Pesto Power

Pesto Power

This just in! Hey E, you got a recipe for pesto to die for, (or kill for – that is, cut down the basil plants)?

OK, wrinkle: how about vegan, i.e. minus the Parmesan?

And, further from tradition, but more in line with folks that just can’t afford $30 a pound pine nuts, how about with walnuts?

My pleasure, buddy; this one’s right in my wheelhouse! When it comes to delicious, nothin’ tops simple and good; like a stripped down tomato sauce from primo fruit, a basic basil pesto is hard to beat. Keep in mind that ‘pesto’ stems from the verb pestâ, to pound, hence pesto can be made from many things other than basil. That said, ya gotta start somewhere and basil pesto is that place!

Classic Basil Pesto
1 well-packed cup of fresh basil leaves
¼ cup Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, fine grated
3 or 5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 small garlic clove, fine diced
Salt to taste

Basil requires gentle handling; it doesn’t care for being doused, so don’t if you don’t need to. Inspect your basil and brush clean of dirt, etc.

In a sauté pan on medium heat, toast pine nuts until they just start to turn golden brown. Don’t walk away during the process; nothing burns faster than nuts!

I use a molcajete for grinding stuff in lieu of a standard mortar and pestle; I like the rough granite texture and find that it gets ingredients to the consistency I like faster and more uniformly than any other hand grinder. Just as guacamole really needs to be made by hand in a molcajete to taste right, so pesto must be ground by hand!

Put basil, toasted nuts, and garlic into your molcajete and gently but firmly grind the ingredients against the wall of the vessel until you get a nice, uniform paste.

Add grated cheese and combine with a fork or spoon.

Add olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach the consistency you like; a little more or less is fine, do it the way you wanna eat it!

Add a little salt just to brighten and raise flavors and blend, not to make it salty!

Serve pesto right away, mixed with pasta of your choice, (It’s great with angel hair, or with tortellini, etc.

Recipe makes about a cup of finished pesto.

Options:
In keeping with Dennis’ request, a vegan alternative to traditional pesto, aka, a no-cheese version: I’d say a few tablespoons of miso would get you to a very decent alternative!

Now, once again, almost anything goes with a pesto; your main criteria are tastes you like and ingredients that will bind and stay together for service. You can use any nut or cheese you like, and I’d substitute at the same volume as the original recipe calls for.

I’ve done a mint/pecan/feta version that was fantastic, as a for instance. Also, sun dried tomato pesto is spectacular and a real treat; I’ve done that with fresh, (Soft), mozzarella with great success as well.

Bottom line, experiment in small batches and have some fun!

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