Sunday, October 17, 2010


Pesto can be the base of all kinds of tasty meals.  A few spoonfuls thinned with pasta cooking water makes a simple spaghetti.  Rub some on chicken breasts and bake for a great chicken dish.  Add a few spoonfuls to spaghetti sauce for an instant upgrade in flavor.  Spread some on Italian bread and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese for an impromptu pizza.  Or just put some in a bowl and lay some bread straws or crackers beside it for a quick hors d'oeuvre.  Here's the on-the-fly recipe I used for my pesto, with a few ways to change it in parentheses:

  • At least 5 generous handfuls basil (pull the leaves after measuring), or 2-3 small packages from the store (can substitute some or all parsley or cilantro for a very different flavor)
  • 4 or more cloves of garlic (hard to use too much)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I have also used crumbled feta in a pinch.  If you use cilantro, try queso fresco, though the texture may change a lot). If you freeze the pesto, omit the cheese until you thaw it.
  • A handful (1/3 cup or so) walnuts, pignoli, or almonds (I've never tried pecans, but I can imagine that working, too)
  • olive oil (walnut or almond might work, but I'd use a lot more garlic to boost flavor) and salt (hard to give an exact amount)
Pack all ingredients except the olive oil into a blender or food processor.  Add a few tablespoons of olive oil, then begin to mix it, allowing for your appliance's motor endurance (ie, don't keep it running until the motor burns out).  Once it's started spinning the ingredients, add oil to the desired "runniness," then add salt to taste.  This recipe can be increased exponentially; just mix it in small batches.  To freeze, line ice cube trays with plastic wrap and pour the pesto in.  Freeze, and empty into Ziploc baggies to keep in freezer and use as needed.  To mix into a sauce, just toss a few cubes into the sauce.  If using it as a stand-alone condiment or sauce, thaw the pesto, mix in cheese, and if needed, a little more olive oil for texture. 

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