Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pesto Italiano

I have an excellent Pesto recipe - somewhere.  I promised it to you a year ago, but, um, haven’t been able to find it. Enter Ron: Home Cook, Helpmate, Hero. Yesterday, Ron asked: “Want me to help with that basil?” “This is my job!”  I said. “As soon as I … find … my … recipe …” “You don’t need a recipe to make Pesto,” he answered. “But I do, I do, I do-o-o-o-o!” Needless to say, I still haven’t found that recipe. Also needless to say, Ron proceeded without it. It’s true what they say about men: They never ask for directions. 

Another old saying comes to mind: If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. The quote usually refers to the cost of owning a yacht, but it also applies to making Pesto. Take out a second mortgage, Dollinks! This stuff is not cheap.

We once again owe a debt of thanks to my friend Linda, whose Tzatziki recipe appeared August 20, 2011, and who for the past few years has supplied us with a pillowcase full of fresh basil from her lakeside cottage garden. We fetched our basil (Pesto’s primary ingredient) yesterday morning, and were already hard at work in the afternoon. Basil wilts quickly, so we didn’t waste a moment. 

I hate to sound crass, but as Ron inhaled its marvelous fragrance, he said: “This is about $100 worth of basil.” He was probably being conservative. In the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live, basil is hugely expensive to buy. If you live in a sun belt and can grow it yourself, you’ll be that much ahead of the game. Now, the cheese. I suggest you buy a cow - because that’s the only way you’ll be able to avoid the very high cost of the cheese. I used slabs of Italian Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Together, they cost $52. I’ve had entire meals in Italy that cost less than that. Still undaunted? The extra virgin olive oil that Ron used in his Pesto cost about $13. The pine nuts, the garlic cloves … cost, cost, cost! 

If you still want to make Pesto, let me say that its taste and versatility are worth it, even if you have to stand on the street selling pencils. Ron’s measurements are approximate and will vary with personal taste. He doesn’t use salt, so you may want to season your Pesto at the table.

I use a food processor to make my Pesto, but if you’d rather use a blender as Ron does, be sure it has a heavy-duty motor and a wide base. Blend or pulse the mixture on low speed - you want the basil to be well mixed and broken down, but not actually puréed.

Pesto Italiano:

A pillowcase full of fresh basil (our best guess is that it weighed 5 lb. or 2.2 kg)
Romano cheese, as needed (we used slightly more than ½ lb., or about 0.285 kg)
Parmesan cheese, as needed (we used 2-¾ lb., or about 1.3 kg)
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed (we used 6 c.)
Large, peeled garlic cloves (we used 20-to-23 ) (see Note)
Pine nuts, as needed (see Further Note)
Salt, to taste (optional)

Separate basil leaves from stems, discarding stems. Set aside. Grate cheeses manually or in food processor, discarding cheese rinds. Set grated cheeses aside. Fill wide-based, heavy-duty blender with about 2 c. olive oil. Drop in about 7 large garlic cloves (see Note) and one large handful of pine nuts. Blend several seconds until pine nuts and garlic are reduced to very fine pieces. Begin adding basil to blender on low speed, pulsing as mixture thickens and reaches top of blender. Transfer to large bowl. Set aside and repeat until all basil is used. Add grated cheeses, stirring well to combine.

Label, date, and freeze Pesto on flat surface (such as a baking sheet), using small freezer bags, each holding about ½ cup (Thin, snack-sized bags are not intended for the freezer. If you use them because they’re the ideal size for a serving of Pesto for two, transfer them after their initial freezing into solid-sided, lidded plastic freezer containers or into larger, zippered plastic freezer bags). Yields 22 packages, each containing about ½ c. Pesto.

To use with pasta, thaw plastic bag/s of Pesto in warm water for up to 5 min. Add 2 tbsp. of pasta cooking water and 1 tbsp. softened butter or margarine to Pesto before tossing with any pasta. For suggestions on other ways to use this wonderful sauce, consult the Index under Pesto. (We enjoyed Ron’s Pesto Penne last night. The recipe? Cook penne al denté. Toss with Pesto, hot water, and butter. Done!)

Note: Want to peel garlic fast? See the Index for How to Peel and Prepare Garlic in Quantity.

Further Note: Nuts can go rancid, especially over time or in hot weather. Store pine nuts in covered container in freezer. 

Best Tip Ever: Place stemmed basil leaves into freezer-safe zippered plastic bag, covering with olive oil. Flatten to remove all air, freezing up to 6 months.

Freeze extra basil for next time!

Here’s what you’ll need to make this excellent recipe:

Assemble all ingredients.
Fresh, stemmed basil, extra-virgin olive oil ...

Plenty of fresh garlic ...

Italian Parmesan and Romano cheeses.

Pine nuts.

Don't stint on the basil!

To heavy-duty blender or food processor, add olive oil ...

Add garlic and nuts, blending until reduced in size.

Stuff stemmed basil into oil mixture, with blender on low.

Mixture will become quite thick.

Grate cheeses, as needed.

Add to basil mixture, stirring well. 

Amount of cheese varies with personal preference!

Fill, label, and freeze zippered storage bags.

Quantities listed above yield 22 bags - a year's supply!

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