Cappellini and Chicken in Fresh Pesto

Sarah was feeling a bit Crohn’s-y last night so I put together this light dish. It is a very simple preparation. Fresh ingredients are key here, however.


1/2 pound cappellini

4 quarts of water

Two chicken breasts (in this case, organic from Trader Joe’s)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the Pesto:

1/4 cup of pine nuts

1 clove of garlic

1 bunch of basil

Extra virgin olive oil


First, prepare the pesto. In a food processor (or a mortar and pestle if you feel like a workout and getting all artisanal) process the pine nuts until they are a fine grain. Add the basil, garlic, some olive oil and some salt. Process until all the basil is very fine and pasty. At this point you can add more olive oil to get it to the consistency that you desire. I like it to be kind of thick but it is personal preference.

Bring four quarts of water to a boil. Using a lot of water is important for thin pasta like capellini, which has a tendency to stick together and gum up.

While the water is coming to a boil, heat olive oil on medium heat for a few minutes. Add the chicken breasts. You want a nice brown crust while not drying out the chicken. Doing it on medium heat helps achieve this. Remove from the heat and let rest.

Right before the chicken is done add the cappellini to the water. Keep a close eye on the pasta. It can go from al dente to mushy very quickly. After 3-4 minutes taste the pasta and cook until the desired texture. Drain. Add back to pot with heat off and throw in 3/4 of the pesto that you made. Toss and put desired amount of pasta in bowls or plates.

Cut the chicken breasts on the bias into two inch strips. Toss in the remaining pesto until the strips are well coated. Lay 3-4 strips across the pasta. I garnished this with some amazing fresh tomatoes from Weaver’s Way and a basil leaf.  This is a dairy-free dish, and you can make it gluten-free simply by using GF pasta.

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Sole Sauteed in Garlic Over Pine Nut Couscous

A very simple family-style dish from my childhood. As a kid, I wasn’t too into most seafood but sole has a very mild flavor that I quite liked. I’d never made this for Sarah but we had these sole filets, so I thought I would give it a go. In my youth the sole was served over pasta. But I thought couscous would be tasty. You need the following:

9-10 sole filets

Two cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

Olive oil

Chicken stock

One cup of water

One cup of couscous

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 cup of panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon of butter

Juice of one lemon

First, boil the cup of water. Toss in the pine nuts and some salt. Stir in couscous and remove from heat. Cover and set aside for five minutes. After five minutes, fluff with a fork, add some olive oil and it is ready to serve.

While the couscous is resting, melt the butter in a small pan. When the butter is getting foamy add the bread crumbs and saute until the bread crumbs start to turn brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large skillet heat enough olive oil, over medium high heat, to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic. Saute the fish in batches and remove to a paper towel. Saute one side in the olive oil. When you flip the fish add just a bit of chicken stock to deglaze the pan. When the stock has nearly all evaporated, remove the fish to the paper towel to drain. Repeat until all the fish is done.

To serve, make a pile of couscous in the middle of the plate. Put the desired amount of sole over the couscous. Sprinkle the sole with the bread crumbs and drizzle a bit of olive oil and lemon juice over the top. I garnished with some yellow heirloom tomatoes.

A very tasty and healthy meal. You can adjust the amount of the ingredients depending on how many people you have. This served Sarah and me with a bit of fish left over to give the dog and cat a taste. Enjoy!


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Heirloom Tomato Pizza

Heirloom Tomato Pizza

This was our first attempt at homemade pizza in years, and we were very pleased with the results.  I should admit up front that, since it was a work night, we didn’t attempt to make the dough from scratch– that’s more of a Sunday project.  We bought a blob of pizza dough from Trader Joe’s instead.  But we had some beautiful fresh orange and red heirloom tomatoes straight from the farm, fresh mozzarella, local raw-milk gruyere, a monster of a shallot and some fresh garlic, all from the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market.  The fresh ingredients really made a difference!

Joe stretched the dough out to about a foot in diameter– it was quite springy so that wasn’t an easy task, even for someone who used to work at a pizza shop.   We started with a gentle drizzle of olive oil and some chopped shallots and garlic.  Not too much,  you don’t want to overwhelm the flavors of the tomatoes and cheese.  Next, a layer of grated fresh mozzarella, then a quick grate of a much smaller amount of gruyere.  Finally, sliced orange and red tomatoes arranged on top of the pie and drizzled with a hint of olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  We don’t have a pizza stone (although, ahem, my birthday is November 15), so we baked the pizza on a cookie sheet.  It worked out fine, although a pizza stone would have crisped the bottom of the crust a bit more.  The directions on the dough said to bake it for 8-9 minutes, but the tomatoes and mozzarella release so much water that we ended up baking it for about 12 minutes to get some nice browning going.

When it had about 3 minutes to go, Joe sprinkled some chopped fresh basil on top of the pizza. 

The result was one of the better pizzas I’ve had in a long time.  The tomatoes were bursting with flavor, the basil was delicious, and the garlic and shallots gave it just enough of a kick.  The crust wasn’t massively flavorful– when we do it from scratch we’ll salt and season it a bit– but it was perfectly serviceable and had a nice texture to it.  I’d prefer homemade, but for an after-work meal on a Wednesday night the packaged dough made this an easy, quick meal.  Not bad for a first attempt!  I’ll post a picture tonight if our crappy Earthlink internet access is up to it.

Also:  The Real Potato received our 5,000th hit today!  Woohoo!  Cookies for everyone!

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Zucchini Parmesan

We’re big on Italian-American comfort food at our house. Joe grew up in a traditional Italian-American family in New Jersey, and I’m from Pittsburgh, so this is familiar territory for us. (My standard is the version they make at Minutello’s in Shadyside.) We picked up some fresh, in-season zucchini at the Fair Food Farmstand and decided to forgo the traditional Fourth of July grill-fest.

Zucchini parm is a relatively simple dish, but there are a few stages involved in its making, so it can be a little time-consuming.

First: get yourself some good, fresh zucchini. Ideally, it’ll be from your backyard, but if you’re like us and don’t have a backyard, the local farmer’s market will do. Three or four small ones will be plenty.

Next: Slice it lengthwise, as thin as you can get it. We used a mandoline to do the slicing, which makes things much easier. Make an egg wash in a bowl: two eggs, a splash of water, and some salt and pepper. Then spread some bread crumbs out on a plate– you can use boxed, but we just threw some leftover bread into the food processor for a minute. Dip the zucchini slices in egg and bread them, then fry them in about 1/4 inch of oil until they are nice and brown.

It’s helpful to have two people for this stage– one breading and one frying. If you’re slicing as thin as you can, you’ll have a lot of slices to fry!

As you finish frying the slices, let them cool for a few minutes, then put a layer of zukes at the bottom of a casserole pan. Cover the layer with marinara sauce. (Yes, we used a jar– the organic stuff from Trader Joe’s is perfectly fine if you don’t have the time to Martha Stewart some from scratch.) You can add a bit of cheese at this point– parmesan is good; we used Idiazabal. Add another layer of zucchini, top with another layer of sauce. Repeat until you’re out of zucchini. Top with sauce and mozzarella cheese.

Put the casserole in a 350-degree oven. It won’t need long– 20 minutes at most, but keep an eye on it. You just want to heat it through and brown the cheese.

Slice and serve hot with a glass of red wine. Good stuff– tasty, soul-satisfying, and great for vegetarians.

Comments imported from Blogger: 2

Melanie said…
Dude! Eggplant parmesan has been a favorite of mine; I never thought of using zucchini. I will have to experiment with this. 🙂
Also: congratulations on the return to breadcrumbs! Did they ever figure out what the allergy was?
July 5, 2007 1:48 PM  
Sarah said…
Thanks!!It’s not entirely clear– they are resorting to a maybe-IBS diagnosis, which I’ve learned is medical-ese for ‘we have no idea’. It’s clear that somebody messed up, but I’m still left without any real answers…. argh.But yay! Breadcrumbs!!

July 5, 2007 1:50 PM  

Joe’s Spaghetti and Meatballs, with WHEAT!

Joe:  To celebrate Sarah’s return to the wheat world I made a classic that has always been one of her comfort foods. Like most of our cooking, we find using fresh ingredients is the way to go. So, after work I stopped by DiBruno’s and picked up some freshly made spaghetti and a nice loaf of fresh ciabatta bread.

For the meatballs:

1 lb ground beef
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 to 3/4 cups of bread crumbs
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste.

While preparing the meatballs heat a quart or so of red sauce of your choosing. I used to always make my sauce from scratch but in recent years there have been a number of jarred sauces come out that are quite good and preservative free. Last night I used Newman’s Own Basil Marinara. Heat to a simmer over medium heat then reduce heat to low.

Finely chop the garlic or put through a garlic press. Add to the meat in a large bowl. Add half of the breadcrumbs and one egg. For the bread crumbs I cut up chunks of the ciabatta bread and put it in a 200-degree oven for a half hour or so. Then I put it in a mini cuisinart and pulsed it until I had bread crumbs. If you have the time, leave the bread out overnight. Mix well. (I find the only way to properly mix the meat is by hand.) Add the other egg and mix again. Then add breadcrumbs until the meat is solid and any slipperiness of the eggs is gone. You have to do this by feel, as the amount of bread crumbs necessary will vary depending on the moisture in the meat, the humidity that day, etc. Add salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron pan. Roll the meat into balls. The size is a personal preference. I usually get about 12-14 balls out of a pound of meat. Place meatballs in pan at least a half an inch apart. Brown on all sides. This will not cook them through. When browned add to the sauce that is simmering. They should be cooked through in 20-30 minutes.

About five minutes before the balls were done I cut up bread into four flat pieces about four inches wide. I put two cloves of garlic in a press and put them in a small bowl. I added a few tablespoons of olive oil and mixed it well. Then, I spread the bread with the garlic and olive oil and I put it under the broiler until crispy and brown.

I added the pound of fresh pasta to about 5 quarts of salted water. Fresh pasta only needs about 3 minutes to cook. It was wonderful. I have forgotten how pasta made with gluten has a slightly bread-like quality and is very springy compared to the gluten free variety. There are some very good gluten-free pastas out there but nothing equals fresh pasta. Also, real pasta is more filling than gluten-free pasta. I had forgotten this and got very full quickly.

Drain pasta, put meatballs in a bowl and serve. I topped mine with some Spanish cheese with a soft parmesan quality.

By the noises coming out of Sarah, it was a successful meal.

[Sarah’s note: Yes. Yes, it was.]

Chicken Parmesan with gluten-free bread crumbs

Joe got home before me tonight, so he was on dinner duty. It’s been a long Monday, so he went for Italian-American comfort food– chicken parm.

You know how to make this, right? Dip your chicken in egg, roll it in bread crumbs, brown it in a skillet, put it in a baking dish, pour tomato sauce over it, slice some mozzarella on top, stick it in the oven. Serve with pasta (I like quinoa-corn pasta). Not that hard.

The challenging bit, if you’re wheat-free, is the breading. When I lived in New York, I bought gluten-free bread crumbs in the baking section at the Union Square Whole Foods. Unfortunately, none of the Whole Foodses (?) here carry that brand, the name of which escapes me. If you’re looking for GF bread crumb options, two ideas:

-Philly Whole Foods stores DO carry a brand called Southern Homestyle Tortilla Crumbs. They’re GF and tasty, but they do have a very distinct corn flavor. Great for breading fish or pork chops, but they don’t blend into Italian dishes the way ordinary bread crumbs do.

-To make your own GF bread crumbs: Get yourself a loaf of GF bread. The best and most neutrally flavored you can find. Whole Foods’ Gluten-Free Bakehouse makes a good sandwich loaf. Food For Life loaves are decent, but the fruit-juice-sweetened ones have a sweet flavor that’s almost grape-y. Trader Joe’s GF English muffins aren’t bad– they crumble too easily to be practical for sandwiches, but are great for making bread crumbs.

Crumble your bread into your food processor. Give it a few pulses until it’s reduced down to crumbs. Spread them out on the bottom of a metal pan (with sides, please) and pop them into the oven for ten minutes or so. This isn’t an exact science, so keep an eye on them. When they’re nice and toasty, use them however you please.

They don’t keep for long, so don’t make more than you think you’ll use in a day or two.

UPDATE: According to Joe, Food For Life bread does NOT work well for this. He recommends letting the bread go a bit stale before doing this.