Friday, July 17, 2009

Good Neighbors Make Good Pesto

I live in a row of town houses where the sun shines brightly on the front steps all afternoon. My next door neighbor is much better about watering plants than I am so she raises a crop of basil out front each summer. She doesn't cook much. I make the pesto and keep us both supplied. It's a great partnership.

Traditionally, pesto is basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and olive oil. I also add a little salt and pepper. This works out okay for frozen basil but I'm not sure what effect the salt would have on pesto stored at refrigerator temps.

Thanks to adventurous chefs, the definition of pesto has expanded to include many variations on the theme. Right now my freezer has both traditional pesto and a spinach/parsley variation.

I also use pesto in a tube when I just need a small squit. My refrigerator door usually has a partially squeezed tube of Amore Pesto Paste (and a variety of other Amore tubes). I used to have to hunt for it but now it's easy to find in grocery stores. When fresh pesto isn't around, Classico jarred pesto works well, too.

But no pre-packaged pesto compares to home made fresh pesto. Frozen home made pesto stays bright in flavor and color for a few months if well packed.

Ingredients (Measurements for pesto are all "to taste":
  • Fresh basil leaves -- freshly picked is noticeably better than produce section basil.
  • Pine nuts
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground sea salt & black pepper (optional)
  1. Cut the parmesan in cubes and then whir in the food processor until evenly cut into small granules of cheese. Place the cheese in a bowl large enough to hold all the pesto.
  2. Wash the basil well and keep only the fresh, bright leaves.
  3. Smash and peel the garlic cloves, removing the hard ends if needed.
  4. Whir the basil, garlic cloves and pine nuts in the food processor with just enough oil to keep things moving. You may need to do this in batches.
  5. Add this slurry to the cheese and mix well, adding olive oil as needed to make a wet paste.
  6. Add salt and pepper if desired.
  7. Divide the pesto into meal-sized portions to freeze and store.
There are a variety of freezing/storage options. You can make pesto cubes in ice cube trays and then wrap each cube and store in plastic bags. You can use small disposable plastic food storage containers. My latest method involves small (bathroom sized) disposable plastic cups and clear plastic wrap. The advantage of these small cups is that a small amount of hot water on the outside and the pesto slips right out into the pan for cooking. The lidded plastic cups restaurants use for dressing would be great.

Try these variations for pesto (olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper are a constant):
  • baby spinach, flat leaf parsley, romano, and nutmeg (no nuts)
  • cilantro, a hard Spanish cheese like manchego, and pine nuts
  • Curly parsley, parmesan, and walnuts
Home made gnocchi tossed in home made pesto. Ahhhhh.

A produce guy told me the local commercial farmer's market sells basil to restaurants by the pound year round. I'm thinking this will need investigation when the front porch crop runs out.

Pesto on Foodista

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Imprecise & Inexpensive

Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.