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Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto
Sep 4th, 2013 by

Nepitella is a natural with mushrooms.

Nepitella is a natural with mushrooms.

It came to me in a dream: nepitella pesto. I thought that maybe I had invented the idea but a quick search online turned up one reference to it at a restaurant in New York called Osteria Morini.

There they team nepitella pesto with buffalo mozzarella on crostini or with fresh whipped ricotta topped with peas and asparagus. I’m sure that doesn’t taste bad, but what were they thinking? Everyone knows nepitella pairs perfectly with mushrooms and artichokes: everyone, in the small minority of people in this country who have heard of nepitella.

So let me let you in on the secret. Nepitella is an herb that grows wild in Tuscany (and in my driveway after I transplanted a small plant from my grandmother’s garden about 15 years ago). Some describe it as a cross between oregano and mint, but I believe it’s more like a cross between basil and mint. And I wouldn’t think of cooking mushrooms or artichokes without it.

So when I was inspired to try to make nepitella pesto the logical use for it was to stuff mushrooms with it. And the result was perfect.

The pesto by itself, without any cooking, was much stronger than a basil pesto: more earthy and with a sharp bite, almost spicy flavor. But when it cooked inside the mushrooms, the taste mellowed into a more mild buttery flavor: still very earthy but without the sharpness of the raw nepitella pesto.

If you’d like to try this, finding nepitella will be a challenge, but a search online revealed a few places that sell the plant. Or just stop by my driveway: there this evasive plant grows wild in cracks and along narrow dirt patches along the fence.

NEPITELLA PESTO:

Ingredients:

  • Nepitella leaves (washed, about a half a cup)
  • Pignoli nuts (about 1/4 cup)
  • Garlic (4-6 cloves)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/4- 1/2 cup; Imported, freshly grated. Don’t use the stuff they sell in a jar; Or use freshly grated Romano and/or Pecorino if you’d like to save some money.)
  • Kosher salt and pepper.

What I did:

Put nuts and garlic in food processor with a steel blade and process for about 15 seconds.

Add nepitella leaves, salt and pepper.

With processor running slowly add the olive oil until it’s completely pureed.

Add cheese and process for another minute.

If you don’t use it right away, put in refrigerator with plastic wrap touching the top or with a film of olive oil on top. This will prevent discoloring.

To Stuff Mushrooms:

Pull off stems, clean caps with paper towel.

Put clean caps in a baking dish that has been greased with a small amount of olive oil.

Spoon in nepitella pesto and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.

You can serve it as is or with a shaved piece of parmesan cheese on top and/or a pignoli nut.

Risotto (This time with mushrooms and eggplant)
Sep 24th, 2012 by

This is a perfect dish to welcome fall in New England.

This is a perfect dish to welcome fall in New England.

You can add many things to risotto but mushrooms (especially porcini) are my favorite. I made this dish up last night with vegetables I had on hand: crimini mushrooms and eggplant. Feel free to omit the eggplant, it’s just as good.

Making risotto is not hard, but it is an art. The key is adding small amounts of liquid to the rice, only enough for it to be absorbed a minute or two at a time. This ensures the dish will be not only flavorful but will have the correct texture: think al dente (with a little bite); never soggy or water-logged.

And of course, the main thing you do, is stir, baby, stir. (Tip: Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring and lower the heat if you think the liquid is evaporating too fast or if there is a danger of the rice burning.)

Ingredients:

  • Arborio rice (1 pound). Accept no substitutes, this is what makes risotto, risotto.
  • Chicken broth (About 44 ounces). You can use home-made stock (the best), or canned broth, or some bullion cubes with water or a mixture of all. You can also use a little white wine. Last night I used a combination of canned broth, chicken bullion cube, and a porcini bullion cube with hot water. Whatever liquid you use, be sure to heat it up before you add it to the rice.
  • Onion (1 small or a 1/2 of a large onion; chopped)
  • Olive oil (About 1/4 cup; enough to cover the bottom of a medium-sized pot; plus more to coat the eggplant and mushrooms.)
  • Mushrooms (About 8 oz.; chopped)
  • Eggplant (1 small or 3/4 of a large eggplant, sliced thin)
  • Nepitella (About 1 tablespoon. A mixture of dried basil and mint will also work).
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/2 cup, grated; or to taste)
  • Butter (About 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Pepper (Just a sprinkle, to taste)

What I did:

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot over low heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent.

Add rice and stir. Add more olive oil if needed, just enough to coat the rice. Cook for a minute or two, stirring occasionally.

Ladle in the liquid, just enough to cover the rice and stir. When liquid is absorbed, add more liquid, just enough to cover and stir. Continue doing this until risotto is done (about 45 minutes).

In between stirring the risotto, coat a cookie sheet with olive oil and salt (kosher is best). Put down a layer of eggplant and brush tops of eggplant slices with oil and salt. Bake in a 400-degree oven, turning over when bottom is brown. Do the same with the mushrooms. Add nepitella to the cooked mushrooms and set aside.

When risotto is done. Stir in eggplant and mushrooms. Stir in butter and parmesan cheese. Add pepper to taste.

This dish takes about 45 minutes to make if you work fast. Add another 15-minutes to 30 minutes if you work at a leisurely pace.

You can serve this as a main meal (serves four) with a side salad; or as a side dish. And if you’re out to impress, try serving it as a side-dish inside a parmesan basket.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Eggplant and Mushroom Stacks
Jun 26th, 2012 by

Roasted eggplant tastes great, is low-calorie and can be used in a variety of dishes.

Roasted eggplant tastes great, is low-calorie and can be used in a variety of dishes.

I improvised this dish one night using ingredients I had on hand. The taste is savory, sweet, and comforting. And it’s something that can be whipped up in about half an hour.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Eggplant (Make sure it’s firm, shiny and a dark purple. This is key, as I don’t believe in salting eggplant and draining it to get out the bitterness. If you buy a perfectly ripe eggplant without bruises, it won’t be bitter.)
  • Mushrooms (about 8 oz.), fried in olive oil, salt and pepper. I like to also add a sprinkling of dried or fresh nepitella. But since that’s hard to come by, you could also use a combination of basil and mint.
  • Cream cheese (About 2 or three tablespoons; just enough to mix in with the cooked mushrooms).
  • Sun-dried tomatoes in oil (1 jar).
  • Arugula (About a cup)

What I did:

Wash and peel the eggplant vertically, leaving vertical, purple stripes.

Cut thin (About 1/4 of an inch) round disks of the eggplant.

Brush on olive oil and salt on both sides. Bake in a 400-degree oven on a cookie sheet. Brown on one side and then turn over. This should take about 15 minutes for each tray of eggplant. Set aside.

Mix cream cheese into cooked mushrooms.

Top an eggplant slice with a couple of tablespoons of the mushroom mixture.

Top this with a few slices of sun-dried tomatoes in oil. And then top that with a few leaves of arugula. And top it all off with another slice of eggplant.

You can serve it as is, or heat it up in a hot oven for just a minute before serving.

Serve this with roasted broccoli or other roasted vegetables if you wish to make dinner a total vegetarian treat.

Chicken Basilico
Apr 17th, 2010 by

I found this recipe stashed away in the deep recesses of the RootsLiving library.

The details of how I created it are sketchy. The last time I made this was probably 10 years ago. And I’m guessing I created it by working with ingredients I already had in the house.

This dish is great when you have fresh tomatoes and basil from your garden, but you don't have to wait until then to try it.

This dish is great when you have fresh tomatoes and basil from your garden, but you don't have to wait until then to try it.

I knew it would be good because I took the time later to type it up and file it away.

I made this last night for dinner and it is a winner. It’s a fresh take on chicken cacciatore. And following in the tradition of many Italian dishes, it tastes even better the next day.

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • Chicken breasts, pounded flat or chicken cutlets (6)
  • Mushrooms, quartered or sliced (16 oz)
  • Nepitella (Or  a combination of basil and mint), fresh or dried. (About 2 tbsp.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Tomatoes, chopped up and chunky (4)
  • Olive oil
  • Italian bread or Sourdough bread
  • Sun-dried tomato paste
  • Butter
  • Garlic, crushed but kept whole (1 or 2 cloves)
  • Basil, fresh. (About 3 or 4 tbsp. sliced and chopped)

What I did:

Fry mushrooms in olive oil. Add salt and pepper and nepitella and cook until brown and done. Set aside.

Saute chicken over medium-high heat. When one side finishes cooking, turn over and spread dabs of sun-dried tomato paste over it. Then turn chicken over, and do the same to the other side. Cook chicken in batches like this.

Add all chicken back into the frying pan. Add mushrooms and chopped tomatoes and basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover pan and cook until done. Place in a serving dish.

Take slices of bread and cook in a little olive oil. Spread some sun-dried tomato paste on the bread as it cooks and add a dab of butter to taste.

Serve a slice of bread with each chicken plate. Chicken can be placed on top of the bread too. Be sure to spoon on some sauce and serve.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Note: If you’d like to print this recipe, click here or on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)

Last Minute Sunday Steak Dinner
Sep 24th, 2009 by

When you run out of time this dish is quick and easy to make at the end of the day.

When you run out of time this dish is quick and easy to make at the end of the day.

I had dreams of making a chicken parmesan last Sunday. But as I went through my daily chores, the time for doing that dwindled. So next I thought, I’ll make a roast beef. That’s easy and quick to throw together. But by the time I went to the supermarket, there wasn’t enough time in the day left to cook it in a 350 oven for 1-2 hours.

So I grabbed what looked good. And what looked good that day in the meat section was eye of the round steaks. And they were reasonably priced too. So I threw them in the cart and headed back to the produce section with thoughts of a scallion and mushroom sauce to pour over them.

And here’s the result:

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 1/4-inch thick eye of the round steaks.
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (crushed with the palm of your hand)
  • 12 oz of mushrooms
  • 6-8 scallions
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • Dab of butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. of veal or beef demi-glace (available at Williams Sonoma). Or 1 beef or porcini mushroom bouillion cube.

What I did:

Drizzle olive oil in a pan cook scallions and mushrooms until mushrooms are soft and scallions are translucent. Remove and set aside.

Add garlic and steaks (after garlic cooks a little, pick up with a fork and rub each piece of steak on both sides as it cooks)

Flip steaks over, cook until done. Remove and set aside.

Deglaze the pan with the wine (turn up heat if necessary) and scrape all of the beef renderings at the bottom.

Add the demi glaze or bullion cubes and stir. Stir in a dab of butter. Reduce mixture to about half.

Turn heat down. Add the steaks, mushrooms and scallions and cover. Cook on low for just a minute or two.

And serve with your favorite side dish (brown rice, fresh string beans, mashed potatoes, broccoli, whatever.)

This dish is quick and easy enough to make on a weeknight too.

Find more quick and easy recipes in the Food section.

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