Saturday, 16 August 2014

Basil Pesto

Pesto is one of the easiest sauces to make, as it only requires a food processor and no chopping! It keeps well in the fridge, freezes well and can be adapted in oh so many ways...

Finally, a summer that agreed with the basil I try and grow each year. It had flourished, making me very happy. I love using it fresh, but now we can have all the pesto we want for the next few months...there is so much basil, I will also chop some and freeze it. This is great for adding to sauces or soups, as all you need to do is scrape off the required amount and it's as good as adding fresh.

To freeze the pesto, fill an ice cube tray and place in the freezer. When the pesto is frozen, pop the cubes out and place in a resealable bag or container and keep in the freezer until you need to use.

As I said, making pesto is a fairly simple process, especially when all the ingredients are assembled and ready to go. I multiplied the recipe by 4, but I am giving instructions for the original recipe. If you have a lot of basil, multiply away!!!

Pick, or purchase, 2 cups of basil leaves, make sure they are clean. Set aside.

Measure out 4 cloves of peeled garlic and 4 tablespoons of pine nuts.

Place the garlic and pine nuts into a food processor and process until roughly chopped.

Add the basil, and process until it is chopped and makes a paste.

Keeping the processor running, slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil. The slower you pour the oil, the thicker and more emulsified the pesto will be.

Scrape the pesto into a bowl, and add 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan, Stir this in by hand.

Taste, season with salt and pepper. Parmesan can be salty, so I find it best to season after adding the cheese.

Wondering what to use pesto for? Try some of the following:

  •  Toss hot cooked pasta with pesto and garnish with toasted pinenuts and grated Parmesan.
  • Spread onto pizza crusts instead of a tomato based pizza sauce. Top with grilled chicken, halved cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.
  • Mix into mayonnaise. Use this for sandwhiches or wraps, it adds a lovely depth and tang.
  • Mix it into chicken salad with chopped green onions.
  • Add it to the bechamel or ricotta cheese layer of lasagne. This is really nice with a chicken and spinach lasagne, or a grilled vegetable lasagne.
  • Garnish tomato soup with a dollop of pesto.
  • Instead of plain garlic bread, use pesto instead of garlic butter.
  • Use as a sauce for grilled chicken or fish.
  • Use the pesto as a vinaigrette. Either add a bit to your basic vinaigrette, or add an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar to the pesto to make a vinaigrette. There is sufficient oil in the pesto, so you won't need to add more. Toss salad greens, potatoes or pasta with seasonal vegetable and your dressing to make a colourful picnic item.
  • Green eggs and ham? Why not add pesto to your scrambles eggs or omelette? 
  • Mix pesto into soft cream cheese to spread on a bagel.
  • Add to  Basic Tomato Sauce to make an easy pasta sauce for dinner when you're in a rush.
  • Toss potatoes with pesto instead of oil and roast.
  • Tuck a bit of pesto under the skin of chicken or turkey before roasting. This helps keep the meat moist, but provides a lot of flavour at the same time.

Here are some ways to change up the basic bail pesto recipe:
  •  Instead of all basil, which can be expensive if you are buying it, use half basil and half spinach, or parsley. People who hate spinach never know they're eating it!
  • You can use other nuts or herbs for something different. Try almond and spinach, walnuts and roasted red pepper, cilantro and pumpkin seeds, arugula and pinenuts, sundried tomatoes and basil.
  • If you use a vegetable such as roasted red pepper or sundried tomato, the process would start with pureeing the vegetable, then adding the oil, nuts, garlic and lastly the cheese.
  • Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavour, cut the oil and intensify the green colour.
  • Add capers, this works especially well if you are serving it with fish.
  • Use asiago or romano instead of Parmesan. They have a sharper flavour.

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