Pesto, Italian for something made from pounding, is something I think almost every foodie loves. It's easy to make and has a wonderful flavour. You can use it with pasta dishes, on potatoes, tomatoes, grilled or baked fish, sliced beef, on hor d'oeurves and we even saw some Italians eating it on toast for breakfast. The French also make something close to this called Pistou, but it doesn't have as many ingredients. It is good as well, but is mainly used a flavour enhancer for soups.
For awhile (the '80's), pesto was the new "big" thing. Restaurants were all trying it on pizzas or whatever other dishes they could. They tried to make it look uptown, but they couldn't be more off base. Pesto is as rustic as it gets. There really isn't anything special about it, it just tastes really good and eating basil is good for you (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85)!
Pesto isn't just basil pesto. There is usually a basic list of ingredients, but pesto is made to your own personal taste. This means no two are usually the same, mine, yours or somebody else's. Pesto can be made from arugula (rocket), spinach, parsley if you want it green, and sun-dried tomatoes, regular tomatoes or red peppers if you want it red.
Then there are the nuts. Normally you use pine nuts which are sometimes toasted, but you could also use pistachios, cashews, almonds or walnuts. The cheese involved is normally Parmesan, but Grana Padano or Pecorino will work too. Garlic is a mainstay and so is some kind of oil. I normally use the good extra virgin olive oil, but any decent EVOO will suffice. Manufacturers will sometimes try to cut corners by using canola or safflower oil along with a little parsley to lengthen it. They may also use a cheaper nut along with cheaper cheese, but every good Italian uses EVOO, mostly pine nuts and Parmesan.
Techniques for making pesto may vary. I have made it with a mortar and pestle, but this takes time. It is however the proper way to do it, if you have the time and your forearm can handle it. I have also just cut everything on a cutting board. I used a larger knife, but using a mezzaluna would help out a whole lot more. Most people nowadays use a food processor. Some old school people say this takes some of the flavour away, but you should just use what you have. I use a processor if I am making a lot of pesto simply for the fact that I don't want to blow off a day making it nor do I want my forearm to be numb for the rest of the day. Those old Italian women who make this all the time would pop your head off if they grabbed you by the throat!
There are things you should know about making pesto:
1)First, if using a mortar and pestle, use coarse salt. This helps to break everything down quicker. The texture helps to break down the leaves and assists in bringing out the flavour. If you don't have coarse, regular will do the job, just not as quick. Start by using less salt than the recipe suggests. This way you avoid putting too much in, ruining it and sending your blood pressure through the roof. Adjust near the end of the process. Also, take your time, don't rush. The pesto will be all over your counter top if you're not careful. Also when using a mortar and pestle, pound down on the ingredients but also twist your wrist when at the bottom. This will help with the process and also decrease your time factor.
2) It is very important to make sure your basil is dry before you chop it up. If it is wet, your pesto may go bad early because of the moisture in it. Water will make it turn brown, something you don't want. Wash the basil well and dry it in a salad spinner, then pat it dry with a cloth as well.
3) Use the freshest garlic you can find. Be careful not to use too much as to overpower the pesto. You want to taste the basil first and foremost.
4)Pesto can be stored in the fridge for up to a week after being made. Make sure to add a little extra oil on top before storing it to keep from spoiling. When you go to use it, take it out of the fridge for an hour or so to let it uncoagulate (is that a word??). It will congeal in the fridge, so prepare for this.
5) I like to toast my pine nuts. You don't have to do this as purists who make true Genovese pesto don't call for this, but it adds a nice, nutty flavour. Be careful if you do toast them as they may burn very easily because they are quite delicate. Just throw them into a dry frying pan over medium-low heat and watch them closely.
Here is my standard recipe I have used for many years now:
- 4 cups (1 L) fresh basil leaves. Make sure to wash and dry the leaves thoroughly
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) toasted pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 1/4 tsp (6 ml)
- 1 cup (250 ml) EVOO
- 1 cup (250 ml) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Put the basil, pine nuts, garlic and salt in the food processor. Turn on and process until everything is finely chopped into a paste.
2. Use a spatula to push it all back down the sides of the processor so it will all be near the blade at the bottom.
Put lid back and turn on. Slowly pour EVOO into the processor until it reaches desired consistency.
You will know it's done when you lightly move the container back and forth and the pesto moves along with it, but not too much. You want it to move a little, but not be too soupy.
3. Add Parmesan and pulse until it's all mixed in. Pour into a jar or dish which can be refrigerated and covered. Pour a little oil over top before you put it in the fridge.
As I mentioned earlier, I use pesto with many different dishes, mostly pasta. Here is one dish I make quite often for Mrs. Urban Eater.
Pesto, Ricotta and Tomato Pasta
- 6 oz (177 ml) penne
- 1/3 cup (79 ml) ricotta cheese
- 10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 3 Tbsp (45 ml) pesto
1. Cook penne according to instructions on the box. Try to get it as close to al dente` as possible as you never want to overcook it. Al dente` also has a lower glycemic index than overcooked, so I've read. This is far more healthier for you and mushy pasta never makes anybody happy.
2. Add the next three ingredients in a bowl big enough to hold all of the pasta.
3. When cooked, pour pasta in the bowl with the other ingredients and mix together before serving.
Yield: Serves 2
As you can see, I had to use whole wheat rotini instead of penne because we ran out and I never noticed. Rotini works fine with this recipe as well, so I wasn't worried.
You could grate a little Parmesan over top for extra flavour, if you like. But if you want to keep the calories down, I wouldn't. This is a pretty flavourful dish without it. Besides, there's already some in the pesto. I sprinkled a little Italian parsley over top because I like it. If you want to be fancy, put a basil stem with a few leaves on the top.
Little O's Menu
O has still been doing well lately with her eating the yogurt, mangoes, kiwis, strawberries or blueberries and rice cereal mix for breakfast, and is back eating plums now in the yogurt again as well. We decided she has been away from them long enough. She really likes them and they can't be in the freezer for much longer anyways. Red grapes are still in the good books along with toast and cheese too. The toast is nice as it fills her up and the organic whole grain bread is good for her.
Lunches have been consisting of bread with cheese or almond butter (if she didn't have bread for breakfast), mangoes and/or apricots and yogurt or part of what I eat. Lately this has been a little pork rib meat Mrs. Urban Eater made on the weekend (which I mentioned last time on here) along with the roasted acorn squash with EVOO and maple syrup. She ate it until there was no more left. Beautiful!
Her suppers have been somewhat along the same lines as lunch, some of what we eat. If we have pasta, she gets a little. We tried to get her to eat this pasta, but she was put off a little I think from the strong pesto odour. If we have meat, she gets some of that as well. She will only eat a little meat most days, so we have to fill her up with fruit, cereal and yogurt before her mix of formula, water and whole milk. This gets her good and sleepy before bed. This way she can make it through the night without waking up hungry at 3am.
"Pesto is the quiche of the '80's"
- Nora Ephron, American journalist (1941 - ?)
Until next time, good eating everyone.