Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fresh Basil Pesto

About a year ago I found a love for fresh basil. My mother was hosting a lunch at her house and needed some lunch ideas that were not Indian food. We searched through a vegetarian cookbook I have and decided on a pasta salad. The dish called for fresh basil leaves along with fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. I fell in love with the fragrance and taste of fresh basil. Sans the mozzarella balls (I'm very particular with cheese, not the biggest fan), the dish was  amazing! 

My own experience of eating pesto included eating a pasta pesto dish at a local Italian eatery. I wasn't too impressed with the cold dish and thought it was because of the pesto. (Actually, I realized that I don't care for cold pasta!) After watching Giada at Home (I know, Giada again.) I saw just how simple it was to make pesto. Who knew? (Giada and every other chef in this country and Italy. And probably more people than that.) Anyways, I wanted to try to make it despite the fact that I wasn't interested in eating it. (As you can tell, I often cook for the challenge of mastering new dishes, much to Hubby's delight.)  Also, it reminded me of the Italian version of chutney! Granted, chutney has cilantro instead of basil, peanuts instead of pine nuts and well, there is the coconut instead of cheese. Ok, so maybe it vaguely resembles chutney, but they are both herb based spreads! So I decided to give it a try.  

Well, I made it and I loved eating it! I don't care for parmesan cheese, but I do like basil, any type of nuts (Except macadamia nuts. Ew.) and of course, you can never go wrong with garlic! All together, it tasted so good! I added it to pasta with tomatoes and eggplant and it gave it the extra bit of zing that the dish was lacking. Hubby ate it with a chicken dish and put it on sandwiches. I liked it so much that I was anxious to make it again. Basil can be expensive to purchase so I was ecstatic when my mother said she was growing basil in her garden for me!

I made quite a bit of pesto this summer. (Thank you, mom!) I even made a dish where I marinaded chicken in pesto then breaded it and cooked it. It was a big hit. My mom gave me the last bit of her basil last week  and I was able to make one last batch of this recipe. (With the heat, drought and water conservation the plant's not doing so good) As I write this I'm already sad because Hubby and I have already finished the last batch. 

Freshly made pesto is so different than the stuff you get in a jar. I tried the Bertolli brand of pesto one time, after having made homemade pesto, and Hubby agrees it tastes nowhere near as good as the fresh stuff.  So if you like pesto, but have never made your own, it's time to try. 

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed tightly
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (Don't use the shaky cheese. Yes, you know what I'm talking about. You don't have to use the fresh kind from the cheese counter either. In the shredded cheese aisle they have Parmesan cheese. I get the H-E-B brand Parmesan cheese)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts (I usually make it with walnuts because they are cheaper and I always keep walnuts in the fridge for when I bake)
3 cloves of garlic, briefly chopped
salt and pepper to taste (I feel the cheese gives enough of a salty taste. You can add some pepper to give it a little kick, but I think it tastes great without it.)

1. Using a food processor, add the basil and pine nuts (walnuts) and pulse. 

2. Add garlic, pulse a few more times.

3. Slowly add in the olive oil through the top of the food processor while it is being pulsed. Scrape down the sides of the food processor.

4. Add in Parmesan cheese and pulse. Taste to see if salt and pepper is needed. If so, add according to taste.

You can eat this with crostini, bread, pasta and the list goes on!

To make the crostini (as seen in the photo above) I took stale ciabatta bread, cut it into thin slices, brushed with olive oil on both sides and baked in the oven at 400 degrees for a about 15 minutes per side, until it was crispy.

Amateur Cooking Difficulty Scale: 2
Not much work to this one. You just have to mix it all together and pulse in the food processor. Like I said, I make this pretty often. Hubby likes to eat it on sandwiches, but I don't like to muddle the taste with the other sandwich ingredients and prefer it on plain bread. It's also great to add to pasta and make a quick pasta salad. This is another easy recipe that you can make to impress others! 

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