While I love to cook any time of year, unfortunately, it’s a little more difficult in the throes of a central Texas summer. The thought of turning on the oven or the stove makes me want to stick my head in the freezer. So, while it may not always be possible to avoid the extra kitchen heat, it can be minimized.
And one of those ways is making some pesto.
Pesto originated in Genoa in the northern Italian province of Liguria. The name comes from Italian word pestare (Genoese: pesta) meaning “to crush; to pound”. It is traditionally made with garlic, basil, and pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk).
The ancient Romans ate a paste called moretum, which was made by crushing cheese, garlic and herbs together. Basil, the main ingredient of modern pesto, likely originated in India and was first domesticated there. Basil took the firmest root in the regions of Liguria, Italy and Provence, France. The Ligurians around Genoa took the dish and adapted it, using a combination of basil, crushed garlic, grated cheese, and pine nuts with a little olive oil to form pesto. The first mention of recipe for pesto as it is known today, is from the book La Cuciniera Genovese written in 1863 by Giovanni Battista Ratto.
While pesto was introduced in the US is the 1940’s, it didn’t become popular until the 1980’s.
(some information from wikipedia.org and thenibble.com)
The pestos I’m showing you today aren’t the traditional recipe that many have come to know and love. While I’m very serious about traditional recipes, sometimes experimentation isn’t a bad thing.
Now, on to the recipes.
A few notes:
1. Splurge and buy the freshest ingredients you can. And that includes buying imported cheeses. While America makes many wonderful cheeses, we aren’t too good with hard Italian cheeses. Since pesto is essentially a raw product, you want the best.
2. I don’t recommend using oil-packed/cured sun-dried tomatoes. They’re usually flavored and I can’t control the amount of oil in the pesto. Plus, somehow, they always taste cooked. Buy plain sun-dried and you won’t be sorry.
3. You’ll no doubt notice in the instructions that I use a food processor for these recipes. It is simply for ease in preparation. If you feel like going all traditional, go for it. But, it’d be a safe bet to say those tomatoes would be a bitch to beat down with a mortar and pestle.
Also, I keep the processor running through most of the prep. This helps greatly when adding the “harder” ingredients like the garlic and nuts. If you add them to the bowl and then turn on the processor, you won’t get a fine or consistent chop, which is what you want.
4. When I serve these pestos, I always have some extra cheese on hand, some minced parsley (for the sun-dried tomato) and some halved cherry tomatoes (for the cilantro). You don’t have to have these, but I thought I’d pass it along.
5. As we all know, pesto is good on so many other things than just pasta. Spread it on bread, use as a dip for vegetables, top grilled meats, seafood, or vegetables.
6. Pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. I don’t recommend freezing.
4 -6 cloves garlic, depending on size
1/2 c. pine nuts, roasted (350F for 3 – 5 minutes)
1/4 c. raw, unsalted pistachios
1/4 c. walnuts
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 c. Romano cheese, fresh grated
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
2 – 3 bunches cilantro, depending on size, large stems removed (It’s OK to have some stem. No need to pick the leaves.)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (approx. 1 1/2 tsp.)
1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Have your food processor running. Drop the garlic through the feed tube and chop. Add the pine nuts and pepper flakes.
Turn off the processor, remove the lid, and add the cheeses, salt and pepper. Turn on the processor again and let the cheese mix in.
2. Again, with the processor running, push the cilantro down the feed tube.
Add the oil and lemon juice.
Continue processing until the mixture becomes a paste. Add more oil if you want a thinner pesto.
3. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking.
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
3/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed; see note above)
1/2 c. roasted pecans (350F for 5 – 7 minutes)
4 cloves garlic
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 c. Romano cheese, shredded
1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed
Juice of 1 lemon (approx. 1 tbsp.)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Place the tomatoes in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. Let the tomatoes sit for 20 minutes.
Drain the tomatoes, reserving some of the soaking liquid. Set aside.
2. Have a food processor running and drop the garlic down the feed tube. Let it chop. Add the pecans the same way.
Turn off the processor and add the cheeses, salt and pepper. Again, process until everything is mixed.
3. With the processor running, add the tomatoes down the feed tube.
Pour in the oil and lemon juice. Turn off the processor and check for seasoning and consistency. If the pesto is too thick, add a little of the soaking water or oil and process until it becomes the consistency you like.
The most common way to serve pesto is over pasta. So, cook your pasta of choice according to the directions. Be sure to save some of the pasta water before you drain the pasta.
I generally like to place a serving of the pasta in a medium bowl, spoon over the amount of pesto I want, and begin to toss them together. I’ll use some of the pasta water if I need to.
I’ll place the pasta on the plate, garnish a little, and serve.
Enjoy! Buon Appetito!