Presto Pesto Recipe
When you want to feel really self-satisfied over a home cooking endeavor, look no further than pesto. It’s one of those foods that has a sort of glamorous foodie image and with good cause. Pesto adds incredible flavor to everything from sandwiches to pasta. It’s expensive to buy, though, and can be overpowering if you use too much. I think people are a little intimidated by it.
When we finally moved into our own house and I had room to grow as much basil as my heart desired, I went a little overboard. In the summer of 2006, my backyard looked like it belonged to Cheech and Chong. What could I do with all this basil? I just made batch after batch of pesto and froze it in ice cube trays. For the entire winter, we had fresh pesto (defrosted on the spot) to use in our meals. Some summers, since, have been better for pesto than others. This year, I got another bumper crop. As August comes to a close, it’s time to put that freshness away for the cold winter nights.
Back when I first started, every pesto recipe I tried appeared to be lots of work and, frankly, a big mess. It was only that Cheech and Chong summer when I was too lazy to go to the store that I realized you can make an absolutely kick-arse pesto with only four ingredients. It really is that simple. Here’s what you do.
Presto Pesto Recipe!
3 C fresh basil leaves (this is very flexible)
3 fat garlic cloves
a chunk of pecorino romano cheese a little smaller than your fist
about 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper (I know – that’s six things)
Set up your food processor with the shredding disc in. Feed chunks of cheese in until they’re all shredded. Dump it out into a bowl for a second.
Put the regular blade into the processor. Shove all your basil in there processor along with the garlic cloves (just whole – don’t even bother to mince). Process the basil and garlic for about 30 seconds or until it’s pretty small and blended. You can scrape the sides once with rubber spatula if you’re feeling energetic. Then you dump the cheese in and blend again, briefly.
Now grab your olive oil and, with the food processor on, start pouring it in. What you want is a nice, smooth paste to form. Again, you may want to scrape the sides once.
When you have a creamy texture, taste a little. It should be really pungent. You can add salt or pepper or garlic as desired (to your own taste). I like to pack the pesto away nice and thick like this, because you can easily expand it with olive oil or water for whatever purpose you like, once you are ready to use it.
That’s it. You are done. Put that food processor in the dishwasher and wipe your counter.
Now, I hear a scream of agony somewhere, as somebody with a stick up his posterior protests that I cannot have pesto without pine nuts. All I can say is, I omitted them once because I didn’t have them and I didn’t miss them. So…you can always put them in if you want. I don’t bother and nobody at my house complains.
I want to also touch briefly on the cheese, because not a lot of people use Pecorino Romano. I used to buy cheap Parmesan because I was…well…cheap. And I realized after slightly upgrading to the still-affordable blocks of Pecorino that the taste is vastly superior to waxy, tasteless American Parmesan. You can also try Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano, but I find the Pecorino to be my perfect blend of great taste and good price. I now keep it on hand at all times and use it on pasta, shaved with meats as a snack, and in my pesto. The rinds can be used in soup, by the way, for flavor. One way to save money is never to buy this cheese pre-grated by the store. You can always shred it up pretty small in your food processor at home. Also, I don’t know if I was supposed to capitalize all of those cheeses. Feel free to tell me in my comments.
Some ideas for using pesto
- Dilute it with oil for an awesome bread dip
- Dilute it with oil and marinade your chicken breasts in it. I do this for a few hours. The only caution is that the oil sometimes makes the chicken catch fire on the grill. Dan says keep it away from the flame! Wear a hairnet? I don’t know. But the chicken comes out lusciously tender and moist with only a gentle pesto flavor. We like to eat this alongside a boat of grilled zucchini.
- Dilute with oil and toss with fresh pasta for a nice change from red sauce.
- Brush it on mozzarella and serve with Italian meats.
- Use as a sandwich dressing.
Really, the uses for pesto are endless. One small thing to be aware of is that the pesto oxidizes (I think that’s what it does) and gets a reddish color sometimes after it is defrosted. This is harmless. I don’t know how to prevent it. Any scientific types out there are welcome to tell me.
When it comes to raising basil, the overwhelming lesson I’ve learned is that the bigger your pot is, the bigger your basil leaves will be. That crazy herb just KNOWS how big the pot is. It knows that you know that it knows…whatever. I have never yet tricked a basil. So put your basil in the biggest pot you have, even if that’s with other herbs. And when you cut it, always cut right above another leaf sprout so that it keeps expanding outward.
I’m no gardener, though, so raise basil as you see fit. That’s someone else’s blog.
Go forth and process your pesto pronto people. It’s so worth it.