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Recipe: Pesto and five things to do with it

August 12, 2013

I love that saying ‘You don’t know what you’re missing’, just because it states the blindingly obvious.  As someone said to me just last week: “You don’t know what you don’t know”.  Never a truer word spoken.  And this was how it was with me before I’d tried making my own pesto.  I lived out my younger years blissfully unaware, as I was spooning dollops of pesto out of the Sacla jar (if I do buy it now, that’s the one my hand reaches for in the supermarket aisle), thinking that this reasonably tasting over-processed stuff was the be-all and end-all of pesto.  How very wrong I was.

One day I stumbled across a recipe for cherry tomatoes stuffed with pesto.  They are a firm canapé favourite now, but if you are thinking of making them, let me just warn you of the tedious chore of scooping out the filling from a punnet of tiny little tomatoes.  I’d have to say that it would have to come close to cutting the grass with a pair of kitchen scissors, and I would know because this is something I did once do when I was a wee young lassie.  Needless to say I only managed about a square 10cms before I was distracted by the delight of daisy-chain construction.  No such delights to distract me from those pesky tomatoes.

I was flabbergasted by the difference between my home-whizzed pesto and that from the jar.  It had a lovely rich grated cheesy texture, but packed with the punches of basil and garlic and the crunchy pine nuts, all held together by glugs of glossy olive oil.  Each spoonful was a flavour revelation; so different from the vaguely pleasant but uninspiring ones I was used to.  So, I’ve never looked back.  Which made me think that I should share this super simple recipe with you too, just in case you don’t know what you’re missing out on either.  I’ve made a few suggestions of what you can do with the pesto under the recipe if you’re stuck for inspiration and can’t get past the thought of folding it into warm pasta (although there is certainly nothing wrong with that – it’s lip-smackingly good!)

Makes something like 100g pesto, which will easily serve 4-6 people as part of a dish.  Keeps in airtight container in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

45g fresh basil leaves, discard any stalks
1-2 fat garlic cloves
half a teaspoon crushed sea salt
2 tablespoon pine nuts
60ml extra-virgin olive oil, maybe extra to loosen up the mixture
4-5 tablespoons of grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino cheese
Freshly ground Black Pepper, to taste

Place the basil, garlic, salt, pine nuts and olive oil into a food processor and whizz until fairly smooth.  Scoop out into a big bowl (or if you want, you could freeze at this point and finish off when defrosted at another time.  This is a great thing to do if you have a lot of basil that you want to put to good use).

Mix in the cheese(s) and add the pepper.  Taste and also decide if you like the consistency.  If ‘too’ irony from the basil, chuck in a bit more grated cheese.  If too chalky from the cheese, add some more olive oil.  Then it’s good to go.  I usually eat about five spoonfuls straight out of the bowl at this point, before deciding what to do with it.

Here are just a few ideas.  I’d love to hear yours too, if you have any:

1. Layer slices of beef tomatoes with generous spoonfuls of the pesto and slices of mozzarella.  Either serve cold, or grill/oven cook until the cheese has melted a bit.

2. Spread on a pizza base, either in place of the tomato sauce, or even better still, mixed in with the tomato sauce.  It’s really quite rich, so don’t over do it.  Great topped with mozzarella, courgette and some nice ham or salami, but you could pretty much stick anything on top. Except for pineapple. Pesto and pineapple?  That would be too much.

3. Split open (butterfly) chicken breasts, rub with oil and grill, griddle or shallow fry.  Top with a spread of the pesto, some mushrooms that you’ve already pan-fried and grated cheddar or mozzarella (are you getting the feeling that mozzarella and pesto go well together?).  Grill until the cheese melts.  Great served with a green salad.

4. Serve a generous dollop with any non-smoked white fish, such as Cod or Pollock.

5. Mix in with warm, cooked new potatoes and butter for a simple but effective potato salad.

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