I don’t remember my first taste of pesto, but I know my husband is a longtime fan. Maybe it’s the Italian roots on his dad’s side (Valentine was Valentini just a few generations ago), but Danny was likely one of the only kids in his elementary school toting a lunch box filled with pasta coated in homemade pesto. His dad tells me he insisted on this for lunch just about every day. For the record, 9-year-old me was unwrapping a standard turkey sandwich on whole wheat.
The reason my husband is such a fan of this green sauce is because his father, Rich, has been making it for decades. He has packed countless jars with pesto made with basil from his backyard garden. At any time, there are several jars in their freezer at home in Iowa.
“Stuff lasts forever,” he tells me, in response to a photo I texted of my own batch of pesto. “Was used by Roman legions on war campaigns for that reason except you could smell them coming. Really.”
Ha, well, this pesto is super fragrant. And I can’t help eating it by the spoonful.
The other night I pulled off a little dinner party for four on a Friday after my hour-long commute. How? This easy braised chicken with shallots was key. I stocked up at Publix on my lunch break, made a game plan on a post-it, and immediately got to work once I pulled off the highway and got home.
First, I seasoned my chicken and set it aside on a cutting board. The pie dough I made a month ago and stored in the freezer would help me, too. I set that out on the counter to begin to thaw. (I might zap it in the microwave for 10 seconds to help get it roll-out ready.)
To start the dinner, I began prepping bacon-wrapped dates. So good. So easy. Pit Medjool dates. Use spoon to stuff with goat cheese. Squeeze in a couple smoked almonds or toasted pecans. Wrap each one with half a strip of thick-cut bacon. Pierce wrapped dates with a long toothpick. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes on each side. Appetizer, done!
Next up, dessert. With my pie dough already done, I decided mini blueberry galettes were the way to go. I tossed fresh blueberries in a bowl with sugar, lemon zest, a bit of cornstarch, and salt. The sugared-up berries were then piled high in rounds of pie dough. I set it all on a sheet pan and placed it in the fridge to chill and wait until it was their time to bake. (Brush dough with egg wash or milk just before baking galettes.)
Then I did my mise en place for the braised chicken with shallots. Tomatoes halved. Shallots peeled. By the time our friends showed up with wine and stories from their Italian honeymoon, dinner was nearly done. Bacon-wrapped dates were on their way to a cute tray, ready for snacking. I was midway through browning the chicken, which is more than half of the work required for this recipe. And dessert was ready to pop in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until berries are juicy and bubbling inside a golden crust. Just add butter pecan ice cream and plenty of wine.
The first wedding anniversary gift theme is, traditionally, paper. Since I’ve already gifted Danny too many cookbooks, there were two ways to go with this: tickets to an event or a dinner reservation.
I reserved a couple of spots for us at a chef’s tasting menu in town.
And as I turned a couple of pages in a charming flipbook Danny made for me, I realized he had also made a dinner reservation for us. In Spain. On a hill in the Basque country at a restaurant where the food is described as “techno-emotional” and has been ranked as one of the best in the world.
My 11-year-old sister, Lila, put it plainly: Danny won. BFF, Katie: Danny is smooth AF. All true.
I loved cooking from this vegetable-focused cookbook, especially since Acheson is cooking from nearby Georgia. The book functions as a companion guide for anyone who visits a farmers market or tends to a backyard garden and seeks guidance for what to do with kohlrabi, kale, and—if you happen upon it—even bamboo. I’m a fan of the Saturday Morning Market in St. Pete, and I’m picking up a CSA trial box this weekend. I’m also trying to revive my backyard garden with peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. I’ll be turning to this book for a long time.
My beloved Dutch oven has been working overtime lately. A couple weeks ago, I stayed up late with a bubbling pot of my first attempt at homemade chicken stock. I’ve made ribollita a couple times since the holidays, and last night we polished off the last of a white bean, bacon, and collard green soup. Then it was on to Hugh Acheson’s Sweet Onion Soup With Caraway and Croutons. It’s soup season! And this sweet onion soup is a standout. Continue reading