Carrot, Ginger, & Orange Soup with Walnut Pesto Panini

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When I was a kid Easter was a pretty intense time for my sister and me. You see, the Easter Bunny used to hide our baskets every year. But he wouldn’t just hide our baskets, he would HIDE our baskets! He was pretty extreme, and took pleasure in stashing our baskets in impossible-to-find places and delighting in the length of time it took my sister and me to find them. His signature hiding spots were places you wouldn’t think to look as a kid, like on top of the furnace in the creepy basement that my sister and I hated; or hanging in the laundry chute, suspended between two floors; or wrapped in a garbage bag under the kitchen sink. In my 8-year old mind, I was sure that the Easter Bunny didn’t give it up as easily as Santa because we left him carrots instead of cookies. He was jealous. And bitter. And everyone knows that there’s nothing worse than a bitter bunny. Well, maybe not. But still it got me thinking, surely our little cotton-tailed friend would be much happier if we left him something tastier than cold, raw carrots. Something warm and creamy and slightly sweet. Something a little bit like this….

Carrot, Ginger, & Orange Soup

Serves 4

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. carrots (about 3 cups), chopped
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Finely ground white or green peppercorn
  • parsley and sour cream for serving (optional)

In a medium soup pot, heat olive oil until shimmering. Sauté carrots and onion until soft and onion becomes translucent but not brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add stock, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to low and simmer, partially covered, until carrots are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.

Carefully remove and discard cinnamon and bay, then using an immersion hand-blender, purée soup until smooth, or alternatively, working in two batches, purée soup in a blender or food processor until smooth, return to pot.

Add OJ and stir until fully incorporated, season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into preheated bowl, then top with sour cream and parsley.

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Walnut Pesto Panini

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Glancing down at this recipe it may look like it has many parts, but it’s actually very simple: 1) grill chicken, 2) make pesto, 3) assemble sandwich. Done! Oh, but I forgot, then you have to eat the sandwich, and lick the tomato juices off your fingers, and wipe the melted cheese strands off your chin, and then get up and make another sandwich because the first one was so good. So, yeah, I guess it is a difficult recipe, but I think you can handle it.

Walnut Pesto Panini

Serves 4

FOR THE CHICKEN

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

FOR THE WALNUT PESTO

  • 1 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste

FOR THE PANINI

  • 2 pre-split whole wheat pita pockets, cut in half
  • 4 slices mild white cheese (such as Gouda, Swiss, or Provolone), cut in half
  • 4 slices of tomato, cut in half

TO MAKE THE CHICKEN

In a bowl, mix together lemon juice, Dijon, and salt and pepper. Slice chicken breasts in half horizontally (making a cutlet), and place between two pieces of plastic wrap and, with a meat mallet, pound until ¼-inch thick. Place chicken in the lemon/Dijon mixture, coating evenly, and allow to marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Lightly mist a skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade, letting excess drip off, and place in the hot skillet. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook second side until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing very thin.

TO MAKE THE PESTO

Combine all ingredients in a small food processor and process until mostly blended and somewhat paste-like, season with pepper.

TO ASSEMBLE THE PANINI

Preheat a panini press to medium-high heat, or alternatively, heat a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.

Spread 1-2 Tbsp. of pesto on the inside of pita pocket, covering both sides.  Place sliced chicken inside of pita and top with 1 slice of cheese, cut in half so that it fits within the pita.

Place pita sandwiches in a panini press and cook until cheese has melted and pita starts to brown, about 2-3 minutes. If using a griddle or skillet, put pita sandwich on griddle/skillet and place a plate, weighted down with a tin can, on top of pita. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then flip pita and cook on the other side, topped with the weighted plate, until cheese has melted and pita starts to brown, another minute or so.

Slide tomato slices into sandwich, slice in half and serve hot.

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THIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT FROM THE EASTER BUNNY.

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Pesto Pastina Soup with Sourdough Grilled Cheese

I was watching the Weather Channel the other day (because that’s what plays in the locker room at my gym), and I noticed how divided the country is in terms of temperatures this month. The East Coast is still getting slammed with snow, yet the South is enjoying digits in the mid-80’s. The rest of us are somewhere in between; warm, sunny days immediately followed by cold, sleety days. So how, then, does a food blogger go about preparing a soup to satisfy our bipolar March climate? Well, it has to be versatile, that’s how. It needs to be a soup that’s substantial enough to take the chill off the brave souls on the Eastern Seaboard, yet one light enough for those of you already squeezing into bikinis (darn you!). I started rummaging through my dusty mental card catalogue of soup recipes, when suddenly it hit me: Ah ha! Pesto Pastina! Pastina, (literally meaning “tiny dough”) is any variation of small pasta. Pretty much any shape will work in this recipe, and I found some fun ones while perusing the pasta aisle at the grocery store (stars, the alphabet, little squiggly guys). The pastina adds a little bit of starch without making the soup too heavy, and the pesto adds a low-calorie punch of flavor. (Also, this soup can also be adapted for vegetarians, see VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS at the end of the recipe.) { Arancini di pepe pastina, or “little peppercorns” } Pesto Pastina Soup Serves 4-6

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3-4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • ⅓ cup dry pastina, any shape
  • 2 cups pre-cooked chicken (either reserved from chicken stock recipe or store bought)
  • 3 Tbsp. pesto (see recipe below or use store bought)
  • Fresh grated Parmesan for serving
  • 4-6 lemon wedges for serving

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots, and onion and sauté until soft and onion starts to become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low. Add pastina, partially cover, then continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, add chicken and pesto and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle soup into pre-heated bowls and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing. VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS:

  • Replace chicken stock with vegetable broth (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • Replace chicken with a 15-oz. can of cannellini beans, drained

Pesto Homemade pesto is delicious and easy to make. This recipe yields a little more than you need for the soup, but that’s okay, because you can use the extra to add flavor to other dishes: spoon a tablespoon or two into cooked pasta, or smother some on chicken for a quick and tasty meal.

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. oil to a food processor. Process until just beginning to come together, then while the machine is still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil and continue to blend until smooth and paste-like. Season with pepper.  *Tip: To freeze, line individual compartments of an ice cube tray with small pieces of plastic wrap  (allow a little extra to hang out the top). Fill compartments with 1 Tbsp. of pesto, and place in the freezer until solid. To release, pull on the ends of the plastic wrap, and peel it from the pesto cube. Place cubes in a freezer bag and freeze for 3-5 months. When ready to use, drop 1-2 pesto cubes into hot pasta and stir until dissolved, or thaw and spread over grilled meat or bread.

Sourdough Grilled Cheese Grilled cheese is an awesome partner to soup, but why settle for the plain old white-bread-American-cheese version when you can easily prepare something more interesting. Switch up the bread to sourdough, and use a few different cheeses. Follow the directions below for ooey-gooey greatness! 

Sourdough Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 4 slices Colby Jack cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Gouda cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Provolone cheese, divided
  • 4-6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Butter both sides of each piece of bread. Working in 2-3 batches, place bread on hot pan, and grill until golden brown. Flip one piece of bread and place a slice of each kind of cheese on top. Take a second piece of bread and place it grilled side down on the cheese, creating a sandwich. Repeat with other pieces of bread. Grill until golden brown, then flip and grill the second side of the sandwich until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Repeat with all sandwiches. Sidekick: Pair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or a Gewürztraminer.