Homemade Cheese and Pesto Pasta is quick, economical

06/16/2014 11:38 AM

06/24/2014 1:09 PM

Chris Hall is an economizing epicure who believes that memorable meals don’t have to take a lot of money or time.

An entrepreneur at heart, Chris has her finger in many pots but still manages to prepare food for family and close friends.

Married to Brent for five years, the couple has a blended family of five children and two grandchildren. Eating good food is a family affair, and Hall is proud to cook with herbs and vegetables grown in garden beds built by Brent.

Residence: Lee’s Summit

Occupation: Real-estate agent and consignment store owner

Special cooking interest: Elegant and economical meals

How did you start cooking and develop your current food philosophy? I taught myself to cook in the mid-’70s with the Betty Crocker recipe cards that were mailed to me each month. Every card had a picture, and I would slave over each recipe to make sure it looked like the picture. Those cards had recipes that were both ingredient- and labor-intensive.

Out of necessity, I started rewriting and reinventing meals that were easier. However, I had developed a fairly elevated palate, so boiled hot dogs were never going to be for dinner. What I found was that a few fresh, wonderful ingredients, creatively paired, tasted better and were healthier than the complicated recipes.

I’m sure I was personally discovering what my great-grandmother already knew.

Are you returning to your food roots in a way? You can make a 5-star dinner in 30 minutes with wholesome, homegrown ingredients.

I love my herb garden right outside my kitchen door and replant my box with seeds every few weeks so that the next crop is ready when the first one gets leggy. My husband built it up high so I don’t have to bend over. Anyone can grow their own herbs, even if you live in an apartment.

If you grow your own basil and parsley, this pesto recipe can be made for under $5. Additionally, pesto is something that can be made quickly in large batches and stored in the refrigerator for fast meals. It makes a wonderful platform for creativity. You can choose any pasta, add in chicken or grilled vegetables, and create a new dish every time.

How do you balance work and preparing nightly dinners? I have a well-stocked pantry and freeze meat I buy in bulk on sale.

I like to think my style of cooking is easy but extraordinary. I love to figure out how to expand our fare in ways that are creative, fun and healthy — without being labor intensive. I work two jobs plus help with my husband’s gallery every First Friday weekend in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. I don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time preparing meals and have a plan of what’s for dinner before I leave home for the day. I also cook with leftovers in mind and pack my lunch nearly every day.

I can prepare Steak Diane with just a quick add of a jarred diablo sauce, onions and mushrooms. Coq au Vin is easy using a chicken, an opened bottle of wine and an herb ball. I’ll choose to make a lamb roast over a beef roast anytime. It cooks in less time, is more flavorful and it’s not something people serve on a regular basis.

Not a lot of people make fresh cheese for dinner, either. What inspired you to share this recipe? The reason I chose this recipe is because it is a simple yet elegant meal. I like to serve this meal to guests because everyone is impressed with my efforts as I give a smile and a wink.

I will always plan to cook pasta when I’m making cheese because it takes on a wonderful taste and texture when it is boiled in the whey. Add cooked shrimp, chicken or fresh tomatoes to the dish to mix it up.

I enjoy keeping everything simple on the plate: To know from where your food comes and to grow what you can is not only good for your body, it’s also good for the soul.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at pepi@kc.rr.com to nominate a cook.

Homemade Cheese and Pesto Pasta

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Cheese:

1 gallon whole milk (do not use ultra-pasteurized variety)

1/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Pasta:

1-pound linguine noodles

Pesto:

3 cups packed fresh basil leaves

4 cloves garlic

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (optional)

To make the cheese: Pour milk into a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and warm on stovetop over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. When milk reaches 195 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, immediately remove from heat and stir in vinegar.

Season milk mixture with salt and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Line a colander with clean cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Pour in milk mixture, capturing cheese curds in the colander and the whey of the milk in the bowl below. Allow mixture to drain for 1 hour.

Gather cheese curds into cheesecloth, and gently squeeze out any remaining whey. Form cheese curds into a crumbly ball. Wrap cheese ball in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.

Pasta and pesto: Pour whey captured in bowl back into Dutch oven, and add water as necessary to prepare pasta according to package directions.

While pasta is boiling, make the pesto: Into the bowl of a food processor, add basil, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, pine nuts and optional parsley, and pulse until smooth.

When pasta has reached al dente stage, drain into colander placed in the sink. Pour drained pasta back into warm Dutch oven and toss with freshly made pesto.

Transfer pasta onto serving dish, crumble freshly made cheese over all and serve immediately.

Per serving, based on 4: 939 calories (44 percent from fat), 46 grams total fat (12 grams saturated), 45 milligrams cholesterol, 101 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams protein, 479 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

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