Here we go with more of our delicious summer herbs.
I had a hankering for pesto recently and decided to try my hand at making my own. Luckily, there’s a fantastic recipe in this book and it’s fairly easy to assemble. The concept here is the same as in the marinara sauce: Not All Herbs Are for Cooking. To help draw out more of the basil’s flavor, it’s bruised before going in the food processor. I simply placed it between some paper towels and gave it a good pounding with my rolling pin, but a meat pounder or hammer or even your fist will do just as well. The resulting sauce is bright with basil and nicely garlicky, rich with the fattiness of the olive oil and pine nuts. You could use walnuts, too, if pine nuts are too expensive, but the pine nuts do add a little something extra.
There are a number of ways you can serve pesto – one of my college friend’s favorite dishes was to toss it with cheese tortellini and broccoli. You could also simply smear it on some toasted bread for a quick appetizer. I chose to bake it on top of salmon, which made for a moist and flavorful dinner and a pretty good cold lunch the next day.
First you’ll toast three unpeeled garlic cloves in a small skillet over medium-heat. Shake the pan occasionally so they don’t burn completely, but let them get nice and brown in the spots where they touch the pan, about 8 minutes. When they’re cool enough to touch, remove them from their skins and add them to a food processor. (Side note: unless you’re cooking for a lot of people, I highly recommend a mini-food processor. They’re easy to store and clean and they come in handy in so many applications.) Toast ¼ cup pine nuts in the same pan, stirring until golden and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the toasted nuts to the food processor.
Place 2 cups basil and 2 tablespoons fresh parsley to a bag or between some paper towels and bruise using a rolling pin or meat pounder. Add them to the food processor, along with 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Process until smooth, about 1 minute, then transfer to a bowl. Add ¼ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste, and combine. (Another side note: spring for the real cheese, not the stuff that comes in a green can. It makes a huge difference.)
For the salmon that I made, take a generous spoonful, about a tablespoon or two, and spread it over a 6-ounce piece of salmon. (The pesto recipe makes about a cup, so halve or quarter as required for your cooking needs.) Bake the salmon at 400° for 20 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily. It’s one of the easiest dinners you’ll ever make, but it’ll taste like you really know what you’re doing with your herbs.