Okay kids, today we dive into the wonderful world of …PESTO!!! (Insert sounds of clapping, general mayhem and glee here) There is a wonderful old adage, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for one day. Teach him how to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Now, I’m not going to go into what the heck the women did for food, or if it’s even possible to just eat fish for a whole lifetime. I’ll leave that debate for another time. What I am going to do is not give you a bunch of pesto recipes, but rather go over the basic idea behind a pesto, and how you can take that and make an unlimited number of unique pestos.
First off, a pesto is basically just 5 ingredients. A leafy green herb/veggie, hard cheese, some sort of nut/legume, garlic and olive oil. Salt and pepper of course are added as well. In a traditional pesto, you’re looking at basil (sometimes mixed with parsley), parmesan, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. A good starting point on the ratios is 6:1:1:1, minus the garlic. So, 6 parts leafy greens, to 1 part cheese, nuts and olive oil. Garlic is a matter of taste, and you should add as appropriate. A good starting point is 4-5 cloves. Take all this silly math, and what you get for a good starter pesto is 3 cups basil, 1/2 cup cheese, 1/2 cup pine nuts, 4-5 cloves of garlic and about 1/2 olive oil. The way to make it is dice up the basil and garlic and put in a food processor. Add the pine nuts and cheese and pulse until everything is minced. Turn on the processor and drizzle in the olive oil. You want a good paste like constancy. Salt and pepper to taste, and add more garlic if desired. Done!
Now for the lesson on how to fish. Experiment. There, now go catch a big one! Seriously, that’s all you need to know. You have the basic formula, go play with it. For example, if you are having a mexican dinner, and want to have a nice veggie type side dish, make a mexican pesto out of Cilantro (add a jalapeno for heat), white extra sharp cheddar, pistachios, garlic and olive oil with some ancho chili oil added. Serve this over pasta, or mix into rice.
See? Easy. There are just a couple of things to look out for as you experiment. Think textures. How is this ingredient going to hold up to the mincing? Also think beyond just oil. In the mexican version above, I also did it once with a mix of olive oil and avocado. That puppy kicked you know what. Also, garlic. If you like garlic, but raw garlic is a little much for you, roast the garlic, then add with the olive oil. Roasted garlic has a wonderful deep nutty flavor that is great in a pesto, just pull back on the other nuts. Pesto, above all else, is about balance. The brightness of the greens, the earthiness of the nuts, the tang of the cheese and the spice of the garlic. Those flavors need to stay balanced for a really good pesto.
Now get out there, and remember to share any killer pesto ideas you come up with!