Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Presto Pesto

Pesto is the sunscreen of summer dining. You should always have it around and use it liberally. Pesto, like all Mediterranean foodstuffs, was either invented by the Italians, Spanish, French, Greeks, North Africans, or Asians by way of trade routes. You may choose to believe whichever story you choose. Pungent, salty, lemony, pesto has a deep flavor that is unmistakable. While the fragrance of pesto is intoxicating, its color is a jungle of greens.

Pesto, culinary and linguistically speaking, is just a paste, a combination of ingredients smashed into something greater than the sum of its parts. Prior to the invention of the food processor, pesto was a laborious task, most likely assigned to a mother-in-law to keep her out of one's hair. Give granny a mortar, pestle, and a glass of wine and let her go to work. With a food processor, making delicious pesto is something you should be doing every week. Possible uses:

  • Toss with warm pasta
  • Slather over skin on chicken thighs and grill
  • Ciabatta, prosciutto, mozzarella, and pesto paninis 
  • Spoon over fried eggs or inside a creamy omelet
  • Combine the last two for Eggs Benedicto - poached eggs, pesto, grilled ciabatta, and prosciutto
  • Marinade for shrimp
  • A spread on sandwiches
  • Tomato, mozzarella, and pesto 
  • Pizza sauce
  • Sunscreen
Traditionally, pesto combines basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, lemon, garlic, and olive oil. But that is just a starting point, try cilantro, peanuts, lime, shallots, and red chili for an Asian twist. Use pecans. Hell, just use your goddamn imagination. 

My Basic Pesto

2 handfuls of basil, leaves only (if technical, about 3 cups tightly packed)
1/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, smashed
Juice and zest of one lemon
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Place the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a food processor. Pulse about 5 times. Then with machine running, drizzle in olive oil to your desired texture. For me this is generally a half cup of olive oil. Taste. Add salt and pepper if needed. 

Will keep in fridge for a few days, but it is usually gone by then. 


RBPoBoy said...

Tomato/Almond Pesto. It is awesome.

1/4 - 1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted and cooled
12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 - 1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Table salt to taste (1/2 tsp or so)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound pasta (linguine or spaghetti)
1 cup Parmesan cheese

Process the first 6 ingredients. Drizzle in the oil. Cook the pasta (reserve a bit of the water in case you need to thin it a bit). Mix 1/2 cup of parm into the pesto just before mixing it into the pasta. Serve with remaining parm.

This recipe uses much less oil than a traditional pesto. And almonds are cheaper than pine nuts. We make this at least twice a month.

Anonymous said...

anyone tried arugula or a basil/arugula combo?

Rene said...

Arugula and walnut pesto is a very good combination. I want to say, but can't be 100% certain, that Alon Shaya serves an arugula and walnut pesto with burrata at Domenica. Also, mint is very good in a pesto.

frog said...

Actually, linguistically, "pasta" is paste; "pesto" means pounded.

hattie sparks said...

one of my favorite things to make. i've experimented with adding walnuts and also asparagus (boiled til very soft). both great.