Joe Corso
08 Apr

Joe Corso

Pesto, that bright green, fragrant, Italian sauce, is delicious tossed with pasta, drizzled on pizza, or spread a sandwich. It is also a wonderful seasoning for broiled fish or chicken. Traditionally it is asummer treat made by pounding fresh basil leaves and pine nuts in a mortar with a pestle (from which itgets its name). However, a food processor or blender makes short work of it, and it can be made withother greens, and other nuts. It can also be frozen.Metal blades cause basil to discolor, but blanching it first is a clever way to make sure the sauce stays abright green.Here is a basic recipe for basil and pine nut pesto, with variations to follow. Proportions areapproximate.


Makes about 2 cups

About 3 quarts fresh basil leaves

Salt1 cup or so pine nuts 

2 or 3 cloves garlic, peeled

½ cup olive oil, or as needed

Grated Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Set up a bowl of ice water. Have a sieve or colander handy. Plunge the basil into the boiling water briefly (for one minute or less), just until wilted. Drain quickly, then put in the ice water. This “blanch and shock” method will preserve the bright green color. Drain the basil again, and squeeze in your hands to remove as much water as possible.Add the basil, pine nuts, garlic, and salt to taste to a food processor or blender. Turn on the machine and add the olive oil while processing. Keep adding the oil until the mixture becomes a uniform paste.At this point you may add cheese, however I prefer to leave it out, especially it I plan to freeze it.PASTA CON PESTOBring a large pot of salted water to a boil. (or reuse the water you used to blanch the basil.) Add a poundof pasta and boil until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup or so of the pasta water. Toss the hotpasta in a bowl with about a cup of your pesto, a big handful of grated cheese, and enough of the pastawater to loosen the mixture. Top with more grated cheese and serve.

Beet Green Pesto with Walnuts:

Use young beet greens, torn loose from their central ribs, in place of the basil. Blanch for several minutes, until tender, before draining. Continue with the recipe, using walnuts in place of pine nuts.

Arugula Pesto with Almonds:This is a great way to use up larger, more mature arugula. Substitute arugula leaves for the basil. Blanch until just wilted—time will vary with the age and size of the leaves. Continue with the recipe, usingalmonds (whole, slivered, blanched or not) in place of the pine nuts.

OTHER NOTES:Why leave out the cheese? Pesto without cheese is vegan, non-dairy, kosher, lactose free, etc., meaning anyone can enjoy it. Cheese (or a substitute) can be added when the sauce is used. While I would always use cheese with pasta, it would be redundant on a pizza or a grilled cheese sandwich, and unnecessary with chicken or fish.

To freeze: Make a large quantity of pesto when you have lots of greens in the garden. Pack the pesto into small jars, seal tightly, and freeze. It will keep frozen for several months.Toasted Nuts will have a stronger flavor than raw nuts. Either can be used.Proportions: I seldom measure ingredients for this. 

My method: after squeezing the blanched greens to remove moisture, I am left with a tight green wad to put in the processor. I “eyeball” a quantity of nuts about equal in mass to the wad of greens, add as much garlic as I feel inclined to, salt to taste, and process with just enough oil to make a cohesive sauce. You will find your own way.

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