Ah, pesto. Along with french fries and peanut butter, a food I imagine Zeus and all the other gods up on Mt. Olympus must have regularly indulged in. I made some today for lunch - I know, give me one inch of spring weather and I skip right through to summer.
I can't give you a recipe for pesto; every time I determine to work from one I end up with pesto that's too oily, too garlicky or too salty for my taste. The best method is just to throw in a handful of this, a pinch of that, and - very important - taste, taste, taste as you go. Start small until you learn what you like - you can always add more of this or that but it's hard to correct for too much of something.
A few tips about storing ingredients:
- Store garlic in a dark place, preferably a clay pot that has holes in it to keep it dry rather than damp. Discard when green shoots spring forth from the top, or if the cloves look dry and leathery.
- Make sure your basil is washed and thoroughly dry. And, of course, fresh - no brown spots.
- Store Parmesan cheese like this and it'll never harden, so you won't feel guilty spending $13 per pound on the fresh stuff: Wrap first in wax paper, then in aluminum foil, and store in a dry corner of your fridge away from the light. Just unwrapped some that's a few weeks old and it's still warm and soft and a bit oily to the touch - perfect! So a little mold had started to grow on it, it's CHEESE! Cheese IS mold (well, the blue kinds are)! I just cut off the moldy spots with a decent margin, which you can always do with hard cheeses. Do so at your own discretion with softer cheeses - but I always do. As Oscar Wilde said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
- When clawing in the dark corners of my cabinets produces no pine nuts, I substitute walnuts or pecans. You want some nuttiness in there.
- Don't keep your olive oil right next to the stove where it can get hot. I know it's convenient, but it's better to keep stashed away somewhere cool. Really. (Mr. Food Musings is in the background admonishing me for keeping it right next to the stovetop. Do as I say, not as I do, folks.)
- If you use finely ground salt, you won't need to spin it around in the food processor. If you don't, you should unless you enjoy the crunch of a big hunk of salt. (I do.)
- There's no excuse not to use fresh ground pepper. Spice icon McCormick now sells disposable mini-grinders at the grocery store for not much more than a jar of pepper. Seriously folks. No excuses.
1-2 cloves garlic (maximum, unless you're making gallons of the stuff)
fresh basil leaves
fresh Parmesan cheese
salt and fresh ground pepper
1. In a food processor, first grind the garlic to a fine dice. You MUST do this first - it's fun to watch the little cloves whiz round and round. And start with one clove - you can always add more later. Many are the batches of pesto that I've ruined with too much garlic. Remember all you garlic fans, it's raw.
2. Add basil and process. Add grated cheese (about 1/4 as much as the basil) and the same proportion of pine nuts and process.
3. With the motor running, drizzle in olive oil. I prefer very little oil in my pesto - for a handful of basil I'd use maybe 1-2 TBSP oil. Most recipes will tell you to use more. Do what suits you.
4. Add salt - PLEASE start small. Please. I love salt and I pour it all over everything, including my pizza, but with a salty cheese like Parmesan you'll regret putting in a lot. Add pepper, and process one last time.
You can freeze pesto in a plastic container for up to three months. (Or, if I am any sort of proof, longer. As long as you like, it would seem.) Just defrost it for a minute on 30% power, and/or add to it as you make more.