Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harvesting Fresh Herbs for Pesto

With every vegetable garden comes responsibility.  I planned for hours, planted the seeds, tended and nurtured the little seedlings, then patiently watched them grow.  The excitement at the appearance of the first flower or fruit, made me feel like a proud mama.  As the days grow hotter,  my garden has begun to look like a jungle.  Now we are into the thick of summer and for the most part my garden has been a success. My herbs did particularly well this year.  I love to use fresh herbs in my cooking.  I feel the addition of fresh herbs to a dish can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Some of the more tender herbs will not be around forever.  I feel like I have a responsibility to use my herbs as they reach their peak and before they go to seed.

A great way to use some tender-leafed herbs is to make pesto.  When it comes to pesto, I prefer a l basil pesto.  You can use almost any tender leaf herb or combination of herbs.  You can even make a spinach or arugula pesto.  A traditional pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.  Pesto can be used to sauce a pasta dish.  A dollop can be added to a soup or a teaspoon can top a vegetable dish or even some chicken or fish.   How about adding a bit of pesto to mayo and kick that boring sandwich up a notch?   The possibilities are endless.  It packs a big punch of flavor.  A little bit goes a long way.
For years I have used the old tried and true pesto recipe from the Joy of Cooking.  Sometimes I make it as written, sometimes I take liberties.  Use what you have on hand and expand your horizons.
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
  • 2 cups packed basil leaves, cleaned and dried (I use a salad spinner)
  • 2 cloves garlic 
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 cup olive oil + more to float on top of jar
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  1. Toast walnuts in a skillet until fragrant, not browned.
  2. Pour nuts into a bowl of a food processor and pulse 3 times to break up.
  3. Add the garlic and pulse 3 times.
  4. Place 2 cups of fresh basil leaves in a food processor with the toasted nuts and garlic. Process until finely minced.
  5. With the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth.
  6. Add the grated cheese and pulse 4 to 5 times until blended.
Use immediately or store in a jar.  Pesto that is exposed to the air will blacken in a few days.  To avoid this, float a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto.  Pour off oil or mix in when ready to use.  Pesto also freezes well.  Freeze in freezer containers or pour pesto into ice cube trays and freeze.  When the cubes are set, pop them out and store in a freezer bag.  You'll have fresh tasting pesto long after your fresh herbs are gone.
Another great way to use fresh herbs is to make infused oils and vinegars.  Don't let those fresh herbs go to waste. Capture their fresh flavor while you can!  

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