 RSAs it turned out, Tim was not in Rome very long at the end of his journey so our worlds did not collide at that time! That was last October, fast forward to May and we finally made that meeting happen at the beginning of June.

Ferndale, Washington, is a drive that takes anywhere between 1 ½ to 2 hours from Vancouver. Now…this is a small, farming oriented community so we weren’t expecting to find the holy grail of food but thanks to a recommendation from Tim we headed to Drizzle, an olive oil and vinegar tasting room and café, in Lynden, Washington, for their website, click here. What a find! Both our lunch choices were fantastic! For me a soy caramel braised pork banh mi (Birchridge Farms pork) with pickled veggies, aioli, Thai basil, cilantro, mint, jalapeno and cucumber on a focaccia bun. Joe ordered the Front St. Grinder with mortadella (from Jack Mountain Meats), ham (from Small City), olive relish that took the sandwich up a bunch of notches, Ferndale Farmstead Asiago (more about them in a minute), lettuce, tomato and onion. I was hard pressed to trade half of my DSCN1363 nx2banh mi but that half of Joe’s grinder was well worth the trade! Both sandwiches were accompanied by house-made chunky potato salad. You probably know that if there’s a dessert that leaps off the page, we go for it (to share of course)…no guilt that way! This time around it was the semi-freddo made with goats milk and kefir served with poached local rhubarb, Moon Valley wildflower honey and fresh thyme…an outstanding combination of flavours…almost licked the plate clean, it was that good!

Our host cooked up a wonderful Italian dinner; we toasted each other with Prosecco, ate, drank more wine and had a great time sharing our stories and getting to know each other for real!

The next morning, we met up with Tim for a trip to Ferndale Farmstead to tour their cheese making facility, click here for their website. The milk is from their DSC_2554 nx2own herd and the cheeses are made using traditional Italian cheese making methods. We learned a lot, tasted cheese and before leaving were given cheese to take home to try! How wonderful is that?

Onward to lunch in Bellingham at another of Tim’s likes, Old World Deli, for their website, click here  for a “how am I supposed to be able to choose” from such a great sounding selection of sandwiches, panini, soups and more. In the end, I went for the special, porchetta on a baguette…tasty, spicy and very good, Joe ordered the chicken, pesto panino… again we swapped halves back and forth. Good choice Joe!

Facebook came through once again, by making it possible to meet like-minded people who we would never be able to meet otherwise!

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