Monday, June 7, 2010

Presto! Pesto times two!

I hate when I think I have come up with a brilliant idea only to find out that not only have other people come up with the idea but they've also already posted it on their food blogs or more reputable, commercial foody websites. (I also hate that my fingers and my computer seem to have a significant relationship that fails to include me. So, as I'm typing all this in an (free Word-like software) document to cut and paste into blogger once the website is back up, the text keeps getting bigger and smaller and I am not sure why or how and now it is officially “Large Print” and I have to scroll sidewise to see the whole thing and I'm at a loss as to how to make it normal sized. As in 12 point, can-see-whole-width-of-page-at-once. My Mac is too fancy for me. I am a simple girl. No, I'm not a simple girl at all actually, but I am extremely non-mechanical and non-technical. And frustrated.)

Anyway, recently my friend Alicia emailed me a list of CSA tips. I skimmed the first few and then thought, “these lists never talk about pesto! I'm going to blog about that!” So off I went, making pestos out of everything but the kitchen sink, all the while narrating in my head the clever post that would solve every CSA member's too-much-garlic-herbs-and-greens problem. And then, in preparation for the arrival of our first CSA share this week, I went back to the list randomly one day to see if maybe the last few items actually could provide me some novel tricks to have on hand come Thursday. And I saw that, naturally, pesto-making was mentioned.

I'm not the only genius, it seems.

This discovery did not preclude this pesto post, however, because I read The Pilgrimage and one part lists a sort of beatitudes-like prayer with a bit I will paraphrase like so: “Blessed are those who don't give up on a task because someone else could do it better.” Or, in this case, has already done it [maybe, possibly, arguably] better [or at least has gotten paid to do so]. I have defeatist tendencies, so that part of the book really struck me (sort of the way Free Range Kids gets to me (in a good, healthy way) over and over again because I have paranoid hypochondriac tendencies that could potentially lead to my daughter living a Rapunzel-like existence).

And that was a really long preface to pesto.

I'm going to post two recipes here but the point of this post is not to encourage anyone to go buy these ingredients and follow these recipes precisely. No, no. The point is to liberate you from your marriage to traditional basil-parmesan-pine nut pesto. Which, you know, before I was allergic to pine nuts, I really loved. It's good stuff. But it's not the only stuff, especially if you have an herb garden and/or oversized bags of farmer's market produce and/or CSA shares that you have to make use of. Pesto-making is so handy! And it's so good and versatile. I used the two below as a pizza topping, tossed in a pasta salad with garbanzo beans, spinach and tuna, spread on a veggie-burger sandwich for lunch and on hearty crackers as a side dish with dinner, and in a small bowl as a dip with crudité.

See? Good and versatile. That's probably why I'm not the only person that thought of it.

Cilantro Pesto
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
1/3 cup pepitas (green hulled pumpkin seeds – found in refrigerated bulk section at the co-op), toasted
2 cloves garlic
1 cup cilantro (big handful or half a bunch)
½ cup fresh parsley (or other herb or more cilantro)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Sriracha
juice from ½ or whole lemon (about ¼ cup is what you want – my lemon wasn't v. juicy, so I used the whole thing)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
2 cloves garlic
1 cup oregano leaves, chives, basil, parsley and/or green part of green onions
½ cup sunflower seeds or pepitas, toasted
½ teaspoon salt
5 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in boiling water for 10-15 minutes
2-3 dried apricots, soaked with the sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice

In either recipe, the method is the same: place the garlic, herbs, seeds, salt (and sun-dried tomatoes and apricots, if using) in the food processor and pulse until it forms a thick, chunky paste. Add the lemon juice and/or hot sauce, pulse a couple more times. Finally, put the food processor on properly (not pulsing), and slowly drizzle in olive oil. Use more or less oil depending on what kind of consistency you like in your pesto and/or what you plan on using it for.

Some other pesto tips:

  1. Other ingredients you might consider trying to add a little depth of flavor or nutrition to your pestos, depending on what kind of herbs you are using: capers, green olives, mustard, roasted garlic, lime juice, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, roasted or raw jalapeños or other hot peppers, ground flax seed, nutritional yeast, and freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese.

  2. If you get any of the following in your CSA shares, they are ideal for pestos (and soups, but that's another post): garlic scapes (whole thing, just trim ends a bit and cut into 1-2” pieces – especially good with oregano and parmesan), sorrel, lamb's quarters, stevia, watercress, arugula, mint, and the parts of scallions or herbs that you don't otherwise use.

  3. If you have a lot of herbs or more intense greens that you'd like to use in pesto but that you find too strong to use raw, a small amount of cooking or roasting can go a long way to mellow the flavors. To do this the easy way, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a saucepan or, if you have larger greens, frying pan over a low flame. Once the oil is smoking, add watercress, oregano, arugula, peppers, garlic, et cetera. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let the oil and ingredients cool to lukewarm. Once cooled, add the produce to the food processor with your other ingredients, straining and reserving the olive oil for drizzling into the pesto at the end. If you're not up for heating, you could just let the flavors meld overnight. I made an arugula pesto a couple weeks ago, which was super bitter the first day. The arugula was v. overpowering and I regretted using it. But I never throw out food, so I kept it in the refrigerator and tried it the next day and it was much milder and quite nice. So, yeah, there's that.

  4. Oh - and if you don't have a food processor, you should get one. It is the best kitchen appliance ever invented, and you only need a v. small one, and those guys aren't too expensive.


  1. I love how creative you are with your pestos! You can really do a lot of different things with pesto, can't you!?!

    The apricots gave me an idea for a fruit and nut (or seed in your case) pesto to go into a baked brie! I think we should make it (after the wedding of course)! I miss cheese!!!

  2. Lisa - that sounds SO good. I have some dried apricots that my parents brought me from California... I may just have to buy a brie wheel tomorrow and make your idea a reality.