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Pesto for the Spring

Pesto and pulled jackfruit tacos. In Southern California, working-class Mexican-American chefs are giving traditionally meaty dishes a vegan spin.
Evi Oravecz/Green Evi/Picture Press
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Pesto and pulled jackfruit tacos. In Southern California, working-class Mexican-American chefs are giving traditionally meaty dishes a vegan spin.

I was strolling the aisles of our local Farmers Market last week when say big bunches of basil. I immediately thought of two things: caprese salad and pesto. To my mind, pesto is one of those dishes you make once, and then want to keep making. Chef Jerry Pellegrino said we are lucky because this is the perfect time of year to get into the habit.

One of the nice things about pesto is that it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The classic ingredients, basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese, can be substituted for. The leafy green component, especially, can find replacements. Top of the list would be spinach, followed by arugula, kale, chard and beet greens. The nuts can be anything as long as they are oily. Walnuts and hazelnuts would be great. And of course, any grateable cheese would work. Here is Jerry's recipe:

Spinach Pesto


2 cups baby spinach

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic

½ cup pistachios

1 cup parmesan cheese

Salt & pepper

In a small saucepan set over low heat*, cook the whole garlic cloves in the olive oil until aromatic and soft, approximately 15 minutes. Allow it to cool to room temperature.

In a blender, add the spinach, pistachios olive oil and garlic cloves. Turn on the blender. Add additional olive oil if the pesto is too thick. Pour into a mixing bowl and whisk in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

*Extra Virgin Olive Oil starts to lose its aromatics at temperatures above 140°F. We’ve found that poaching the garlic in the olive at 160°F allows the garlic to cook and the olive oil to retain most of its beautiful aromas and taste. We use a digital induction burner to hold the temperature at 180°F for one hour and the results are amazing! You can use a candy thermometer to try and adjust the heat on the burner to stay around 160°F.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.