Mary's Family Kitchen

Good Eats and Fun Treats from the Mountains of North Jersey



Fresh Faboulous Pesto from the Garden

From this…


To this…

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Homemade pesto from the garden!

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I love pesto! Its really a bright green thing of beauty. All of these ingredients can stand alone, so combined together, it’s a match made in heaven! The fresh taste (not to mention the smell) of basil blends with just a few simple ingredients, and in 5 minutes you have a quick and easy dish that’s not just delicious but versatile too. Right now with all the fresh produce available to us, why not take advantage and make this fresh, nutty no-cook sauce that has it all.

Today at Rogowski Farm in Pine Island, N.Y., I picked up some gorgeous fresh pepper greens:


And some Basil from my container garden (plus a little extra from the farm):


Its bright green color and peppery taste got me thinking: While I’m making basil pesto, why don’t I try the same recipe with pepper greens?

I decided to use toasted pecans in place of pine nuts for a different taste. Well, perfection can’t even describe it. Pesto doesn’t have to be just basil! It’s extra peppery bite tasted spicy and fresh. As I was tasting it (for quality control of course) I nearly finished half of it! Very addictive.

So if you have extra herbs or greens, using this simple recipe mix and match them along with different nuts and grating cheeses and you will have on hand your own truly unique pesto. I believe kale and arugula pesto are in my future!

On a side note, If a green is particularly pungent, I would probably mix it with a milder green such as parsley.

Fresh Fabulous Pesto


Makes approximately 2 cups.

Recipe can be halved for a smaller batch.

  • 8 cups fresh basil, cleaned and dried
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 cup pine nuts ( toast if you want a slightly nuttier flavor)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup pecorino romano cheese grated ( I like Β Locatelli )


Food processor or blender

In the bowl of the food processor put all the basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt and cheese.


Fit lid on top . With the blender or processor running, slowly pour the oil through the top in a stream. Process until the oil is emulsified with the basil. That’s all there is to it!


A few tips~ Add a little less oil to make your pesto great for spreading on Β sandwiches. Its fabulous with grilled chicken and fish. It’s equally wonderful mixed with a little mayo as a dip but, my current favorite way to eat it is to spread it on warm toasted Italian bread with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a thin slice of tomato sprinkled with a little salt and pepper. One last tip, to toss with pasta or to stir into soups or even Sunday Sauce use the full cup of oil.

Pesto will turn brown fairly quickly, so immediately use or pour into a container, drizzle the top with olive oil to keep air out and the vibrant green color in.

I usually store my pesto in plastic containers. This year, my friend and fellow foodie (and fabulous photographer) Tracy Bodoni O’Connell (from Tracy O’Connell Photography on Facebook); shared with me this great idea of storing and freezing my pesto in mason jars! Genius! The jars are freezer safe (Check the brand you are using before freezing) and does a fabulous job of keeping air out. I also love this idea because it not only looks beautiful, but it also can turn into a great hostess gift that you have on hand. A little ribbon or raffia and you have an instant gift.


As I’m writing this post I have these beauties looking at me!


They started here at the farm:

And now, I get to enjoy them everyday. They may be my favorite flower!



Let’s start with some Sunday Sauce

Whether you call it gravy or sauce doesn’t really matter, what does matter is that it tastes really GREAT!

Maybe I’ve taken making Sunday sauce to the extreme, but I have a ritual of sorts which brings me right back to myΒ  best childhood memories.

It all began at a place we affectionately called “the back of the store.” The kitchen behind my grandparents’ butcher shop was where our entire family gathered ritualistically every Sunday – as well as most other days – for great food and lively conversations (sometimes too lively), and always ended with playing cards, cigars outside, espresso and anisette.

My grandpa Louis Napolitano (middle) in front of the Savoye Meat Market on Kennedy Blvd. in North Bergen, NJ sometime around 1930.
My grandpa Louis Napolitano (middle) in front of the Savoye Meat Market on Kennedy Blvd. in North Bergen, NJ sometime around 1930.

In an effort to pass tradition to my children, onions and garlic don’t hit my pot until I have certain must-haves in place. So let’s set the mood!

1. I set my Pandora station to Traditional Italian Radio. It plays all the classics – Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Louie Prima…You get the idea.
2. Get on your favorite apron.
3. Pour yourself a jelly jar glass of your favorite wine. My favorite is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Now we’re ready to start cooking! Trust me, this is going to be fun!

Sunday Sauce



  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped fine
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small package of sweet Italian sausage (about 8-10)
  • 1 small package of hot Italian sausage (about 8-10)
  • Meatballs (recipe below)
  • 6 spare ribs
  • 7 cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
  • 14 oz. water
  • 1- 6-oz. can of tomato paste
  • Red wine (enough to fill up empty paste can twice)
  • 1 heaping tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 t. allspice
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (save this until the end)
  • grated pecorino romano or locatelli cheese


Start the sauce

In a huge pot (I prefer stainless steel) on medium, saute onion in olive oil.


When the onion is translucent, add garlic (Be careful not to burn or you will need to start again). Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the crushed tomatoes, paste, water, 1 can’s worth of red wine (the other is for deglazing the meatball and sausage pan later), brown sugar, and allspice.

Let simmer on low while preparing the sausage and meatballs.

Cook the sausage


Heat up a large frying pan on medium-high.

Put the sausages in a large frying pan and add enough water to just barely cover them. Heat the water until it boils then lower to medium for 10 minutes. Drain the water.

Now, in a new pan, add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and brown the sausages.

Once they are browned, cut the hot sausages in half and leave the sweet sausages whole (this way you can tell which are which). Remove sausage and set aside. Don’t wash the frying pan, we will use the same pan to cook the meatballs.

BONUS: Cook the ribs

Ribs are optional, but the pork adds really great flavor. My grandfather used to add different cut of meat he had available for different flavors – everything from ribs to braciole to tenderloin. It’s really simple: Just brown, and add to the sauce to give it a little something different. The more meat, the better.

Cook the meatballs

  • 3 lbs ground chuck (I use 85%)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 heaping cup Italian flavored breadcrumbs
  • 3 slices of white bread soaked in water (drained, not squeezed)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. fresh parsley chopped or a combination of half parsley and half basil
  • 1 c. grated pecorino romano or locatelli cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped very fine


Place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix (You could use a wooden spoon, but I just get in there with my hands).

Shape into medium-sized balls. I use an ice cream scoop to make the meatballs a uniform shape, then roll them into a ball with my hands. I also like to make a few mini ones (I like to call them “testers” – nothing will ever taste better).

Fry gently in olive oil until lightly browned, drain on paper towels, then toss directly into sauce to finish cooking. **Except for the testers, you will want to eat them now! For quality control of course πŸ˜‰


Finish the sauce

Take the last can worth of wine (6 oz.) and deglaze the pan of all the delicious bits and add to your already decadent simmering sauce. (Deglazing is just a fancy term which means to add liquid to your pan so you can loosen and use every morsel of browned food to your dish).

Now add all of the meat back into your pot with the sauce.

Add parsley and turn down to low. Let sauce simmer until done, about 3-4 hours.

As everyone an tell you, sometimes I over-do it. ;)
As everyone can tell you, sometimes I over-do it. πŸ˜‰

Tasting is always encouraged, and this is where you can make the recipe to suit your own tastes. For example add salt, pepper, red pepper for spice, other browned meats, extra wine, etc. Of course tasting with fresh Italian bread is always a good way to go…quality control of course!

Serve over your favorite pasta (I use thin spaghetti or rigatoni), and top with grated Parmesan if desired. Enjoy!

A tidbit about meatballs…

On Sunday afternoons, we used to pack up and go to the Jersey Shore sometimes, as a kid I used to marvel at everyone around us with their sandwiches. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t having spaghetti and meatballs sitting in the sand, like us. They didn’t know what they were missing! True story – Good old Grandma and Grandpa πŸ™‚

Me, my grandpa (left) and my Grandma, who we called Grandma-Ma, about 1965.
Me, my grandpa (left) and my Grandma, who we called Grandma-Ma, about 1965.

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