9PM last night saw me stuffing my food processor with basil and parsley, almonds and garlic. It seemed, even at the time, a rather odd thing to do. But time and tide had led me to it. Fortunately for me pesto is easy to make (once you’ve done all the washing) and the food processor doesn’t actually run that long.
My CSA has been terrific. Each week I get a wonderful selection of vegetables that two people should be able to finish inside 7 days. Except, that hasn’t quite happened. So there I was on Monday, at risk of seeing my basil and salad greens spoil. I washed, I sorted, I plucked, and I spun dry lots and lots of salad greens: dandelion greens, watercress, baby bok-choy (or was that chard…), and argulara, along with bib, red and green lettuce. I sorted the greens from the herbs, chopped some of the lettuce, wrapped the excess in a towel and made a big salad for dinner with the rest.
So far, I’ve gotten sage, dill, parsley, and basil as herbs. The sage and dill that I’ve not yet used, I’ve hung to dry in my laundry room; but the basil and parsley had a completely different fate.
I washed the parsley and basil a second time, spun it dry, and then laid it out on a towel atop a hot cookie sheet (fresh from the oven) to dry. I’ve never had the patience to get my salad completely dry using a salad spinner, but the one time it really counts to have dry greens is when making pesto. So rather than get bored pumping my salad spinner (… that really does sound more entertaining than it ever could be you know…), I lay the greens out to air dry while I have dinner.
I love the taste of pesto. Surprisingly, I use it sparingly and almost never on noodles alone. Instead, I add it to stuffings, coat roasts in the stuff and throw teaspoons liberally into soups and stews. I could eat it on crackers (it would probably make an amazing dip or butter); but I don’t. I never quite think of it that way. Instead I think of it as an ingredient; something to add a depth of flavor to a slow-cooking dish.
I’m not a fan of pine nuts. I don’t know if it’s because of their expense, or the fact that it’s just as easy to get bad pine nuts as good. Walnuts are a good replacement for pine nuts – but I go … hehe… nuts. I’ll use whatever I’ve got: almonds, cashews, pistashio’s … you name it. Each provides its own subtle flavor to the pesto and they all work.
Basil pesto is the most common, but I’m slowly learning that a lot of home cooks supplement their small basil supply with other herbs. In the past, I’ve made pesto from a wide smattering of herbs — depending on what is fresh and abundant at the time. Oregano or rosemary pesto are as yummy to me as the traditional basil. This time around basil and parsley I had aplenty – so that’s what I used.
A note on washing: since these herbs were fresh-picked and clean, I was probably being a bit paranoid to wash them twice in cold water. But with pesto – if there’s grit on the leaves, I’ll taste it. So I wash twice. No matter how clean it looks. Regardless how you wash it, or how many times you wash it–just make sure the leaves have no standing-water on them before you start. My hot-pan and towel trick works pretty well, given an hour or so to let them sit.
So, now I have three-days of fresh-washed salad in the fridge (maybe four if I skimp) and a whole 1/4 litre (jam jar worth) of pesto in my fridge. … I think I’ll cook a roast.
Pesto for the freezer
- 3 cups basil and parsley, picked over, stems plucked and well washed & dried.
- 1/3 cup unsalted nuts (almonds this time, but pine nuts are traditional and walnuts are good too)
- 1/3 – 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
- 1/4 cup lemon juice.
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced.
- Toast the nuts in a dry pan. Be careful not to let them burn. Shake the pan often to keep them moving. If they start to smoke, or shatter easily when you bite into one — they’re done. About 5 minutes on a hot pan. In my case, I always toast more than I need for the … uh … testing.
- Add the dried herb leaves to your food processor fitted with the mincing blade. Top with the nuts.
- Pulse a few times until everything is well minced.
- Add some of the garlic and pulse again.
- Open the lid, scrape down the sides, and turn the machine back on.
- Add a slow drizzle of olive oil until a thick paste forms.
- Add the lemon juice and pulse a few more times just to mix.
- Scrape everything into a mason jar.
- Cover with a layer of olive oil. Seal and refrigerate.
- The next day, transfer from fridge to freezer.
- Thaw in the fridge overnight.
- Add 1/4 cup of freshly grated peccorino-romano to 1 cup of pesto. Stir well to incorporate.