23 July 2009

Basil pesto

One of my first experiences where I can remember being really impressed by an exotic, new food was about fifteen years ago. The scientist who had hired me for the summer had all of her students over for dinner one evening, and one of the things she made was a cold basil pesto salad. I was enthralled. I'd never eaten fresh basil before, and was bowled over by the flavour.


When I returned to university in the fall, I thought I would impress my new love interest with my new culinary skills (until that point I really didn't cook, but I was ready to showoff anyway). I dug out the copy of Joy of Cooking my mother had given me (the original version, not the travesty that Ethan Becker made) and was delighted to find a recipe for basil pesto. However, the small grocery store near my 350 square foot basement apartment didn't carry fresh basil. Being a resourceful lad, I merely bought the largest bag of dried basil I could get, and made pesto with that. Imagine my surprise when I finished the final step, and the "pesto" turned black. My date would be arriving in a few minutes, so to rescue the evening, I turned off the lights, laid out a blanket on the floor, lit a candle, and had a romantic, gray basil pesto dinner. My date that night was very polite.

I still make that recipe, but now I use basil from the pot in the backyard (to ensure that I'm never desperate for basil). And these days, I usually just wing the proportions. But tonight, I'll give you the original Joy of Cooking basil pesto, for old time's sake:
1 ½ cups fresh basil leaves (yep, it definitely said fresh in that old book)
2 cloves garlic (I tend to use quite a bit more)
¼ cup pine nuts
¾ cup parmesan cheese
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

These days, making this recipe is quite easy. Just put everything but the oil into the food processor, and grind into a fine paste.

Drizzle the oil in slowly while running the food processor. Remember, you're trying to make an emulsion, so don't add the oil too quickly...

Basil pesto

Toss pesto in with hot pasta to taste. You can keep extra pesto in the fridge for a couple weeks (pour a bit of oil on top to "seal" it in, and it'll keep that nice bright green color - otherwise it'll oxidize and turn a darker green/brown colour that's less appetizing).

On the most recent night we made it, we served it with the only noodles we had in the house - macaroni. And it was delicious.

Pesto pasta

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