Presto, Pesto

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Presto, Pesto! The garden went wild this year with an abundance of basil. I mean, you can only dry so much. Granted, I happen to like fresh basil with anything tomato, but not everyone agrees. So, this time I threw together a couple cups of basil leaves with my favorite pairing: parmesan cheese! Pesto freezes well, so it can be stored in an airtight container, or initially, ice cube trays. Once it’s frozen, transfer the cubes to airtight freezer bags for later on. Always defrost in advance. Pesto tastes best served at room temperature or only slightly warmed. Keep in mind, a little goes a long way. Mix it into salad dressing or guacamole; the olive oil creates a smooth texture. Add a dollop to your evening vegetables, pasta noodles, or meat dish. Get creative and go Pesto!

PRESTO, PESTO

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/3 cup pine nuts, finely chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/3 cup olive oil

Instructions:

In a mini chopper, combine basil leaves, chopped garlic, pine nuts, sea salt, black pepper, and parmesan cheese. Pulse to blend; approximately 30 seconds. Slowly pour the olive oil into the top of the lid while the blade is on the Low setting. The olive oil will drizzle through the little hole for smooth results. Remove the lid and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Stir. Transfer pesto to a covered jar. Store in the refrigerator.

Lentil Rotini Pizza Pasta

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Lentil Rotini Pizza Pasta! Going organic, especially with red lentils, doesn’t necessarily mean the meal has to be completely plant-based. Sure, you still get the protein and fiber you need, but think about making it appealing to your family as well. By adding cheese and pepperoni slices, you can turn the rotini spirals into an Italian favorite. Pizza Pasta. Spice things up with red pepper flakes, garlic, and oregano. Now you’re talking. Serve in individual baking dishes for extra special treatment. You may even have the kids asking for it again.

LENTIL ROTINI PIZZA PASTA

Ingredients:

12-ounce box of organic red lentil rotini

1 1/2 cups prepared marinara sauce

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 cup pepperoni slices, divided

2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Crushed basil for garnish

Instructions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add rotini. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes. Caution: Watch carefully as the lentils will foam up to overflowing. You may have to reduce heat to a Simmer. Drain well. In a large bowl, combine marinara sauce, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Add rotini; stir to coat. Fold in 3/4 of the pepperoni and half the mozzarella cheese. Divide into individual broiler-proof baking dishes. Top with remaining pepperoni and shredded mozzarella cheese. Adjust oven rack to at least 4” away from broiler coils. Preheat broiler on High setting. Arrange individual casseroles on a baking sheet. Transfer sheet to oven. Cook until cheese is melted and slightly brown. Garnish with crushed basil. Serve with garlic bread.

Yesterday’s Cucumber Soup

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Yesterday’s Cucumber Soup. Here we go again with another cold soup option. It may sound like an oxymoron, but actually if I called it a Cucumber Smoothie, would you drink it? Perhaps. Tell me this, how many times have you been served ice water with a cucumber slice in it? Or grabbed a hydrating plant-based juice beverage at the corner convenience store? Get the picture. It’s all about the perspective. If you find it challenging to eat cold soup, or just plain WRONG…by all means, pour it into a glass and slurp away. To quote William Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Carry on.

YESTERDAY’S CUCUMBER SOUP

Ingredients:

4 mini seedless cucumbers, peeled and chopped

1 gala apple, peeled, cored, and chopped

1 green onion, chopped

2-3 basil leaves

1/4 cup almond milk, unsweetened

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon lime juice

Diced apple, tomato bits, chive snips, and basil leaf for garnish

Instructions:

Reserving garnish to taste, place all remaining I ngredients in a blender. Alternate between Pulse and Liquify settings to purée until smooth. Transfer cucumber mixture into a covered container. Refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight until chilled. Divide into shallow bowls. Serve garnished with apple chunks, diced tomatoes, chopped chives, and basil.

Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza in Estero, Florida

Dining Outside the Home: Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza in Estero, Florida! You’re probably wondering what the big deal is about mentioning “coal oven” in the name of this pizza joint. Basically, it boils down to the deliciousness of a charred crust enclosing a chewy center without overcooking the toppings. You get this from very high, dry heat contained within the oven walls. The coal oven is a little larger than the others, so it holds more pizzas. Makes sense, amirite? There’s nothing worse than sinking your teeth into a pizza pie loaded with extra cheese only to discover the bottom crust is a bit soggy. That’s not going to happen at Tony Sacco’s. In fact, customize your creation like I do. For cheese-lovers, request shredded mozzarella, smoky provolone, grated parmesan, and fresh mozzarella over authentic Italian marinara. The cheese pulls will practically make your mouth drool in public. Slowly wipe your chin. Then garnish a pizza slice with freshly chopped basil and dig in.

Herbed Watercress Pistachio Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Herbed Watercress Pistachio Salad! Everyone knows leafy greens can supercharge your diet. But not everyone is crazy about kale and arugula. Ask my husband. The strong pungent flavors of the former can step aside, as far as I’m concerned. Watercress is the new sheriff in town. Its delicate leaves reveal a slight hint of horseradish or wasabi, but with a crispier texture. To combat the bitter tang, simply add a nice citrus fruit along with the ancient royal pistachio nut. Did you know the Queen of Sheba found pistachios so delightful, she declared it was forbidden for commoners to harvest pistachio nuts for themselves? Alas, I digress. Watercress is the star attraction. Rich in vitamins, iron, calcium, and folic acid, its roots thrive in creek bottoms where clear running water encourages natural growth. Most farmers cultivate it in very wet ground providing constant moisture. Ask around at the Farmers Markets. It sells quickly to those who desire it.

HERBED WATERCRESS PISTACHIO SALAD

Ingredients:

1 bunch watercress, roots trimmed

8 leaves fresh basil

8-10 leaves fresh mint

20 leaves Mexican tarragon

1/2 cup mandarin orange slices

1/3 cup red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup pistachio nuts, lightly toasted

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 drop orange extract

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions:

Arrange watercress, basil, mint, and Mexican tarragon on a platter. Tuck mandarin orange slices and red onion pieces throughout. Sprinkle toasted pistachio nuts over all. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, orange extract, sea salt, and pepper. Slowly add olive oil while continuing to whisk. Dressing will emulsify. Before serving, drizzle salad dressing evenly over salad.

Yogurt Tomato Bisque

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Yogurt Tomato Bisque! Before you turn up your nose at the sound of yogurt, hear me out. Here’s a couple of facts you may not have heard about yogurt. Number One, it’s healthy. Number Two, it makes the soup creamier, which is always a plus in my opinion. Number Three, Greek yogurt has twice as much protein as regular yogurt. And, Number Four, it has about half as many carbs, if that’s something that is important to you. All together, that makes it a Superfood. Yada-yada-yada. In the end, what it all comes down to is flavor. Tomatoes can be sweet, so the yogurt adds a little tang, which goes well with a dab of butter. Add herbs and cheese with a slice of garlic toast and you have the “pièce de résistance”. Nicely done.

YOGURT TOMATO BISQUE

Ingredients:

10-12 plum tomatoes, cut in half

1 sweet onion, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon basil

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 cups vegetable broth

1 cup Greek yogurt

Dab of butter

Colby cheese, finely shredded

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Place plum tomatoes and chopped onions in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with black pepper, sea salt, basil, oregano, and garlic powder. Spread onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with nonstick oil. Roast 30 minutes until browned. Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Transfer roasted vegetables to a food processor to purée. In a stock pot, combine vegetable broth and puréed tomatoes. Stir well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Gently fold in Greek yogurt. Divide into soup bowls. Garnish with a dab of butter and finely shredded Colby cheese. Sprinkle with marjoram. Serve with garlic toast.

X-Citing Everyday Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: X-citing Everyday Salad! Whoever said salads are ho-hum hasn’t raided the refrigerator for a weeknight dinner, especially on a rainy day. Just use your imagination. After all, you only buy produce that you really like, right? I’m a fan of herbed olive oil and tomatoes, so by turning that into a dressing it satisfies my quest for the perfect Italian vinaigrette. Look again at the photo. See the leafy greens? Start there and build the layers. By the time you finish adding what you like (substituting stuff like green olives for black), you have a meal-in-a-bowl that rivals your neighborhood eatery. Enough talking, now let’s get moving.

X-CITING EVERYDAY SALAD

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/8 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon basil

1/8 teaspoon marjoram

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Italian cheese, finely shredded

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cups mixed greens, gently torn

1/2 cup broccoli florets

10-12 pepperoni slices

1/3 cup green olives, sliced

Cracked black pepper

Instructions:

In a small bowl, combine olive oil, oregano, basil, marjoram, garlic powder, and sea salt. Stir well. Add balsamic vinegar and Italian cheese. Fold in cherry tomatoes to coat. In a large bowl, layer mixed greens, broccoli florets, pepperoni slices, and green olives. Drizzle with tomato herbed vinaigrette. Gently toss before serving. Garnish with cracked black pepper.

Unstuffed Green Pepper Bake

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Unstuffed Green Pepper Bake! If you love the taste of stuffed green peppers, but really hate the extra steps of preparation, look no further. This “unstuffed” version can be served in individual casserole dishes or a family-style pan, thus eliminating the need for hollowed-out green peppers. Still yummy, still Spanish-flavor, still way back generational goodness like your grandma used to make. Be good to yourself when the week gets crazy busy. Make a batch of “unstuffed” green peppers and sit back with a glass of wine while the oven does all the work. You’re worth it.

UNSTUFFED GREEN PEPPER BAKE

Ingredients:

2 green peppers, coarsely chopped

24-ounce jar traditional pasta sauce

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon basil

2 cups rotisserie chicken or turkey, shredded

1 cup cooked brown rice

1 1/2 cups Italian cheese blend, shredded

2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook chopped green peppers in the microwave-safe dish for 2 minutes on High setting. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine pasta sauce, garlic powder, oregano, and basil. Mix well. Fold in shredded meat, brown rice, and 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Add green peppers. Transfer filling into prepared casserole dish(es). Top with remaining cheese. In a small bowl coat panko crumbs with olive oil. Mix well. Spoon crumbs over cheese. Baked 25 minutes or until heated through.

Nature’s Tomato Naan

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Nature’s Tomato Naan. Who likes ooey gooey melted mozzarella cheese? I do, I do! Now add nature’s juicy ripened tomatoes for fresh garden flavor that will have you wiping your chin after the first bite. Be careful of those cheese pulls, though. Steam may be trapped between the naan crust and the pizza stone. Besides, there’s nothing worse than burning the roof of your mouth from lack of patience. Let your eyes create desire. After all, everyone wants eating to be an enjoyable experience.

NATURE’S TOMATO NAAN

Ingredients:

One prepared naan crust

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3 Campari tomatoes, sliced

5 grape tomatoes, sliced

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon basil

1/8 teaspoon marjoram

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shaved

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spread olive oil on both sides of naan bread. Sprinkle cornmeal over bottom crust. Sprinkle garlic powder over top crust. Place cornmeal side down on a pizza stone. Bake for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, slice tomatoes on a cutting board. Sprinkle tomatoes with sea salt, oregano, basil, and marjoram. Remove naan from oven. Carefully layer mozzarella cheese over crust. Then arrange sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Bake 15 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Top with parmesan cheese before serving.