Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Pesto

Seems that I am getting behind in blogging, which I will  blame on finding a new way to waste time on the computer, which is Chowhound, a foodie discussion board.  There are lots of folks in Phoenix posting about local restaurants, I also find the home cooking section interesting.  If you take a look, yes, my tag line is Firecooked.

About a week ago, I made my first big cutting of basil from my herb garden.  I think everyone should have an herb garden.. it is a lot less effort than growing vegetables, and there is something wonderful about going out before dinner and cutting some herbs.    This time of year, a lot of the herbs are a bit tired from the heat (and some things, like parsley and cilantro are long gone), but basil is just hitting its prime.  I did have to put some cages around mine this spring (basil is an annual, and you need to re-start every spring) to keep the rabbits from munching the tender little plants (surprising, the herb of rabbits which inhabit the yard seem pretty much content to just eat grass and not herbs, but baby basil is the exception). 
With the first mass cutting of basil (think a pile about a foot in diameter, and a foot high), I always make pesto… the full recipe with parmesan cheese, nuts, olive oil and of course, garlic.   After I pick a bunch, I pick off the leaves (just pinch with my thumb nail), and put them in my salad spinner.  I give them a rinse then spin, and put out on paper towels to finish drying.  Every pesto recipe you look at calls for “packed cups” of basil, but I really hate mushing it to measure.  I have figured “2 cups packed basil” is just under half full of loose leaves in my Cuisinart.  Although I always start the pesto making with a full, traditional basil, mostly I make a “pesto starter” with basil, garlic, and olive oil, then freeze it to use the rest of the year.  It really keeps well, I have been putting about 1 cup in a quart size Ziploc baggie, push out any air and seal, then make cross lines and fold into quarters. I can use the whole thing, or most often, just pull out a quarter at a time.  Adding a chunk of this mixture to soup or pasta, or thawing a spreading on pizza dough is like adding some summer to your dinner… any time of the year.

If you don't have any basil plants (next year... they are pretty enough to grow instead of flowers), try either the farmers market or Trader Joes to get big quantities for pesto.

PESTO

Pesto: The full fledged recipe.
Makes 2 cups.

4 oz. Parmesan cheese
3 - 4 cloves of garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry (packed fairly tightly)
½ to 1 cup walnuts or pine nuts
~ 3/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cut the cheese into chunks, and process with blade in food processor until finely grated.  Pour out of food processor and set aside.

Put bowl with blade back on base (don’t need to clean the bowl), turn on and drop the garlic through the feed bowl.  Let process until most of it is stuck to the sides.  Scrape down; add the basil and nuts.  Process w/ pulse on/off until basil is chopped.

Turn the motor on, and add olive oil in a slow, steady stream. 

Shut the motor off; add the cheese, a big pinch of salt and a liberal grinding of pepper. Process briefly to combine, the scrap out into a bowl and cover until ready to use (press a piece of plastic wrap right onto the surface to keep from turning dark.  Will keep for several days.

Freezer Pesto:
2 - 4 cloves of garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry (packed fairly tightly)
½ cup olive oil (or just enough to get a thick paste)

Turn on food processor fitted with blade and drop the garlic through the feed bowl.  Let process until most of it is stuck to the sides.  Scrape down, add the basil.  Process w/ pulse on/off until basil is chopped.
Turn the motor on, and add olive oil in a slow, steady stream. 
Put  into a quart freezer baggie.  Press out air, and make indents into quarters.  Freeze until ready to use.

Pasta with Pesto:
Cook 1 lb. of Linguine.  Meanwhile, mix 2 tablespoons pasta water, ¼ cup cream (or use all milk), 1 cup pesto.  Drain pasta, return to pan, add pesto mix and toss.
Serve immediately, with more pepper and cheese. 

Rice with Pesto:
Add a big spoon full of pesto to cooked white rice.

Pesto bread:
Spread pesto on slices of French bread, broil/toast until bubbly.

What to do with freezer pesto:
Thaw, mix with cheese, etc. to get full pesto.
Throw a frozen quarter chunk into a batch of spaghetti sauce.
Thaw, mix with a can of tomato sauce and use for pizza sauce.
Thaw, mix with a little more olive oil and use for pizza sause
Throw a frozen quarter chunk into rice that’s almost done.
Throw a frozen chunk to a big pot of soup that’s almost done.

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