Tag Archive for basil

Eggs in Purgatory

Necessity is the mother of invention.

True in the world of technological advances. True also in the world of the kitchen.

Because, on those nights when there doesn’t appear to be anything in the cupboards and the fridge is down to just the basics, there are still meals to be made.

Such was the case the other night when I found myself hungry and with only the very basics in my cupboards and fridge. (Eclectic basics due to my bizarre impulse grocery shopping skills, but basics nevertheless.)

Among them, a can of diced tomatoes I’m sure I bought for a Bolognese that never ended up getting cooked, a chunk of Parmesan, part of a red onion, some rapidly wilting herbs and eggs.

In short, all the ingredients for a dish known as Eggs in Purgatory.

(It’s sometimes also known as Eggs in Hell, though I’d argue that’s for a spicier version than I can handle.)

Eggs in Purgatory II

There are millions of variations for this recipe, but they all start with the basic concept of cooking eggs in a tomato sauce. Beyond that, it can be as creative as one wants or dependent on what one has on hand: wilt in some greens like spinach or kale, add sausage, spicy chorizo or strips of prosciutto, sauté onions and garlic to give the sauce more flavour. Make a more “hellish” version by throwing in some chopped jalapenos or chilies while sautéing the onions. The options are limitless.

With my limited supplies, however, I kept it pretty basic. Thankfully, basic doesn’t mean boring.

With only 10 minutes and a very small amount of effort, I had a flavourful and filling dinner. The rich eggs with slightly runny yolks are a nice foil to the spicy tomato sauce. I mopped it all up with a crusty piece of bread slathered with some butter.

Using just one pan to make a meal means this dish is near perfection.

Next time, I probably won’t wait until necessity forces me to make this for dinner; I’ll make sure I have the ingredients for Eggs in Purgatory.

Eggs in Purgatory I

Eggs in Purgatory

For a spicier version, add more red pepper flakes or add some diced jalapeno. For some more green, wilt spinach or kale just as the onions have softened before adding the diced tomatoes.

  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) diced onion, about ¼ of a small onion
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) red pepper flakes
  • 1 13.5-oz (398 mL) can diced tomatoes
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup chopped herbs

In a pan over medium heat, warm the oil and then add the onion, letting it sauté until softened and slightly transluscent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about a minute longer. Pour in the diced tomatoes and juice, stir and let come to a simmer. Add the salt and a few grinds from the pepper mill, then let the tomato sauce cook until the liquid reduces and the sauce thickens slightly. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt or pepper as needed.

Using the back of a spoon, make two divots in the sauce and crack the eggs into the spaces. Sprinkle the parmesan over the sauce and egg whites.

Cover with a lid and let the eggs cook until the whites are set and the yolk is slightly runny (or to your desired doneness).

Remove from the heat, then sprinkle with the chopped herbs.

Serve immediately.

Serves 1 to 2.

Basil Vinaigrette

If you’ve been reading this for awhile, you may remember when I mentioned that I once bought a cookbook simply for a salad dressing recipe. Subsequently, I’ve learned to love Rebar’s lime sugar cookies and have tried numerous other recipes in the book. But it’s the basil vinaigrette that keeps me coming back to this book every single time.

Salad close-up

I first tried the basil dressing when I had a salad at Rebar one afternoon. It was a fantastic meal. (I have this theory about salads, that they are always best when someone else makes them. In this case, it’s not all that surprising when you look at what they include in their giant salads: grated beets, grated carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, cheese . . . . The list goes on.) And I’ve barely tried anything else when I’ve gone there again because the salad is so good.

And they don’t blink when I ask for a little extra dressing on the side.

People, this is good stuff.

And no doubt, there is A LOT of basil in here. Once blended with vinegars, dijon and a few other ingredients, then emulsified with olive oil, this comes out very thick, very green and very fantastic.

Basil

As soon as basil starts to show up at the farmer’s market each summer, I buy a couple of huge bunches, make a batch or two of pesto and then this dressing, which I devour on salads all week.

(Um, may I suggest checking your basil before blending?)
Extra passenger

The measurement for basil (1 1/2 ounces) doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a few cups, so make sure to buy enough. Otherwise, cut the recipe in half if you don’t have enough.

All in the blender

Basil Vinaigrette

Basil Vinaigrette II

Dressing on lettuce

Simple salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Basil Vinaigrette

from the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cracked pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor (I use a blender and that works just as well, I’ve found.) and blend. Slowly add olive oil in a slow, thin stream until thick and creamy.

Season to taste and serve. Can be refrigerated up to three days.

Mac-Raff n’ Cheese

This is one of my favourite all-time childhood meals.

Mac-Raff n' Cheese I

I loved coming home to find a pot of Mac-Raff n’ Cheese bubbling away in the oven. My stepdad, Sean, would make it in our giant Corning Vision Ware pot (Do you guys remember those? The glass pots that came in a couple of colours? Ours was brown.), so if I peered through the oven door I could see the tomato sauce simmering up to mingle with the cheese-coated pasta.

For a long time I thought it was a creation of Sean’s, him being the head chef in our blended family. And what a chef he was! We were well-fed kids because that man knows his way around a kitchen. Lamb and mint sauce, chicken and rice with cream gravy, roast beef with all the fixings. There’s a reason I love to go home, even today. But when I was home a few months ago, my mum revealed that she was actually the mastermind behind the recipe.

She’s a Macdonald; he’s a Rafferty. So we were the Mac-Raff household. Hence the name of this dish.

It is a smart meal from a parent’s perspective. Quick, filling and can be assembled during the day and left at the ready to bake closer to dinner time when everyone is home and getting hungry. As an adult, I’ve also found it to be fantastic as a freezer meal. Since I generally make enough for a family of six (apparently, I am incapable of cooking for one or two like a normal singleton. But it’s OK because I love leftovers.) I have got into the habit of splitting the mac n’ cheese into two casserole dishes and jamming one into my freezer for later.

Mac-Raff n' Cheese III

I made it a couple of months ago when the days were still crisp and cold. Then it warmed up and I wondered if people’s appetites for hearty, homemade macaroni and cheese had waned, so I kind of put it on the back burner (nyuk nyuk). And then we had another, delayed, blast of winter. Oh! I thought, a second chance! And then, uh, well, let’s just say I lost track of time.

But I think this is a good recipe to have on hand. Although there is no official recipe. I, like my parents, kind of make it up as I go along each time depending on what I have lying around. But, fundamentally, it is macaroni and cheese with tomato sauce on the bottom that is all baked together in a casserole dish with a layer of cheese on top.

And it is far greater than the sum of its parts. Tomato sauce = good. Pasta doused in cheese sauce = good. That layer where the two mix = perfection.

I like to take a couple of big spoonfuls and top with some cracked black pepper, then eat it with a spoon.

But the real beauty of this is that it is infinitely adaptable. Don’t like the cheeses suggested? Use what you’ve got or what you like. Don’t have fresh herbs? Use a pinch of dried basil. Use your family’s own secret tomato sauce recipe for that matter. This is about using what you’ve got and experimenting with what you think it will taste good.

Tomato Sauce I

Tomato Sauce II

Grated Cheese

Pasta and Cheese

Oven ready

Hot from the oven

Mac-Raff n' Cheese II

Mac-Raff n’ Cheese

Tomato Sauce base:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • pinch sugar
  • 1/4 cup basil (or combination of mostly basil and some parsley), roughly chopped.
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. When hot, add onion and saute until transluscent. Add garlic and stir for about a minute until fragrant. Using the can lid, drain the tomato liquid from the can of whole tomatoes into the pot. Let the liquid reduce by half and then add in the tomatoes. I dice them one by one in my palm using a basic dinner knife as I like small chunks of tomato. Another trick is to use kitchen scissors and just cut them up in the can. Add to the pot. Then add the crushed tomatoes. Stir in sugar and balsamic and let simmer until it has reduced and thickened. You don’t want it too thick because it will reduce further in the oven. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in herbs.

Macaroni and cheese:

  • 500 grams pasta (penne, macaroni or whatever tubular pasta you have sitting around)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 5 cups grated cheese, divided (I like a combination of asiago, cheddar, provolone and a bit of Parmesan; but I’m not afraid to use what’s already in the fridge.)
  • 3 cups milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. As the pasta boils, start on the cheese sauce. Melt butter over medium-low heat in a pot. When frothy and bubbling, add flour and mix with a whisk until well blended. Continue cooking for a couple of  minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. After it has thickened slightly, add 4 cups of the grated cheese. (I usually switch to a wooden or plastic spoon at this point.) Stir until melted, then add salt and pepper to taste. (If it is too thick, splash in a bit more milk.) Remove from heat.

Drain cooked pasta and return to pot. Top with cheese sauce and mix together.

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 425F.

Put tomato sauce in base of casserole dish. Top with macaroni and cheese and then sprinkle over remaining one cup of cheese. Bake covered for 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the size of your casserole dish). Remove lid and bake another 10 to 20 minutes until cheese is bubbling on top.

This is fantastic with a nice green salad.

Note: To make ahead, assemble the entire dish but stop just before baking it. Wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, this can be stored in the freezer. To cook later, let thaw and then bake as directed.

Pesto

The smell of basil is the smell of summer.

basil

And not just because it is readily available in the months when the sun is out more often than not and the days are long.
It’s also because I will forever associate the smell of basil with my grandfather and summer afternoons in his studio when we would make pesto.

Pesto

He had a greenhouse that somehow managed to produce a never-ending supply of this fragrant herb. (Along with peppers and tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes. I loved eating them when their skins were still warm from being inside the hothouse; their taste was unparalleled.) So pesto was not just a treat that could be made with basil, it was a way of harvesting and putting to use mass quantities of the stuff.

The remaining ingredients, he always had on hand. Heads of papery garlic always sat in a bowl on the work table that separated the kitchen from the rest of the studio. Parsley was harvested from a large pot on the front deck. As a man who wished he was Italian, olive oil and parmesan were always part of the pantry.

He would store the pesto in baby jars in the freezer, sending a few home with me at the end of my visits to the island.

I started making my own pesto a couple of years ago, though in infinitely smaller batches since I have no garden nor greenhouse and must depend on the bags of basil from the farmer’s market. But I, like him, freeze what I don’t think I’ll quickly consume. Then, in the depths of winter, when the sun goes down before I get home from work and the wind can chill me to the bones, I can pull it out. I add it to soups or pasta sauces or cook it with a little cream and pour over pasta with a fresh few grates of Parmesan. In these small ways, I bring back the summer, and the smells and sounds of being with my grandfather.

Olive Oil

Parmesan

Pesto pre-blending

Pesto II

There are a million variations on pesto recipes. This is one I like, which I adapted from two recipes.

Pesto

  • 2 cups packed basil
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch or two pepper (I just do a few grinds)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor. Blitz two or three times to get it going, then turn on and let run while drizzling oil in. Stop when all the oil is incorporated but before it gets too thin. I like mine to still have a slightly chunky feel to it.

Saifun Salad

I don’t know why I always forget how great T&T supermarket is.

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping. After 10 days away it was time to restock the fridge with vegetables and fresh herbs. I was really craving fresh herbs now that the temperature is starting to climb. (Mother Nature is, apparently, apologizing for the extra long winter by moving us straight into summer.) Safeway was out of basil, though, so after dropping a friend off at the airport this morning, I decided to quickly stop by T&T in the city’s northeast.

Let’s do a little comparison shopping, shall we?

Two shallots at Safeway: $1.99

Bag of eight shallots at T&T: $1.49

Shallots

Packages of herbs at Safeway: $2.49

Bag of Thai basil about three sizes larger than Safeway’s: $2.64 (by weight)

Fresh herbs

Okay, so I only needed a little bit of basil, but bonus basil means more room for creativity. Now, instead of one or two recipes that call for the stuff, I can make three or four. With three baby cucumbers sitting in my car (from my aforementioned friend who needed to ditch the last of her produce before heading on holidays), grape tomatoes at home and a package of mint also sitting in my fridge, I remembered this great little summer salad recipe that uses Saifun noodles.

Saifun noodles — before the softening

Saifun noodles softening

These noodles — also known as mung bean noodles, bean threads or vermicelli — are the perfect summer food. They don’t need to be boiled, just reconstituted in a little hot water, which is easily done while chopping the rest of the ingredients. The noodles are light and when dressed with lime, rice vinegar, garlic and fresh herbs can be very refreshing. The hits of fresh herbs also make it super tasty.

For the record, Thai basil (also known as holy basil, apparently) does not taste the same as traditional Italian basil, so I wouldn’t suggest using it for your favourite tomato sauce or other Italian dishes. But if it’s a Thai, Vietnamese or southeast Asian recipe that calls for basil, you could definitely use Thai basil if you can find it. A lot of Asian grocers seem to carry it, so keep an eye out.

Thai basil

I originally found this recipe in the Edmonton Journal. My additions and changes are noted in italics. Also note that these noodles suck up the vinaigrette like string sponges, so, when in doubt, don’t skimp. Oh, and I like to use those baby cucumbers that seem to be cropping up everywhere these days; they’re less bitter than the long English cukes. Either way, I’d recommend scraping out the seeds because that ups the soggy factor if you’re not eating it all in one go (or, of course, serving it all in one go).

Saifun Salad ingredients

Saifun Salad dressing and kitchen mess

Saifun Salad before the dressing

Saifun Salad with the dressing

Saifun Salad

  • 8 oz. (250 grams) saifun bean thread noodles
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes (I chop mine in half so they stretch further)
  • 1 small cucumber, diced
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 or 3 green onions, minced
  • a few cilantro leaves, chopped (cilantro and I are not friends. I do not like it nor understand everyone’s obsession with it. If you like it, by all means add it; I do not.)

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • grated zest and juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp. Thai basil, torn (Of course, if you can only find Italian, that’s fine.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed (I mash them, throw them in the dressing, then fish them out just before eating so as to impart as much garlic flavour but without the burn of eating raw garlic.)
  • 1 tsp. red chile paste
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (I’m sure any vegetable oil will do. But I wouldn’t use olive oil, which I feel would overpower the light flavours of the salad.)
  • 1/2 tsp. sesame oil (I usually don’t add this because I find it overpowering.)

Soak the noodles in a bowl of warm water just until softened, about five minutes, then cook one minute in boiling water. (I simply cover them with boiling water and wait about five or six minutes for them to soften.) Drain and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Cover and store in the fridge until ready to make the salad.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Taste to check for seasonings.

Place cold noodles in a large salad bowl. Add tomatoes, cucumber, onions and herbs. Top with dressing and toss well, then put the salad in the fridge for about 30 minutes before serving, so the noodles have a chance to soak up the flavours of the dressing.