Saturday, August 20, 2011

Here are a few ways of enjoying pesto without going near pasta

Homemade pesto, above, was made in a blender from a recipe that appears below.


I never get tired of pesto -- made with plenty of fragrant basil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese. Simply put, it says summer.

But now that I'm on a diet and cutting down drastically on pasta and bread, I've had to enjoy it in new ways -- folded into a cheese omelet, spooned onto grilled tomatoes or added to hot tomato soup.

I've even used a spoonful on top of two eggs fried sunny side up -- it tastes great eaten with the creamy yolk and egg white. (Blender pesto recipe below.)

I'm out of the smoked wild-caught salmon and sliced, low-fat Swiss cheese I get at Costco Wholesale, but I can see spreading some pesto on a slice of cheese, adding a slice of salmon and rolling them up for a mini-sandwich without bread.

Pesto with wild salmon

I might try it with the fresh wild sockeye salmon that has filled the fish case at Costco this summer, spooning some on top of hot fillets already covered with chopped, fresh basil and other herbs.

Before my diet, I loved to use pesto as a spread with toasted bread, stuffing the sandwich with smoked salmon, sardines or canned fish salad; sliced cheese and tomato, and lettuce or organic spring mix.

And when I was eating pasta, I found pesto went best with penne, shells or bowties -- which caught the thick, dark green mixture -- rather than with spaghetti or linguine.

With the last two, much of the pesto seemed to end up at the bottom of the bowl.

I also found cleaning plates covered with the remains of a pesto dinner difficult to do in a dishwasher. 

The plates don't come out clean, and the olive-oil-based pesto goes all over the place.

I've memorized a blender pesto recipe from Italian kitchen master Marcella Hazan that I've been using for 20 or more years, but reproduce it here from another food blog, Stove Top Reading. 

Here's the link:

Homage to Marcella Hazan

The original recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of softened butter, but I eliminated that many years ago. A little extra olive oil wouldn't be out of order.

I also don't add salt, relying on the salty grated cheese added at the end.

I have basil plants growing in my garden and I've made three portions recently. This recipe gives you a thick sauce grainy with cheese that really coats penne and other small pasta, and is incredible as a sandwich spread.

In Genoa, where pesto originates, it is often made with sliced potatoes that cook with the pasta in boiling water.


Enough for one pound or 6 servings of pasta

2 cups fresh basil leaves 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with a heavy knife handle and peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Roman pecorino cheese

1. Put the pine nuts, garlic cloves, basil and extra-virgin olive oil in the blender and mix at high speed.  Stop from time to time and scrape the ingredients down toward the bottom of the blender cup with a rubber spatula.  

2.  When the ingredients are evenly blended, pour into a bowl and beat in the two grated cheeses by hand. (This is not much work, and it results in more interesting texture and better flavor than you get when you mix in the cheese in the blender.)  If you do not want to use the pesto immediately, put it into a closed container and freeze it before you add the cheese.

3. Before spooning the pesto over the pasta, add to it a tablespoon or so of the hot water in which the pasta has boiled.  Do not heat the pesto before you add it to the pasta.

Editor's note: The best pesto has a great deal of basil in it. I use leaves and stems, and pack a 2-cup measuring cup with it. The more basil, the better. I've also added mint, rosemary, arugula, parsley and other herbs, but think basil makes the best pesto.
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