Pesto is one of those dishes that just screams summer to me. Walk through the basil garden and smell the sweet aromas, mint and hints of licorice waft up to your nose. With more fragrant basil coming out of the garden than I ever know what to do with, I love mixing up batches of tasty pesto to give away to happy friends and to freeze in serving size bags to see how long I can make it last. Finding a bag of this green treasure in my freezer in the fall is like?winning the lottery. Thawed quickly under running warm water and served over a bit of pasta, it?s like a summer do-over.
Pesto was created in the northern Italian seaside village of Liguria in Genoa. Diets in this region focused on the use of abundant herbs, nuts, fish, olive oils and pasta. And since basil flourished here, Pesto was a natural part of that culinary evolution.?However, as with most recipes, variations have been found all over the world, and determining which came first is likely?the root of many an argument. Provence, France has a variation called pistou. Pistou recipes call for parsley instead of basil, and no nuts (though the cheese is optional but probably not traditional). Locally, I?ve seen many modern creative substitutions for basil, such as mint, arugula and even stinging nettle leaves (fascinating). And when pine nuts are not to be found on my pantry shelves (a rare event), I have been known to use walnuts as a stand in.
The word pesto comes from ?pesta?, which in Genoan means to pound or to crush. This makes sense considering how this recipe is prepared. Like most traditional European dishes (take a look at my aioli recipe), preparation often calls for a classic mortar and pestle, but don?t feel guilty taking advantage of modern conveniences to save yourself both time and energy while producing a fresh sauce you can feel good about serving. The following recipe is merely a guideline. Play with the proportions to control strength and sweetness to your liking.
The options for use are endless. Spread on pizza in place of red sauce, serve as a dip for grilled salmon or chicken cutlets or click here to try this exciting pesto and radish appetizer.
4 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves ? about 5 cups
4 small cloves of garlic ? cup pine nuts (pignoli)
? cup fruity olive oil ? cup Pecorino cheese (or mix with half Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 t coarse sea salt ? t pepper
Optional: ? t red pepper flakes (not at all traditional, but I prefer a little heat to lift this dish to new heights)
1. Place garlic, salt and pine nuts in a small food processor and process until nuts begin to break down, about 20 seconds.
2. Add basil leaves and pulse several times.
3. With food processor still running, add oil in thin stream and continue to process until pureed.
4. Add cheese and red pepper (if using) and blend for another minute.
Use fresh or store in freezer. Recommendations are typically to store for two weeks, though I have enjoyed bags of summer pesto long into the next season. The trick is to try and remove as much air from the packaging as possible as the air will oxidize the green leaves turning them brown.