Pesto to the People!

Spring done sprung down here and so has our cilantro; not where we planted it last year, interestingly enough, but in a bed where it hung out 2 years back – What they hey, never look gift herbs in the mouth, right?  We’ve been using at best we can, but as you can see, it’s gotten really leggy and flowered out, so what to do with it?

A recon trip by M to the freezer found some nice skinned chicken boobs that need to get used, so how about a shotgun wedding for those two?  Pesto it is, then!

Pesto? You say; I thought pesto was made with basil?

It is, I nod sagely, (Pun intended),  but that’s only one popular permutation, truth be told:  Let us consult our handy pocket dictionary where we find, and I quote:

“A sauce typically made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and grated Parmesan blended together and served hot or cold over pasta, fish, or meat. Origin: 1935–40; upper Italian, (compare Genoese dialect pésto):  noun derivative of pestare; to pound, crush.”  (Notice how close the root sound of the word is to pestle, as in mortar and?)

There you have it; think of pesto as a combination of veg, something from the Alliaceae family, (AKA garlic, shallot, onion), a hard cheese, a nut, an oil and a little salt and you’re there.   Basil pesto is wonderful, as is cilantro; hey… Cilantro!  We’ll do a nice cilantro pesto sauce for the chicken, and marry that with some beautiful Asparagus M found at the market, and we’re talkin’ serious bounty – So let’s!

Cilantro Pesto

1 bunch fresh cilantro, (roughly 2 lightly packed cups)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced, (And you can roast them first if you like a milder, smokier taste!)

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon ground chile (I like Tabasco for this)

½ cup pine nuts, (Sub Hazelnuts for a very cool taste)

½ cup olive oil

salt to taste

Add everything but the oil to quisinart or blender and zap it all into a nice dry paste.  Slowly add up to ½ cup of olive oil, while blending constantly, until you get the thickness you like for pesto.

Store pesto in a sealed glass container in the fridge for at least 20 minutes to allow all those flavors to get to know one another:  You can store it long term in the freezer in an airtight container for a few months without losing much flavor.  When you’re ready to use it, you can either add it to, say, pasta that you’ve tossed into a medium sauté pan until well coated and serve right away, garnished with a little more cheese and a cilantro sprig, or, for what we’re gonna do, just pull it out of the fridge, stir it a bit to re-blend and top a piping hot chicken breast with it just like that.

We’re gonna braise our chicken, so we get nice, juicy meat for that cilantro to land on:  We rinsed and patted dry two nice breasts, then threw them into a sauté pan on medium high with a couple shots of olive oil therein; we seared the breasts on both sides, then tossed ‘em into a glass baking pan and added;

½ cup white wine

½ cup chicken stock

A shake or two of salt, pepper, and ground Tabasco chiles.

We put the ol’ temp probe equipped thermometer to use and shoved that into a preheated oven at 350º F; we’ll cook that, (I’ve said it before and I’m fixin’ to say it again), to temperature, not time – Done chicken breasts should reach 170º F, then be pulled and allowed to rest for 5 minutes or so; they’ll continue to cook and seal in all those juices so they don’t bleed out when you cut ‘em, leaving you with nasty, dry chicken jerky, (Which nobody wants, right?  Right!) Let me point out at this juncture that this recipe will work GREAT for any poultry, including wild game; as Pheasant, Grouse, Dove, etc are all quite lean, searing and braising as we have seals in moisture and delivers very tender, juicy birds indeed.

Our Asparagus was hand chosen by M at the market; as you can see, it’s beautiful stuff, indeed!  She did the standard test; choose firm, smooth stalks with nice tight flower heads.  Give the bunch you like a sniff, it should smell lightly of fresh veggies, nothing funky or heavy.  Don’t wash your asparagus, or soak it:  If you’re not going to use it right away, trim the ends and stand the bunch upright in a glass or dish with enough water to cover the freshly cut ends, and don’t wait too long to enjoy it!  The sugars in Asparagus convert pretty quickly to starch after it’s been harvested, the results being woody stalks and accompanying lousy flavor… When you’re ready to cook, pull out and quickly rinse the bunch. Gently bend each stalk and allow it to snap where it will; toss the ends and cook the good stuff. You want to cook Asparagus pretty quickly to a slightly al dente consistency; just a bit of snap to the bite, and certainly not mushy! We chose to roast ours, so we gave it a light coating of olive oil with a splash of white balsamic vinegar, then added freshly chopped rosemary, thyme, and salt. We roasted for 10 minutes in a 400º oven, and since we had that, we decided that there should be some nice buttermilk biscuits to keep ‘em company, (Another time for that recipe, honest!).

All that went nicely onto the plates and voila, dinner fit for a queen!

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