Autumnal Basil Pesto
New Orleans is different, but we’ve discussed that already. And although there are a few things that probably pop into your mind that make it different, at this moment the big difference is the temperature. Today is November 6th (where DID the year go???) and while my friends in New York are sending me adorable photos of their kids wrapped up in big down coats and fashionably coordinating gloves and scarves (it is New York, after all) here it is 80°F (that’s 26° C). I am wearing jeans, a t-shirt and old green flip flops and about to stroll to my favorite neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant to meet a friend for lunch. That’s November in The Big Easy.
In addition to meaning that I only get to wear my winter boots twice a year (which begs the question, why do I need 6 pairs?) it also means that my food cravings may seem unseasonable. This week, for instance, I looked around and realized I had a jungle of basil plants that were crying out to be used. It was either Margarita Pizzas for a large metropolitan area or homemade pesto. The pesto spoke to me.
Pesto is one of my favorite things to make because it is extremely easy to make and is a well received gift. When I was recipe testing this I ended up with loads extra and so our neighbors and teachers were showered with gifts. In addition to tossing with pasta, I have also used it to marinate lamb, toss on shrimp before grilling (dilute it with a little extra olive oil), or lightly drizzle on pizza. You can even mix cultures a bit, add some soy sauce and honey, and use it as an overnight marinade for skirt steak. It is exactly what you are looking for if you want easy, quick and delicious. And, if you are anywhere warm, this doesn’t even sound that ridiculous in November.
The key, which I discovered by trial and error and will urge you not to repeat, is not to over blend. As a matter of fact, purists would likely argue that you should make the pesto with a mortar and pestle but I, well, I embrace things like electricity, and indoor plumbing, and my Cuisinart, and so I use the more modern method. HOWEVER I have also left it on to blend so long it turned brown and looked awful and just wanted to die. Don’t do that. Blend it just enough to turn a lovely light green color. For this recipe I tossed it with linguine but feel free to substitute any kind of pasta you like.
Next week, gelato round up?
- 6 cups (1.5 litres) of slightly packed down basil leaves, washed and dried.
- 1/2 (115 ml) cup pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup (235 ml) of fresh ground Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (plus more to taste)
- 1 cup (235 ml) of olive oil
- fresh ground pepper
- 1 packet of linguine
- Prepare a packet (about 1 lb or 1/2 kg) of pasta according to the directions. Just before the pasta is done, pull out about two cups (500 ml) of pasta water and set aside. Drain and set aside. Don't wash the pot yet, you are going to use that to toss the pasta and pesto together.
- Using a nonstick pan, heat pine nuts over medium flame, stirring often until they are slightly browned on two sides. Let cool.
- Combine basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic cloves, pine nuts and a teaspoon of salt and teaspoon of pepper in a food processor.
- Turn the processor on and while it whirls slowly pour in the cup of olive oil in a steady stream. DO NOT OVERBLEND.
- Clean sides of processor with a rubber spatula, mix it around a bit. Taste for salt and pepper and give it another whirl until it looks well blended.
- Store with a thin layer of olive oil poured on top to keep mixture from oxidizing and turning brown.
- Put appropriate number of servings of pasta back into the pot. For each handful of pasta, add about 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of pesto to the pot as well. Pour some of the reserved pasta water over the pasta and pesto in the pot sparingly - use about a quarter of what you have at a time. This will help the the pasta and pesto to mix and will keep it from being too try. Adjust the amount of pesto, pasta and water to your taste. It should not be soupy at all.
- Top with fresh ground Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and fresh ground pepper.
- This makes about 2 1/2 cups of pesto - enough to keep some and give some away.
- This is infinitely substitutable. Swap out arugula for basil and get a spicy pesto. Or use different types of basil for different flavors. Some people prefer walnuts to pine nuts. Try adding a touch of oven roasted garlic for a sweeter, richer flavor.