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Artisan Cuisine: Time to explore the fabulous world of pesto

Pesto can be made with a processor, or with a mortar and pestle decice. Del Norte Triplicate/Ann Boulley
Pesto can be made with a processor, or with a mortar and pestle decice. Del Norte Triplicate/Ann Boulley
The only sauce I crave just as readily as a well-simmered tomato sauce is the vibrant pesto of summer.

While commonly made with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil, I’ve created numerous varieties based on what I find at the farmer’s market.

To experiment, get yourself the best chunk of parmesan you can and a good quality olive oil.  Avoid anything that isn’t in a dark glass jar and try to get organic when you’re able. Too many of the olive oils on the market have been found to contain small to moderate amounts of canola oil, which in this country is, for the most part, genetically modified.

You can use nuts, leave them out, or replace them with pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds for that added nutritional punch.

Pesto is easy to make if you have a food processor, but can be made in a mortar and pestle device as well. In fact, that’s how it is often still made in some homes in Europe, where the delicious recipe originated.

The proportions can be varied depending on your personal preferences, but the rule of thumb goes like this:

Take 1 large bunch of greens that, when smushed together, equals 2 cups. The greens may be basil, spinach, parsley, cilantro, kale, lightly steamed broccoli stems, asparagus, you name it.  I’ve made brussels sprout pesto in the fall and it was well received even by the pickiest eaters!

Place those greens into your food processor with 2-3 cloves of peeled garlic. Whiz until it’s chopped up fine.

Next, add ½ cup of fresh nuts or seeds. Pine nuts or pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds,  etc.  Whir the processor for 30 seconds until those are blended in.

Now you can add ½ cup of parmesan if you like cheese, as it’s also totally acceptable to leave it out. I like it, so I put even more in, especially when I know it’s going over hot pasta.

Blend it and start drizzling in up to ½ cup of good quality olive oil. How much olive oil depends on how moist the pesto is becoming. It should be moist enough that it drips right off the spoon …or not. Just like salsa, it’s really up to you.

Add a pinch of salt to taste and you have pesto!  Some great additions are roasted bell peppers, marinated artichokes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes or even dried cranberries.  

Fresh pesto can be kept for a week or two in the fridge — just be sure to cover the top with more olive oil to keep it fresh and green. It can be frozen in small amounts (some people freeze it in ice cube trays) and added to hot pasta or other dishes when you need a bit of summertime flavor during the winter season.  

So, explore the fabulous world of pesto this summer with your garden bounty or with the delicacies found at the farmer’s market. You’ll be eating very well indeed.

Anne Boulley is a local chef and culinary instructor with a passion for artisan foods. Her cooking classes and services are offered via her website, www.thegourmetguide.com.

 


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