Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pesto Possibilities

While on our destination wedding scouting trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, we were treated to a tasting menu at a hotel we love (don't get too excited, there are some major details to work out before we can sign on the dotted line) and where we hope to gather friends and family in February to celebrate our marriage.  While the entire menu was a knock-out, the taste that stuck out most in my mind was an unusually delicious pesto that decorated a surf and turf plate.  When I inquired about the sauce (or "souse" as adorably pronounced by restaurant manager Fabian) he said that it included a mixture of herbs, primarily parsley.  Of course, I was inspired to get in the kitchen and explore my pesto possibilities.
Traditional Pesto
Basil Pesto Recipe from Giada de Laurentiis' everyday italian, 2005
2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (approximately)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a blender, pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper until finely chopped.  With the blender still running, gradually add enough oil to form a smooth and thick consistency.  Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese.  Season the pesto with more salt and pepper to taste.  (The pesto can be made 2 days ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.)

Explore your pesto possibilities by substituting or adding nuts such as walnuts or pecans or herbs like arugula, parsley, spinach or mint. Add dimension to pesto by including other ingredients like tomatoes or olives.

I made a pesto with a combination of basil, parsley and arugula and mostly walnuts with some pine nuts.  I used it to baste zucchini before grilling (shown below along side chicken stuffed with basil, Parmesan and tomato) and also as a sauce (I thinned it with a bit more extra-virgin olive oil) on a grilled radicchio salad with slivers of Parmesan and crisped prosciutto.
Since the sauce has protein (nuts and cheese) you'll want to be careful about how much you use and with what you eat it.  You can also play with omitting or using less protein and increasing the amount of greens.  I made a pesto with no nuts and loads of parsley and arugula - almost a "free food" with only a little bit of cheese.  Again, I used it to baste food (tofu and endive this time) before grilling and then I added more as a sauce before serving.

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