According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking under “Sauces thickened with plant particles”,
“Pesto takes its name from the same root that gives us pestle, and the basil leaves and garlic were traditionally ground with a pestle and mortar. Because this takes some time and effort, modern cooks usually prepare pesto in a blender or food processor. The choice of appliance and how it’s used influence both consistency and flavor. The crushing and shearing action of the pestle, the shearing action of the blender, and the slicing action of the processor all produce different proportions of intact and broken cells. The more thor0ughly the cells are broken, the more their contents are exposed to each other and to the air, and the more their flavor evolves. A course pesto will have a flavor most like the flavor of fresh leaves.”
Well then. I’ll have to find the time some day to test this out… In the meantime, pesto isn’t just about basil anymore, and it’s hard for me to choose favorites. Here are some pesto possibilities:
Basil pesto is traditional, of course, but we’re not in basil season yet and who knows where the basil from the grocery store comes from. Wait until we have plentiful basil at the farmers’ market, unless you’re growing it yourself.
Leek pesto, a la Mark Bittman. This is the newest addition to my repertoire. It’s leek season and in searching for a new recipe I found this in one of my several Bittman cookbooks. I love this man’s sensibilities with ingredients. Try leek pesto over pasta – it’s a lovely creamy sauce, with no cream!
Pasta with Rich Leek “Pesto” – from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 or 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- About 1 1/2 pounds leeks (2 or 3 large), trimmed, well rinsed, and chopped
- 1 egg
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (don’t skip these – they bring a nice green color)
- black pepper
- 8 ounces any pasta (preferably whole wheat)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When it’s hot, add the garlic and leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, 20 – 30 minutes
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Transfer the leeks to a blender or food processor with the egg, parsley, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary. Return the puree to the skillet, off heat.
Cook the pasta in the boiling water until it’s tender but not mushy, then drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Turn the heat under the leek mixture to medium, add about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid to thin the pesto, and toss in the pasta along with the cheese. Add more liquid as desired and toss. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve.
Garlic scape season is coming up quickly and there is no better way to use up those gorgeous scapes than with a garlic scape pesto. Make a lot (A LOT), quite inexpensively, and freeze for use in the months to come (great in the winter!). It’s one of our favorite toppings for grilled pizza.
Garlic Scape Pesto (originally from the Washington Post)
- 1 cup garlic scapes (about 8 or 9 scapes), top flowery part removed, cut into ¼-inch slices
- 1/3 cup walnuts
- ¾ cup olive oil
- ¼-1/2 cup grated parmigiano
- ½ teaspoon salt
- black pepper to taste
Place scapes and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and whiz until well combined and somewhat smooth. Slowly drizzle in oil and process until integrated. With a rubber spatula, scoop pesto out of bowl and into a mixing bowl. Add parmigiano to taste; add salt and pepper. Makes about 6 ounces of pesto. Keeps for up to one week in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
To freeze, I omit the cheese (until it comes back out of the freezer), and scoop into several small ziplock bags, squeeze out the air, and freeze flat on a baking sheet. Once frozen, I stack up the frozen bags in a corner of the freezer – green goodness for later!
There’s Green Olive Pesto. Kinda like green olive tapenade. Remember when it was sold at the flower stand at the Hudson farmers’ market a couple of years ago? I thought it was yummy, and made a version of it several times using this recipe.
Ramp pesto? It’s ramp season – but I can hardly bring myself to pulverize precious ramps into Ramp Pesto. I could be very wrong about this. At the moment I’m storing up my ramp eating for next weekend.
Or, there’s kale pesto – rather life changing.
I am not a fan of kale. Not sauteed, not baked into kale chips (faux chips), not surrounded by creamy mashed potatoes. And then I met Oliva. You’ll notice that the Lacinato Kale Pesto container above is empty. I bought a couple at the Hudson farmers’ market last weekend (my version of livin’ large) and my OH was appalled to find that I gave one container to a favored co-worker. Who ate two-thirds of it in one sitting, on crackers but mostly straight from the fork. I’m sure this is good on pasta, but it hasn’t made it that far yet.
These are my favorites – and they all seem to be green. What are yours?