And I do love pesto! I’ll admit that I took pesto for granted for the first several years that I knew her. I occasionally made pesto when I had extra basil in the garden. Usually just a half pint jar full and stashed her in the freezer for later. Many times I forgot she existed, and found her only when cleaning out the freezer or looking for something else. Even when I began to grow dozens of herbs and lots of basil, I didn’t feel a tremendous urge to examine the multitude of uses that pesto has. I feel differently about pesto now.
It should first be said that pesto does not have to be made with basil. I have made a number of pestos with rosemary, parsley and cilantro. One of my favorite pestos was made with fresh sage leaves, toasted walnuts and pecorino romano. But most people think of pesto as a basil thing. Webster’s culinary dictionary defines pesto as ‘an Italian pasta sauce made from basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and Parmesan or Pecorino’. So There!
But those of us who cook, we like to call things one thing and go about doing our own thing. Like me. I rarely use pine nuts in pesto. They are too expensive, go rancid too quickly (and I am too lazy to put them in the freezer) and I almost always have walnuts on hand. They rarely go rancid because I use them constantly in cookies, cakes, on salads and just eat them out of hand. They are one of the top nuts for health, you know. Basil pesto is healthy too. Full of MUFAs (mono unsaturated fatty acids), protein, anti oxidants (from the bright green herb and garlic). But you probably have other, better reasons to eat pesto. It just tastes great.
So I was ruminating on the many ways that I have come to love pesto and I thought that those reasons would be reason enough to blog about pesto. Since I began my ruminating in February and it being the month of love and all, I decided on the quite cute and quirky title for today’s blog post. And since I am in love every month of the year, I thought that I had nothing to lose by sticking to the title, even though February gave way to March way too quickly. Man, it is taking me quite some time to get to the point, eh?
Anyhoo… It was on February 6th that I was teaching a private dinner party class to a most charming group of people who happen to have a supper club that meets about every 6 or 8 weeks. They thought that it would be fun to come to one of my classes as their evening out. Gosh, how could I argue seeing how that they actually pay me to cook for them and talk about food and wine for the better part of an evening. I stated already that they were charming, but I didn’t mention that they came bearing gifts. Now these people are foodies of the most fabulous sort. They travel, they order olive oil from Italy AND they drink wine. When the hosting couple showed up, they began presenting me with gifts – plural – gifts! A lovely Chianti (still unopened, because I am waiting to put the whole meal together), a package of really good Perciatelli (Per kee a tell E – emphasis on the kee and the tell) and guess what??? PESTO!
I’ll just tell you right now that this was no ordinary pesto. She was blended with both Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses and made with garden basil. The pesto screamed at me to ‘USE ME for all kinds of glorious stuff’. And so I began to apply the pesto. Liberally. Often. With LOVE. And these are some of the fun things (I mean glorious) that I have made with Tom and Cheri’s wonderful pesto.
Chicken and Pesto with Peppers
I cut up 2 chicken breast and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil. On another burner, I had a pot of water coming up to a bubble and dropped in some bowtie pasta. Back to the saute pan, the chicken was browning up and I threw in part of an onion, julienned, about 1 small handfull of slices. Stirring that around until it was just beginning to soften, I stirred in a generous two tablespoons of pesto. I added a splash of chicken stock and one of white wine too. The pasta was al dente, so I added that and enough of the pasta water to loosen up the sauce. I tossed in a couple of handfulls of sliced red and yellow bell peppers and let everything get really good and bubbly. It was a big hit.
Pesto on Pizza
When you spend time to make your own pizza dough, you must love to experiment with artisan toppings. Pizza isn’t always red, you know. Smear a good tablespoon of pesto onto the pizza crust and add a nice layer of mozzarella or provolone. Top it all off with a sprinkling of diced roma tomatoes and black olives and bake until bubbly.
Pesto and Havarti
Spread french bread slices with pesto and top with a slice of Havarti cheese, then broil for an effortless appetizer.
Pesto and oil
Put a tablespoon of pesto in a small bowl and cover it will 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Grind fresh black pepper over the top until your arm gets really tired, then use as a dip for hot ciabatta or other artisan breads.
Spread pesto on Italian bread and layer roasted tomatoes, olives and fresh mozzarella. Top with another slice of bread. Grill the sandwich until all gooey and crispy.
Thin one tablespoon of the pesto with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Add 2 – 4 Tablespoons of olive oil and shake for a quick pesto dressing.
Mix a tablespoon or more of pesto into 1/2 cup mayonnaise for sandwiches.
In winter when I can’t just walk out to my herb garden and get fresh basil, I now count on pesto to season my marinara. Add a generous dollop to your sauce instead of dried herbs. Ah, summer.
Making a batch of tomato soup taste really fresh is a snap when you add a bit of pesto. You want fancy? Thin the basil with a bit more olive oil and drizzle from a squeeze bottle onto the soup in a swirl or even an initial.
Enjoy your pesto!