Thursday, September 17, 2009
Continuing with my end-of-summer series, I made pesto this week. Now that the weather is turning cooler, it will soon be curtains for the large pots of basil that I tended through the summer...though maybe a small one will live through the winter on the windowsill!
I tend to think of pesto as less of a recipe than a technique. The idea lends itself so well to multiple adaptations - think arugula-hazelnut, or red pepper-walnut, or cilantro-cashew...you can swap in pecorino or piave cheese as well. This time, though, I decided to stick to the classic trio of ingredients: basil, pine nuts and parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Add garlic and olive oil, and you're well on your way to making something tasty and versatile that needs only 5 ingredients!
I'd like to say I made this the traditional way, hand-chopping it with a mezzaluna, but alas...I don't own one. It's on my list of hmm-looks-great-but-do-I-really-need-this kitchen gadgets! I did, however, chop up all of the ingredients by hand first, using a knife, before tossing them all into the food processor to finish off the whole thing with a few pulses. This helps preserve the identity of the individual ingredients without blending them all into a featureless mush. And it doesn't take too long either.
Pesto can be used in so many ways - dip hunks of crusty bread in it, or serve over pasta, or mix with some goat cheese for a sandwich spread. Here, I've used it as a dressing for a salad featuring some of my favorite health foods: quinoa, broccoli and green beans. Quinoa is one of the superfoods that everyone is talking about these days. It is one of the few vegetable sources of protein that has all the amino acids, with the goodness of whole grains too. Legend has it that the Spanish invaders in Latin America tried to destroy quinoa fields to rob the Inca warriors of this source of their strength!
The quinoa had bright flavor from the pesto and was accentuated by the crunch of the broccoli, green beans and slivered almonds. A pinch of chili flakes added some heat, and the whole was finished off with some salty, tangy feta. Healthy and delicious!
Basil pesto (makes about 1 cup)
1 large bunch basil, leaves only
1 large handful pine nuts
3-4 cloves of garlic
Small hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed (about 3-4 tablespoons)
Chop the first three ingredients using a sharp knife, then toss into a food processor. Add half the cheese, then process in a few short pulses. Add the rest of the cheese and pulse a few more times. Scrape into a bowl, stir in the oil and check for seasoning. Drizzle some more oil over the top, cover and refrigerate up to a week.
Green quinoa (Serves 2)
3/4 cup quinoa
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
1 large handful green beans, trimmed and cut into 1" lengths
1 1/2 tbsp pesto
Pinch chilli flakes
2 tbsp slivered almonds
2 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
Rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a fine-mesh sieve and place in a pan with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down, cover and simmer till the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Fork the pesto and the chili flakes through the cooked quinoa and leave to cool a bit.
While the quinoa is cooking, blanch the broccoli florets and green beans in boiling salted water for 30 seconds. Drain and refresh with cold water. Shake dry and then add to the quinoa. Toss the salad together and divide on to plates. Serve topped with the feta and slivered almonds.