August 22, 2011

Herbesto Pesto!

Fresh herbs are in abundance this time of year and pesto is one delicious way to make use of them. The olive oil base makes pesto a popular sauce for today’s health-minded. When I think of pesto I think, rich, nutty and full of flavor. Classic Pesto Genovese, “pesto” as we know it, consists of basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. But pesto is not just for basil any more. Creative pestos are popping up on menus from fast food to fine dining. I was recently treated to an Oregano Mint Pesto served with Grilled Lamb Chops – it was divine. Pesto is so simple to make and super versatile. Flavor-up any dish: toss with pasta, sauce a pizza, whip with butter, top your favorite fish or grilled meat. With backyard gardens and farmers markets bursting with fresh herbs, it’s a great time to experiment with your favorite concoctions… like Arugula Walnut & Manchego, Cilantro Pepita & Cotija, Oregano Mint Pistachio, Rosemary Walnut or Sage Pecan.

Classic Basil Pesto

by Samantha Seneviratne

Yields about 1 cup

3-3/4 oz. (5 cups packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 oz. (1/4 cup) pine nuts
1 large clove garlic, peeled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil; more for storing
1 oz. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/2 cup from a box grater; 1 cup from a rasp grater)

To make pesto in a mortar:
Put 1 cup of the basil in a mortar and pound and grind with the pestle until broken down. Continue adding basil to the mortar, 1 cup at a time, until all of the basil is broken down nearly to a paste. Add the pine nuts, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper and continue to mash until completely broken down. Moving the pestle in a circular motion, gradually mix in the oil and then the cheese. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
To make pesto in a food processor:
Pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper in a food processor until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the feed tube and process, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture forms a thick paste. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the Parmigiano. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
To store: You can store pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. To refrigerate, transfer the pesto to an airtight container and pour enough oil over it to create a thin layer. This will prevent the pesto from oxidizing and changing color.
To freeze: Omit the oil layer and portion the pesto into small plastic freezer bags or ice cube trays so you can defrost only as much as you’ll use at one time. If using ice cube trays, freeze until solid, and then transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag for storage. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

When it comes to pesto, the possibilities are endless. Share your best pesto with us!

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