It is October and that means I need to trim my herb garden and use up all the annual herbs before the temperature drops below 50°. It would break my heart if they went to waste, especially my basil. I have four basil plants and after a rough start they grew, continuously producing new stems and leaves for my pleasure. I was not so fortunate last year. What a difference having an herb garden makes. I can select the amount of herbs I need, and pick them when I want them. Nonetheless, it is time to use it or lose it. Fortunately, the best way I know how to use up a bunch of fresh basil is make basil pesto.
There is nothing like a fresh herb pesto to add bright herbaceous pizzaz to pasta, vegetables, and fish or chicken. Usually, I also add in an extra leafy green vegetable or herb, like arugula or spinach, when I make basil pesto. The additional greens add extra body and texture to the pesto. Spinach leaves really softens the basil flavor and smooths the pesto. Arugula’s peppery bite brightens the basil flavor. Both versions taste delicious. For my recipe if you want to omit the arugula, go ahead. This is a classic basil pesto recipe, if you omit the lemon zest and arugula there is no need to add in more basil leaves to supplement it.
Pesto has three essential ingredients: basil, olive oil and freshly grated cheese. The quality of these ingredients influences to the flavor of the pesto. I always recommend buying the best quality food or product you can afford. This is especially true for the olive oil. For pesto, an all-purpose extra virgin olive oil is fine to use. There is no need to buy top shelf extra virgin olive oil, save that for salads. I use California Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil for my every day use and I am very happy with the flavor. Unfortunately, the labels on olive oil are misleading and not regulated. 100% olive oil is often not 100% olive oil. For more information about buying olive oil, here is an article about how to find real olive oil at the grocery store. Also, here from Business Insider.
Other than the fresh herb in pesto, the freshness of the grated cheese impacts the flavor. The traditional cheeses in pesto are Parmesan or Romano and sometimes both. I use Romano cheese for its sharper flavor, and it’s less expensive than Parmesan. Whichever cheese you use, only use freshly grated cheese. If possible, buy a chunk and grate the cheese at home. Parmesan and Romano cheese are expensive, but they last a long time. If you need to buy grated cheese, buy the cheese that is grated at the store. It is a lot fresher than buying factory grated cheese with preservatives in it.
Want more herb sauce recipes? Check out my recipe for Rolled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Every Italian cookbook author, says never to cook Basil pesto. In general I follow this rule, unless I am grilling salmon with pesto (without cheese). Any level of heat will darken the color of the basil, dull its flavor, and diminish the scent. For best results, serve pesto at room temperature, stirred into warm pasta. When I make it, I make a batch and freeze it before adding the cheese. That way if I need it for pasta or to garnish a soup, I can use the pesto either with or without the cheese. Stir in the cheese a little before adding the pesto to your pasta dish. This will allow the ingredients to meld and the cheese to absorb the oil and basil.
My Favorite Basil Pesto
- 2 cups lightly packed (38 g) basil leaves cleaned, dried, and stems removed
- 3/4 cup (20 g) arugula cleaned , dried and stems removed
- 1 clove garlic chopped
- 1/4 cup (27 g) pine nuts lightly toasted
- Zest of half a lemon
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup (40 g) freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, or a blend of both
- Little squeeze of fresh lemon juice if needed to brighten the pesto*
Place the basil leaves in a food processor and process until the leaves are slightly chopped. Add the arugula and process with the basil to combine.
Add the garlic, lemon zest, Kosher salt, and pinenuts and pulse until an even consistency is achieved.
Add half of the olive oil and process until smooth. Using a rubber spatula scrape down the sides of your food processor and stir it around. Add more olive oil until you reach the consistency you want. Taste and correct seasoning. Before you add more salt, remember the cheese is not added yet and is salty.
If using soon, pour the pesto into a small bowl and stir in the grated cheese. Start by adding half the cheese, stir and taste. Add more cheese as you wish. Regrigerate the pesto without the cheese until needed. Add the cheese to the pesto before using.
Stir the specified amount of pesto into your favorite pasta and serve immediately.
Pesto is best used immediately or the day it is made. It will last for a week in the refrigerator, or freeze, without the cheese, for 3 months.
Never heat up pesto. Heat causes the pesto to change color and the flavor lose its intensity.
*Adding an acid like lemon juice could change the color of leafy greens and other vegetables. If you feel the pesto needs to get brighter, add a little squeeze of lemon juice just before using.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
As is often the case with specialty ingredients, a recipe requires a small amount, but you must purchase a much larger portion then needed. This is often true for ingredients like fresh ginger root or fresh turmeric. Unless you cook recipes that use fresh ginger every day, using up a knob of ginger takes a conscious effort. What to make with all that ginger? One solution is make candied ginger.
This week I found myself in this exact predicament of having more fresh ginger than I could use. I bought more ginger than usual because a couple of farmers at the market sold baby ginger. I love how baby ginger looks (also known as young ginger), and wanted to photograph it. With its’ creamy pale-pink coloring and smooth skin, it is hard to believe it is ginger. I had about a half of a pound of young ginger and needed to figure out something to make with it. It dawned on me there was no candied ginger in the house. This was a missing pantry item over the whole summer, so it was time to make it.
I happen to like ginger and often cook with it. When I have candied ginger in my pantry, I enjoy it with my breakfast sprinkled over yogurt, in granola, oatmeal, cookies, pies, crumbles, cakes and muffins, or for an afternoon pick-me-up. I found eating a date stuffed with a slice of candied ginger and a walnut, squelches any sugar cravings and afternoon munchies.
People swear by fresh ginger’s ability to soothe an upset stomach and morning sickness, and is good for digestion. I used to drink an elixir of ginger, turmeric, lemon juice and honey to reduce inflammation. With all these great health benefits, I like to always have some form of ginger available.
Some people have a philosophy, that they won’t make a specialty food if they can easily buy it from a quality and reliable source. Not me. I am open to make just about anything. So why make candied ginger when you can easily buy it? For me, it is all about knowing what I put in my body and reducing my carbon footprint. If I make candied ginger, I can buy organic ginger at the store, or locally grown baby ginger at a farmer’s market. I also don’t use any preservatives.
You also get two by-products when you make candied ginger, ginger simple syrup and ginger sugar. Both taste great in hot or cold tea, coffee, homemade soda or drinks, or in baked goods. I particularly like using the ginger syrup in a ginger martini.
There are a couple of obstacles that intimidate people and prevent them from making candied ginger. You need a candy thermometer, or one that reads temperatures above 250°F (121°C), like a Thermapen instant read thermometer. Thermometers are our friends. They tell us important and accurate information about our food, especially when cooking with meats. This information lets us know our food is properly cooked, or not. There are visual clues to read, but the internal temperature of a piece of meat does not lie and indicates exactly how far along your meat has cooked. If you don’t own a thermometer, you should get one. I rely on mine all the time. You don’t need an expensive one, just one that is reliable and easy to read.
Thermometer brands I like are Thermoworks, and CDN. The Thermapen by Thermoworks is the highest rated instant read thermometer. It is also expensive. Thermoworks makes other instant read thermometers, like pocket thermometers that are less expensive. (This is not a sponsored post)
Also, making candied ginger does take some time to make. Fortunately, while the ginger simmers, cools and dries, you can work on other projects. The time between the cooling and drying, and coating the ginger with sugar is a couple of hours. Later, the sugar-coated ginger needs to air dry some more. Fortunately, this is something you can set up and forget about until later. I believe the positive reasons for making candied ginger outweigh the negatives.
This recipe is slightly adapted from David Lebovitz recipe . I have been making this for a few years and really like it. It produces a lot of the ginger syrup too. I scaled his recipe down and only use a half pound of ginger. The original recipe specifies, one pound of ginger and 4 cups each of sugar and water. It is an easy recipe to scale up or down because the ingredients are easily divided by or multiplied by 2. Plus, the water and sugar ratio is one to one.
Recipes to use with your candied ginger:
Fall is here and along with the changing leaves, back to school, and colder temperatures, the holidays are around the corner. Hopefully, that means there is a lot of festivities and parties to attend. I believe a jar of homemade candied ginger is a perfect host/hostess gift. What a thoughtful thank you. Who does not like a delicious homemade treat? Attach a recipe that uses candied ginger, and your host or hostess will be more appreciative.
- 1/2 lb fresh ginger root
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- small pinch of salt
- 3-4 quart saucepan
- Candy thermometer
- Lightly greased cooling rack or parchment paper
- Sheet pan large enough for the cooling rack to fit in
- Air tight container to store the candied ginger
Peel the ginger using the side of a spoon and scrape off the thin skin. Slice the ginger into 1/8-inch (3 mm) pieces with a thin and sharp paring knife or mandoline slicer.
Add the ginger slices to a saucepan then add enough water to cover the ginger slices by one inch (2.5 cm). Bring the water to a boil and simmer for twenty minutes or until the ginger slices are tender and easily pierced with a fork*.
Pour out the tender ginger slices into a fine mesh strainer resting over a bowl to catch the water. Measure the water and add more to equal 2 cups for a half pound of ginger.
Add the water and 2 cups of sugar, pinch of kosher salt to the saucepan and add the ginger slices. (if you are concerned with the ginger syrup crystallizing add 1- 2 TB of corn syrup). Stir to help the sugar dissolve.
Bring the sugar water to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook the ginger until the sugar water reaches 225°F (107°C).
Turn off heat and set the saucepan aside.
If you want to keep the candied ginger in the syrup, let it steep in the syrup for at least one hour, up to overnight. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about one year.
If you want to dry the ginger and add a sugar coating, immediately pour the ginger into a fine mesh strainer resting over a bowl large enough to hold the ginger syrup. The ginger syrup is delicious and can be used in many different recipes.
Spread the candied ginger over a cooling rack, resting on a sheet pan to catch any drips. Make sure the ginger slices are not stuck together. Let them air dry for 2 hours. You are ready to coat the ginger when it is sticky but not too wet or dry.
Pour about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of granulated sugar on a plate and toss the ginger slices in the sugar to coat. Return the ginger to a clean cooling rack resting over a clean sheet pan and let it dry for 2 hours.
Store in an air tight container, in a cool, dry place. The candied ginger will last for about one month.
*The time spent simmering the ginger depends on the age of your ginger root. The younger the ginger is the more tender it is. Older ginger can get a very fibrous texture. Simmer the ginger slices until it is just tender.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Why make ricotta cheese and add one more thing to do in your busy day? Is it really necessary to make ricotta cheese if I am already making a lasagna that takes too long? The answer is an unflappable yes because the taste is 100 times better than store-bought. Ricotta cheese bought in grocery stores tastes gummy, gritty, and filled with additives to prevent the whey and curds from separating. Ricotta should have a pure milk flavor, not a chemical flavor.
Another good reason to make homemade ricotta is a small gesture, but a good one. Sourcing milk from small farms will reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, milk from cows that are allowed to graze, eat a natural diet of grass, and produce hormone and antibiotic free milk, tastes better and is better for our health. Further, clean farming practices and less plastic containers in the world will ultimately make it a healthier and cleaner place.
I wanted to share this recipe because it is so simple and quick. If you are at all skeptical about starting another project, I believe this is a great way to ease into making ricotta cheese. The recipe makes a small batch, enough to use in pancakes, or to make one of my favorite appetizers, ricotta with lemon zest, mint and honey spread on toasted bread.
This recipe is from the cookbook, Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Additionally, Kenji is the founder of the website, Serious Eats, which I reference a lot. He is all about the science of cooking and puts recipes through rigorous testing to come up with the best practice to produce the tastiest results. This recipe will produce about 1 cup of fresh ricotta and could take 5-15 minutes from start to finish. Another easy bonus is, it is prepared in the microwave.
However, the recipe is not without its challenges. When I first made it, the bowl I used barely fit inside my microwave. I believe the lack of space around the bowl made an unevenness in the way the milk heated up. The temperature of the milk between the top and bottom of the bowl differed by 10 – 15 degrees. This resulted in producing less ricotta from the quart of milk than the recipe indicated. The next time I made the recipe in the microwave, I used a Pyrex mixing bowl and had better results.
Keys to Success making Ricotta
You will need an instant read thermometer. Getting the milk to 165F is crucial to making ricotta. It’s important to make sure that the milk doesn’t get too hot and start to boil.
Do not use ultra pasteurized milk. The milk carton label must inform the consumer of the type of pasteurization process. All organic milk sold in the grocery store is ultra pasteurized. This is done to make sure the milk has a longer shelf life. Ultra pasteurized milk will not turn into ricotta cheese since the good bacteria needed to help create the curds is non-existent.
Distilled vinegar produces the cleanest taste. Lemon juice will give the ricotta a distinct lemon flavor. Regardless of which acid you use, the flavors in warm and freshly made ricotta were more pronounced. The flavors mellowed after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. The ricotta became drier overnight as well.
A microwave safe bowl with a wider mouth had better results than an 2 quart liquid measuring cup. Additionally, remember that this won’t work exactly the same across all microwaves.
What to make with fresh Ricotta?
Mix one cup of ricotta cheese with zest of one lemon and 1-2 tablespoons of minced fresh mint. Spread the cheese on toasted baguette and drizzle with honey. It is a creamy, bright and slightly sweet appetizer plus it is easy to prepare.
Creamy Homemade Ricotta Cheese
- 4 cups/ 1 liter whole milk not ultra-pasteurized
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- ¼ cup distilled vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon juice about 2 lemons
Line a fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and place the strainer over a large and deep bowl. Set aside.
Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Gently stir. Use a bowl with a 2-quarts capacity. Place the bowl in the microwave and turn on high for 4-5 minutes.
Check the temperature of the milk, if it is not 165˚F / 74˚C, continue to microwave checking every minute or 30 seconds until the milk reaches 165˚F / 74˚C. You will see the milk curdle and the liquid (whey) become clearer and separate from the curds. If the liquid is milky and without a clear separation between the whey and the curds, the ricotta is not finished. There is a 165˚F/ 74˚C to 180˚F / 82˚C temperature window to work in.
Once the milk/ricotta cheese reached the desired temperature, take the bowl out of the microwave and lightly stir for a few seconds.
Use a spider or slotted spoon to scoop out the curds into a cheese cloth lined strainer. Scoop out as much of the curds as possible, then gently pour the remaining liquid into the strainer. Drain the ricotta to your desired texture. 5 minutes will have the creamiest and moist texture. 15-20 minutes will produce a texture that is spreadable and slightly moist. 2 hours or refrigerated overnight, will produce dry and crumbly curds.
This recipe can be made on the stove top in a large saucepan. Add all the ingredients into a medium saucepan with the heat set at medium to medium-low. Stir the milk constantly and gradually heat the milk to 165F / 74C. Continue as directed to drain the whey.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
All salts are not the same.
Salt is a mineral, sodium chloride that comes from the sea. Even the salt we mine from the ground, originated from oceans that have evaporated and buried eons ago. How the salt is processed defines the type of salt it is. Each type of salt will have a distinctive taste depending on its processing and where the salt originated, (McGee, Harold, On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of The Kitchen 2004).
I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt as my all purpose salt in my cooking and baking. I have discovered that not all Kosher salt brands are alike. Some brands are flaky, some are granular: the size of the crystals changes from brand to brand as well. Size and density of each salt granule will affect the weight and volume; therefore I only use one brand. Diamond Crystal Kosher salt was the only brand that was first made available to me at my local grocery store. Over time I have stuck with it because I prefer the size and shape of the crystals. With the smaller size crystals I believe I have more control sprinkling the salt on the food. Use what brand you have and if you are not sure how it compares to the salt in the recipe, start with a little less. You can and add more salt later in the recipe.
I prefer Kosher salt to table salt because of the flavor. Kosher salt does not have additives in it and I believe has a cleaner taste. I also use less salt cooking with kosher salt. The weight of a teaspoon of table salt is not equal to the weight of a teaspoon of Kosher salt or a teaspoon of sea salt. A teaspoon of table salt weights 6 grams. Whereas a teaspoon of Diamond Crystal Kosher salt weights 3 grams and a teaspoon of Maldon sea salt weights 4 grams. If you are interested in using less salt in your diet, you can start by replacing table salt with Kosher salt or sea salt as your all purpose salt.
When I use sea salt in a recipe, I use Maldon sea salt. I can get it easily and at a decent price, some sea salts are very expensive. I like the flavor and the flaky crystals. I am not a fan of sea salt crystals that are chunky and more like rock salt. The granules are too big and have a very concentrated dominating salt taste.
If Kosher salt is specified and you only have table salt, use half of the specified amount of salt in the recipe. Little by little you can add salt throughout the cooking process to suit your taste. This is only necessary to do if the recipe gives ingredient amounts in volume (teaspoon, tablespoon). If a recipe provides the weight, usually in grams, for the amount of Kosher salt, you should use the same amount in weight for table salt or sea salt. Salt is a great seasoning and is important to the flavor development in a recipe. Too much salt can ruin your meal, not to mention your spirits, if your food tastes like a gigantic salt lick.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.