Arugula Walnut Pesto

When Otis takes his nap I, like clockwork, head to the Serious Eats Photograzing page to see what's cooking (pun intended).  Recently I came across a beautiful photo for a Spring Salad by A Little Zaftig.  The blog title piqued my interest and I went to her site to check out her recipes.  It's a great blog.   I was curious to see who A Little Zaftig follows, so I checked out her blogroll and came across Cookie+Kate.  That's where I found this recipe for Arugula Walnut Pesto.
The pesto recipe was originally posted by Elise of SimplyRecipes.  You might recall that I made her mücver (zucchini) fritters a few weeks ago.  She's an extremely talented cook.
Anyway, this recipe is seasonal and the pesto pairs perfectly with fresh pasta and some parmesan shavings.  I like making sauces that don't require a lot of flame time because my teeny-tiny kitchen starts to heats up around this time of year. 
A note on garlic: This recipe uses roasted garlic which is a great way to keep the garlic flavor without the garlic-intensity that you can sometimes find in pesto.  
Arugula Walnut Pesto Recipe (Courtesy of Elise at Simply Recipes by way of Cookie+Kate)
Yields 1 heaping cup
2 cups of packed arugula leaves, stems removed
1/2 cup of shelled walnuts
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled (I went with 5 cloves)
1/2 garlic clove peeled and minced (I left this out)
1/2 teaspoon salt 

Brown 6 garlic cloves with their peels on in a skillet over medium high heat until the garlic is lightly browned in places, about 10 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan, cool, and remove the skins.
Toast the nuts in a pan over medium heat until lightly brown.
Food processor method (the fast way): Combine the arugula, salt, walnuts, roasted and raw garlic into a food processor. Pulse while drizzling the olive oil into the processor. Remove the mixture from the processor and put it into a bowl. Stir in the Parmesan cheese OR
Mortar and pestle method (the slower way): Combine the nuts, salt and garlic in a mortar. With the pestle, grind until smooth. Add the cheese and olive oil, grind again until smooth. Finely chop the arugula and add it to the mortar. Grind up with the other ingredients until smooth.

Because the pesto is so dependent on the individual ingredients, and the strength of the ingredients depends on the season or variety, test it and add more of the ingredients to taste.  I ended up adding a pinch more salt and omitting the raw, minced (not roasted) garlic all together.
Serve with pasta, over freshly roasted potatoes, roasted tomatoes or as a sauce for pizza. 

The Meatball Shop's Vegetarian 'Meatballs' in a Classic Tomato Sauce

The other day I caught a re-run of "Comfort Food" on Unique Eats. The show included Buttermilk Channel (excellent), Shake Shack (long lines), Bark Hot Dogs (haven't been) and The Meatball Shop (do they have any vegetarian fare? Yes!).   
The Meatball Shop's slogan is "We Make Balls" and indeed they do. I was over-the-moon when I found out that their repertoire included a vegetarian option, one which is packed with mushrooms and lentils. 

I checked some of the reviews online and they were solid- very, very solid. The eatery had over 647 reviews on yelp (not necessarily the most discerning reviewers- but still), averaging 4 1/2 stars, so I thought I should check it out... 
"But hold your horses," I said to myself. "Could they accommodate small children? Do they have highchairs? Will I have to stand on line all day?" 

A few of my friends went to The Meatball Shop for lunch the other day and they reported back that is was definitely NOT kid-friendly. In large part this was due to the lines, which were over an hour (though they will call your cell if you want to wander off to a local watering hole). I was bummed out. 

But three-cheers for the internet because I found their recipe on Martha Stewart's Radio Blog. And so, without further ado, here are The Meatball Shop's Mushroom and Lentil Balls (presented by Daniel Holzman, the executive chef and co-owner).  This is the perfect choice for Meatless Monday. Enjoy!
[Note: While these take some time to make you can easily prepare the dish in parts...]

The Meatball Shop's Vegetarian Meatballs (Courtesy of Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, by way of Martha Stewart Radio Blog)
Makes 24 golf ball-sized balls (You can easily halve this recipe)
2 cups lentils
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 celery stalks, minced (about 1 cup)
2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
4 sprigs thyme, picked (about 1 tbsp.)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 pound button mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (about 1⁄2 cup)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine the lentils with two quarts of water in a medium-sized stock pot and bring to a boil over a high flame.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft but not falling apart (about 25 minutes-- mine took a bit longer).  Strain the lentils through a colander and allow to cool.

3. Sauté the carrots, onions, celery, garlic, thyme, and salt with 1/4-cup of olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, stirring frequently (about ten minutes). When the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown, add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly for three minutes. 

Add the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring frequently for fifteen more minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and allow to cool.

4. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl with the cooled vegetables and lentils and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. 

5. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil into a large baking dish (9x12), making sure to evenly coat the entire surface (use your hand to help spread the oil).
6. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and allow to cool completely (about 25 minutes). Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-sized meatballs making sure to pack the meat firmly. Place the balls into the oiled baking dish, such that all of the meatballs are lined up evenly in rows and are touching each of their four neighbors in a grid.
7. Roast until firm and cooked through (about 30 minutes). Allow the meatballs to cool for five minutes before removing.
I topped the balls with classic tomato sauce (recipe below), some grated Parmesan and a bit of chopped parsley. 
* * *
Classic Tomato Sauce (Courtesy of The Meatball Shop by way of Martha Stewart Radio)
Makes 7 cups
1 yellow onion, small dice (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 bay leaf (fresh or dry)

1 sprig fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dry)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp. salt

Two 28-oz. cans tomatoes, chopped (preferably San Marzano)

Cook the onions with the olive oil, oregano, bay leaf, garlic, and salt over medium heat in a large pot (12-quart pot), stirring constantly until soft and translucent (about 15 minutes).
Add the tomato paste and continue cooking for five minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes and stir constantly until the sauce begins to boil.
Continue cooking for 1 hour, stirring ever four or five minutes so that the sauce does not burn. Season with extra salt to taste. 

Spinach Lasagnette

This is a take on "Thousand Layer Lasagna" from Smitten Kitchen, inspired by 101 Cookbooks. I simplified the most labor-intensive, time consuming step (not to mention extremely difficult for those of us who are spatially challenged when it comes to counter-top area) --- rolling out the paper-thin sheets of pasta.  I know that one day I will have the room and the time to make my own pasta (I do have a pasta machine after all). But until then, I'm using pasta sheets that someone else rolled out.  I also learned a little tip: you can use wonton wrappers for the lasagna layers. They are thin and can be substituted for traditional pasta sheets.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  

Basic, Awesome Tomato Sauce (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, inspired by 101 Cookbooks)

2 tablespoon butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
A couple glugs red wine (and a few more!)
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 15-ounce can pureed tomatoes
A handful of julienned basil (optional)
Zest of one lemon (optional)

Melt butter in saucepan over medium-high heat until foam subsides. Add shallots, red pepper flakes and salt, sauteing them together for a few minutes until the shallots are translucent and beginning to color. Add the red wine, letting it sizzle and cook down slightly, then the whole and pureed tomatoes. Breaking the whole tomatoes up with a wooden spoon, let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. Season to taste. I used an immersion blender to puree the sauce, but if you like a thicker texture, leave it as is. 

Other lasagnette ingredients: 10 ounces of baby spinach, sauteed in olive oil with two chopped cloves of garlic, seasoned to taste and cooled slightly, then mixed with 1 to 2 cups ricotta (Fairway supermarket has a lovely hand-packed ricotta. If you really want to splurge-- and man, this stuff is great-- Brooklyn Larder has ricotta too) and 1/2 cup grated parmesan, dropped in small dollops around each layer. 
Pull it all together. Ladle a bit of the sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Cover the bottom with a layer of pasta sheets, a thin layer of sauce, and a bit of cheese.  Keep going until you've used up all the sauce and pasta. You want to finish with a layer of pasta. Top with the last of the sauce and the torn mozzarella.
Bake until everything is melted and fragrant, 35 minutes or so. Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. Dust with parmesan and a bit of slivered basil. 
Bon Appetito!