GOD-DESS

Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

September 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall

LATE SUMMER BASIL PESTOS

If your experience with pesto is limited to the pre-made, jarred varieties, I beg you to try making your own pesto from scratch using these recipes. If you tried the cilantro pesto recipes I presented earlier (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesJune04.html), you already know that homemade pestos are vibrant and full of rich flavor. The following basil-based pestos can enhance your table throughout the year if you take advantage of the abundance of basil this time of year, and freeze batches of pesto for later use. Basil pestos particularly have an affinity for the fantastic tomatoes available this time of year, particularly some of the gorgeous organic heirloom varieties that are becoming more common in our farmers markets. Let your imagination run free!

BRET'S "PERFECT" PESTO

I don't believe in anything being perfect, but I have tweaked this recipe for 20 years. This is the version that has stabilized, and it's so darned good that even pesto-haters love it! This is also one of the few recipes for which I recommend using a blender. Alternatively, a food processor can be used, but I don't like the resulting texture. Traditionally, Italian cooks created pesto in a mortar and pestle, so if you are feeling traditional, give it a try!

Combine the garlic, basil and parsley in the bowl of a blender, add the olive oil on top, and then the nuts, salt and red pepper flakes (if using); blend until smooth, stopping the blender often and using a spoon to force the leaves into the blender blades. To facilitate blending, it may be necessary to add up to ¼ c cold water (in one T portions). After the pesto is completely smooth, add the cheese, forcing it into the pesto, and pulsing the blender until the cheese is incorporated. Use about 1 T of pesto per serving of pasta (¼ lb pasta prior to cooking); use a bit of the cooking water to loosen the pesto in the bowl prior to adding the cooked pasta, and grate some additional cheese on the pasta prior to serving. This recipe will yield about 8 to 12 tablespoon-sized portions (depending on how tightly you packed the basil and parsley); extra pesto can be frozen in tablespoon size portions for up to a year (NOTE: some writers explain that for pesto to be frozen, the cheese must be omitted [some even say to omit the garlic, and others say that if you do this, you can keep it for only a month]; I never understood these, so I never paid any attention, and have kept pesto for a year in the freezer, until the next season of fresh basil comes and I can make more pesto for the following year). Pesto can also be frozen in larger portions, if that is more convenient for you.

Variations:

Zesty Pesto: Add 2 T of lemon juice (about 1 lemon; if using lemon, also add up to 1 T of finely minced zest), balsamico or red wine vinegar, or white wine to the recipe, or just a dash (about ½ t to 1 t) per individual portion for an added dimension (activating the "sour" taste buds).

Mellow Pesto: Substitute equal or double amounts of roasted garlic for the raw garlic for a smoother, gentler and slightly richer-tasting version.

Pistou: Although there are many versions of this Provencal specialty, the easiest version is to substitute a nutty Gruyere or other Swiss cheese for the pecorino, asiago or parmesan cheeses.

Zesty Sicilian Pesto Adaptations:

Pesto Sauce for:

Sorta 'Salata Caprese: The famous Insalata Caprese features the freshest tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves, all alternately arranged on a platter, salted, peppered and drizzled with the best extra virgin olive oil. If you are like me, you don't always have fresh basil leaves around, so I use what is always on hand: pesto! Arrange sliced tomatoes on a platter, interspersed with slices of fresh mozzarella, salt and pepper the tomatoes and cheese, and drizzle/dab everything with the pesto. Alternatively, replace the mozzarella with thin slices of your favorite bleu or goat cheese, or just crumble these cheeses on top of the sliced tomatoes, and drizzle everything with the pesto. All of these versions are delicious, and become even more so when everything is also drizzled with some fantastic extra virgin olive oil! Please don't underestimate the sensational beauty of this simple dish!

Pesto with Fresh Tomatoes: Per serving, you will need about ½ c of chopped tomatoes (about 3/8" dice; you can use all red tomatoes, or a mixture of colored [red, burgundy, yellow, orange, green, striped] heirloom tomatoes for a truly spectacular dish; I also use halved or quartered cherry or pear tomatoes), mixed with 1 T of pesto for each ¼ lb of uncooked pasta. Add some grated pecorino, parmesan or asiago, or your favorite crumbled bleu, or crumbled/cubed goat cheese, and maybe some toasted walnuts, pine nuts or hazelnuts/filberts for five-star flavors.

Pesto with Roasted Red Bell Peppers: I prepare this application primarily at winter holiday time, and I do it by individual servings (or multiple servings at a single meal). For each portion, in individual bowls or combined in a serving bowl, combine 1 T of pesto and 1 T finely diced roasted red pepper (during the winter holidays, both of these come out of my freezer). When mixed together, and then with freshly cooked pasta (¼ lb of uncooked pasta per serving), the resulting colors are quite festive!

Rici con Pesto: Mix 1 T pesto with 1 c cooked rice; top with grated pecorino, parmesan or asiago. Additions include some extra virgin olive oil, chopped tomatoes, chopped nuts, chopped roasted bell peppers, some leftover chicken, steak or other meat/poultry; canned tuna is also a delicious addition to this one-dish entree.

SICILIAN PESTO

This recipe was adapted from an old family recipe presented by Gina Gallo. I have experimented with various proportions and ingredients, and especially enjoy the following version due to its higher proportion of mint than the original recipe. Note that I haven't specified a particular type of mint, as experimenting with different varieties will yield different flavors! As with the previous pesto, this recipe requires a blender, although it can be made in a food processor or mortar and pestle.

Combine the garlic, basil and mint in the bowl of a blender, add the olive oil on top, and then the nuts, salt and red pepper flakes (if using); blend until smooth, stopping the blender often and using a spoon to force the leaves into the blender blades. To facilitate blending, it may be necessary to add up to ¼ c cold water (1 T at a time). After the pesto is completely smooth, add the cheese, forcing it into the pesto, and pulsing the blender until the cheese is incorporated. Use about 1 T of pesto per serving of pasta (1/4 lb pasta prior to cooking); use a bit of the cooking water to loosen the pesto in the bowl prior to adding the cooked pasta, and grate some additional cheese on the pasta prior to serving. This recipe will yield about 8-12 portions, and it can be easily frozen for up to a year.

Variations:

Zesty Sicilian Pesto: Add 2 T of lemon juice (about 1 lemon; if using lemon, add up to 1 T of finely minced zest), balsamic vinegar or white wine to the recipe, or just a dash (about ½ to 1 t) per portion for an added dimension (activating the "sour" taste buds).

Mellow Sicilian Pesto: Substitute equal or double amounts of roasted garlic for the raw garlic for a smoother version.

Sicilian Pesto with Almonds: substitute an equal amount of almonds for either the pine nuts, the walnuts, or both. Otherwise, follow the recipe as written, or add any of the acids described for Zesty Sicilian Pesto.

Applications:

Use any variation of Sicilian Pesto in the same applications as Bret's "Perfect" Pesto.

Once you have created a batch of pesto, it can be used to season and flavor any number of other recipes, including in soups, dips, tuna salad, chicken salad, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, or on top of bruschetta or crostini. These are just a few ideas to get you started; use your imagination to reward your palate and feed your soul! Let me know how your pesto experimentations flourish at 773.508.9208 or email me. Thank you! Happy Pesto-ing!

 

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