Friday, 28 August 2009

The virtues of pesto.

By Julie,
Towards Sustainability

The posts which get almost the most hits on my personal blog (second only to my homemade sandwich wrap) are the ones including recipes for Pesto! It seems that a great many people - like myself - love pesto.

Classic pesto is made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil, and what a wonderfully versatile taste of summer it is!

My basic basil pesto recipe is:

4 cups basil leaves
½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt & pepper to taste

It's super quick to make with a food processor, although if you are like me, grinding it with a mortar and pestle makes for a wonderful chunky finish (and it's quite therapeutic after a long day ;-) Mince the leaves, nuts & garlic and then drizzle in the olive oil, mixing or processing all the while, until it is incorporated. Mix through the cheese and then season to taste.

My latest batch of arugula and cashew pesto.

Throw it through some hot pasta or gnocchi for a quick and easy meal; add it to cold cooked pasta, along with cherry tomatoes, olives and maybe some crumbled feta and cooked chicken for a fresh salad; use it on your homemade pizza, in sandwiches or as a dip with crusty fresh bread. Fabulous.

Basil is terrific, but in most places it won't grow in winter; have you considered using the basic pesto recipe but substituting other mixtures of herbs, nuts and seeds? I can grow many other leafy greens which also make for delicious pesto: spinach, parsley, coriander (cilantro) and arugula (rocket) for example, are all great. The best thing is that all of these greens can be grown in pots, so if you are short on space in your backyard or apartment, if you have room for a pot or two of herbs, you can enjoy pesto year round!

Pine nuts are expensive (at least where I live), so I regularly substitute lightly toasted almonds, cashews, walnuts and sunflower seeds, and I've read other recipes using pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds or almond meal to great effect.

Pesto can also be easily veganised, by substituting silken tofu, almond meal or nutritional yeast for the Parmesan cheese, so it's a great standby recipe for vegan friends (if you aren't vegan yourself of course).

Last but not least among it's virtues, you can freeze pesto. There is some debate amongst purists as to whether you should freeze pesto, but to my taste it is fine for up to six months in the freezer. I also add the cheese before freezing, however some like to keep it out and add it just before serving; it's up to you.

All in all, it's an easy and tasty way to incorporate some fresh greens into your day :-)

Do you have a favorite pesto recipe or combination to share?