Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Presto Pesto!

Green food has always been something of a culinary hurdle for me. Yes, mom read Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham to us and now I’ve read it to my children, but there is still something much less appealing about green food once it’s on your plate instead of on the page. In recent years I’ve begun to coordinate my eyes and my palate to accept green food as not being yucky. I remember going to the 13 Coins restaurant, a Seattle landmark since the late 1960’s, one night with some friends. One friend raved about the pasta he was eating and wanted everyone to try it. Even in a dim booth at about 1 o’clock in the morning and no doubt after a few shots of tequila, I could see that the food was decidedly green, but since everyone else was trying it out I felt that I needed to as well. That was my first experience with pesto. I’d never tried it nor even heard of it before, but certainly didn’t want to admit to being ignorant of it. I can’t say that I enjoyed it; after all, it was green. It’s been about 15 years now and I decided it was about time I gave pesto another chance.
Just northwest of Genoa, Italy, along the Mediterranean is a region known as Liguria. Due to the mild climate, the mountain terrain and its position along the coast, the Ligurian diet depended on and was influenced by what could be grown or caught from the water, like herbs, vegetables and seafood. While the region does produce both white and red wines, they are only sold locally. The two most recognizable inventions to emerge from Liguria are pesto and focaccia bread.
The most traditional recipe for pesto uses fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil and cheese. All of the ingredients were hand ground into a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle, hence the word pesto. Fresh ingredients are a must as pesto is not cooked in any way. It’s easy to make and very versatile. While most recipes will call for an exact amount of each ingredient, it’s very common to make adjustments according to your personal preferences, the flavors in accompanying dishes or what you have on hand. Pesto is traditionally eaten as a sauce for cooked pasta, but can be used as a condiment for grilled Panini sandwiches, as pizza sauce, in breads, spread over toast points and broiled as an appetizer or use a few teaspoons as garnish for your homemade soups.
This recipe is a basic basil pesto but I have noted several different substitution options for the herb, nuts, oil and cheese. Pesto is quick and easy so don’t be afraid to experiment with it. Go green! It’s what’s in style.

Fresh Basil Pesto with Variations
2 cups fresh basil leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use finely ground sea salt or kosher)
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
Fit your food processor with the steel blade attachment. To bowl, add basil, garlic, oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Pulse several times, scraping bowl if needed, and continue until the mixture is a smooth paste. Add a tiny bit of oil if mixture gets too thick.
When the consistency is right, transfer to a small bowl and fold in the shredded parmesan cheese.
To serve with pasta: Stir a few tablespoons of pesto with a splash of cooking water from your favorite pasta until it’s a good serving consistency and toss with hot pasta until coated.
To Store: Cover with a thin layer of olive oil or spray with non-stick cooking oil and keep in the fridge for several weeks. For long-term storage fill ice cube trays with pesto, freeze and then pop out into a re-sealable plastic bag. Thaw just the right amount of fresh pesto for your meal any time you want it!
*NOTE: Other aromatic herbs, nuts, oils or hard cheeses can be used in place of or in combination with the basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil and parmesan. Keep in mind the herb is the star of the show and should have the most prominent flavor when mixing and matching ingredients. Also, consider the rest of your meal and what fresh flavors might compliment it best. Have fun experimenting with some of the following!
Herbs: fresh cilantro, spinach, oregano, sun-dried tomatoes; Italian flat leaf parsley can be used by itself but is also perfect when one of the other herbs has too strong of a flavor or when you may be running short on the amount.
Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans.
Favored Oils: porcini mushroom, walnut, lemon, rosemary, raspberry.
Cheeses: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, Romano.
Yield: one cup of pesto
Prep time: 10 minutes

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License