>How pesto works.

>Pesto, the much lauded very expensive ingredient that everyone forks out the nose for in restaurants is NOT hard.

You do need a food processor to make it. I don’t know how or why anyone bothered with it when all they had was a mortar and pestle.

And I’m not going to give an exact recipe for it, cause proportions need to vary according to your ingredients. And for gosh sakes, no proper Italian person ever used a recipe for pesto.

Classic Pesto Ingredients
– basil
– grated parmesan cheese
– garlic
– salt
– pine nuts (pinola)
– olive oil

Right here let me say for THE RECORD that Thai basil is MUCH more awesome than classic Italian or sweet basil. There are a lot of other varieties, some of them are great, but Thai basil rules the world. Also, if you buy Thai basil at your local Asian grocery you will save many 10s of dollars. Many.

Here’s the thing about pesto. Basil is nice, heck basil is great. But basil is seasonal, expensive, and overused. It doesn’t matter what herb or leafy green you use- experiment at will! Aaaaand…. you can even COMBINE herbs. So there.

Same thing goes for the pine nuts- they’re VERY expensive. They go rancid easily, they burn easily.

As for the cheese- any kind of hard grateable cheese will do.

I used to date a guy whose sister and brother-in-law own a very fancy restaurant in Philadelphia. They use some olive oil in their pesto, but they mostly thin it out with veggie broth. Because, super oily pesto actually isn’t very good, or very healthy, and it can be super-hard to work with when cooking. And it’s expensive.

So here’s a list of all sorts of things you can try in your pesto. Just blend away and add liquid until you’ve made a thin smooth paste and it tastes good.

Pesto Options
– basil
– cilantro
– oregano
– parsley
– scallions
– rosemary (kinda dry- must mix with something else)
– spinach (not my favorite)
– arugala
– tarragon
– etc. ad nauseum

– pine nuts
– macademia nuts (my favorite- they’re so buttery)
– walnuts (cheap)
– sunflower seeds (my mom’s cheap favorite)
– brazil nuts (tried this last week- awesome)

And some other things you might try to liven up your pesto varieties:

– lemon juice and lemon zest (for lemony pesto- with the added benefit of preventing oxidation)
– black pepper
– crushed red pepper
– a little creamy cheese (goat, brie, cream cheese, puck cream)or just a touch of heavy cream, or even a pat of butter
– sundried tomatoes
– roasted garlic instead of raw

I haven’t done this, but I bet you could do an Asian pesto with peanuts or cashews, sesame oil, cilantro, scallions.

Again, thin it out with broth- not a lot of oil.

2 Final Pesto tips:
1) When your batch is done freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray and then save the cubes in a plastic bag. It’ll keep forever and you can just throw a cube into a soup or a sauce now and again.
2) If you keep your pesto fresh in a tupperware put a piece of saran wrap over the top and press it onto the pesto to create an air-tight seal. This will keep your pesto from oxidizing and turning brown. Or you could just add lemon juice and zest (as recommended above).

I like to make a huge batch of pesto once in awhile and just use it until it’s gone. Especially when my friends grow too much basil in the summers. I use my big food processor for this. But often I find myself at the last minute making just enough for 2 people in my little food processor- maybe the best tool I have in my kitchen. They cost $30 and make about 1 1/2 cups of puree.


Posted on March 26, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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