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Posts Tagged ‘Dennison’s farm’

We’ve been on a pesto kick this week, thanks in part to one stubborn little plant.

About six weeks ago, I brought a couple of basil bunches to the office, thinking that somebody would take it off my hands. Nope. So there it sat, lingering in a vase of water (which I was changing, mind you, every couple of days), developing roots and growing 10 inches while providing the occasional handful of fresh basil leaves for lunchtime salads.

I finally asked myself, how long can I really keep growing basil in a vase of water?

Turns out I should have transplanted it into soil about four weeks ago, and I’ve been risking root rot this whole time.

Since Dennison’s Farm brings me an absurd amount of basil in my CSA box every couple of weeks, I wasn’t planning to plant my own this year. So I took this brave plant home and whirled it into oblivion last night with the other requisite ingredients. It made a divine accompaniment to wine-and-cheese night at Chez Haggerty.

And you know what? I STILL didn’t manage to use all of the leaves. This little plant might end up transplanted into the ground yet due to its sheer will to live.

I halved a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, since I only wanted enough for two people, and it made probably a little under 1/2 cup.

Pesto
(Recipe courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated)

  • 1/8 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 cup basil leaves, packed
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 ounce (1/8 cup) grated Parmesan cheese (see note at end of recipe)

Toast pine nuts and unpeeled garlic cloves in a small dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the pine nuts are just golden and fragrant and the garlic cloves have darkened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the garlic to cool before peeling and roughly chopping.

Place nuts, garlic, basil, oil and salt in small work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrap down sides of bowl, about 30 seconds.

Note: I’ve been grating and shredding my own cheese lately instead of purchasing grated/shredded cheeses, which contain ingredients like cellulose to prevent clumping. I had read that the added ingredients can keep pre-shredded cheese from melting as well as freshly shredded cheese, and it’s true. The texture and the flavor of freshly shredded cheese is simply superior to that of the pre-shredded varieties. And Parmesan, stored correctly, will keep for WEEKS. Totally worth it.

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So it turns out that strawberry shortcake is NOT simply strawberries with pound cake, angel food cake or sponge cake (no, not even those perfectly round little sponge cakes sold in packs of six in your grocery store’s produce section).

The shortcake you likely remember from your childhood? An imposter.

Shortcake is its very own thing. Simply placing strawberries and whipped cream (or, more likely, Cool Whip) on top of any kind of cake does not magically turn it into shortcake. (And while I’m on the subject of Cool Whip, how is it that nobody ever told me how EASY it was to make your own whipped cream?)

Shortcakes are essentially biscuits made with butter instead of shortening, with just a hint of added sugar. They’re supposed to accent the strawberries, after all, not compete for the title of sweetest dessert element.

I’ve made the Cook’s Illustrated version of strawberry shortcake a couple of times, and it’s a winner. The shortcakes are light, but substantial enough to hold the juicy berries without falling apart. The strawberries themselves could probably do with a little less added sugar, especially if you’re lucky enough to get specimens as sweet as I’ve found at the Dennison’s Family Farm strawberry stand this year. The recipe makes way more shortcakes than two people need, but the leftover cakes are good for a couple more days and you can make half, a third or even a quarter of the whipped cream recipe if you like.

Strawberry Shortcake

  • 8 cups (about 2.5 lbs.) strawberries, hulled
  • 6 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting the work surface and biscuit cutter)
  • 5 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tsp. half-and-half
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups whipped cream

For the strawberries:
Place 3 cups of the hulled strawberries in a large bowl and crush with a potato masher. Slice the remaining 5 cups berries and stir into the crushed berries along with the sugar. Set the fruit aside to macerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. (Note: Our leftover macerated strawberries were good for three more days.)

For the shortcakes:
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the flour, 3 Tbsp. of the sugar, the baking powder, and salt to combine. Scatter the butter pieces on top and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Mix the beaten egg with the half-and-half and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture. Combine with a rubber spatula until large clumps form. Turn the mixture onto a floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together. (Note: I’m not sure how I avoided screwing this up, given my lack of prowess with bread dough. It was a sticky mess, but I somehow managed to work enough extra flour in to make it work without ruining it. The husband has mad dough-making skills, so I should probably convince him to handle this part.)

Use your fingertips to pat the dough into a 9-by-6-inch rectangle about ¾-inch thick, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Flour a 2¾-inch biscuit cutter and cut out 6 dough rounds. Place the rounds 1 inch apart on a small baking sheet, brush the tops with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar. (Dough rounds can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 hours before baking.) (The recipe notes that you can roll up the leftover dough scraps and make more shortcakes, but warns that they may not be as good as the originals. I detected no difference, so use all of your dough.)

Bake until the shortcakes are golden brown, 12-14 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool the cakes until warm, about 10 minutes.

To assemble:
When the shortcakes have cooled slightly, split them in half. Place each cake bottom on an individual serving plate, and spoon a portion of the fruit and a dollop of whipped cream over each cake bottom. Cap with the cake top and serve immediately.

Whipped Cream 
Makes about 2 cups

  • 1 cup heavy cream, cold
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Chill a deep, non-reactive, 1- to 1.5-quart bowl and beaters in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Put all ingredients in bowl and beat on low until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium and beat until beaters leave a trail through the mixture, approximately 30 seconds more. Beat on high until the whipped cream is smooth, thick and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 to 30 seconds. (Note: Don’t skimp on freezing the bowl and beaters. That’s what makes the magic happen.)

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