This is a sneak preview of my articles for the August issue of Dominical Days...
FREEZING FROM FRESH
Gasp! Did he just say that? Does the Chef of the Jungle freeze fresh things? Doesn’t that go against all he stands for?
Yes, mis amigos, I am here to tell you that I keep a number of flavor bumpers in my freezer so that they may be at my fingertips, in the pan or the sauce, or over the fish in moments.
There are just some things that cannot and will not suffer by being frozen; particularly if one takes the proper steps to freeze them. Good zip locks made for freezing work quite nicely but to save a bit of money, I wrap as tightly as possible in clear wrap, and then do it a second time to prevent freezer burn
Something I always, always do when I pack my zip-locks for the freezer is squeeze the air from them and pack them flat. This helps for two reasons. Once the package is frozen, it’s easily stacked when flat; and second, a flat package thaws in almost no time.
I freeze roasted tomatoes in zip-locks, to use for pastas, fish sauces or tomato soup at a moment’s notice. I freeze chicken stock, not in ice cube trays, but flat in both small sandwich sized and large zip-lock bags. Again, done this way, they stack so nicely.
Something else that I make as a flavor booster and which also freezes quite nicely, are different pestos. A fresh bright green pesto, so dazzling with pasta, remains equally green when frozen, is much more easily portioned and doesn’t get all mucky and brown on top.
Basil grows so well here in our coastal climate that it’s always available at the Saturday Feria in Uvita, or if you want to make a big batch of pesto, it’s plentiful and cheap at the Thursday Feria in San Isidro. You might even grow it yourself; basil loves it here.
PESTO; NOT JUST FOR PASTA ANYMORE
The Italian word, “pesto” comes from the same root that pestle, of mortar and pestle fame, comes from, and it means “to pound or to grind”. Traditionally pesto making has been a long and arduous process, learned at one’s nonna’s knees and never varied from, at threat of excommunication. Drizzle and pound, drizzle and pound…
I’m not much for long and arduous, and am here to tell you that you can assemble a great batch of pesto in less than five minutes and never have to look over your shoulder for your nonna’s shadow.
Like almost everything I make or do in the kitchen, the “mise en place”, or assembly of ingredients is key. For me, there are few worse feelings than stumbling around the kitchen searching for an essential ingredient in mid-cooking.
PESTO OF THE JUNGLE
2 Cups Tightly Packed Basil eaves
4 Cloves Peeled and Chopped Garlic
¼ Cup sliced, blanched almonds (tradition calls for pine nuts, but we’re non-traditional)
2/3 Cup Good Olive Oil (it need not be Extra Virgin)
¼-1/2 Cup Good Parmesan
Put the basil, garlic and almonds in your food processor with some salt and pepper and pulse-grind them for 30 seconds. Turn the machine on and add half the olive oil in a slow stream. Turn off the processor and add the cheese. Turn the machine back on and add the rest of the oil in a steady stream. The pesto should remain a bit chunky. Taste for salt and pepper; pack it flat into zip-locks and freeze.
You can (and I do) substitute spinach, parsley, arugula, or even cilantro for half the basil. Heck, you can leave the basil out entirely.
Use pesto as a sauce for fish, spooned right on top; toss it with cooked small potatoes or green beans, stir it into mashed potatoes or into mayonnaise, and definitely eat it with pasta.