Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Recipe: Five Herb Pesto

I was left with mostly full packages of fresh chervil, basil, chives, sage, and Italian flat-leaf parsley after making my herbed spaghetti squash side on Sunday night and I was a little concerned about how I was going to use them all before they started wilting and melting into slimy brown puddles in the fridge. It's not often that I make a dish that requires that variety of fresh herbs, so I decided the easiest way to use them up would be to make a pesto. A few handfuls of toasted pine nuts, some shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino-Romano, extra virgin olive oil, and a clove or two of garlic, plus the mix of herbs creates a complexly flavored pesto, all at once bitter, spicy, nutty, salty, and "green." While I wouldn't recommend eating it straight from a spoon—its light scent may trick you into believing its flavor is also light—it's delicious spread on a crusty piece of Italian bread, smeared on a sandwich, or even tossed with pasta, and it's especially good after it's had a day or two to sit in the fridge. I really just kind of winged it when it came to measuring out the herbs—I had used a bit of each for my spaghetti squash, so I used just about all of the remaining herbs in the pesto (each container held about 2/3 oz. fresh herbs)—so I encourage you to play around with the amounts of each herb that you use. The more basil, the better. The less sage, also probably the better (it has a very distinct smell and taste). The chives will add a slightly salty, onion-y flavor, while the parsley will add its distinct "green" flavor. Chervil has a very very slight smell of fennel or anise, but you can use a pretty good amount of it because the flavor is fairly delicate. Do not go overboard on the garlic cloves—because they are not cooked, they have a spicy quality to them that stands out in the pesto and can easily overwhelm it. Add one to start, and add just one more after you've tasted it and if you've decided the pesto can handle it.

Yields: 1 to 2 cups
Prep. time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: Just a few minutes to toast the pine nuts
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Food processor

  • A few tbsp. fresh chervil, coarsely chopped
  • A few tbsp. fresh basil, chiffonade cut (roll up the leaves then cut the roll, creating skinny, long slices of leaf)
  • A few tbsp. fresh chives, coarsely chopped
  • A few tbsp. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • A few tbsp. fresh sage, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 - 1 cup shredded Italian cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano are the best)
  • A little over 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted (preheat the oven to 350*F and toast the nuts on a small pan for just a few minutes, checking frequently. Toast until they are fragrant and just barely golden-brown, but not burnt. Really, it only takes about 3-5 minutes.)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the five herbs, garlic, cheese, pine nuts, and some of the olive oil, plus a little salt and pepper, in the food processor and blend until well-combined. Add in the rest of the olive oil and blend until the mixture is well-blended, with no chunks of garlic or pine nuts and no large pieces of herbs mixed in. The mixture will be thick—it should be more like a spread than a liquid sauce.

This pesto is incredibly flavorful and definitely gets better with age. The blend of herbs adds bitter, salty, spicy, "green," and nutty tastes to the mixture and it's absolutely perfect spread on a slice of Italian bread. It could easily be used as a pasta sauce or a condiment for a sandwich, and I'm betting it would be great as a substitute for tomato sauce on a pizza or you could mix it with mozzarella cheese and use the mixture to stuff chicken breasts. Versatile, flavorful, and a great way to use up some leftover herbs.

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