12 July 2009

Pesto, Pesto, Pesto

Last week I had bestowed upon me a large lump sum of basil. Several big fat bunches. And there was plenty of extra garlic to be had at the CSA pick up. Perfect for pesto. At the farmers market on Friday I found myself drawn to a big bag of arugula - but couldn't decide what to do with it. Farmer Lew suggested I make pesto. So that was the theme for the weekend. One batch of spicy arugula & walnut pesto for dinner; two batches of basil pesto (one with pine nuts and one with walnuts) to freeze for the winter.

For all three batches of pesto I used Goatsbeard Farm Walloon cheese. It's a hard goat cheese that works well as a local replacement for parmesan. And since I'm already using olive oil and nuts from an undisclosed location, I was going for whatever else local I could get.

In the foreground, one tray of pine nut pesto ready to go in the freezer. In the background, sous-chef Nina (my assistant food processor button pusher and salad spinner operator).

While the basil pesto froze, we sat down to eat our arugula pesto, served with whole wheat pasta and sauteed summer squash, green beans, and tomatoes.

Basic Basil Pesto

2 cups firmly packed basil
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or Goatsbeard Farm Walloon)
2 Tablespoons Romano cheese, freshly grated (also optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
lemon juice (optional, just a drizzle to prevent oxidation)

Wash the basil in cold water. Spin dry with a salad spinner!

Place the basil, pine nuts, chopped garlic, and an ample pinch of salt in the processor bowl, and process for a few seconds. Add the olive oil, scrape the sides of the bowl, and continue to process the mixture until a uniform creamy consistency is achieved.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl, and mix in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano cheeses by hand. Actually, I didn't do this step by hand; I used the processor. It is purportedly better for texture to do it by hand. I have not fully evaluated this claim. And I didn't want to dirty another bowl. Moving right along...

More optional options: When the cheese has been evenly amalgamated with the other ingredients, mix in 3 tablespoons of butter softened to room temp, distributing it uniformly into the sauce. When spooning the pesto over pasta, dilute it slightly with a tablespoon or two of the hot water in which the pasta was cooked. I left out butter

Make the pesto in the food processor, freezing it without the cheese and butter. Add the cheese and butter when it is thawed, just before using. Pesto may be frozen in an airtight container for several months.
Confession: Everyone I have asked told me they freeze theirs with cheese and I have done the same with no ill effects.

PS: After freezing the pesto in two ice cube trays all night and all day, I took the lovely, lumpy little cubes out of the trays and put them in my new Reynolds Handi-Vac plastic bags. I'll admit, I was skeptical of this little doo-hickey at first. (Although clearly not too skeptical to shell out ten or so dollars for it and the special bags.) The good news is, it worked!

The bad news is...

... due to the tender nature of pesto, there was a bit of smushing. Even when fully frozen, pesto tends to be pliable. But I think it will work just fine for other veggies. And I think it will still be easy to remove from the bag a few frozen hunks of pesto at a time.

Ask me in January - I'll let you know how it goes!


Seana said...

Thank you, thank you! I can't wait to make some for the Strawn family! Oh, and thanks so much for the salad spinner link, I was JUST saying tonight, as I was cutting up some CSA Boston Bib lettuce, broccoli, red cabbage and cucumbers for a delicious dinner salad, I need a salad spinner! Thanks Emily!

Emily said...

Glad I can help, Seana! Regarding the salad spinner - I thought, when I bought it, that it would be a good investment. I had no idea just how good. I use it for everything. I should have bought one years ago ...

teresa said...

do you think i could get away with making pesto in a blender? what about a really determined blender? (i'm trying not to buy any more kitchen gadgets. in fact, we wouldn't have a microwave if the previous owner of our house didn't leave her appliances behind.)

Emily said...

Ooo, good question! I hear you about the excess appliances. We bought one of those blender/food processor combos that takes up less space and we love it. I think a blender might work for pesto - I'm not sure without trying it. The recipe I used recommended a mortar and pestle. Seriously?! Who has a mortar and pestle? Give the blender a go and let me know. If it doesn't work I'll bring over my mortar and pestle. Or food processor.

AR said...

I used a blender for pesto before I had a food processor. Takes a bit longer to chop the nuts and basil, but works well enough.
If you make as much pesto as I do, though, a food processor is a good investment.

I'm curious where one might find that goat cheese locally. Always interested in trying new cheeses.

Emily said...

Oh, good to know that a blender would work, too - in a pinch.

The goat cheese is Goatsbeard Farm cheese (http://www.goatsbeardfarm.com/). Even though the website doesn't say it, these cheeses are available in Kansas City at the Badseed Farmers Market at 19th and McGee on Friday nights (www.badseedfarm.com). Goatsbeard makes a wide variety of both hard and soft goat cheese - the Prairie Bloom is a favorite of mine, and the Walloon is a great stand by. They've also started making feta that is divine.

Another locally produced cheese (sheep not goat) is Green Dirt Farm available at Brookside Farmers Market and City Market. Those are very fine special occasion cheeses.

RAKA said...

Hiya. I just added a link to your pesto from my little recipe that needs pesto. http://www.thisthenthat.blogspot.com/ Yum!!