Versatility. It’s a good thing. Nobody likes a one-trick pony. I feel that way about food sometimes too. Yes, there are dishes that require exacting precision, where there can be no deviation from the ingredients or their amounts. This isn’t one of them.
I’m talking about pesto. To me, it is truly a multi-faceted condiment. I decided to make a batch after a trip to the farmer’s market recently where I bought some beautiful, fragrant, fresh basil. At the market, they sell the whole plant — roots and all. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that these plants are at least 24 inches long and take up a standard size grocery bag on their own. So, of course, I had to make a pesto. Why not? It comes together in minutes and can be used to enhance and dress so many savory dishes.
Do you doubt me? Let me explain… of course, you can simply toss pesto into pasta and have a delicious meal. But have you ever used it as a spread on an italian panini sandwich? Or as a topping for grilled fish or chicken? Smeared on a piece of grilled bread and topped with a ripe tomato slice and maybe some fresh mozzarella? Thinned it out a little with additional olive oil and lemon juice and then swirled into a steaming bowl of minestrone? How about using it as an herbaceous dipping sauce (yes, I know we talked about dip-dip last week– this is different). Try pesto it instead of tomato sauce on a white pizza, or add a tablespoon to your next vinaigrette to add another layer of flavor. I’m telling you pesto sauce is like that scene in Forrest Gump where Bubba is talking about all the ways to cook shrimp. By the way, pesto goes great with shellfish, too!
Whatever you intend to do with your pesto, I think this version is a good starting point. Of course, if you want to get crazy, you could substitute arugula or spinach for the basil, you could use traditional pine nuts (but they’ve gotten so expensive lately), or other nuts like pecans or cashews.
Nope, no one trick pony here!
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
- 1/2 cup parmesan-reggiano
- zest and juice of one lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- To the bowl of a food processor or Vitamix blender add basil, garlic, walnuts, parmesan, lemon zest, juice, and red pepper flakes.
- Pulse a few times to break down the basil.
- In a steady stream add olive oil, pulsing until olive oil is blended into other ingredients and mixture forms a loose paste. If your pesto is too thick, add additional olive oil one tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
- Season with salt and pepper.