It was the most intense basil scent I had ever smelled. 27,000 basil plants, as far as the eye can see… well not quite, as outside the greenhouse the early 20th-century factory buildings stood tall nearby, which made the sea of basil all the more surreal. Continue reading
It looks like my childhood heroine Mary Poppins needs to reconsider. No more than six teaspoons added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men – that’s what the American Heart Association recommends. Until I read this I thought our added sugar intake was on the moderate side. We do not drink any sodas or soft drinks, nor do we add sugar to tea or coffee. I pay attention to the sugar content when I buy cereal and other processed foods. We do not eat candy and a piece of chocolate only once in a blue moon. Most of the baked goods and sweets we eat are homemade, and I reduce the sugar amount in any given recipe by at least one-third. Still, I concluded that we still eat much more sugar than we should. Continue reading
The French dried herb mix, Herbes de Provence, was ubiquitous in my mother’s cooking when I grew up. She added it to the simple tomato sauce she made often, and always from scratch, or rubbed roasts with it. When I smell Herbes de Provence, I immediately think of our kitchen in Frankfurt, Germany, with its ornate grapeleaf wallpaper. Continue reading
Once in a while even resolved home cooks like me agree to take-out pizza. With it we usually order a serving of garlic knots sitting in a puddle of very garlicky garlic oil. Seeing the ample, almost untouched amount of pesto in the freezer a few weeks ago made me feel almost guilty about eating garlic knots from somewhere else so I thought of ways to combine the two: pesto knots.
When it comes to pesto, I am a minimalist. I only use homegrown basil and garlic, salt, a good extra-virgin olive oil, and roasted walnuts. No pine nuts because the real, good kind from Lebanon is very expensive, and I find the Chinese pine nuts inedible. And no Pecorino or other cheese because I prefer to add it to the dish right at the table.
Immediately after processing the pesto, I fill it in small disposable paper cups and place them in the freezer until they are solidly frozen. I then remove the cups and tightly pack those pesto lollipops (lollipops without sticks, that is) in a large zippered freezer bag.
The yeasted knots are fun to make, and both times I made them we did not have trouble finishing them within a day or two (they can also be reheated in the oven).
Now that I have averted the danger of having to spread pesto on our breakfast toast in June to use up last year’s supply, I am starting to wonder whether this year my basil plants might get hit by basil downy mildew, a new highly destructive and quickly spreading disease. In gardening, everything is possible. Meanwhile, I will eat another pesto knot and enjoy it.
1¼ cups warm water
2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3½ cups flour (whole wheat or half whole wheat and half bread flour)
½ cup pesto
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1. Mix the water with the yeast and let stand for a few minutes until it starts to foam.
2. In a large bowl mix the olive oil, salt, flour, and the yeast mixture. Knead to a smooth dough using your hands or the dough hook of an electric mixer. The dough should be slightly tacky; add more water a teaspoon at a time as needed.
3. Cover and let rise for 2 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, place it on the medium rack of the oven.
5. Briefly knead dough for remove any air bubbles. Divide it into 24 equally sized pieces using a sharp knife or a dough cutter. Roll each piece into a 6-inch rope of even thickness and twist it into a knot. If the dough starts to feel a bit dry, moisten your hands before shaping each knot.
6. Place the knots directly on the hot baking stone, or on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. After placing them in the oven spray them immediately with cold water. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the knots are golden brown.
7. In the meantime mix the pesto with a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Immediately when they come out of the oven, toss the knots with the pesto to coat them evenly.
8. Place the coated knots on a large plate or baking sheet in one single layer. If you pile them up hot as they are they will sweat and get soggy. Eat warm, or reheat in a preheated oven for 350 degrees for a few minutes.
Makes 24 pieces