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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fresh Pesto: Easy and Versatile

I am definitely not a gardener, although I try really hard and pretend to be one.

I grew up with a garden. Or I should say, my parent’s house in Victoria, BC has a great garden. As a kid, I used to help water, weed, and pick fresh strawberries, beans, zucchini, blueberries, figs and other good stuff. I can’t say that I loved it. In fact, I cringed when I would uncover a big fat slug, munching away at my perfectly ripe strawberry or a huge earthworm slithering its way towards me. But I did it because my mom asked me to help.

Okay, I didn’t fool you there, did I? Fine. I’ll be honest. I didn’t do it out of the goodness of my heart. I did it for the goods… the edible fruits of my labor. Out of pure selfishness rather than selflessness. I know. Probably not right, but everyone got what they wanted in the end. The garden got watered, weeded, picked and pruned, my mom was happy that the work got done (even if she had to yell at me to do it), my siblings were happy that they didn’t have to do it, and I got the goods. It’s fair, right?

Anyway, regardless of how I got into gardening or why I did it, the exposure and experience helped me in the end because as I became interested in culinary, I started experimenting with herbs. First cooking with them, then growing them. One day, I went crazy at the garden store and bought every plant and seed whose name sounded even vaguely familiar, then tried to grow them all in fancy window boxes in my parents sunroom. Lemon verbena, lavender, chives, curry leaf, thyme, savory, rosemary, basil…. You name it- I probably bought it. But, I never had the time nor the patience to nurture my plants, and I never used half of them, and so they died. All of them except the ever faithful and easy to maintain rosemary which is now in my mom’s garden. The moral of this story? Quality, not quantity.

When I moved to Dubai with my husband, we decided to plant a “garden” on the balcony of our apartment. Apparently, I never learned from my mistakes because I did the same thing. Bought loads of seeds, started them well, lost interest, lost patience, forgot to water and prune them, and poof…they all died. I could blame it on the weather, the sand storms, or the plants themselves, but really, it was me. I just put my eggs in too many baskets and they all got rotten.

Nowadays, I take care of the few plants which are like staple herbs to me: Rosemary, Basil, Thyme, and Cilantro.
Of these four, basil is by far the one I use the most. It grows fast and it’s versatile.
One of my favorite ways to use basil is in fresh pesto. The great color, smell and flavor, combined with pesto’s ability to cure all the daily stresses (both in the making and in the eating) make it a winning condiment for pastas, sandwiches and salads. And the best part is that it requires only seven ingredients: 4 of which are salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil-- pantry staples! Could it be any easier?

In this recipe, I use emmental cheese instead of the traditional parmesan. If you prefer to use parmesan, reduce the rock salt to 1 teaspoon. Also, I use a stone pestle and mortar to grind everything together, but if you don’t have one, use a blender (of course, you lose out on the therapeutic properties of this recipe).

Fresh and Easy PestoMakes about 1 cup
2 Whole Cloves of Garlic, peeled
1 ½ tsp Rock Salt
3 cups Fresh Basil Leaves
¼ cup Pine Nuts
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ cup Emmental Cheese, Finely Grated
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Place the 2 cloves of garlic, the salt, and the basil in the mortar and grind into a paste. Add the pinenuts and grind until smooth. Mix in the olive oil until combined. Add the cheese and stir. Season to taste with black pepper.

Serving Suggestions:

Simply toss the pesto with pasta and enjoy
Make a potato salad, but toss in pesto instead of mayonnaise dressing
Use as a spread on sandwiches, toast, pizza, burgers
Use as a dressing for raw or cooked veggies
Use as an accompaniment for fish, meat, or chicken

1 comment:

  1. I like to garden but I like cooking better, at the expense of my garden. Basel pesto is my favorite but I once received a jar of cilantro and parsley pesto, also quite nice if not classic.