Don’t be misled. This isn’t how to make pesto quickly (here’s a recipe for that ). Rather this is how to make a couple delicious and fast meals using pesto, which, when added to something, has the magical ability to turn ordinary food into the best thing ever. Since oil is a natural preservative, the shelf life of pesto is quite long. So these are things you can pull out when you’re in a time pinch over and over.

To the unaware: Pesto is a super nummy, crushed mixture of pine nuts, garlic, basil, olive oil and sometimes cheese. The brainchild of the Genoese in Italy.

Italian Grilled Cheese
This may or may not be truly Italian but with all the red, green and white colors stacked together– you are pretty much taking a bite out of their flag (I mean that respectfully). Feel free though to experiment with whatever cheese you have on hand, or use a few kinds in one sandwich. White cheese does have a lower fat content so it won’t get as melty or sticky as say, cheddar, but it is healthier. If you’re like me and refrigerate your butter i.e. doesn’t spread easy on bread, quickly run the stick over the hot pan and throw the slice of bread in. It’ll work just as well as if you had buttered the bread directly. You may need to re-butter the pan when you go to flip the sandwich.

2 slices of bread, buttered on one side
1-2 slices of tomato
2 slices of white cheese (muenster, Swiss, mozzarella, etc)
1 T of pesto

Heat a frying pan over medium heat on stove. Spread pesto on the non-buttered side of a slice of bread.  Put slice of bread in pan, buttered-side down. Then lay down a slice of cheese, tomato, 2nd slice of cheese and 2nd slice of bread (butter side up) on top. Cover. Cook on one side until bread is nicely browned, flip sandwich. Cook until cheese is melted through and serve.

Pesto Pasta
This is so easy and delicious that I have to give credit to my girl Lauren for serving this to me once and enabling me to share it with you. If you are making this in a one-two punch some week, try dicing up some of the left over tomato from your grilled cheese and throw it in this.

1 package of tortellini noodles
5 tbls pesto, roughly
shredded Gruyere, Parmesan or Romano cheese

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain noodles and place in large bowl. Spread pesto over noodles until evenly covered. Sprinkle cheese on top and serve.


Reality and Marinara Sauce, from Scratch

Okay. I should clarify that I don’t expect you to whip up some intensely awesome meal every night of the week. Let’s just balance it out so it is sometimes instead of, well, never. For instance, tonight I went for a long run, and upon arriving home, got distracted by my roommate and some makeshift Phantom of the Opera karaoke (it was pretty epic).  So by 8pm I wasn’t in the mood to be all chef-like. Let the mega grazing on chips and salsa and apples and peanut butter commence.

My guess is you’ll eventually have the same problem I will– our butts, and well any other fat collecting part of us won’t sustain such eating habits. So a recommendation to help you choose a different meal on the fly:  homemade marinara sauce.

The moral for today’s recipe instruction is you can only eat the elephant one bite at a time. This recipe is your elephant. So break it down into steps that you can do throughout the week, 15 min here, 20min there until all you have to do is assemble everything, cook it for 30min and you’re done.  And lots of leftovers i.e. dinner in 5 min.

Homemade Marinara Sauce
Let’s begin by saying if you use canned tomatoes, get minced garlic from a jar, use dried herbs, and have a food processor—you might as well do it all in one sitting. But if you want things as fresh as possible (they are going to give you the maximum flavor) and don’t own handy kitchen gadgets, this is the way for you.

Day 1– dice up into tiny pieces the carrots. You’ll want them small enough so that when they turn soft they’ll be easily hidden among the tomato sauce, or well get them as small as you have the patience for.
Day 2– dice up your onion, same principle in size as the carrots. Make sure you store in a glass or plastic container. It will stink up your refrigerator otherwise
Day 3– Cook your noodles. Let them cool fully before putting them in a Ziploc and storing in the refrigerator. While you wait for the water to boil on the noodles cut up your tomatoes.
Day 4– Mince your garlic. Here smaller is better for size, and easier to achieve. If you don’t like your fingers smelling like garlic, try wearing gloves or putting a sandwich bag over the hand that holds the garlic clove. Same idea as onion in terms of storage.

Day 5– Cook the dish. While the first few ingredients are cooking, cut up your basil.

(Variation: cook the sauce up to the point you would add the tomatoes. Store it and throw everything together to fully simmer the next day).

Full Recipe:
Marinara Sauce
2 T of Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic (roughly two spoonfuls of minced garlic from the jar)
1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced (roughly a cup)
½ c. to ¾ c. of carrots, minced (the more carrots you include the sweeter the flavor your sauce will have).
¼ c.- ½ c of red wine (cooking wine or red wine vinegar will work as well. You’ll essentially want to have the wine lightly cover all of the ingredients when added to the recipe).
2  cans of diced tomatoes or 4 c. of fresh.

½ lb. of sausage or turkey brats, diced (optional)

1.  Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add the finely chopped onion/carrot/garlic mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not browned, about 11 minutes. Add the wine and stir well, loosening any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced slightly, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot. Add meat at this point if you plan to. Add the basil let simmer gently until the flavors are concentrated, 35 to 45 minutes. Add the salt and pepper. Taste for sweetness and, if the sauce tastes too acidic, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar. If you are not planning on using the sauce immediately, let it cool to room temperature. It can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.

Note:  I’ve simplified the recipe slightly, but this is largely drawn from Myra Goodman’s Farm Stand Marinara Sauce recipe