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Friday, June 6, 2014

Molto Pesto

Pesto, a history and a prison break. 


















“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” –Ernest Hemingway

*****

What I love most about pesto is its honesty— an expression of its maker and its few ingredients. And, one of the best decisions I've made, aside from adopting the leek as my son, has been branching out in pesto. And I don't just mean overdoing the pecorino romano to sharpen up, but I mean breaking out of the basil–and–pine nut prison.

Pesto, from the Italian pestare, which means to grind/crush (traditionally with mortar and pestle), was born in Genoa, Italy and is emblematic of the simple, herb/green-heavy food of the surrounding Liguria region. Original pesto Genovese calls for only basil, garlic, nuts, salt, olive oil, and cheese— a simplicity that demands quality ingredients. And while the first pesto recipe can be found in La Cuciniera Genovese, written in 1863 by Giovanni Battista Ratto, battuto d'aglio, a Genovese sauce made with garlic, herbs, pine nuts, and olive oil, traces back to the 1600s. A spinoff called pistou evolved in Provence, France.

Today, pesto is clichéd, often considered the runt of your sauces. But, if made more lushly, pesto can be a kingmaker and add culinary cache to your midsummer dinner party circuit. Pesto can slide down the bannister just like live-wire kimchi or anchovy umami overload. Pesto is sunstruck and charismatic. Pesto is an exhale. Pesto is that strive to be delicate, but decisive. And it's just so versatile—tagliatelle, calamari, roasted potatoes, chicken, eggs, greens, salmon, turkey sandwiches/crostinis beg for it (time to nix the mayo). Bring in the cilantro, hazelnuts, honey, walnuts, lemon zest, almonds, arugula, limes, spinach, capers, raisins, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and strawberries. It's time.


2 cups packed cilantro
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pulse cilantro, oil, pepitas, parmesan, lime juice, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper.


1 1/2 cups packed basil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
2 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
2 cloves garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Process basil, oil, walnuts, pecorino, parmesan, tomatoes, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper.


1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup toasted blanched almonds, chopped
2 tbsp. rosemary leaves, minced
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper or paprika
20 pitted oil-cured black olives
10 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Process oil, almonds, rosemary, vinegar, sugar, Aleppo, olives, tomatoes, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper.


1 pint cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup packed basil
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan, plus more for serving
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. golden raisins
2 tbsp. capers, drained

1/4 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
3 anchovy filets in oil, drained
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pepperoncini, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place tomatoes in a food processor and process until finely chopped; pour tomatoes into a fine strainer and drain off excess juices. Process tomatoes along with almonds, basil, parmesan, 5 tbsp. oil, raisins, capers, chili flakes, anchovies, garlic, and pepperoncini in a food processor until finely ground. Season with salt and pepper, and refrigerate until needed.


3 packed cups baby spinach
1 lemon – juice and zest
1/3 cups (or more) olive oil
3-4 scallions, green portion only
2-3 cloves garlic
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
3-4 tbsp. chopped parsley
Salt, pepper

If toasting pumpkin seeds, put 1/2 tbsp. of coarse salt in a small (preferably cast iron) skillet over medium heat. Add pumpkin seeds. Toast seeds for a few minutes, stirring or shaking frequently, until they start to crack and turn golden. Turn off the heat and leave pumpkin seeds in the skillet until cool. Separate seeds from the sale before using them. It won’t be hard, because they are lighter than coarse salt. Discard the salt. Now you are ready to prepare pesto.  Reserve 1-2 tbsp. of pumpkin seeds for garnish. Put the remaining pumpkin seeds and the rest of the pesto ingredients in a processor and hit pulse a few times at first, allowing everything to settle. Now turn the processor on and see if pesto is thin enough (consistency of pancake batter). If not, add a little more olive oil and/or lemon juice as you work the pesto.


2 cups packed arugula
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 clove garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Process arugula, oil, pecorino, parmesan, nuts, zest, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper.


1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup packed parsley leaves
2/3 cup capers, drained
1 tbsp. packed oregano leaves
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
2 anchovy filets in oil, drained
2 cloves garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Process oil, parsley, capers, oregano, vinegar, chili flakes, anchovies, and garlic in a food processor until a smooth sauce forms; season with salt and pepper.


1 1/2 cups packed basil
1 cup olive oil
1 cup dry-roasted pistachios
1/2 cup packed cilantro
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
1 tsp. lemon zest
3 cloves garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Process basil, oil, pistachios, cilantro, parmesan, zest, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper.


1 1/2 cups packed oregano
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup packed basil
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Process oregano, oil, basil, parmesan, hazelnuts, and garlic, in a food processor until finely ground; season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
 

1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 cubes
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
2 plum tomatoes, cored and minced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup packed basil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place eggplant in a colander and toss with 2 tsp. salt; let sit for 20 minutes. Drain eggplant and dry on paper towels; set aside.

Heat oil in a 10 skillet over medium-high heat; add pepper and onion, and cook, stirring often, until soft and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add eggplant, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and add ricotta and basil; puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.


1/2 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
1 small garlic clove
2 cups (packed) arugula leaves
1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt

Purée sunflower seeds, garlic, arugula, basil, oil, honey, and lemon zest and juice until smooth. Season with salt. Thin pesto with water if too thick.


1 pound broccoli rabe (rapini; About 1 large bunch)
Kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino
2 teaspoons honey

Cook broccoli rabe in a large pot of boiling salted water until bright green, about 30 seconds; drain (reserve pot). Transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain. Squeeze out water; cut into 1-inch pieces. Combine broccoli rabe, garlic, oil, and red pepper flakes in reserved pot. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until broccoli rabe is very soft, 40-50 minutes. Let pesto cool slightly. Mix in Pecorino and honey.


1 Tbsp. plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp. slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, or pine nuts
1 garlic clove
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Combine 1/2 cup chives, parsley, almonds, and garlic in a processor. Pulse until finely chopped. With machine running, gradually add remaining oil through feed tube and process until incorporated. Transfer chive pesto to a small bowl. Stir in lemon juice, then 2 Tbsp. water. Season pesto with salt and pepper.


2 large artichokes
1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan cheese

Trim artichokes, removing all leaves. Cut artichoke hearts into quarters. Combine artichoke hearts, basil, and garlic in processor. Add oil and blend until smooth. Transfer to bowl. Mix in cheeses. Season artichoke pesto to taste with salt and pepper.

Strawberry Basil Pesto

1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
10 medium strawberries
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, add basil leaves, olive oil, almonds, and lemon juice, pulsing until well combined. Add strawberries and pulse until smooth. Season generously with salt and pepper.

******

"Those first days before classes started I spent alone in my whitewashed room, in the bright meadows of Hampden. And I was happy in those first days as really I'd never been before, roaming like a sleepwalker, stunned and drunk with beauty. A group of red-cheeked girls playing soccer, ponytails flying, their shouts and laughter carrying faintly over the velvety, twilit field. Trees creaking with apples, fallen apples red on the grass beneath, the heavy sweet smell of apples rotting on the ground and the steady thrumming of wasps around them. Commons clock tower: ivied brick, white spire, spellbound in the hazy distance. The shock of first seeing a birch tree at night, rising up in the dark as cool and slim as a ghost. And the nights, bigger than imagining: black and gusty and enormous, disordered and wild with stars." -Donna Tartt