Cooking Cove: Pesto Presto

Cooking Cove: Pesto Presto

Basil Pesto

By Barbara Beltrami

Have you ever known anyone who didn’t like the classic basil pesto? Easy to prepare in a matter of minutes, pesto is a no-fuss-no-cook-no-mess-no-fail concoction that is the invention of some ancient culinary genius in Genoa.

Pesto means sauce in Italian and although basil pesto is by far the best known and most popular version, it can actually be made from a variety of herbs and other ingredients. There are six basic ingredients to making pesto. There is the main ingredient such as basil or something with an intense distinctive flavor along with nuts, cheese, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper. How much? Good question. It’s one of those things that you do by eye and taste. Although once in a while I tweak the amounts a little. I generally use a handful of the main ingredient, a handful of the nuts, a handful of the grated cheese, one clove of garlic, enough oil to give the pesto the right silky consistency and salt and pepper, to taste.

That being said, I will nevertheless provide you with a few recipes I like. In addition to the classic basil pesto, there are arugula and walnut pesto and sun-dried tomato and olive pesto, to name but a few I’ve tried. Though there’s no space to write about them all here, you might like to use the following recipes as models and also try mint and almond pesto, cilantro and pumpkin seed or spinach and hazelnut. Traditional old-fashioned Italian cooks claim the only real way to make pesto is to pound and grind it together with a mortar and pestle and would be mortified to know that I puree it all in my electric food processor. And while pesto is best loved when paired with pasta, it is also a fabulous embellishment for chicken, fish, omelets, crostini, vegetables and soups.

Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto

YIELD: Makes 2 cups

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

½ cup pignoli nuts

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

One garlic clove

Coarse salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: In an electric food processor puree all ingredients except the salt and pepper. Pause occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, then continue pureeing until mixture reaches a silky consistency. Remove from processor bowl and stir in the salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature with spaghetti, gnocchi or a pasta that has a lot of grooves to hold the pesto; crostini, grilled fish, chicken, pork or veggies or as a garnish to soup.

Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Arugula and Walnut Pesto

YIELD: Makes 2 cups

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups arugula leaves

½ cup walnut pieces

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: In an electric food processor, scraping sides of bowl often, puree all ingredients except salt and pepper. When mixture has achieved a slightly bumpy texture, remove from bowl and stir in salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature with grilled beef, veggies, fowl or pork, on rye bread crostini, over wide noodles or rigatoni or as a garnish to soup.

Sun-dried Tomato and Olive Pesto

Sun-dried Tomato and Olive Pesto

YIELD: Makes 2½ cups

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

½ cup pitted oil-packed black olives

½ cup fresh Italian parsley leaves

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¹/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

One clove garlic

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: In an electric food processor, scraping sides of bowl often, puree all ingredients until mixture achieves a finely ground consistency. Serve at room temperature over pasta, on crostini or crackers, on grilled chicken, fish or veggies or as a garnish to soup.

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