EAT: Pesto with Panache

Text: Clarissa Chatley

 

What could be better than the blended flavors of garlic, oil, basil and Romano cheese? Served over pasta, chicken or shrimp, this colorful and fragrant dish shouts with taste and abounds with good health.

The name pesto comes from the same Latin root “pestle,” which is fitting as the sauce, in its simplest form, is made by crushing a few key ingredients together. There are two forms of pesto sauce, pesto alla genovese and pesto alla siciliana, named for the regions of Italy where they originate.
Pesto alla genoese, widely accepted as the original pesto recipe, is made with garlic, salt, extra virgin olive oil, Pecorino Sardo cheese and Genoese basil. (Genoese basil is just one member of the large basil family.) The recipe for pesto alla siciliana is similar, but adds tomatoes and uses less basil.
Pesto sauces have been part of Italian cuisines since Roman times. Pesto is a very versatile sauce and can be used as a bruschetta topping, on pasta, with cooked meats or fish and even in soups. Variations on the recipe can include red bell peppers, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, walnuts, Parmesan and ricotta cheeses. Pesto can also be made by substituting cilantro, parsley, dill, rosemary or even arugala for the basil. A lovely way to explore pesto sauces is to make a few different kinds, and make a platter of pesto bruschetta using each sauce.
In general, basil is a hearty plant. If you happen to live in a climate that favors basil, you may quickly find yourself with a garden full of the aromatic herb. Basil thrives in the Upper Delaware region but acts as an annual, and must be replanted every year. While the herb is delicious to eat fresh from the bush, in salads or as a seasoning in sauces, it can also be preserved in the form of a pesto sauce.

 

Fresh Herb Pesto

2 cups fresh herbs, packed (choice of basil, dill, rosemary or thyme)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, with a little extra for storing
ı/³ cup pine nuts or walnuts (optional)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine fresh herb and pine nuts and pulse a few times in a food processor. Add garlic, pulse a few times more. Slowly add olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until smooth and blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Cilantro Pesto

2 cups fresh cilantro, packed, large stems removed
½ cup almonds
¼ cup chopped red onion
½  teaspoon chopped and seeded Serrano, Pablano or Jalapeño chile
½ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine cilantro, almonds, onion and chili; pulse until well blended in a food processor. Slowly add olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on until smooth and blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Pesto and Pasta Toss

1 pound of your favorite pasta, cooked and drained
4 cups fresh broccoli
½ cup of basil pesto

Cook pasta and broccoli, drain.
Add broccoli last 2 minutes of cooking
Add pesto and toss.

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