Friday, August 31, 2007

Classic Pesto

Pesto is one of my favorite condiments. It makes everything taste better and can be used a thousand different ways – tossed with pasta, as a sandwich spread, as sauce on a pizza, mixed into mayo (great with frites!), and the list goes on and on. Because you need lots of basil to make a small amount of pesto, summer is the time for making lots of it. Huge bunches of basil are incredibly cheap at the farmers market right now, so I buy lots of basil and make pesto, which I then freeze so that I can unearth it in the dead of winter when basil is expensive. (Tip: freeze it in an ice cube tray, then put all the cubes in a Ziploc bag so you can take out just a little bit at a time without having to defrost the whole container.)
Pesto is also really flexible – I’ve made it with spinach and arugula instead of basil, and I’ve used a variety of nuts – hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts – instead of the traditional pine nuts (usually because I discover that I don’t have any pine nuts). Everyone’s got their own recipe for pesto – I’ve seen it range from a thick paste to a somewhat liquidy sauce – but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with this combination of ingredients.

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Classic Pesto
(makes ½ cup)

1 large bunch of basil (about 4 cups of loosely packed leaves), thoroughly washed*
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large garlic clove, quartered
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted**
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

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Put everything except the pine nuts and cheese in a food processor and blend until all the basil is chopped and forms a paste.

Add the pine nuts and pulse a few times to finely chop, but not grind, the nuts.
Stir in the cheese by hand.

If storing in a plastic container, press a piece of plastic wrap over the surface before closing – this will prevent the top from oxidizing and turning brown.

* Basil from the market comes with the roots attached, and there’s lots of dirt and sand still clinging to them. I pick off the leaves, then put them in a large bowl full of water and let the grit sink to the bottom. I take the leaves out (don’t pour the leaves and water through a colander) and repeat this process until there is no grit in the water – a total of three times usually does it. Then I spin the leaves completely dry before either making pesto with them or storing them – wrap the leaves in a paper towel and put it in a Ziploc bag, and they’ll last for about a week in the fridge.

** I toast pine nuts by spreading them in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate, then heating on high power for 30 seconds.

1 comment:

coco said...

I feel like having some pasta with pesto now!

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