Friday, August 9, 2013

Pesto is perfect, no matter how you make it

If you're a pinch-of-this-and-a-handful-of-that cook, my pesto recipe is just for you. And if you're a follow-the-recipe-to-the-letter cook, this pesto is for you, too.

When I first planted basil years ago, I scoured Italian cookbooks for pesto recipes. This was before the Internet -- I know, I'm dating myself -- and pesto seemed exotic. The more recipes I read, the more confused I became. The ingredients were pretty much the same, but the proportions were different.

Then I started making pesto and discovered that the proportions didn't much matter. Use more or less Parmesan, however many nuts you like (or have on hand), a little garlic or a lot -- somehow, it's all good.

Although I usually take a free-form approach to pesto, I measured every ingredient that went into my most recent batch. Follow the resulting recipe to the letter or let your instincts be your guide.

While I whirled the pesto in the food processor, I brought a pot of water to a boil and cooked red potatoes, pasta and fresh green beans. As soon as they were done, I tossed them with pesto. The result could serve as a summery side dish or as an entree.

I had about 1/4 cup of pesto left over, so I mounded it by the tablespoonful on parchment paper and froze it until solid, then popped the nuggets of pesto into a freezer-weight zip-top bag. I'll add them, still frozen, to enhance sauce, soups and other dishes down the road.

Yield: About 3/4 cup

2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
6 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
1/4 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
About 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or to taste

Place the metal blade in a food processor. Turn on the processor and drop the garlic down the feed tube. Process until minced.

Add basil to the food processor. Top basil with nuts and sprinkle with cheese. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With the processor running, slowly drizzle oil through the feed tube. Process until well mixed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. If pesto is too thick, drizzle in more oil. Add salt; pulse to combine.

Use immediately or scrape into a bowl, add a thin film of olive oil over the top, cover tightly and refrigerate for a day or two. To freeze, drop dollops onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, then transfer to freezer-weight plastic bags.

Yield: 4 servings

3 medium red potatoes, scrubbed
6 ounces bow-tie pasta or another shape
2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed
About 1/2 cup pesto

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add potatoes; cook for 9 minutes. Stir in pasta; return water to a boil, then cook for 7 minutes. Add green beans; cook for 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Test potatoes and pasta for doneness; if any of the ingredients are not quite ready, remove those that are done with a slotted spoon or large strainer.

When ingredients are cooked to your liking, use a ladle to remove about 3/4 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the ingredients. Cut potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Place potatoes, pasta and green beans in a large bowl.

Stir together pasta and about 1/2 cup cooking water, making a loose sauce. Add to the potatoes, pasta and green beans; mix gently but well. Taste; add more pesto or cooking water if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

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