Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Summer of Pesto

It seems that for the last few summers, I must have "a thing" - something that I latch onto with a fervor unequaled to anything else during the season.  I will do this "thing" over and over again until it is perfected. 

I blame credit my friend Kris for this obsessive/compulsive behavior.  One summer she set out to find the ultimate sangria recipe, and I decided to do the same.  I'm pretty sure she found hers, but perfection eluded me.  Believe me - it wasn't for lack of trying. I forced more sangria on people that summer than all others combined.  (Side note:  John made sangria for the two of us earlier this summer - just threw it together with no recipe at all - and it was spectacular.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, but kept thinking about how unfair it was that he was such a talented sangria maker upon his very first attempt.)

Then there was the summer of the mojito.  Lime and mint sales skyrocketed in central Illinois!  I have to say, I nailed that one.  I even started making them by the pitcher for gatherings because they are so labor intensive.

Last summer it was margaritas.

Wait.  I'm starting to notice a trend...

This summer is different.  2012 will forever be known in our household as The Summer of Pesto.

Since moving to a place that has the perfect spot for an herb garden, I was determined to have one.  I even started them from seed - and they grew.  Some of you might assume that once you put a seed in the ground it will grow.  Not me.  I have a rather brown thumb when it comes to plants.  So you can imagine my delight at seeing little sprouts grow into real herbs.  I now have a bumper crop of thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley, chives, and basil.

I've harvested some, freezing them in chicken stock or olive oil.  "Fresh" herbs for soup and stews in the middle of February... Oh baby.

I've never made pesto sauce before this summer because it requires a ridiculous amount of basil - 5 packed cups. I now have all the basil I could possibly use, but was still hesitant to make it.  All recipes call for the use of a food processor and I don't own a real one.  All I have is a little manual thing I got from Pampered Chef.  It looks like this, and it only holds 3 cups.  5 cups of basil along with other ingredients in a 3 cup chopper.  Do the math.
But then I thought, "Pesto has been around longer than food processors!  Little old Italian women have been making it for hundreds of years and they didn't have one either!"  They used a marble mortar and wooden pestle.  (I looked it up on Wikipedia, so it has to be true.)  If they could do it, I could too.  It would take longer to do it in small batches, but doable.  I'm saving $150 by not buying an electric food processor that I'll only use a few times a year and my triceps get a work out.  Win- win.

After only 3 batches, I'm proud to say that I've found the perfect pesto.  I've blended a few recipes to get to this:

The Perfect Pesto
1/4 C walnuts, lightly toasted (toasting is key for the nuts - gives them a richer flavor)
1/4 C pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 T chopped garlic
5 C washed basil leaves, packed
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 C good, robust olive oil
1 C freshly grated Romano (or Parmesan, but I like Romano)
1 t lemon zest
few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

If you have a food processor, you can chop everything up in that (first the nuts, then add the basil, oil...).  If you don't or have something goofy like I do, finely chop the nuts and basil as best you can.  I do it in three or 4 small batches and then hand stir everything together.  Note:  Air is NOT pesto's friend.  Put it in containers that seal well with as little air as possible. 

The next thing will be discovering all the ways to use pesto.  Bad photo, but when mixed with pasta and chicken, it's really yummy - my favorite so far.

I'm told it freezes well.  I certainly hope so.  After paying almost $5 for 1/2 cup packages of pine nuts at the grocery store, I found this bad boy at Costco for under $20.

Yeah...  We're gonna need a bigger freezer.

1 comment:

  1. Two things. One: Yes. You will need a bigger freezer. Two: I remember the Summer O' Sangria (it was 11 years ago). I was barely pregnant with Emma and at that time, no one knew but Corey and I. That is, until you came over, tried to convince me to drink a pitcher of sangria with you, and figured out why I kept declining. Cheers! :D