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#952 - Pesto and Pistou
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One of the features of summer in Maryland is the sheer abundance coming from our fields, gardens and orchards. A very common sight these days is to check out someone's herb garden, and discover basil plants going hog wild. So Chef JP of Corks, the classic question is: what can we do with all that basil?
These are two closely related condiments or sauces that originated in the Mediterranean. Pesto, which originated in Genoa, is a well known sauce made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and grated hard cheese. Pistou originated a few hundred miles to the west in Provence. It is a blend of basil, garlic, grated cheese and olive oil...no nuts.
Both names harken back to the pestle and mortar that were used to grind the ingredients together. Today, the mortar and pestle can still be used, but a food processor gives great results and is a lot easier.
Traditional Pesto is very easy to make. Using a mortar and pestle, you would first work with the pine nuts and garlic cloves, grinding them into a smooth paste. Chopped basil leaves and a bit of coarse sea salt are then added, and ground into the mixture. Finally, the cheese and olive oil are added and the entire blend is worked over until it becomes a thick creamy sauce.
Because the ingredients are so simple, variations are natural. Substitutes for the basil include parsley, broccoli, mint, arugula, and spinach. Substitutes for the pine nuts include walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and brazil nuts. Parmigiano Regiano cheese is the standard, but pecorino romano makes frequent appearances.
Additional ingredients can elaborate the basic, simple pesto. Roasted peppers, olives and sun-dried tomatoes are among the most common additions. Kept in a tightly sealed container, and covered with a layer of olive oil, pesto keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week. It can be frozen (if you omit the cheese) and kept much longer.
Cuisinart Pesto (this recipe allows you the convenience of a food processor)
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup of fresh pine nuts (old pine nuts taste and smell rancid!)
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (use the best you can afford)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Pulse the garlic and pine nuts until a paste is formed.
2. Add in the basil leaves in, a bit at a time, and pulse them until they are incorporated into the paste.
3. With the processor on a low steady speed, slowly pour the olive oil in, in a good steady stream. Stop the processor, then add the cheese, pulsing as you go.
4. Finally, season to taste with the kosher salt and black pepper.