Asparagus & caramelized red onion pesto

In my kitchen, there is no such thing as too much pesto, and I’ve been making this one the past couple of springs when asparagus is in season.

I grow purple asparagus at home, but the spears are so tender and sweet that I eat them right on the spot. For this pesto, I make a special trip to the farmers’ market to pick up a bunch of bright green spears.

Asparagus isn’t in season right now where I live, but it’s in season somewhere, right? When I found this recipe in one of my torn and tattered notebooks over the weekend, rather than rewrite it I decided to post it here.

asparagus.redonion.pestoYep, definitely worth a trip to the farmers’ market.
capellini.w.asparagus.pestoWorth the effort.

Asparagus & caramelized red onion pesto

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Thin asparagus spears are preferable, as they are less fibrous. If you use thick stalks, you’ll need to peel them before steaming. If you have a steamer basket (or stainless steel colander) that fits over your pasta pot, use it instead of an asparagus steamer. This dish tastes equally well hot, at room temperature, and cold, especially as a midnight snack. We like ours tossed with capellini. (My favorite gluten free brand, hands down, is Jovial.)

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1 large handful (25-30) thin asparagus spears
2-3 red torpedo onions or 1/4 red globe onion
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, to taste
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest, to taste
large pinch of coarse salt
pasta water to thin, if needed

Snap off the woody ends from your asparagus stalks. Thinly slice your onions; there should be enough to loosely pile into a 1/3 measuring cup. If using a red globe onion, cut a few thin-as-possible half moon slices, then cut into small strips about 1/4 inch long. Set up your steamer, your pasta pot (if not using to steam the asparagus), and a small cast iron or nonstick skillet for the onions.

Steam asparagus until fork tender. While the asparagus is steaming, put a teaspoon or two of olive oil into a small skillet over med heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to caramelize, then remove from heat and transfer to your food processor. When the onion and asparagus have both finished cooking, begin heating your liberally salted pasta water.

Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces and add to the food processor. Pulse a few times until the mixture is almost puréed. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. If you need additional liquid, add some of the pasta water, a tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt and additional lemon zest, if needed.

Drain your pasta, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the pesto and gently toss to coat, using some of the reserved water if it’s too thick. Season with cracked pepper and coarse salt at the table.

Yield: 1 Cup

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes


My love affair with red torpedos // vodka sauce // raw not-vodka sauce

Today I’m feeling like a Talky McTalkerson and am dying to wax nostalgic about all of the things that make a vodka sauce so good, but I don’t have time (and you may not have the patience). So, I’m going to distill it down to just this:

alcohol + tomatoes + heat = a release of alcohol-soluble tomato goodness

It’s that simple! Any alcohol will do, preferably one that is as flavorless as possible (enter: vodka) so that as the tomatoes cook down, no trace of alcohol flavor remains. More often than not, I use a dry white wine.

red.torpedos.justpulledRed torpedos: they look like football-shaped shallots.

Have you ever grown the red Italian bunching onion called red torpedo? If not, grab a couple of seed packets, fill a pot with vegan compost-rich soil, and get on it! In my climate, I’m able to grow red torpedos year-round, and they proliferate equally well in pots and in the ground. They tolerate summer heat as long as they’re in partial shade, and they love a slight chill in the air. I have no idea where to buy them, but they grow so easily I’ve never bothered to look. Red torpedos can be used any time a recipe calls for red onion, and they can be paired with a bit of mild garlic to replace shallots. They are mild and sweet and taste great raw. They roast and caramelize well. Also, they’re pretty. In short, the perfect onion.

red.torpedosReady for the skillet (vodka sauce) or the blender (raw sauce).

If you have really amazing just-picked tomatoes with a flavor that knocks your socks off, then this recipe can easily be adapted into a (not vodka) raw tomato cream sauce. I make it both ways, mostly depending on how much time I have. If you’re good about mise en place, you can start either version of this sauce while you wait for your water to boil, and be done in time to dress your pasta.

crostini_pesto+vodka.saucePairs well with pesto.

Vodka sauce // raw tomato cream sauce

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If you don’t have any red torpedo onions, 1/4 a small red globe onion will do nicely.

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3 red torpedo onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 handfuls small/medium tomatoes or 3 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
1/4 Cup dry white wine
1/2 Cup raw cashew pieces
1/2 sweet bell pepper, optional
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a skillet or heavy pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize – about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine and bring the pot to a simmer, stirring and smashing the tomatoes around in the pot as they cook down. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat. Add everything to a blender or food processor – if you’re including the sweet pepper, add it now. Puree until smooth, adding water if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make this recipe raw: omit the olive oil, and blend everything straightaway.

Yield: 1 1/2 – 2 Cups

Prep time: 5 minutes raw, 15 minutes cooked

Preserving the garden // lemon rocket pesto

As summer winds down, I’m starting to preserve what’s left in my gardens for the colder months ahead.

In the past, I would put in dozens of each fruit/vegetable/allium/herb – in part because I just couldn’t resist discovering new heirloom varieties, but also because I enjoy preserving. Anything my family didn’t eat when it was picked was either preserved, bartered or shared. This year, I planted just over what I thought we would need to last us through the season.

heirloomtoms+figJust enough – one morning’s yield of heirloom cherry and grape tomatoes and a lone fig; most are eaten right off the tree.

We’re hitting the surplus stage, especially with greens and basil. I have ten cups of pesto knocking around in my freezer. Do you know how many greens and basil it takes to process down into ten cups? A LOT.

This is by far our favorite pesto recipe this summer – a blend of rocket and basil and lemon juice that tastes like summer in a jar. We eat pesto on everything – crostini, pizza, bruschetta, pasta, risotto – sometimes straight off of a spoon. We are not ice-cube-serving-size pesto eaters; we eat it by the jar.

lemon.rocket.pestoWe like to pair it with vodka sauce.

Lemon rocket pesto

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We call arugula rocket because when Nina-the-toddler was planting her first garden, she kept snatching my rocket-labeled seed packets while saying ‘rocket, rocket, rocket!’ over and over again. Sometimes our packets say arugula, but we will always call it rocket. Whenever I make a basil pesto, I use three parts basil to two parts anything that will actually remain green. Parsley, rocket and spinach are most often used. If you’re using heirloom or homegrown garlic, use three cloves of a mild variety or 2 cloves if it’s spicy. This recipe calls for both lemon and lime juice, but lemon juice only can be used for similar results.

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3 Cups (packed) basil
2 Cups (packed) rocket
1 Cup raw walnut halves/pieces
3 large cloves garlic
1 Cup good quality extra virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 Cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon large grain sea salt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons lime juice

Combine basil, rocket, walnuts and garlic in food processor. Have the olive oil on hand. While slowly adding half of the oil, process until combined. Scrape down the sides, add all remaining ingredients and the rest of the oil and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if needed. Season to taste with salt and additional lemon juice. Freezes well.

Yield: 2 Cups

Prep time: 10 minutes

Kitchen garden + a really small batch pear butter recipe




purslane Gargoyles-eye-viewThis summer, Nina tried her hand at potting up herbs and ornamentals. Over a dozen pots are scattered in and around our kitchen garden, transforming it into our new happy place. // Gargoyle’s eye view.
lunchOn weekends, she’ll pack herself a lunch and hang out on the steps, hoping to catch a blue-tailed skink.
purple.peppersThere is a baby skink curled up in this pot, under the doreanthus!
Every time I make this it turns out a different color. This batch was a pale gold.

Sage and white pepper-infused pear butter

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You’ll want enough chopped pears to fill your slow cooker one-half to three-quarters of the way up; four or five pears are a perfect fit for my 2-quart slow cooker. When I make this for my family, I just tuck the sage and peppercorns into the pot and strain them out later. (Or not – the peppercorns are really pretty when the sink to the bottom of a jar.) If I’m making it as a gift, I bundle them in muslin or gauze. Also, I think rosemary (with the pepper) or lavender (without) would taste wonderful in place of the sage.

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4-5 pears, any variety
juice of 1 lemon wedge
3-4 fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon white or mixed peppercorns, or 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon muscovado or dark brown sugar

Peel, core and chop your pears. Add the chopped pears into the slow cooker, squeeze a wedge of lemon over the top, tuck your sage and peppercorns in the middle and sprinkle your sugar over it all. Set the slow cooker to low and cover. Check every thirty minutes or so, smashing the pears around with a wooden spoon as they soften. When your pears have the consistency of applesauce, vent the lid and continue cooking until thickened, stirring every so often to prevent sticking or scorching. When the pears are done cooking, allow them to cool for 15 minutes before you strain and transfer to glass jars.

Yield: 1 Cup

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 2-5 hours, depending on your slow cooker

One, two, three, four . . .

Yes, I’ve been listening to a lot of Feist lately. But it’s not penguins I’m counting . . .


Welcome to the Blue Plate Special tour stop for Kathy Hester’s virtual cookbook blogtour!  Today’s tour has four parts:

1. The nitty gritty.
Title: The Great Vegan Bean Book
Author: Kathy Hester
Blog: Healthy Slow Cooking
Publisher: Fair Winds Press
Why this book belongs on your bookshelf: Whether you’re a bean lover because they’re cheap or an heirloom bean aficionado for whom price is no object, you can make any of these recipes without breaking the bank. Recipes span everything from your traditional chili and curry to doughnuts(!) and popsicles(!!). Nearly every recipe has instructions to make them soy- or gluten-free.  Also!  Beans are high in fiber and protein. But I bet you already knew that.
Where to purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Herbivore, Indiebound

2. The sneak peek.


Niçoise salad


Indian chickpea yogurt salad


Blueberry almond oatmeal pancakes


Insanely flaky, melt in your mouth, gluten-free biscuits

3. The recipes.
With permission from Fair Winds Press, I’m sharing two recipes from the book with you today: one that is Kathy’s (Southern style gravy), and one that is mine (gluten-free biscuits). Below are the recipes as they appear in the book. In a separate post, I’m going to do my best Cooks Illustrated attempt at explaining the why’s and how’s of these gluten-free biscuits.

Gluten-free biscuits and Southern style gravy

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This gravy gets its Southern kick from a healthy dose of black pepper.  I like to round mine out with some fresh minced thyme and sage.  The biscuit recipe as printed in the book has my name in it, which is why they’re called “Monika’s” gluten-free biscuits.

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Southern-style white bean gravy:

1 1/2 cups (269 g) cooked white beans or 1 can (15 ounces, or 425 g), rinsed and drained
3/4 cup (175 ml) unsweetened nondairy milk (*use soy-free)
1/4 teaspoon salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon black pepper
Optional: 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon each of minced fresh sage, thyme, or rosemary

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add more pepper if it doesn’t pack a kick. Southern gravy is traditionally on the spicy side, but it’s just from ground black pepper.

Transfer to a saucepan and warm over low heat and then serve over homemade biscuits split in half.

Yield: 2 Cups | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cooking time: 10 minutes

Monika’s gluten free biscuits:

¾ cup (100 g) sweet sorghum flour, plus extra for kneading
¾ cup (90 g) millet flour
Scant ¼ cup (48 g) potato starch
6 tablespoons (45 g) tapioca flour or starch
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon (13.8 g) baking powder
½ cup (112 g) vegan shortening, chilled and cut into small cubes (*use soy free)
1 to 1 1⁄3 cups (230 to 307 g) plain soy yogurt (*use coconut yogurt)

Sift the flours, starches, salt, and baking powder thoroughly in a large bowl and then transfer to a food processor. Distribute the cubes of chilled shortening evenly over the surface of the flour and pulse several times until the pieces of shortening are the size of peas.

Add 1 cup (230 g) of the yogurt and pulse just until incorporated. The dough will be stiff, with a few dry spots. If needed, add the remaining 1⁄3 cup (77 g) yogurt and pulse to incorporate. Transfer the dough to a large bowl, cover, and chill for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 450˚F (230˚C, or gas mark 8) and place a cookie sheet on the center rack to preheat at the same time.

Tear a large piece of parchment paper the size of your cookie sheet. Lay it out flat and sprinkle lightly with gluten-free flour. Turn your dough out onto the parchment paper and sprinkle the top lightly with more flour so your fingers don’t stick.

Pat the dough out into a 1-inch (2.5 cm) rectangle, cut in half, and stack one half onto the other. Repeat five or six times, patting the final rectangle to ½ to ¾ inch (1.3 to 2 cm) tall.

Cut the rectangle into several small pieces (about 12 to 16). Space them out as much as you can over the piece of parchment paper. Using a peel or another baking sheet, carefully transfer the parchment paper onto the preheated cookie sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the biscuits have turned golden.

These keep for up to 2 days if wrapped loosely in a dish towel, but taste best if eaten the same day.

Yield: 12-16 biscuits | Prep time: 45 minutes | Cooking time: 20-25 minutes

4.  The giveaway!

This giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada. To win your own copy of this book, simply post a comment by midnight Pacific time on Monday, June 17th, 2013 (please make sure to leave some sort of way I can get in touch with you), and I’ll draw a random winner.

Congratulations, Diana!  Your name was drawn to win a copy of Kathy Hester’s The Great Vegan Bean Book.  


There are only so many things a mother can sneak into her daughter’s smoothie before suspicion is aroused. Blackstrap molasses? check. Steel cut oats? check-check. Greens? Not on your life. Not so much as a piece of granny smith apple peel, let alone anything leafy, have made it past Nina’s discerning eye. Fortunately, her voracious appetite for all things pasta lends itself the perfect Plan B: pesto.

I didn’t sell her on pesto right away; Nina has yet to develop a fondness for garlic, something I can hardly conceive of making a pesto without. She does, however, enjoy the subtle garlicky kiss of fresh chives, which make a decent substitution. Couple that with her unbridled delight in seeing all manner of things get stuck in my braces every night at dinnertime, and a pesto lover was born. I quickly upped the ante and managed to come up with a nutritionally dense pesto she loves.

Unlike most foods, this tastes best right away, rather than after the obligatory flavor melding that most recipes benefit from. Despite it’s being raw, the distinct cabbage-y, brassica-ness of the kale emerges after a couple of days. This also happens if you heat it up, for instance when used in a grilled BLT – however: when tempered with vegan mayo, a thick slice of just-picked tomato and your favorite version of bacon, nothing could taste better. (Have I confused you yet?)

Kale pesto: chock full of hippie goodness

2 bunches kale leaves
1 small handful fresh chives
1 large handful basil
Juice of one lemon
2 T white miso
6 T olive oil
1/2 C hemp hearts
Salt to taste

Rinse and pat dry all of your greens. De-rib your kale leaves and cut into thumb-sized pieces. Place half of the kale plus all remaining ingredients into your food processor and pulse until a paste begins to form. Add the remaining kale and additional oil or lemon juice, if needed. Pulse to desired pesto consistency. Keeps for up to one week in the refrigerator, especially if you add a thin layer of oil over the top. Freezes well.

Yield: 2-3 cups

Prep time: 15-30 minutes (depending on your kale de-ribbing abilities), Cook time: n/a