pesto

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The holidays have passed and everyone is craving lighter foods.  So tonight I am preparing a dinner that is a quick and easy and light. Oven roasted salmon and vegetables.

To give the dinner some rich flavor without spending too much time on a sauce, I will make a traditional basil pesto.

Pesto originated in Genoa, Italy, which is is in the  northern region of Italy and has been around since the 1600’s. It is an uncooked sauce which is very versatile.

Pesto tips

Pesto does not like air. It oxidizes very quickly. Cover your pesto with a layer of oil and cover it until you are ready to use. Place any unused pesto with a layer of olive oil on top in tightly sealed container and refrigerate or freeze.

Pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about 5-7  days or frozen a few months. To defrost, simply put in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for a few hours.

Storing pesto in the freezer. If you want the pesto to be able to be defrosted quickly, freeze in a thin layer in a shallow container. It is often recommended to freeze in small cubes, which does work well. However, freezing pesto in a thin sheet will allow it to thaw out very quickly. Convenient for when need to make dinner or lunch in a hurry.

There are typically 5 ingredients in a pesto; olive oil, garlic, basil leaves, pine nuts (pignoli), and parmesan cheese. In a well made pesto, each of the flavors should be able to be tasted. Any one flavor should not overpower the rest. When making a pesto, start with a small amount of garlic then taste and increase as needed. Add a little at a time and taste until you have the desired flavor. You can always add more, but you cannot take it out.

Why I toast the pine nuts 

Most recipes for pesto do not call for toasting the nuts.  Toasting makes them sweeter and more intense and removes any metal taste.

How to toast the pine nuts

Nuts can be toasted in the oven, toaster oven or on the stove top.

Oven
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and bake at 375°F, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown, 5 to 8 minutes.

Toaster Oven
Spread the nuts on the baking sheet for the toaster oven and bake at 325°F, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Skillet
Put the nuts in a dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden in spots, about 3 minutes.

 

What if I don’t have pine nuts and basil and want to make a pesto. Can I substitute?

Yes! There are so many delicious pestos that can be made with spinach, arugula, kale, parsley or cilantro. And instead of pine nuts try pecan, walnuts, almonds or pistachios. The options are endless. Mixing and matching the greens and herbs is wonderful, but be cautious not to combine too many strong greens. A bitter green like kale and a spicy green like arugula should not be in the same pesto.
Start with one strong green flavor and if you want to add to it, include adding a neutral flavor such as parsley or spinach.

 

Basil Pesto

recipe

yields 2 cups

Ingredients

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, stems removed, rinsed with cool water. Option to add a cup of raw spinach leaves.

2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted and cooled

2 large cloves garlic

1/2 extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation

Combine basil leaves, pine nuts and the garlic in a food processor or blender and process until very finely minced. If it is sticking, drizzle a little olive oil to emulsify.

With the machine running slowly pour in the oil and process until the mixture is smooth.

Add the cheese and process very briefly, just long enough to combine. Store in refrigerator or freezer.

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