Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dried Tomato Pesto on Pan-Grilled Kampachi with 'Nalo Greens and Fennel Salad for Cook The Books: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"

When it comes to eating locally grown and produced food, I would probably give myself a B- or maybe a C+. I do choose local whenever possible, I make extra efforts to seek it out, and usually pay more for the local choices I make. I try to note my local ingredient choices and the longer Hawaii growing 'seasons' in my blog posts so readers understand why I might have an asparagus recipe in February. Intentions don't always turn into actions however and about the only thing I grow myself are herbs, the dehydrator I bought several years ago to put away food doesn't get used often enough, and, as plentiful as the tropical fruit and other produce is here, sometimes I just *need* a Honeycrisp apple, Rainier cherries or a scoop of organic blueberries for my morning cereal--food miles be damned. I could definitely do more, grow more, and make better choices. Having done a few week-long eat local challenges, I know I could not last an entire year of eating as locally as the Kingsolver family does in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver, our current Cook the Books selection, hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle follows the Kingsolver family as they commit to consciously eating food they have produced/raised or food from "so close to home, we'd know the person who grew it"--leaving Arizona for a farm on a piece of land in the southern Appalachians. It's a family project involving Barbara, her husband Steven, college-bound daughter Camille, and pre-teen Lily. The charm of the family and their adventures are what make the book entertaining as well as enlightening--managing to get through a lot of detail on things like carbon footprinting, oil consumption, environmental impacts, etc., while weaving in personal anecdotes and family recipes. The book flows well with the family starting the challenge in late March and highlighting the lessons each month and season bring. 

I first read the book when it came out in 2007, in the midst of a foodie non-fiction frenzy--working my way through a pile of books on food politics and local eating including The Omnivore's Dilemma, How To Pick a Peach, Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet, What To Eat, etc. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle stood out to me because it simultaneously made me think and made me hungry! ;-) The pages where daughter Camille, then nineteen, shares her experiences and then some seasonal recipes are my favorite parts. I love the humor and passion around the Kingsolver's tale and I was happy to open it up again for Cook the Books.

For my dish inspired by the book, I wanted to of course make something using as many local ingredients as possible. As I mentioned, I have a food dehydrator sitting about that was only used twice this summer--once for a plethora of organic blueberries on sale at Whole Foods for $1.99 a pint, and a couple of months later when I bought a bunch of small local Roma tomatoes at the farmers market and wasn't using them fast enough. I decided tomato dehydrating was pretty doable (and tasty), bought even more small local tomatoes and ended up with a couple of sandwich-sized Ziplocs full of dried tomatoes that I had not decided what to do with yet (code for "forgot about" in my pantry). 

In the book, there is a mention of dried tomatoes and a recipe for Dried Tomato Pesto and I thought it would be fun to use my tomatoes and localize what I could of the other ingredients--like changing the olive oil for a locally-produced macadamia nut oil, and swapping the walnuts out for macadamia nuts from The Big Island. The recipe called for dried basil, but I used some fresh basil from my herb pots. It seemed like it would be perfect on a piece of fish, so I grabbed some kampachi--a fish I have not cooked much with but that gets good marks in the sustainability arena.

Kampachi (aka Almaco Jack) is in the yellowtail and amberjack family. It is rich, dense and flaky with a mild flavor and a high fat and Omega-3 content. The kapachi is responsibly farmed in the water off of The Big Island and I thought it would be a good canvas for the sun-dried tomato pesto. 

I did a simple preparation of my kampachi--grilling it in a pan lightly coated with macadamia nut oil and seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt. I served the fish with a scoop of pesto on top of a simple salad comprised of 'Nalo greens (a local mix of baby lettuces) and shaved local baby fennel, with a squirt of (a giant!) local Meyer lemon. It's the kind of light and full-of-flavor dish that I most like to eat and with the exception of a couple of the pesto ingredients (the garlic--couldn't find any local this week, and the balsamic vinegar), it is all locally grown or produced.      
Dried Tomato Pesto
Adapted & Made "Hawaii Style" from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)

2 cups dried tomatoes
1 cup, macadamia nuts
1/2 cup macadamia nut oil
1/4 cup chopped basil
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp Hawaiian salt

In a food processor, puree all ingredients until smooth. Add a little water if needed but, keep thick enough to spread or dollop. 

Notes/Results: The pesto was rich and full of tomato flavor--tasting slightly sweet with a warm 'sunshine-like' vibe. It was a good counterpart to the fish and the fresh salad with baby greens, fennel and lemon keep things nicely balanced. The original pesto recipe called for walnuts and Parmesan but, since mac nuts are so much richer and more buttery than walnuts, I didn't feel the cheese was necessary and I didn't miss it at all. I have not eaten a lot of kampachi (it's not one of my go-to local fish choices) and I really enjoyed it--it wasn't too fishy and was tender and moist. It will be making more appearances in my kitchen going forward. The shaved fennel and lemon in the salad added to the Mediterranean flavor of the dish. I would make it again for sure. And, I plan to pick up some locally made bread at the farmers market to spread the rest of that yummy pesto on. ;-)

There's not much time left join in the Cook the Books fun for this round as the deadline is Monday, November 25. But if you like food, books and foodie books, join us for our December/January round where I will be hosting and taking us to Rwanda with the novel Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin. 


  1. That looks beautiful! The ingredients you can get at this time of year are NOT like the ones I can get - I love that. Sometimes it seems like everyone is eating strawberries 12 months of the year.

  2. This post rocks! You really took on the local food challenge and I love how this dish became totally Hawaiian. Bravo!

  3. Kampachi may just become a new favorite of mine. I normally go for other local fish but I really liked it. I am impressed on the asparagus-growing! I like that it is available locally throughout the year but nothing beats home-grown! Mahalo for stopping by. ;-)

  4. Thanks Rachel! I know I have it far easier than most this time of year. ;-) This was an excellent pick--I so enjoyed the re-read!

  5. Thanks Alicia! We are very lucky about the variety of foods we can grow here throughout the year. But I do really miss the fresh picked apples and berries I could get living in the northwest. ;-)

  6. I hear you sister! ;-)

  7. I must try this fish the next time I visit your state. Your pesto with mac nuts sounds wonderful.

  8. What a lovely dish with the local fish and your homemade pesto! I lived in the Pacific for a few years, and really enjoyed all the fresh produce and fish. Can't grow those kinds of things in my backyard now, but do miss them.

  9. I love this recipe too! Beautiful dish, Deb!


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