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Abracadabra…Pesto!


Presto MagicWe were contemplating doing a coaching on pesto and asked a couple of family members if they knew what it was.  The response…”you mean that green stuff?”

That made us think a blog on pesto wasn’t such a bad idea!  If you already use pesto at home, hopefully we can provide a useful tip or two.  If you haven’t thought about using pesto at home, hopefully this will inspire you to try preparing your own “green stuff” and enjoy the great flavor it can add to a wide variety of meals!

If you have ever been to an Italian restaurant and had a delicious, simple pasta dish with unbelievable flavor, that flavor may have come from the magical green sauce called pesto.  Pesto is a flavor powerhouse and the great news is it can easily be made at home.  It's simple, there’s no cooking required, and it’s a great way to use fresh, local produce!

Pesto originates from Genoa (in northern Italy) and traditionally consists of crushed garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil and a hard cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano.  Pesto comes from the word “pesta,” which means to pound or crush…this is because it's traditionally prepared using a mortar and pestle.  You know, that bowl and thick stick that looks like it should be in the Flintstone's kitchen?

Mortar and PestleA mortar and pestle is typically made of stone and can be used to crush or grind up spices and other ingredients.  Today, the convenience of food processors and blenders have made it easier and more convenient to prepare sauces and spreads such as pesto.  If you have ever heard of “Pistou,” it is the French cousin of pesto and is typically prepared using just garlic, basil and/or parsley and olive oil…it's a great alternative for anyone allergic to dairy or nuts.

There are many, many ways to use this great-tasting green stuff!  Pasta, veggies, eggs or omelets, fish, steaks, pizza, sandwiches, baked potatoes, marinades, soups (like vegetable or minestrone), salads and more.  Plus, it freezes perfectly!

While traditional pesto uses basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and cheese, it can be fun to get creative and mix it up!  Just a few other options to consider include:  cilantro with pepitas, mint with pistachios, arugula with walnuts, cilantro with peanuts and Italian parsley with walnuts and mushrooms.  These are just a few examples…you can also add other seasonings to give the pesto an ethnic flair like Asian, Cajun, Thai or others.

How do you make it?  I will admit…I have made pesto when I was in a hurry and haphazardly threw everything together in a food processor, but there is actually a recommended method how to make homemade pesto.  You want it to end up slightly chunky, and NOT smooth like creamy peanut butter.  Traditional pesto is made up of 4 parts fresh basil, 1 part soft nuts (such as pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or pecans), 1 part olive oil, and 1 part hard cheese (such as parmesan or Romano).  For example, 2 cups basil, 1/2 cup nuts, 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup cheese.  First, the basil and garlic should be roughly chopped and added, along with the nuts, to the food processor and pulse to combine.  Then, add the olive oil and pulse to combine it with the other ingredients.  The cheese can be finely grated and mixed in by hand or with a few more pulses in the food processor.  Ta-da…homemade pesto!

Here are a few other things to consider when preparing pesto:

  • Pulsing is key!  When using a food processor or blender, use the pulse button to keep from over-processing your pesto.  It should be slightly chunky, not uniformly smooth, to enjoy each ingredient’s individual flavor.
  • Preserve the color!  Homemade pesto can oxidize quickly.  To prevent this, you can add a thin layer of olive oil on top to help keep it from losing its color, or simply stir in a little bit of lemon juice.  You will want to cover the pesto with plastic wrap or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and it will keep for 1-2 weeks.
  • Frozen in time!  Pesto freezes perfectly so don’t let that fresh basil go to waste!  Pesto can be placed in ice cube trays, then once frozen, transferred to a freezer storage bag.  Then, when you need pesto for your meal, simply thaw, or drop into your soup, and you are good to go!
  • Go nuts!  Pine nuts aren’t the only nut for pesto!  Pine nuts are great, but can be pricey, so try other nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or pecans.
  • Roast the nuts!  Roasting or toasting the nuts before adding to the pesto will add another element of flavor.  You can toast the nuts in a dry skillet for about 3 minutes until golden and fragrant.
  • Cheese should be hard!  Homemade pesto works best with hard, salty, aged cheese such as parmesan or Romano.  Soft cheeses won’t work as well - no one wants mushy pesto!
  • Not quite the same!  Store bought pesto is good but won’t have the same popping-flavor as homemade.  Just remember to read the label and beware of unrecognizable ingredients!
  • If you have the time…a mortar and pestle will make homemade pesto taste even better, but does require more effort and time.  For most of us, a food processor will work perfectly fine for a flavorful pesto!

We have several recipes on eatrealamerica.com that include various homemade pestos, but we have included a simple pesto recipe below.  Try it and see how flavorful it is!  And, make some extra and freeze to make future meals that much easier.  Do you have other pesto tips and ideas?   We would love to hear from you!

Here are just some of the recipes on Eat REAL America you can prepare to enjoy some great homemade pesto:

Grilled Vegetables with Basil Pecan Pesto-Get-Real-Wichita-KansasGrilled Vegetables with Basil Pecan Pesto

Crispy Gnocchi with Basil Pesto

Kale Pesto Pasta

Foil Wrapped Tilapia Packet with Pesto, Tomatoes, and Green Onions

Heirloom Tomato Salad-Get-Real-Wichita-Kansas

Heirloom Tomatoes with Feta and Pepitas

Pistachio Pesto Chicken Pasta

Grilled Sriracha Meatballs with Cilantro Peanut Pesto

HOMEMADE BASIL PESTO:

Ingredients

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
1/4 tsp sea salt (or more to taste)
1/4 tsp black pepper (or more to taste)

Directions

1.  In a blender or food processor, combine the basil, garlic and pine nuts.  Pulse until chopped.
2.  Slowly add the olive oil and pulse until combined.  (Remember, you want slightly chunky pesto!)
3.  Stir in the cheese, salt, and pepper until combined.  Enjoy!

 

 

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