Usually served around 3 or 4 o’clock, before the busyness of dinner service sets in and when the staff is rotating out from day into night, we do Family Meal at the restaurant. It’s a meal for the staff, cooked by the staff, made up of anything that’s not quite up to par for the customers or end bits that won’t fit into any recipe.
Family is set out at a time when the servers are setting up their tables, polishing glasses, and folding napkins, while the kitchen crew is doing last minute prep to set up their stations. It’s a fun moment when the buzz of the night is about to begin.
I always loved Family Meal for a number of reasons. For one, it yields some of the most delicious meals. Usually, the person in charge of the meal is rotated everyday and they are the “head chef”. Even though they’re in charge, it always seems to become a melding of minds. The “chef” decided he wants to cook up some chicken and garde manger has leftover greens from the day before, so he asks for a salad. Cut over to the pastry chef who has stale bread from last night’s service and she turns them into croutons to toss into the salad.
Cooking for a crowd on a budget
It’s designed to be economical, thrifty and filling for the busy night ahead. You don’t really buy anything specifically for family meal and there’s no recipes. You just get creative with what you have and (most of the time) it comes out fantastic! Some of our best meals came together by looking through the leftover ingredients and coming up with something new.
This has been such a useful tool for me at home. Now, when it seems like we have absolutely nothing for dinner, I can open up the refrigerator and whip up a decent meal pretty quickly. One of these recipes that I’ve come to rely on for using up ingredients is PESTO.
I love Pesto!
There is something scrumptious about the fragrant basil combined with the nutty pine nuts and the salty cheese. Add in some dimension with a robust olive oil and you’ve got the perfect sauce for just about anything.
And even better, it is a super simple recipe to execute.
Look into your refrigerator and grab whatever leftover greens you have. This could be anything! Parsley, basil, dill, turnip greens, arugula, spinach, kale, cilantro, carrot tops, scallions, beet greens…. the possibilities are endless.
I like to use basil for at least a quarter of my greens. This helps achieve that distinctive, traditional pesto flavor we all know, but if not, do you! If you don’t have it, you’ll come up with some awesome alternative by playing around and tasting what you’ve got.
You may want to blanch the heartier greens like broccoli stems or kale before buzzing through the machine. That will soften them up nicely. Or for added smokiness, throw your scallions and onion greens on the grill for a few minutes before tossing in.
Pecorino or parmesan is traditional but you can substitute anything that’s aged and hard (insert dirty joke here). Just be sure to grate it up before throwing in the machine to really get a smooth sauce. Aged gouda, gruyere and manchego are all grate options (get it?).
Of course if you’re trying to go vegan you can forgo the cheese all together. Just add some extra nuts to enhance the creaminess of your pesto.
Pine nuts are great but who ever has extra pine nuts lying around the pantry? I know I don’t. On top of being expensive, I usually only buy them for specific recipes and they’re gone within the hour. So, grab whatever you have.
Almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pistachios, walnuts, sesame seeds – these all work fantastically. Make sure to toast them up in the oven before you throw them in to really push the nuttiness. Have a nut allergy? Use sunflower seeds!
Oil and Seasoning
Traditionally we use olive oil but anything you’ve got will do. Go halfsies on olive oil and vegetable oil to tame the robustness of the olive oil. You can even try coconut oil if you’re feeling zesty.
Speaking of zest, you can add some from any of the citrus you have lying around for an added freshness to your pesto. A bit of lemon, lime or orange zest and a squeeze of the juice will brighten anything up.
Also, don’t forget the garlic! I think this should be a staple in your recipe. I had some garlic scapes on hand, so I threw those in as well.
Now that you’ve got your smorgasbord of ingredients together, throw everything but the oil in a food processor and buzz until finely chopped together. With the machine running, slowly pour in your oil to emulsify with the rest of the mixture. You want it to be pretty smooth, so let it go a minute or two until it flows around the bowl with the blade.
Make sure you stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate every last bit of those ingredients in your sauce.Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Stack & Snap Food Processor & Vegetable Chopper, Black (70725A)
Pesto – A Simple Family Meal
Once it’s whizzed up in the machine, the pesto is finished and ready to complete your meal. Place a nice dollop in a bowl, with a beautiful ball of burrata and top with a zesty tomato salad and crunchy sesame croutons for a first course. Use it as a dipping sauce for your grilled steak and potatoes.Cuisinart DFP-14BCNY 14-Cup Food Processor, Brushed Stainless Steel – Silver
For breakfast, stir the pesto into a soft scrambled egg and serve with a bit of crusty bread and a smear of melty butter. It goes great on fish, chicken, pasta, potatoes, rice…basically brighten anything up from bland to herbalicious. And you’ll save time, money and avoid throwing all those herbs in the compost bin.