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Revved Up Pesto

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For the last few years I thought I didn’t like pesto, and then I made my own and was a convert. Making pesto is a lot easier to make than you might think, and you can make all sorts of variations once you decide how you want your basic pesto recipe to taste. There’s nothing like the blast of fresh springy green that pesto brings to pasta, fish or chicken to liven up a meal and you can freeze it, too, so it’s a good weeknight standby.

This recipe is based on Lidia Bastianich’s classic pesto recipe. I love Lidia’s cookbooks and Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen is one of my go-to favorites. Typically, though, I had to tinker with her excellent recipe because, after I made the first batch, I decided I wanted more garlic and a touch of heat.

The one thing you can’t skimp on when making pesto is good quality, fresh ingredients. The basil should be bright green with no wilted or curling edges and don’t ever use pre-grated cheese. Imported parmesan and pecorino cheese can be very expensive but you don’t need a lot. Alternatively, look for wedges of good domestic cheese in the parmesan and pecorino style.

Generous pinch of coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Generous pinch of crushed red pepper
60 small or 30 large fresh basil leaves, about 4 ounces with the stems on.
Remove stems. Rinse leaves and pat dry gently, taking care not to bruise the leaves.
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted*
2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano, finely grated
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
3 to 4 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor or blender, add basil, salt, red pepper and garlic. In slow bursts, blend the ingredients into a paste. Add the pine nuts and 2 tablespoons olive oil and slowly blend together. The basil should still be bright green. Then add cheeses and gradually add the remaining olive oil, a bit at a time until everything is smooth and creamy. Check you seasoning, and stir in more salt if needed.

Makes about 1 cup, which is enough for a lot of pasta. This pesto is rich and flavorful, so a little goes a long way.

If you want to freeze the pesto, omit the cheese as it doesn’t freeze that well. Pour the pesto into an ice tray and freeze solid. Remove and place into a freezer bag (don’t forget to label it, with the date.) You can defrost as many cubes as you like and add the cheese at that point if you want. You can also drop a cube or two into soup in the middle of winter; it will really perk up any soup you’re making soup.

* Toasting pine nuts: place pine nuts in a small frying pan over medium high heat, turning frequently, until the nuts are a light golden brown. Pay attention because the nuts go from toasted to burnt pretty fast!

Photograph used by permission. © Sarah Patterson


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