Food Coach

Pesto not just for pasta: Make it yourself

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The word "pesto" actually comes from the Latin root "to pound" or "to crush," often with a mortar and pestle, and involves basil and pine nuts. Chef Mark Peel of Campanile shows us there are all kinds of pesto for all kinds of foods.

"It's such a light, fresh delicious garnish, and a little bit goes a long way," explains Peel.

Peel's "New Classic Family Dinners" cookbook reveals pesto is not just for pasta. A little drizzle on beans, corn chowder or baked chicken is a perfect way to add color and flavor to any food.

By far, basil is considered the basic herb for pesto. But using tarragon, cilantro, parley or mint also works.

"You want to use the fresh, sweet herbs -- the tender herbs," says Peel.

But you should pass on pungent greens like thyme, rosemary and bay leaves, as they come on too strong.

To get started, Peel suggests you begin with garlic, anchovy or a slice of sun-dried tomato (it doesn't take much). Give them a pound, along with your nut of choice (though the nut is optional). Pine nuts are mild, almonds are a bit more powerful, and walnuts are stronger yet. A pinch of salt acts as an abrasive and oil will help emulsify.

All these ingredients need to be pureed well, so work out those aggressions on your pesto for the best flavor.

Once your pesto is pureed, it's time to add clean, chopped and stem-free herbs. Grind the herbs into the puree.

Mortar and pestle are the best for making pesto. If you have to use a food processor or blender, Peel says you should use the pesto right away for the best color and flavor.

Most often, the mixture is pounded, then grounded, and then topped onto food rather than cooking with it. Fresh pesto will last up to four days in the refrigerator. While it won't necessarily spoil, it will lose smell, color and flavor the longer it sits in the fridge.

In the event you're feeling a little lazy or strapped for time, Le Grand by Maison makes some pesto for a penny shy of $7; you'll find them at Whole Foods and specialty shops in flavors like Garden Pesto, Four Nuts and Cheese, Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and more. But of course if you do it yourself, you'll save some money.

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food, recipe, food coach, lori corbin
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