Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fun with Pesto

Basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese
I love to make homemade pesto.  It may cost a little bit more than buying a jar, but I can be sure I'm using fresh ingredients, and I get to use my food processor.  Win and win.  All you have to do is throw a bunch of basil n' stuff into the machine and turn it on.  While it's running, drizzle olive oil down the feed tube and process until smooth.  
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto.  I LOVE it and will eat it on everything, but here are a couple ideas for you.

Compound Butter
2 T pesto mixed with 4 T butter
Mix 2 T pesto with 4-6 T softened butter (depending on how strong you like it).  Spread on sliced French or Italian bread, top with Parmesan cheese, and broil to bubbly goodness for Pesto Garlic Bread.  You could also top a piece of grilled chicken, fish or steak with a pat of pesto butter before serving.  I haven't put it on popcorn yet, but that could be insane!  Or you can eat with a spoon, whatever makes you happy.

In Soup 
Pesto is a delicious garnish for soups such as Minestrone, creamy potato and tomato.

With Pasta
Orzo with Pesto
I love any kind of pasta with pesto, but orzo is my favorite.  Just cook the pasta, drain, and while the pasta is still warm stir in as much pesto as you want.  I usually use orzo in a salad, mixed with romaine lettuce and chunks of grilled chicken.
 Romaine lettuce, pesto orzo, grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes, red bell pepper, Kalamata olives and artichoke hearts.   
I love the way orzo adds texture and substance to a salad.  The contrast of these little rice-like pastas with the crunchy lettuce and vegetables is just awesome.  I only use about 1/3 cup of orzo per salad, so it's not too terrible calorie-wise either.

If you have a garden and a lot of basil you don't know what to do with, make pesto.  If you just want to see something green and imagine warmer weather, make pesto.

Make pesto.  Eat pesto.  Smile.  It worked for me.

Basil Pesto
4 oz fresh basil
3 oz toasted pine nuts
2-3 cloves garlic
2-3 oz shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 t lemon zest, and a good squeeze of juice
a dash of salt and fresh ground pepper
4-6 T olive oil 

Put everything but olive oil in food processor.  Turn machine on, and drizzle-in about half of the olive oil.  Turn machine off after a few seconds and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Turn machine on and add the rest of the oil.  Continue to process and/or add a bit more oil until you have a smooth paste.  

Pesto stores for up to 1 week in the fridge and freezes well.  Storing tip: float some olive oil over the top before covering in a lidded plastic or glass container.  Or instead of oil,  cover with plastic wrap pressed directly ONTO the pesto.  The goal is to keep the air out and prevent oxidation. 

Compound Butter 
Combine 2 T pesto with 4 T softened butter.  Mix well.  Add more butter or pesto as your taste dictates.  Spread on anything...

Chicken Mediterranean Salad
Romaine lettuce
Grilled chicken, cut into chunks
orzo with pesto, about 1/3 c per person
chunks of fresh mozzarella or feta cheese
artichoke hearts
diced red bell pepper
Kalamata olives
sliced grape tomatoes
squeeze of lemon juice
balsamic vinaigrette or Greek dressing

Toss all in a bowl, or arrange on a plate, and enjoy!