Sunday, August 12, 2007

Basil Pesto

I have a long-standing love affair with pesto, and I'm sure that I am not alone. I first encountered the recipe- something a kid can easily make on her own- in my mother's copy of the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. It's a great solution you're looking for something delicious and quick that requires very little heat-up-the-kitchen-cooking.

I've changed the quantities of the original recipe quite a bit, as I usually do (you may have noticed that habit!). I prefer a thicker paste with less oil to sink to the bottom of the bowl, a stronger cheese and garlic tang, and whole pine nuts for a bit of crunch. Marcella adds butter to hers, and while I like the flavour, I can happily do without (in my pesto, at least).

L and I eat a lot of pesto during the summer months, especially July and August, when basil is at its peak and you see piles of it at farm stands and grocery shops. When I'm making a batch for dinner, I often make an extra batch or two to freeze for later use. The bright, sunny flavour is a welcome respite during our long New England winters.

Basil Pesto

2 cups firmly packed basil leaves, rinsed in a bowl of water and gently dried
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts for grinding
1/4 cup pine nuts to add whole
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste (use a little less if you use fine salt)

1/2 cup freshly grated parmegiano-reggiano cheese
4 tablespoons freshly grated romano cheese

Put the basil, olive oil, 1/4 cup pine nuts, garlic and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times until you have a paste dotted with small, recognizable pieces of basil, but not so long that you reduce the mixture to a fine paste. You can also use a mortar and pestle (grind to a paste), or by hand with a sharp knife or mezzaluna (finely mince).

If you're making a batch for the freezer, stir in the remaining 1/4 cup pine nuts and stop here. Fill a freezer-safe container with the pesto and toss into the freezer; add the cheeses later, when the pesto has thawed. Containers of frozen pesto can be thawed in the refrigerator or in a bowl of warm water.

If you are using a food processor or knife, stir in the cheeses and remaining pine nuts by hand. Do not be tempted to add the cheeses using the food processor- the resulting texture will not be the same. If you are using a mortar and pestle, add the cheeses and grind until well incorporated.

When you're ready to use the pesto, taste and correct for salt. Toss with hot pasta and serve immediately.

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