Mark Leslie Today Show Appearance ~ Columbus Day

Here is my appearance on NBC’s “Today Show with Kathie Lee & Hoda” for Columbus Day, October 10, 2011.

I must tell you that Kathie Lee and Hoda were really kind and a lot of fun ~ and that goes double for all of the Today Show staff and crew. Truly relaxed, organized, and enthusiastically ready to go!

Here are the recipes: Minestrone alla Genovese, Southern Buttermilk Cornbread, Shrimp Scampi, plus a fourth BONUS recipe from Columbus’ hometown of Genoa – Pasta al Pesto with Roasted Grape Tomatoes.

Minestrone alla Genovese

For the Minestrone:

1 (15.5-ounce) can borlotti beans, with liquid (Roman or cannellini beans may be substituted)

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick cubes

8 cups water

1 1/2 cups (half of a small head) cabbage, shredded (Savoy cabbage is preferred)

2 small- to medium-sized zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch-thick half rounds

2 cups chopped green beans

1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick cubes

1 tablespoon Kosher or sea salt

1/2 cup tubetti, ditalini pasta, or other small pasta

Pesto (See recipe below or use 1/2 cup store bought pesto)

For garnish:

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Fresh basil leaves, small

In a large pot, combine the beans, potatoes and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, stir in the cabbage, zucchini, green beans, eggplant and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add in the pasta and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the pasta is al dente – tender, but firm to the bite. Turn off the heat, stir in the pesto, taste for seasoning and adjust with salt.

Serve with a sprinkle of grated cheese and a leaf or two of basil as garnish.

For the Pesto:

1 large clove garlic

1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, more to taste

1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 tablespoon finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

(Traditionally, pesto is made in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle, hence the name “pesto.” This recipe uses a more modern technique – a food processor.)

In a food processor, add the garlic, salt and basil. Pulse until the basil is chopped, 10 to 12 pulses. Next add the cheeses, pulsing until well combined. Add the pine nuts and pulse until chopped. Now, with the food processor running drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is a loose paste. (Be careful not process the basil too much, the basil will react to the heat of the food processor and become discolored.) Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Southern Buttermilk Corn Bread

6 tablespoons lard (shortening may be substituted)

2 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups self-rising white corn meal or self-rising corn meal mix

½ cup flour

1 tablespoon lard, to grease the pan (shortening may be substituted)

Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet (*) into the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a small pan over medium heat, melt the 6 tablespoons lard. Once melted, remove from the heat and set aside.

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. Stir in the salt. In batches, alternately mix in the corn meal and flour until well combined. Add the melted lard, stirring until the mixture is smooth.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven, add the final tablespoon lard and place the skillet back into the oven. Once the lard has melted, 30 seconds to 1 minute, carefully remove the skillet and swirl the hot lard to coat the bottom, making sure it also coats halfway up the sides.

Pour the corn meal mixture into the hot skillet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the center is set, slightly cracked and the top is a golden brown. (If you are unsure of doneness, insert a toothpick into the center and it should come out clean.)

Cut into wedges and serve hot or at room temperature, plain or slathered with unsalted sweet butter.

Makes 8 to 12 wedges.

(*) For thicker corn bread, use a 10-inch cast iron skillet or for “high rise” corn bread use an 8-inch skillet, using an inserted toothpick to test for doneness.

Pasta al Pesto with Roasted Grape Tomatoes

For the pasta:

1 pint grape tomatoes, whole

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pesto (see recipe below)

1 pound gemelli or torcetti pasta (or your favorite twisted-shaped pasta)

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, add the tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, tossing until well combined. Pour the tomatoes onto the baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are nicely browned and caramelized. (Some will be darker than others, don’t let that worry you.) Remove the sheet from the oven and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the pesto – see recipe below. (You may substitute 1 cup already prepared, store-bought pesto for the recipe below.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling add 2 tablespoons sea salt and the pasta, stirring the pasta to prevent it from sticking together. Follow the package directions and cook the pasta until al dente –tender, but firm to the tooth. Drain the pasta well, but do not rinse.

Place the hot pasta in a large bowl, add 3/4 cup pesto (more to taste), mix until combined. Add the roasted tomatoes, and their cooking juices, gently stirring until well mixed. Serve immediately, while warm, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Serves 4 to 6.

For the Pesto (makes approximately 1 cup):

2 large cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, more to taste

2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

(NOTE: Traditionally, pesto is made in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle, hence the name “pesto.” This recipe uses a more modern technique – a food processor.)

In a food processor, add the garlic, half of the salt and one cup of the basil. Pulse until the basil is chopped, 10 to 12 pulses. Add the rest of the salt and the remaining basil. Pulse again until well chopped, 10 to 12 pulses. Next add the cheeses, pulsing until well combined. Add the pine nuts and pulse until chopped and well combined. Now, with the food processor running drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is a loose paste. (Be careful not process the basil too much, the basil will react to the heat of the food processor and become discolored.) Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Scampi

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1½ pounds extra large (26/30 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails left on.

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup white wine [* ¼ cup Bourbon whiskey may be substituted for an “American

twist.” See special cooking instructions if using.]

¼ cup freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

Slices of artisan bread for dipping

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter and olive oil. Once melted, stir until well combined. Cook until the foam subsides and the butter starts to slightly brown. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes, quickly cooking for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp, cooking in batches if necessary, making sure they form a single layer in the bottom of the skillet. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, turning over when the shrimp have turned pink on each side. (Do not overcook the shrimp at this step.) Remove the shrimp to a bowl and set aside.

To the sauce in the skillet, add the lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper, stirring to combine well. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes. [*If using Bourbon, omit the wine and: remove the skillet from the heat, pour in the bourbon, returning the skillet to the heat, tilting the pan away from you to ignite the bourbon, if cooking over a gas flame. If using electric, return the skillet to the burner and carefully ignite the bourbon with a match. Once the flames have subsided, continue with the recipe, as follows.]

Return the shrimp to the pan and add the parsley. Quickly stir until combined and cook for another minute. Remove from heat, place the shrimp on a platter and pour the sauce over. Serve immediately with crusty artisan bread for “sopping” up the sauce. Serves 4 to 6.

Buon Appetito~

Mark

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.