Friday, August 3, 2007

Homemade Pesto: always on the menu

Eggs and pesto—when I'm out of these things, it's time to go to the store. Basil is the source to a week long supply of homemade pesto.

The richly flavored paste is filling and refreshing—plus basil is a mild sedative and digestive aid, and it treats headaches. A sedative is definitely what I need around 6 p.m. when I’m watching Mikey toss his dinner plate on to the ground. The herb is still used in China to treat spasms of the intestinal tract, kidney ailments, and poor circulation (Murray).

When I don’t know what to make for dinner, I whip up some pesto and dump it on pasta. Ideally, I have already made the pesto and all I have to do is boil water for the pasta. Pesto can last anywhere from one to three weeks but I found that after a week the top goes brown and I have to scrape it off. So, I’d say freeze your pesto if you haven’t used it in a week. Use Ruth Yaron’s ice cube method and just pop a couple cubes out when you want to make some pesto pasta!

If I don’t have any basil, I have a problem—I loathe last-minute trips to the store. I use bulk whole wheat, rice, or spinach pasta. Spinach pasta is made with semolina flour which is white flour. Not the best food choice but Mikey loves his green pasta. The picture shows rice pasta. Rice pasta is gluten free and a much needed rest from all that wheat that we eat. In fact, this meal is completely packaging-free. I also make pizza about twice a week and we all prefer to smear pesto sauce across our pies rather than the traditional tomato.

I eased into making pesto from scratch. First, I topped pasta with jarred pesto from Trader Joe’s (Pesto alla Genovese). I always added extra olive oil to the thick sauce to make it last longer and easier to work with. Then, I tried the premade bulk pesto at Rainbow—which is quite yummy but expensive. But now I make my own. Homemade pesto is tastier than the jarred Pesto alla Genovese and cheaper than the premade kind. Even with the temptation of the emergency jar in the pantry, I make my own fresh batch weekly.

I started with this recipe from Joy of Cooking. I often skip the garlic or pine nuts and it still turns out fine:

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 medium cloves of garlic, peeled
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground pepper to taste

I never thought that I’d be the type of person who makes something without a cookbook—even a simple recipe like this one. But now I am that sort of person and here’s how I knock off pesto:

Tear off all the basil leaves from stems of 2 bundles of basil and put into the food processor.
Add one to two cloves of garlic.
Sprinkle in some pine nuts.
Dump some grated Parmesan into the food processor. (If I don’t have grated cheese, I grate it in the food processor before I start making the pesto.)
Pour in olive oil while the food processor is running until a liquid consistency is observed (about 1/2 bottle of olive oil).
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Thankfully, pesto is very forgiving!

Rombauer, Irma. Joy of Cooking. New York, NY: Simone & Schuster Inc., 1997.
Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books, 2005.


Ella Larsen said...

Your posting inspired me to make pesto pasta for my daughter, who is a picky eater. She loved the pesto! Now, she will eat more than noodles with butter and cheese. She has an especially sensitive palate so I made it without garlic the first time and then I made it with half a clove the second and now we've worked our way up to one full clove.

Thais said...

Awesome news! This makes me very happy and inspires me to keep on writing.

Anonymous said...

I have a garlic allergy, so the advice in this article inspired me to experiment even with the last fresh basil available for the year in my town! Thanks for the extra ideas! I have been missing basil and finally am excited to get an evening to focus on it!
... I'm going to try alternating with my faviorite stuff - a little black olive, cashews, maybe a little goat cheese.... ??

- K.E., Billings, MT

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