Monday, September 17, 2012

Pesto

Remember my garden post? Well, if you don't, I'll remind you with this:
Basil is basically taking over the garden. It's mostly my fault for not using it more often and now I have so much of it. I don't like waste so I HAD to do something with it and the obvious solution was to make pesto. Pesto is an Italian sauce that gets its name from the word pestare (Italiano, baby) which means to pound. Back before food processors and blenders and even electricity, old fashioned chefs had to use a mortar and pestle to mash stuff together - e.g. basil and garlic and oil. You can buy pesto, already made and sealed in little plastic tubs, in most grocery stores but why buy it when it's so easy to make?

Let me just start by saying, I don't ever use an exact recipe when I'm making basil pesto. Instead, I just gauge how much stuff I'll need by how much basil I've got... and that's why my ingredients use the term "handful." Cooking is an art, not a science (but baking is a science) so don't worry about being so exact. Besides, recipes like these were meant to be adjusted to each individual's palate; so if you like things salty, add more salt and if you're lactose intolerant, forego the cheese, and so on.

Ingredients:
2 huge handfuls of basil
1/2 a handful of almonds or pine nuts
3 cloves of garlic (which I forgot to include in the photo because I'm DUMB)
5 or 6 slices of parmesan (1/2 cup grated)
1/2 cup olive oil
Start by slicing up the cheese and toasting the almonds. Personally, I don't like pine nuts so I don't keep them in the house. But I do like a little something nutty in my pesto. Since I enjoy almonds we always have them on hand, so I usually throw some of those in. If you don't like nuts at all, you can omit them. Toasting them helps bring out the flavors a bit, so I like to give them a quick tan in a small pan over a low flame.
In your blender or food processor (or mortar and pestle, if you're really doing this the "authentic" way), add in the cheese, garlic, and almonds in the bottom. Then squish in the basil leaves and toss in some salt.
Place the lid on and remove whatever piece you have in your machinery that is blocking the hole that will allow you to drizzle in olive oil. Turn on the blender and start drizzling. Stop adding oil when you see that the basil leaves are starting to get sucked into the blades. If you see in that first side shot of the blender, you see a lot of brown and white and green choppy bits with no liquefying action. But in that next shot, you see some greenish liquid forming. That's when you know you've got enough oil.
Let the machine do its thing for a few minutes until eventually, all of the leaves get sucked in and chopped up and you see this:
Turn it off and take a taste to make sure it's got enough salt and/or cheese and/or garlic. You could also add in some crushed red pepper flakes for a spicy pesto. When the taste test passes with flying colors, you can jar up the pesto in something air-tight and keep it in the fridge for three weeks or in the freezer for 6 months. If you plan on freezing it, the easiest way is to do it in an ice cube tray and then put the pesto cubes in a ziploc bag.
Use it as a salad dressing, tossed with noodles, and even in sandwiches. I'll be sharing a grilled cheese recipe later this week and it uses this pesto; I will say, it's really really really good.
And here's the recipe page:

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