Basil-Kale Pesto

summer garden

Mid September – the height of harvest season – and there’s a frost warning, a good two weeks earlier than usual.  We, and the garden, may wake up to 32 degrees tomorrow morning, which means I have a lot to do!  One of the vulnerable crops which will not survive a frigid night is basil.  So, pesto production it is.

fresh basil

One that will actually become tastier with a frost is kale.  With more than plenty of it to take us into early winter, I harvested some now as well to partner with the basil in the pesto.

kale

Basil-Kale Pesto (or substitute other fresh green leaves)

  • 2 cups fresh basil and kale leaves, washed, dried and torn into small pieces
  • 3 medium garlic cloves (or garlic scapes, earlier in the season)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, or a combination)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until you have a beautiful green paste.  You can adjust the flavor with salt and pepper, and the consistency with a bit more olive oil, if needed.

Fill small glass jars with pesto.  They’ll do well in the refrigerator for a week or so, and they’ll keep throughout the winter in the freezer.  Just be sure to give the pesto enough space in the jar to expand when it freezes. If you are a minimal pesto eater, you can freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, transfer the pesto cubes into plastic bags, and return to the freezer for use in soups and sauces when you need a shot of summery green.

Looking for a brighter, longer-lasting green? Then blanch* your basil leaves for a quick moment – no more than 5-6 seconds – before putting them into the food processor.

pesto toast

 

pesto toast close-up

 

* How to blanch? Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil (salted or not, as you wish) and fill a large bowl or a plugged-up sink with ice water. Once at a full boil, drop the basil leaves into the water, count to 5 seconds and remove them with a slotted spoon.  Drop them immediately into the ice water.  Continue on with pesto making instructions using this basil.  You’ll be treated to a brighter and lasting colored pesto.

 

 

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Kids Cook Monday: Homemade Dressing

pouring dressing

A good dressing can be the difference between timid vegetable nibbling and eager vegetable consumption.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of bottled dressings are best left on supermarket shelves due to the added sugars, preservatives and genetically modified vegetable, soybean or canola oils they contain.  The good news is it is very easy to make your own with fresh, high quality, healthy ingredients. With plenty of room for flavor experimentation and personalizing, this is a great recipe for the kids around your dinner table.

An unofficial (and not particularly scientific) study I recently conducted, confirmed that ranch is America’s favorite dressing. It was comforting to then come across this article on the NPR food blog, The Salt, supporting my findings. With that settled, here’s our version of the American favorite, buttermilk ranch dressing, made from real ingredients, at home, in just a few easy steps:

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (if you are a child like Julia Child, you can make your own using this recipe).
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk (staying in the do-it-yourself mood, you can make this yourself too, using this recipe).
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (possibly more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or a fresh clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • some fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, chives, tarragon, etc. finely chopped.
  • several grinds of black pepper

Parsley close-upMethod:

Add all ingredients to a mason jar (or other container with a well-fitting lid), tighten lid and shake. You can add more mayonnaise to create a dip, or more buttermilk to adjust the consistency in the other direction. Serve with any vegetable or salad and enjoy!

parsley with dressing

 

 

Kids Cook Monday: Kale & Collard Chips

kaleAt a recent “Kids Cook Monday” cooking class, my daughter and I were joined by a room full of parent and child(ren) cooking teams. We had a great time and cooked a fabulous meal together.  At the end of the class, the tables in the back of the cooking classroom were pushed together, and were beautifully set by a group of children complete with improvised folded napkins, and the nineteen of us sat down to a nourishing meal of kale and collard chips, Pad Thai-inspired rice noodles with tofu and vegetables*, followed by a dessert of fried bananas with shaved chocolate and shredded coconut*.

Initiatives such as The Family Dinner Project and The Kids Cook Monday Campaign are actively promoting eating (and cooking) meals together as a family for a list of results which resemble a parent’s dream come true (from life-long healthy eating habits, to an expanded vocabulary, improved conversation skills, boosted self-esteem and better grades in school).  Studies have also shown that children are more likely to try new foods, expand their palate and choose healthier options when they have been involved in the growing, selection and/or preparation of a meal.

So today, we’re skipping the more familiar frozen peas and corn, and giving our young cooks large dark green kale and collard leaves to make an appetizer (fancy word for after school snack).  Some were familiar with kale chips, and all had the chance to build on the basic recipe and adapt it to other greens.

Collard greens photo thanks to Indiana Public Media

Vermont Maple-Mustard Kale/Collard Chips

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½  tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½  tablespoon maple syrup
  • ½ tablespoon mustard
  • 1 large bunch of fresh kale or collard greens
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)

Kale

Basic Kale/Collard Chips

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch greens
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. Wash and dry green leaves with kitchen towel or a salad spinner.
  3. Cut or rip leaves into chip size pieces.
  4. Mix oil, vinegar, maple syrup and mustard in a large bowl.
  5. Add leaves to bowl and coat thoroughly (using hands works well).
  6. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (not necessary but makes for an easy clean-up), and arrange leaves in a single layer.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and/or Parmesan or chili flakes.
  7. Bake in oven for 8-12 minutes, watching them closely since they go from perfect to burned quickly.

kale chip

Serving ideas:

  • in place of packaged chips
  • as a garnish on soups, such as potato-leek or squash soups
  • as a topping on mashed potatoes
  • grind several chips as a popcorn topping
  • create hors d’oeuvre in kale chips used as edible serving cups
  • experiment with any greens you have.

For additional recipes for green leafy vegetables, I recommend the following excellent vegetable cookbooks:

Deborah Madison’s new Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes, and

Greens Glorious Greens: More than 140 Ways to Prepare All Those Great-Tasting, Super-Healthy, Beautiful Leafy Greens.

For more ideas, inspiration and multi-generational cooking tips, you’ll find plenty of food for thought on The Kids Cook Monday site.

If you would like to join us for our next “Kids Cook Monday” cooking class, click here for more information and to register.  Classes are held at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, Vermont.

* These recipes coming soon in the “Kids Cook Monday” series.

Bringing it Home: Growing a Farm-to-School Program

In the hour before the rain, we met at Stony Loam Farm, an organic vegetable farm two miles down the road from our school. It was our first harvest & process day in what we hope will become a series, and develop into a full-sized farm-to-school program.  But like all crops, growing a new food program, starts with a sprout: a small group of families, an accommodating farmer, committed teachers and administrators and a passionate food service director. On day one, we picked green beans and cherry tomatoes.

Given an opportunity to pick, to squat between the plants, and to allow a hand to detour away from the bucket and up to the mouth, kids eat vegetables.  They really do. So much so, that we had to cut them off, as painful as it is to tell kids to stop eating delicious, organic vegetables, our task was to bring fresh produce back to school for the lunch program.  Creating the opportunity for kids to be a part of the growing, harvesting, and preparing of their food, cultivates a greater appreciation of freshness, local producers, and the time, work and energy required to grow it.  From this stems a willingness to try new things, to waste less, to feel a stronger connection to place and local community – all while enjoying fresher, healthier, tastier lunches.

We proudly met our school food director with 36 pounds of green beans and another 20 of cherry tomatoes at the school kitchen.  With crates flipped upside down to help the smallest children reach the sink, the green bean washing team was immediately in full swing.  Meanwhile, parents sorted the cherry tomatoes: some for fresh eating the coming week, others for freezing for use in polka dot soup in the winter.

For more than a week, the school lunch salad bar featured freshly picked organic cherry tomatoes and green beans.  And my daughter came home one day reporting how much fun she had walking through the cafeteria offering her classmates roasted green beans as a taste test. Having enthusiastic children (instead of adults) market foods which might be new to others is just one of our cook’s many effective ideas.

Looking ahead, we have plans to pick apples and make applesauce; to gather potatoes, walking behind the farmer pulling up spuds with his tractor; and to puree and freeze pumpkins and winter squashes for use in wintertime soups, casseroles, and baked goods.

To share the experience, the locally harvested crops are offered as taste tests to all students, and to track our sourcing, we’re planning a food mapping project.  Starting with the local, in-season foods on the menu this fall, and photographs of the farmers who grew them, we’re looking forward to Food Day, October 24, to launch our farm-to-school map on the cafeteria wall.  These are some initial steps in enhancing a school lunch program (a daily part of a child’s experience), which can simply feed, or can be cooked up as an opportunity to expand palates and extend learning.

Simple Recipes:

1. Our cafeteria roasted green beans:

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, washed and ends removed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚.
  2. Toss green beans with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Roast, flipping beans once or twice, until lightly caramelized and starting to crisp, between 10-15 minutes.

2. For a main dish which uses both green beans and cherry tomatoes, try Beans, Toms and Tempeh for a colorful vegan meal or to participate in Meatless Monday, at home or at school.