Cilantro Pesto and Avocado Pasta Salad

Back in the early 1990’s when I lived in Dallas, my friends and I would catch a film or visit the bar at the art deco-inspired Inwood Theater, just north of Highland Park. Often before or after a film, I’d grab dinner across the street at an upscale café that offered specialty sandwiches and prepared salads. One of my favorite salads was a Mexican-inspired pasta salad combining creamy avocado, bright cilantro pesto, tomatoes and fresh string cheese. I believe the café has been closed for many years, but his pasta salad recreated from memory is delicious and worth the carbs.

This is an excellent way to enjoy late summer produce. Avoid shelf stable products as they lack color and freshness that really make this pasta salad special.

A note about cilantro pesto…

Cilantro pesto can be made using a basic basil pesto recipe, only replace the blanched basil with blanched cilantro leaves (blanching maintains the bright green color). If pressed for time, cilantro pesto may be found in your grocery store’s refrigerated case where fresh pasta and sauces are displayed.

Cilantro Pesto and Avocado Pasta Salad

Serves 4 (takes about 30 minutes start to finish)

  • ½ lb penne pasta (or any similar sized pasta of your choice)
  • ¾ cup fresh cilantro pesto (or 7 oz. store-bought prepared)
  • 1 medium ripe avocado (1/2 inch diced)
  • 3 oz Oaxacan cheese (1/4 inch diced)
  • ¼ cup tomato (seeds removed, diced)
  • ½ jalapeno chile (stem and seeds removed, minced)
  • ½ small purple onion, thinly sliced (marinated in 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp cold water – drained and towel dried with paper towel)
  • Fresh juice of one small lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, boil pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Set aside to cool.

In a large serving bowl, add avocado, cheese, tomato, chile, onion and half of cilantro pesto. Stir once or twice to combine. Add pasta, lime juice, and the remaining pesto and stir to fully incorporate. Taste for salt and pepper and add as needed (will depend on the amount of salt in your pesto). Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours. Serve chilled.

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Mystery Produce and Jalapeno Pickles

This week I picked up another abundant “mystery box” of produce from Mariquita Farm. Everything in the box I will use, however, the volume of marjoram and Napolitano basil (which turns brown quickly when warmed, bruised or cut so it’s not ideal for pesto) will take some creativity in order to use before rotting.

 

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Cassius and Roxy are vegging out.

 

Here’s what I got:

  • Walla Walla Onions
  • Scallions
  • Red & Green Butter Lettuces
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Marjoram
  • Summer Squash
  • Basil
  • Cayenne Peppers
  • Beets
  • Supplemental purchases:

I am really happy about the bulk bags of jalapenos. When I saw them listed on the farm’s order sheet, I planned my Saturday afternoon for canning my favorite jalapeno pickles. The recipe I use is my own and is the most popular recipe in my book, Pickled: Preserving a World of Tastes and Traditions (2003). If you don’t have a hard copy of the book, you can find an updated version of the recipe in a previous Brinylife blog entry. These tangy slices are great on sandwiches, chili, nachos – or really any food made better by adding salty, tangy, hot flavor.

Summer in Berkeley

My month-long summer break ends this Monday morning when I start my new position as Executive Director at Fresh Approach, a non-profit working to increase healthy food access and providing nutrition education in Bay area’s underserved communities. I’m looking forward to working with our staff, volunteers and our Board of Directors to continue to grow the organization, strengthen community partnerships and promote this important work in the Bay area.

Summer produce is what I want to eat these days. Gazpacho is high on my list of seasonal favorites. I have made blueberry jam and strawberry jam, and today I found the perfectly-sized, small Kirby cucumbers to make garlic dill pickles. I bought enough to make a few quarts PLUS a small batch of crunchy mustard pickles from my book Pickled. Grandma Patton used to make these and store them in a crock in the refrigerator. I ate a lot of chilled mustard pickles at Grandma’s house when I was a kid.

This is what I picked up at the Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market today:

 

  • Strawberries
  • Kirby cucumbers (small)
  • Sweet peppers
  • Orange canned tomatoes (Pomodori Cotti) – for Gazpacho
  • Pluots, nectarines and peaches
  • Sprite plums
  • Sweet basil
  • Cherry tomatoes
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Cassius and Roxy with today’s farmers market finds

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Strawberry Jam

It’s almost the end of this year’s strawberry season in northern California. The strawberries that I bought from Mariquita Farm’s Ladybug Buying Club come from Sea Level Farm near Santa Cruz. These berries are so sweet and fragrant. I sliced up a pint for the fridge, froze one quart and made eighteen half pints of delicious jam with the rest.

This recipe was inspired by Chef Greg Atkinson’s Organic Strawberry Jam recipe from the Canning Across America website. Some recipes (including Greg’s) call for 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar but I used a 2:1 fruit to sugar ratio and the result is excellent. I also used all organic ingredients.

STRAWBERRY JAM
(Yields 18 half pint jars)

14 cups strawberries (stems removed and sliced)
1 cup lemon juice
4 pounds cane sugar

Wash jars without lids in dishwasher or soapy hot water and rinse thoroughly. If using a dishwasher, choose the sanitation rinse and hot dry options. Leave jars in dishwasher until ready to use.

In a clean 4-quart stockpot, mash berries and lemon juice together with a potato masher. Add sugar and stir over medium high heat with a wooden spoon. Stir occasionally until fruit has come to a full, rolling boil and continue stirring until mixture returns to a boil, then stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer.  When the thermometer registers 220F degrees, remove jam from the stove and set aside.

With rubberized tongs, lift sterilized jars and arrange them right side up on a clean kitchen towel.  Transfer jam to sterilized jars, seal according to canning jar and lid manufacturers instructions, and then return jam-filled jars to the boiling water and boil. My jars sealed at 180F for 10 minutes. Lift jars out of the hot water bath with rubber tongs again, and then allow jars to cool undisturbed for several hours or overnight. Sealed jam jars keep for one year.

If any of the jars do not seal, just let them cool and then place in the refrigerator for immediate enjoyment.

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I added a tablespoon of culinary lavender to the berries while boiling which gave the jam a faint floral flavor, but not enough to detect it, so I omitted it from the ingredient list. If you are inclined to play with this recipe, fresh herbs such as rosemary and lavender or spices like star anise or vanilla might work. Gradually add these to your mash mixture and use a tasting spoon to check the flavor as you go to prevent you from going overboard.

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Enjoy the jam on ice cream, yogurt, toast or anything else you want to add some strawberry sweetness.

My canner will be used again this summer as I’d like to make dill pickles and jalapeno slices and maybe some pickled beets.

Summer Break

Recently I shared that I decided to leave my position at Airbnb and return to community food systems. I am excited to start my new position as Executive Director of Fresh Approach on July 17. The start date means that I have a few weeks off to restore and prepare for a new adventure. I’m grateful to have this summer break so I can take care of some personal business and enjoy the summer without too many obligations.

This week I ordered a “mystery box” of mixed produce, a dozen eggs, a pint of blueberries and a flat of strawberries from Mariquita Farm’s Ladybug Buying Club. Here’s what I got:

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Cassius and Roxy are impressed by this week’s colorful and abundant display of produce. I had so much that I shared the lettuces, strawberries and tomatoes with a neighbor across the street. Also spigariello is in the foreground- it’s the bunch that looks like kale.

  • Cherry tomatoes (orange and red)
  • Napolitano basil (light green ruffled leaves and very fragrant)
  • Mixed lettuces
  • Carrots
  • Spigariello
  • Garlic chives
  • Upland cress
  • Broccoli
  • Green onions
  • Formanova beets
  • Dozen chicken eggs
  • Strawberry flat
  • Blueberry pint
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An abundance of excellent lettuces, egg, basil, cress and tomatoes plus other vegetables left in the fridge from last week (and a few ounces of sauteed chicken) made a satisfying big salad for dinner.

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These organic blueberries from Fruitilicious Farm in Watsonville, CA are the best tasting berries I’ve tasted since leaving Washington. Addictive!

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Strawberry season is almost over so I took advantage and bought a flat from Sea Level Farm in Corralitos, CA.  These organic berries are big, red and super sweet. I sliced up a pint for the fridge, froze a quart and made jam with the rest. Look out for the recipe and details in tomorrow’s blog post.

 

2 Years in California

This weekend J and I are celebrating this three-day Memorial Day weekend by staying at home with the dogs while enjoying the sunshine and all things domestic (i.e. puttering). The house is filled with music and the sound of window fans to displace the stale air of a house inhabited by a working couple and two old dogs.

It’s been one year since I posted to this blog and exactly two years since we left Seattle and arrived here in Berkeley. A couple of weeks ago I decided to leave my stressful job and get back to my roots in agriculture business development and community food systems, and so my exploratory wheels are in motion and I remain optimistic.

All is well as long as I don’t pay attention to the news.  I am surrounded by the hopefulness of late spring and its been nice to begin reconnecting with acquaintances and friends.

This post holds a special treat for those who have missed the photo journal of our dogs posing next to CSA shares (check out my blog posts from 5+ years ago).  If you are new to my blog, these are my dogs Roxy (11) and Cassius (12) and here they are posing with today’s haul from the Ecology Center Farmers Market in Berkeley. Cassius has been having mobility issues due to his osteoarthritis so he wears a harness that allows us to assist him when he slips.

About the blueberries: The blueberry farmer told me that down near Fresno they are already halfway through the season. After living here for two years, I still don’t expect to see dark berries until July.

Here’s what I found today including some recipe links:

More again soon…

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Lime Oleo Saccharum

Lime oleo

A few months ago, Saveur magazine introduced me to oleo saccharum, a citrus peel-infused simple syrup. I made a batch of lime oleo saccharum and am now enjoying a very tasty mojito…. Hello? Is anyone there? I assume by you have now left your computer to start a batch of your own. I understand.

Since I just posted the Strawberry Rhubarb Refrigerator Jam recipe, I meant to delay this post for a few more days. Then I realized that wouldn’t be fair. This simple recipe is perfect for Memorial Day weekend gatherings.  But don’t wait! Make it today or tomorrow and enjoy this weekend. If you have any leftover, it stores neatly in the fridge for an extended time.

To learn how to make it, please click the link to Saveur. It includes a handy video demonstrating how it’s made. All you need is your citrus of choice, a good vegetable peeler, sugar, a Ziploc-like baggie and a vessel to put it in for storing (like a Mason jar).

Seriously folks, I’m hooked. This mojito made with lime oleo saccharum has cast a spell on me. I’m going to make orange or tangerine next and make a gussied up Old Fashioned.