by: Chef Jim Berman
At our last meeting, we began a discussion on the allure of Pesto. The basil, garlic, oil, cheese and nuts were all lined up awaiting orders to assemble. With some careful scouring, good basil can be had. Fresh garlic is a staple, as are quality oil and premium Parmigiano. We can do much with these components alone, but we can make sweet music when congregated.
Here's the best with measures I can do-
1 Cup, minimally packed fresh basil leaves torn from their stem and not compacted into the measuring cup
2 Tablespoons, chopped fresh garlic
1 Tablespoon, unsalted sunflower seeds, shells removed
3 Tablespoons, freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (or Asiago or Pecorino)
½ Cup, Canola Oil
Salt, preferably sea salt
Pepper (from a mill not from who-knows-how-old jar)
My preference for equipment is my trusty mortar and pestle. It yields a better product as the basil leaves adequately "bruise" and release their naturally occurring oils rather than just reduced to grass clippings in a food processor, however, the processor will do a respectable job, as does a blender. I "muddle" the basil leaves, garlic and seeds until they resemble lumpy, green mortar. Mix in the cheese and then add the oil. Season, rather liberally, with the salt and pepper.
This is not failsafe it will not always yield perfectly balanced flavor. There are variables of which we must contend. The pungent, licorice tendency of the basil can be cause for adjusting ingredients. Cheese specimens yield various nuttiness in their respective flavors. Time, too, can be a factor. If the pesto is consumed when first composed, you may find a very different flavor then if it is allowed to "rest".
All that said, it really is worth the try and inevitable retries to get to the penultimate in flavor. With green, aromatic mixture in hand, it needs a home. It does well to dress of bowl of piping hot pasta. Allow the heat of the pasta to gently warm the pesto rather than cooking the pesto, as intense heat will quickly scorch away the subtle flavor of the fresh ingredients. Salmon smeared with the pesto is a quick fix for dinner. A bit more effort, but worth the reward, goes into folding some pesto in some simmering cream does well tossed with fettucine, mushrooms, broccoli, plum tomatoes and asparagus, or any combination thereof.
Pesto is as versatile as the ingredients are valuable. Put some thought into the simplicity that defines pesto and you will find it does well to compliment a complex palate.