When it comes to a dining experience, themes work out very well. It helps to plan a meal around a theme, something that connects the dishes to each other so that they compliment or contrast each other in a way that enhances each. Usually, I will choose a flavor profile/ progression or a single ingredient that can move through out the meal as a unifying element. The connections can be textural or visual as well. A good example is this pesto that my daughter Sophie made and brought to me. A beautiful green cilantro creation that we served as is over pork medallions and then incorporated into a vinaigrette for the salad.
1/2 cup Cilantro Pesto (recipe follows)
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Whisk all ingredients together and toss with chopped romaine lettuce, avocado chunks, orange sections and diced red bell peppers.
Lime Cilantro Pesto
1/3 cup pepitas
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 limes, zest and juice
2 cloves garlic
3 cups cilantro (leaves and small stems)
1/3 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) hot pepper sauce
Heat a small pan over medium high heat. Add the pepitas to the pan and toast for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking or stirring often to prevent burning. Place pepitas in a food processor bowl. Add remaining ingredients and pulse several times to rough chop pesto. Then run the processor on a steady setting for 20 to 30 seconds. Serve with pasta, poultry, meat or fish dishes. Or as a condiment for sandwiches, fries, etc. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator.
Hints: Wonderful way to celebrate cilantro! Sophie served it for lunch on pasta and then brought over what was left, which we used as a sauce for pork and in the salad dressing. There are several other ways we thought of using it but it was gone! Make sure the cilantro is washed but not too wet, a salad spinner would be useful here, but paper towels will work. Sophie used the Parmesan and it was wonderful but Romano would be great, too. Use as much hot pepper sauce as you like remembering that you can always add more but can't take any out once it is in. Add more white balsamic if you like a tangier vinaigrette or more orange juice if you like a sweeter version. To complete the theme here, one could use the lime as the star ingredient in dessert. Themes are nice, huh? Click here for another pesto recipe you may enjoy.
Thanks Sophie! Great stuff and a fine evening. I love cooking for my family and I love cooking with them even more. Nice fresh ingredients, using what is on hand, whipping up a creative meal, enjoying dinner with loved ones, sharing stories and laughing--those are some awfully good times.