Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pesto is the besto!

I love how easy it is to make a fresh pesto sauce at home. I haven't been able to eat store bought pesto sauce for the past few years now that my taste buds have adapted to the real thing.

Savannah also adores pesto and makes most batches nearly by herself. I should've known at 8 months when she used to crawl around and eat my fresh potted herbs (basil, rosemary and thyme) until there was nothing left of them that she would be a pesto lover too. Savannah won't eat my fresh marinara sauce or my roasted red pepper sauce but she'll eat pesto with a spoon as if it were yogurt. Here's our recipe:

Easy Peasy Pesto Sauce Recipe

1. Wash your sweet or Italian Genovese basil leaves in a colander and use a clean kitchen towel to blot the extra water off (if you accidentally use the spicy Thai Basil leaves, you'll burn your tongue and might swear off pesto for a year!).

2. Add to your food processor:
  • 1-3 cloves of smashed garlic (by taste and size of garlic cloves)
  • 1/4 tsp to a 1/2 tsp of Kosher or sea salt (by taste - you can always add more later!)
  • 4-8 Tb good extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-6 Tb of your favorite nut (toasted pine nuts are the most commonly used but we prefer raw walnuts and raw pecans)
  • and about 2 cups of fresh basil leaves pinched from their stems
3. Pulse together until well blended. Add more olive oil if needed.

4. Add to food processor some Parmesan (about 2-4 Tb or so) or other aged cheese (if you're vegan you can omit cheese altogether, or make it extra cheesy for your kids) and 1 Tb of canola oil (see below). Pulse together, taste for adjustments, and enjoy.

Notes: If your pesto seems to be missing something, try a few turns of the pepper mill.

If serving over pasta, consider adding a side bowl of freshly diced tomatoes when they're in season. The sweetness and juiciness of the tomatoes accents the pungency and saltiness of the pesto very well and gives you an extra serving of fresh fruit and fiber.

If you've never tried it, you might try substituting raw walnuts for toasted or raw pine nuts in your pesto sauce. Walnuts have the best flavor for pesto in my taste buds' opinion. In many Amish communities across America, sunflower seeds are used in place of pine nuts in pesto sauces.

Sara's secrets

When making pesto at home, replace 1Tb of olive oil with 1Tb of canola oil per batch of pesto. The canola oil, while having a higher amount of polyunsaturated fats, will keep your pesto from oxidizing (a natural reaction that many herbs, fruits and veggies have when exposed to oxygen in air) so it keeps its vibrant green color without turning brown.

It took me a long time to discover this and while my pesto always tasted great when I stored summer and fall's bounty in the freezer for winter (or even for just an hour in the fridge before company arrived!) it always turned brown on top no matter how much olive oil I poured over it. Now my pesto is a bright beautiful green without any preservatives no matter how long I store it!

Notes: You could also try using sunflower oil or safflower oil if you're out of canola oil but I don't recommend using these oils based on their fat profiles - extremely high in polyunsaturated fats and extremely low in monounsaturated (aka good) fats. I also don't recommend cooking with canola oil since it easily breaks down into trans-fatty acids when heated.

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