Category Archives: basil

Cambodian Noodle Soup

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With the exception of my travels through the Balkans, I have yet to visit any metropolitan area where I didn’t stumble upon a pho shop.  With their steaming bowls of noodles, broth, and an endless variety of add-ins, these Thai noodle soup shops have a cult like following that make them both universal and hard not to like.  In grad school my favorite lunch was a steaming bowl of pho from the student union.  The options were endless so I could eat there every day without repeating the same bowl of soup twice.

I had never made pho before but decided to give it a try when my craving for the hot broth covered noodles got the best of me.  In browsing through recipe options I came across one in The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, The Splendid Table is my favorite radio program on NPR.  I can even stream their broadcasts online meaning I can get my Lynn Rossetto Kasper fix while living overseas).  I was set to give the pho recipe a try then I turned the page and saw the Cambodian twist on the soup which sounded even more intriguing.  Unable to decide which version to make, I combined the best elements of both recipes to form what I present here.  You can also add or substitute ingredients as your palate or pantry dictates.

The verdict?  This soup is delicious but a lot more work than popping into your local pho shop. But if you don’t have one in close proximity to you, make this soup.  You won’t be disappointed.

CAMBODIAN NOODLE SOUP

For the broth:

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 two inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced

6 whole cloves

1 star anise

Freshly ground black pepper

7 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

For the soup:

8 ounces linguine-style rice noodles

6 ounces thinly sliced top round steak

1 1/2 cups winter squash, diced

1 cup unsweetened pineapple chunks

1 medium tomato, diced

For the table salad:

10 sprigs fresh cilantro

8 sprigs Thai or other fresh basil

8 mint sprigs

Generous handful bean sprouts

2 Serrano chiles, thinly sliced

1 large lime, cut into wedges

Add-in sauces:

Asian hot sauce

Hoisin sauce

  • Place a rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler and then pre-heat the oven.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and evenly distribute the onion, garlic, ginger, cloves, star anise, and five grinds of black pepper over the baking sheet.
  • Broil for 5-6 minutes until the spices are fragrant and the onions begin to brown.  Scrape the mixture into a large soup pot.
  • Add the broth, sugar, fish sauce, and squash to the pot.  Cover the pot tightly and bring the entire mixture to a simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.
  • Meanwhile, place the noodles in a large pan and cover with very hot tap water.  Allow to soak for 20 minutes or until the noodles are tender.  Drain, rinse with cold water, then divide evenly between two large soup bowls.
  • Thinly slice the steak into bite sized pieces.  (Hint:  For easier slicing, place the steak in the freezer before you begin making the soup.  Allow it to sit for 20 minutes then remove it from the freezer and slice).  Evenly divide the meat between the two soup bowls.  The hot broth will cook it to a medium-rare
  • Arrange the table salad ingredients on a medium-sized platter and place on the table.
  • When the squash is tender, add the pineapple and tomatoes to the broth and stir well to combine.  Cook for 1 minute to allow the broth to return to a simmer.
  • Ladle the broth over the noodles and meat and serve immediately topped with the table salad and sauces of your choice.

Serves 2

Ricotta & Artichoke Pasta

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It’s Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

What makes an already fast dinner even faster? Cooking the entire dish in one pan and that is exactly what you have with this recipe that has been adapted from Cooking Light. The fresh pasta cooks quickly right in the skillet with the vegetables and the cheese. Easy peasy and oh so tasty. Enjoy!

RICOTTA & ARTICHOKE PASTA

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup prechopped onion
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups artichokes, halved
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 – 14.5 ounce can tomatoes
9 ounces fresh fettuccine
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
3 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into small pieces
1/4 cup torn fresh basil
  •  Preheat broiler to high.
  •  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat.
  • Add the onions, mushrooms, and garlic to pan and cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the chicken broth, the artichokes, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and pasta to pan, and bring to a boil. Stir to combine.
  • Cover; reduce the heat, and simmer 8 minutes or until pasta is tender.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and dot the pasta mixture evenly with the ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.
  • Place pan under broiler. Broil mixture 2 minutes or until cheese melts.
  • Sprinkle evenly with basil.

Serves 4

Pesto

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Pesto is my favorite way to use fresh basil.  Because it can be made in a matter of minutes there is no reason to buy it pre-made.  Simply puree all of the ingredients together in a food processor and you have a sauce that can dress up pasta or be served as a spread on a sandwich or as a marinade for chicken, pork, or fish.  The quantities are only recommendations and you can adjust them to match your preferences.  You can add more or less garlic depending on what you like and walnuts can be substituted for the  more pricy pine nuts if you prefer.  If the sauce it too thick for your liking add additional olive oil to the mixture.

This pesto can be used immediately or stored in a sterile container in the refrigerator for up to one month.  Whenever fresh basil is available I like to have a batch of pesto sitting in the refrigerator ready to use.  It can turn a boring box of pasta into a colorful and flavorful dinner in no time.

PESTO

4 cups fresh basil leaves

8 cloves garlic

2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

  • Place the pine nuts in a small saute pan.  Stirring constantly, heat over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes until toasted.  Set aside to cool.
  • Place the basil leaves in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until the leaves are finely minced.
  • Add the garlic cloves and pine nuts and continue to pulse until all of the ingredients are uniform in size and the mixture resembles a thick paste.
  • With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and pulse to combine.
  • Transfer the basil mixture into a medium-sized bowl. Add the parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yield:  2 cups

 

Grilled Lemon Chicken w/ Feta Rice

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Here’s a recipe adapted from Cooking Light that makes me think of the Greek Islands. Its fast and easy and since the chicken is cooked on the grill there isn’t any need to turn on a hot oven in the middle of the summer. A simple marinade of fresh lemon juice gives the chicken a juicy and tangy flavor. And while rice is always nice, the addition of feta and fresh basil brings an ordinary side dish to a whole new level. Plus the entire meal comes together quickly. What more can you ask for?

GRILLED LEMON CHICKEN w/ FETA RICE

4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cloves minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
4 cups cooked basmati rice
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Place 2 tablespoons  of the lemon juice lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the oil, the garlic and the red pepper flakes in a large zip-top bag.
  • Add the chicken breasts, turn to coat, and let stand for 30 minutes.
  • Lightly coat a grill with non-stick cooking spray and pre-heat to medium-high heat.
  • Remove chicken from marinade. Sprinkle the chicken with half of the salt and half of the black pepper.
  • Place the chicken on the grill and grill until cooked through, about 12 to 14 minutes per side. Cooking times will vary depending upon the thickness of the meat.
  • While the chicken cooks, make the rice according to package instructions.
  • Combine remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of oil in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk.
  • Add rice to the lemon and oil mixture then sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper.
  • Add the feta and basil leaves and toss to combine.Serve the chicken alongside the rice.

Serves 4

 

Caprice Pasta

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It is Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion.  If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing you want to do to cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat.  The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes.  Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

This quick dish brings together the best flavors of a Mediterranean summer.  Ripe tomatoes pair with fresh basil and mozzarella to make a flavorful Caprice salad. Add this to pasta and you have a complete meal.  The balsamic reduction brings a rich sweetness to the dish making it fancy enough for a dinner party but also simple enough for a casual meal.

CAPRICE PASTA

1/2 cup good quality balsamic vinegar

1 pound ziti or other tube-shaped pasta

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-sized pieces

4 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

Freshly ground salt & pepper to taste

  • Place the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and heat over medium high heat until the vinegar boils.  Reduce heat to a temperature that allows the liquid to simmer and continue to cook until the mixture is syrupy and has reduced to approximately 1/4 cup.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.
  • Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.  Drizzle the olive oil over the top of the pasta and toss to coat.
  • Add the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil to the pasta and season with salt and pepper.  Stir gently to combine.
  • Divide amongst four serving dishes and drizzle the balsamic reduction evenly over the top of each bowl.
  • Serve immediately

Serves:  4

 

Thai Red Curry w/ Duck

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Duck is so plentiful here in Belgium that it has been making a regular appearance on our dinner table since we arrived in the country. I’ve been marinading, grilling and roasting it (and making good use of the resulting delicious duck fat) but have recently been expanding my horizons and cooking the meat in different ways. We are also fans of curry at my house, in particular red curry, so this recipe, adapted from Saveur magazine seemed like a natural fit. And I was right.

Like most curries, the ingredients are simple and variable but the results are always packed with flavor in every bite. Here crisp pea pods, chunks of fresh pineapple and sweet grape tomatoes are simmered in a rich red curry ladened coconut milk. Basil–the Thai variety if you can find it–and kaffir lime leaves add complexity to the dish. (You can find kaffir lime leaves in most Asian markets or as I do, in the Asian section of my local grocery store). And of course there is the duck; other meats will work as well but the duck makes the dish taste that much more luxurious. And since the curry cooks up so quickly it makes for a perfect weeknight meal. Enjoy!

THAI RED CURRY w/ DUCK
2 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup Thai red curry paste
1 pound duck breast, cut into bite sized pieces
10 fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves
1 cup fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1″ chunks
1 cup pea pods
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar
6 Thai chiles, stemmed
20 grape tomatoes, halved
3 green onions, white part only
Leaves from 10 basil stems
  • Heat 1 cup of the coconut milk in a large pot over medium heat until it just begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, until liquid is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
  • Whisk in the curry paste and continue to simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is very aromatic, about 5 minutes more.
  • Add the duck to the curry mixture and increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the duck is cooked through, about 7 minutes.
  • Add the remaining coconut milk, lime leaves, and 34 cup water.
  • Increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring, until the flavors have melded, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the pineapple, pea pods, fish sauce, sugar, and chiles and continue to simmer on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the pineapple is fork tender, about 5 minutes more.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, green onion and the basil and simmer the curry for 1 minute more; the tomatoes and basil should retain their shape and bright color.
  • Serve the curry with steamed jasmine rice.

 

Summer Squash Pasta w/ Frizzled Prosciutto

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A fun, easy and delicious family friendly meal? Yes, that is what you have with the fun pasta dish courtesy of Cuisine at Home. There is really something for everyone in this dish. Kids loved the “frizzled” prosciutto which is essentially strip of prosciutto that have been cooked until they are crispy. A healthy dose of both yellow squash and zucchini ensure that there are vegetables in every bite while the mild white wine and cream sauce disguises the squashes from vegetable adverse dinners. But for me the best part is the combination of the fresh basil, mint and lemon zest that tops the entire dish. There are truly so many flavors in one bowl that everyone is sure to leave the table happy.

SUMMER SQUASH PASTA w/ FRIZZLED PROSCIUTTO

8 ounces small dried pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 ounces prosciutto, sliced into 1/2 inch strips

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 medium zucchini, chopped

1 medium yellow squash, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh mint, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon lemon zest

Salt & pepper to taste

  • Cook the pasta in a large pot of water according to package instructions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Set aside.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto and cook until crisp. Transfer to a paper lined plate to drain.
  • Add the remaining oil to the skillet. Add the onion, zucchini and yellow squash. Cook until the onion softens, about 6 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add the wine and cook until it is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cream and pasta, tossing to coat. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, basil, mint, lemon zest and prosciutto.
  • Add the reserved pasta water if necessary to thin the sauce.
  • Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Caprese Mac ‘n Cheese

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If you love homemade macaroni and cheese but not the time it takes to make it, this is the dish for you. I think of it as middle of the week comfort food. The recipe is from Cooking Light so it is a healthier version of an old standby but it is so flavorful that you would never know that it is good for you. A combination of cheese, in this case mozzarella and parmesan makes the sauce taste rich while the roasted tomatoes add a deeper flavor than expected. And because the tomatoes are mixed right in, your kids will be so busy scooping up the pasta and sauce that they won’t even realize they are eating tomatoes. (At least that is the case in my house). Serve it with a salad—a Caprese salad would continue with the theme–and dinner is good to go.

CAPRESE MAC ‘n CHEESE

2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 ounces uncooked penne, or other small tubular shaped pasta
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons panko crumbs
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Preheat the broiler to high.
  • Combine the tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil for 3 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to break down. Leave the broiler on.
  • Cook the pasta in a large saucepan according to package instructions. Drain and return to the saucepan.
  • Heat the remaining olive oil in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
  • Stir in the flour then add in the milk, salt and pepper, stirring continually with a wire whisk.
  • Bring the mixture to a simmer then good for 1 minute or  until the sauce has thickened.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheeses until blended.
  • Pour the cheese mixture over the pasta and toss well.
  • Add the tomatoes and torn basil to the pasta and fold well to combine.
  • Spoon the pasta mixture into 4 6-ounce gratin dishes which have been coated with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Sprinkle the top of each dish with the panko crumbs and the crushed red pepper.
  • Broil for 2 minute or until the panko is browned.
  • Garnish with additional basil leaves if desired.
Serves 4

Sherry Marinated Duck Breast

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Here’s a recipe for duck inspired by allrecipes.com. Duck is one of my favorite meats and is incredibly versatile which makes it a fun food to cook with. This recipe produces a rich and flavorful dish and while it does involve a bit of planning ahead, actually requires minimal hands on time. You can marinate the duck first thing in the morning or even the night before you plan on cooking it then simply let it sit. The duck then sits in an herb infused bath of sherry. Be sure to use a good tasting sherry since the flavor is noticeable even after the alcohol cooks off.

Depending upon how much fat your duck has, you may end up with quite a bit of herb infused rendered duck fat. You can either use it as the base to saute some Brussels sprouts (as I did here) or you can save it for another dish…..perhaps some duck fat roasted potatoes. Add a starch, wild rice complements the dish nicely, and you have the perfect autumn dinner.

SHERRY MARINATED DUCK BREAST

2 duck breasts, skin on

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dry sherry

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried rosemary

2 teaspoons basil

Salt & pepper

  • Using a sharp knife, score the fatty side of the duck breast into a grid pattern, cutting all of the way through the fat but not into the meat.
  • Combine the olive oil, sherry, brown sugar, oregano, rosemary and basil in a large sealable, non-reactive container. (A large plastic Ziploc tub works well).
  • Add the duck, fatty side down, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to overnight.
  • When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Remove the duck from the marinade and pour the marinade into a small saucepan. Set aside.
  • Pat the duck completely dry, sprinkle with the salt and pepper and place fat side down, on a cold cast iron skillet.
  • Turn the heat to medium-low and allow the fat to render from the meat for about 5 minutes.
  • Increase the heat to medium and continue cooking for an additional to 4 minutes. The hash marks on the duck should have contracted into a crispy brown diamond pattern.
  • Drain the fat from the pan and reserve for another use.
  • Flip the duck breasts over and pace the skillet in the oven for about 10 minutes for medium-rare meat (130 degrees on a digital thermometer) or to your desired level of doneness.
  • Remove the duck to a cutting board and allow to rest for 8 to 10 minutes.
  • While the duck is resting, bring the reserved marinade to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow it to simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the volume is reduced by half.
  • Serve topped with the marinade.

Serves 4

Minestrone Soup

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Nothing satisfies on a cold day more than soup. Most weekends I will make a big pot of whatever strikes my fancy. I allow it to simmer on low all afternoon then we enjoy it with crusty bread for a Sunday night dinner. There are always leftovers which is perfect since soup tastes better the next day. I have yet to find a soup that I didn’t like but this minestrone is a soup that I absolutely love.

It is more of a method rather than an exact recipe; I will use whatever vegetables I have on hand or whatever looked good at the market that morning. I like to be heavy handed with the vegetables and go lighter on the pasta and beans but you could easily add more of the later if that is to your liking. Not only is this soup vegetarian but it is also low in sodium. Rather than using a pre-made broth, I simply add water as the soup base and allow the cooking vegetables to flavor the broth. The results? A rich, tasty and satisfying soup that everyone will love. Serve it with crusty French bread and dinner is served.

MINESTRONE SOUP

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, minced

1 leek, quartered and diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 small zucchini, diced

1 small eggplant, diced

1 cup Brussels sprouts, quartered

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 26-ounce can tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

3/4 cup small pasta (shells or elbow macaroni works well)

1 large handful fresh basil, chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

Grated parmesan cheese, to serve

  • Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot set over medium high heat.
  • When the oil shimmers, add the onion, leek, celery and carrots and stirring occasionally, cook until soft but not brown, 4-5 minutes.
  • Add in the zucchini, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, beans and canned tomatoes. Stir well.
  • Add enough water to the pot to cover the vegetables by 1 inch.
  • Bring the soup to a simmer then reduce the heat and cook uncovered until the vegetables are soft, 35-45 minutes.
  • Add in the oregano and thyme and season with salt and pepper.
  • At this point you can proceed to the next step or cover the pot, turn the temperature to the lowest setting and allow to sit until you are ready to proceed.
  • Return the temperature to medium-high.
  • Once the soup is boiling again, add the pasta, stir well and cook until the pasta is al dente, approximately 6-8 minutes.
  • Stir in the basil, adjust the seasonings and serve, topped with grated parmesan cheese.

Serves 6

 

 

 

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