Friday night is usually date night for Pete and me. A simple date night—going out for dinner someplace nearby, not venturing far because we’re tired after a long week of work, hungry, and haven’t planned far enough in advance to have a reservation. Our go-to list of restaurants that fit the bill is fairly short and this past Friday night, none of them sounded good. Unless we go Indian or Asian, my choices for a vegetarian meal are usually so limited and often times, just aren’t that good. It was my weariness of mediocre food that led to our date night being an in-house dinner. And it didn’t disappoint!
Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve always like my own versions of pesto more than others. Maybe it’s because I never add cheese, and also never use pine nuts. Just don’t like pine nuts. To me they taste like what I imagine damp paper towels would taste. I use toasted almonds or walnuts or a combination of the two. The oil in pesto gives it such a richness that cheese seems like overkill. And I like the fact that my pesto can be part of a vegan meal—I try to eat vegan more often than not.
This pesto recipe resulted from wanting to use up some cilantro and parsley in the fridge, still on hand after making Winter Vegetable Tagine with Zesty Moroccan Charmoula Sauce (AH.MAZE.ING!) There was enough of the herbs to combine with some fresh spinach for a big batch of pesto. I threw in a little fresh tarragon, just because it sounded good. The pesto was the inspiration for Friday’s date night dinner. Pesto with whole wheat spaghetti is always good. To make it more special, I marinated and grilled portabella mushrooms and added them to the pesto pasta, along with some chopped grape tomatoes (probably the best tasting tomatoes you can buy in a Minnesota winter).
The meal was rounded out with a nice bottle of red wine, and a simple salad of romaine, arugula, sliced red onion and oregano vinaigrette. Staying in was the right choice—those usual Friday night, close-to-home restaurants couldn’t hold a candle to this dinner right next to the fireplace. And unlike most Friday date night meals, Otis was able to attend!
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 cup parsley leaves
½ cup chopped spinach leaves
¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup unsalted almonds, toasted
1 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In food processor, process cilantro, parsley, spinach, tarragon, lemon juice, garlic, and almonds until chunky. With food processor running, pour in olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Continue running processor until pesto is smooth. Season with salt & pepper. Process again briefly. Keeps several days in the fridge and also freezes wonderfully.
Grilled Portabella Mushrooms
4 large portabella mushroom caps
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 tbls. balsamic vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Wipe mushroom caps clean with a damp paper towel, remove stem, and scrape out gills. Smash garlic cloves and sprinkle with salt, then chop, incorporating salt into garlic. Mix garlic, thyme, balsamic, olive oil, and pepper in small bowl. Put mushroom caps in a large glass pan or Ziploc bag. Pour marinade over mushrooms. Toss to coat. Let marinade for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Heat a cast iron grill pan or frying pan over medium heat (or alternately, heat a gas or charcoal grill). Coat with a little olive or grape seed oil. When hot, place marinated mushrooms stem side down in hot pan. Cover and cook 5 minutes. Turn and cook 5 additional minutes. Test with a knife to see if mushrooms feel soft. If not, cook about 3 more minutes. Remove from heat. Serve hot, either whole or sliced.