Macadamia and Basil Pesto


On Wednesday night, we took our friend Martine who’s visiting us from France to see “Kinky Boots” on Broadway. It’s a fun show, a real crowdpleaser, and Martine loved it. It was nice to go back to the theater. When we lived in Hell’s Kitchen we used to go very often since we were just a few blocks away from Broadway, but since we moved to Brooklyn, we don’t go that much, which is a shame. I love the theater. It’s such a truly transporting experience (or a soporific one, when you hit the wrong show).

The issue one always has to deal with, when going to a show in New York, is dinner. Since shows start at 8pm (with a few exceptions), most visitors take advantage of the pre-theater dinners at many of the local restaurants. They start at 6pm-6:30pm and they get you out in time for your show. Steve and I, however, would eat at home. We wanted something quick and easy, so we almost always opted for pasta. In the summer, we would make pesto (from a recipe from Steve’s mom, Cora) and freeze it in portions, so that we could have it all year round, including for a pre-theater quick dinner at home.

After a couple of shows, however, we realized that we needed a new plan. You see, Cora’s pesto uses a lot of raw garlic. The first time we ate pasta with pesto and we went to a show, ten minutes into it, we started burping deadly fumes. We could smell each other’s garlic breath and we were sure that so could all the other people around us. After a second show where we exposed people to our garlic breath bombs, we decided to switch dinner ideas.

So, I came up with a different version of a pesto that is without garlic. It still packs a punch, with lemon zest and parmesan, but it’s gentler on the people sitting next to you who may not like to be tear gassed while watching a play.DSC04239

Macadamia and Basil Pesto

Make 1/2 cup pesto, enough for 4 pasta servings


2 cups loosely packed basil
grated zest of half a lemon
1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 macadamia nuts, toasted in 350° oven for 6-7 minutes, cooled, and roughly chopped
1/4 tsp salt


Place everything, except oil in a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to combine. Start the food processor and drizzle oil in while processor is running. Pesto will be thick. Add some hot pasta water to dilute and mix with hot, cooked pasta.

Thai Chicken with Basil

When I tell people that I love to cook, the first thing many of them ask me is “what’s your favorite thing to cook?” I am always stumped by that question. I mean, with all the different foods and cuisines and ingredients in the world, how could I have just one thing that is my favorite thing to cook?


Some ask me a variation of that question: “What type of cuisine do you most like to cook?” That’s a better question but one that I still have no answer for. There was a definite time about 20 years ago when I went through a Chinese phase. I bought books and woks and steamers and cooked Chinese food all the time. I had a mini Caribbean phase, mainly due to a cookbook someone gave me, and a mini Indonesian phase, again because of a cookbook I bought at a used-bookstore. But nowadays I cook food from many different cuisines.


However, there is one type of cuisine that I have cooked very little from even though it’s one of my absolute favorites to eat: Thai food. I don’t know why but I never cooked much Thai food. Maybe it’s because nobody ever gave me a Thai cookbook. Nevertheless, Thai food (good Thai food) is an absolute delight to eat. Sweet and spicy, with huge umami flavors thanks to the use of fermented fish in the form of dried shrimp or fish sauce (nam pla), with abundant use of chiles and herbs, Thai food is a real party for your mouth.


Unfortunately, most of the time in New York we get to eat bad Thai food with goopy sauces and huge chucks of the ubiquitous green and red italian peppers. I once ordered a pad thai at a restaurant in my neighborhood that was downright inedible. I mean, how difficult is it to make pad thai?


So a couple of years ago I decided that I would take matters into my own hands for at least one Thai dish. I chose chicken with basil because I had a lot of basil that I needed to use and because I generally like the dish when I get it in restaurants. I did a pretty extensive research online and found a lot of recipes but I finally settled on one. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I got it. Fortunately, it’s a winner


This is a deceptively simple dish to make. It takes a little time to prepare and almost no time to cook. But it packs so much flavor, it will knock your socks off. Don’t be concerned that there is only a little sauce in your pan when you’ve finished cooking. It doesn’t need a thick and syrupy sauce like what you’d get in most restaurants. Serve it over plain white rice and you’ll see what I mean.

Thai Chicken with Basil

Makes 2 servings

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 medium onion, cut into very thin slices
2-3 fresh red chiles, cut into very thin slices
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups lightly packed basil leaves (holy basil or thai basil is best but regular green basil works fine too)

Using a very sharp knife, slice the chicken breasts crosswise into thin strips, about 1/4 inch wide. Then turn the cutting board 90° and chop the chicken strips into very small pieces. It should end up looking like coarse ground chicken. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken with the fish sauce, soy sauce, water, and sugar and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

In a large nonstick frying pan or a wok, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until the onion has softened. Stir in the chiles and garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds longer.

Remove the chicken from the marinade with a slotted spoon and add it to the hot pan (very little marinade will remain in the bowl). Cook until no longer pink, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add the marinade left in the bowl and cook 30 seconds longer. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil until it’s wilted.

Serve immediately over plain rice.