26 June 2010

No-Fail Dinner Party #3 - Summer Pesto

One of the easiest ways to bring summer freshness to the table for dinner guests?  Pesto!  A sauce originally crafted of basil and garlic in Genoa, Italy (Pesto alla Genovese), the name itself references to the "pounding" or "crushing" of herbs and other ingredients.  Traditionally, pesto is made with a mortar and pestle - but it works as well in a food processor.

Pesto offers a no-fail approach to an impromptu dinner or lunch gathering in the summer months - especially as this treat can be made ahead of time and frozen until needed.

With the sun finally doing it's job (at least in our neck of the woods), the basil is finally bushy and plentiful enough that we're focused on pesto and sharing these variations with you.

For basic pesto, here's the how-to we follow (using our food processor!) to make approximately 2 cups of pesto:

Basic Basil Pesto
  • 3-4 handfuls of loosely packed basil, approximately 4 cups (cleaned, some stems won't hurt)
  • 1 cup of grated parmigiano (can be grana padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano - for the important role the cheese plays in pesto, we don't recommend the milder taste of domestic parmesan) 
  • 3/4 cup nuts (pine nuts are traditional)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves (depends on how much garlic you can take ;-)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (don't skimp here either - a good EVOO is important)
  • 1-2 tsp Salt (adjust to your taste...be careful as the cheese will add saltiness)
  • Fresh ground/cracked black pepper
Step 1 - Add the garlic to the food processor - process until well-chopped.
Step 2 - Add the nuts - process until finely chopped and blended with garlic.
Step 3 - Add the basil - process until finely chopped and blended with garlic/nuts.
Step 4 - Add the grated cheese - pulse the processor to blend into the basil/garlic/nuts mixture.
Step 5 - Next, with the processor running, add the oil only until blended.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

~ instead of pine nuts, try pistachios or walnuts.  We highly recommend toasting these alternatives before adding them (cooled) to the pesto process.  Use 3/4 cup pistachios or chopped walnuts.
~ instead of Basil, try substituting cilantro (same amount)
~ try parsley in place of half of the basil.
~ for Red Pesto, add 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes (drained) to the processed garlic.
~ Pesto Toscano uses fresh kale in place of the basil (same amount).
~ a creamy version can be made adding in 1 cup of ricotta cheese.

From blogs we love, here are a few other pesto recipes raves to reference:
How to Serve
Pesto pasta is the most basic way to serve pesto.  Simply prepare 16 ounces of a pasta of your choice (penne, orecchiete and farfalle are favorites of ours to use) and once cooked and drained, add to bowl with 1 cup of your pesto.  Toss and serve warm ~ or at room temperature.  We like to serve with a side of grated parmigiano and fresh ground pepper.

To vary the basic pesto pasta, we like to add chopped cherry or grape tomatoes, when mixing the pasta.

Other ideas?
  • Pesto can be flavorful add to grilled chicken, fish (salmon or other dense fish work best), and grilled turkey or hamburgers.
  • Use pesto in place of, or in addition to, fresh basil in an Insalata Caprese (tomatoes with fresh mozzarella).
  • Smitten Kitchen offers the delicious idea of Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans.
  • Toss grilled zucchini, roasted peppers, and/or eggplant with pesto before serving.
  • In Erika's Kitchen suggests a mouth-watering Polenta Pesto Zucchini Casserole.
Remember it's easy to make ahead and freeze the pesto to have on hand when needed for unexpected guests, or when you don't have the time to make from scratch.

Hopefully some of these imaginative pesto ideas have made you hungry enough to get crushing!

Happy Entertaining!

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails

looking for something specific?

find SavvyHostMarket on amazon