Home­made pesto lends it­self to vari­a­tions

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FOOD - Mar­garet Prouse From My Kitchen Mar­garet Prouse, a home econ­o­mist, can be reached by writ­ing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at mar­garet@is­land­gusto.com.

For a long time, I liked the idea of us­ing fresh herbs, but didn’t know much about what to do with them. Con­se­quently, it wasn’t un­usual to find bun­dles of de­com­pos­ing herbs in my fridge.

While I still find some bunches of herbs too big for our two-per­son house­hold, I have grad­u­ally learned more about us­ing these flavour­ful fresh foods.

One Satur­day morn­ing this month, I bought a lit­tle bou­quet of sweet basil at the Farm­ers’ Mar­ket, with­out a plan for us­ing it. It didn’t take long to de­cide to make pesto.

Pesto — clas­sic pesto — is an un­cooked sauce that orig­i­nated in Genoa, Italy. Be­sides be­ing de­li­cious, it is dead easy to make and doesn’t even re­quire any cook­ing. It is made by crush­ing to­gether fresh basil, gar­lic cloves, pine nuts, Parme­san or pecorino cheese and olive oil, com­bin­ing them to make a thick sauce.

Pesto is spread on cros­tini, crack­ers or pizza dough or tossed with pasta. With­out much trou­ble, one can imag­ine other uses as well.

The word pesto is de­rived from an Ital­ian word de­scrib­ing the tech­nique of crush­ing or grind­ing the in­gre­di­ents in a mor­tar and pes­tle. Tra­di­tions, tech­niques and recipes evolve. With­out a doubt, many cooks still make pesto the tra­di­tional way, us­ing a mor­tar and pesto, but I have al­ways used a food pro­ces­sor and would wa­ger that many other peo­ple do, as well.

If you look for pesto recipes on­line or in cook­books, you will find nu­mer­ous vari­a­tions, some us­ing cilantro, pars­ley or mint, some call­ing for wal­nuts, almonds or pis­ta­chios. It can also be made us­ing gar­lic scapes, the curly green tops of gar­lic that are in sea­son right now. Mak­ing pesto can be a cre­ative en­deav­our, and I like to think that, hav­ing fol­lowed a recipe the first time or two you make it, you are then ready to pro­duce your own vari­a­tions.

The one I made and then served with lin­guini last week, con­sisted of the per­fectly fresh bun­dle of lo­cal basil, some ground al­mond meal and a few wal­nut pieces that I had in the freezer, ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, two gar­lic cloves, a hand­ful of grated Parme­san cheese, salt and pep­per, pureed with a food pro­ces­sor and thinned slightly with a few spoons­ful of pasta cook­ing wa­ter. Tossed with lin­guini and topped with halved cherry toma­toes and another sprin­kle of grated cheese and coarsely ground pep­per, it made a colour­ful and tasty meal.

Had there been any left over, I could have stored it in the fridge for a few days or packed it in an air­tight bot­tle or bag and kept it frozen for a few months.

Last week­end, I met some­one else who is in­ter­ested in mak­ing pesto. Con­nor MacAu­lay, a re­cent grad­u­ate of Blue­field High School, was one of the win­ners in the P.E.I. Women’s In­sti­tute’s recipe chal­lenge for Is­land stu­dents in Grades 7-12. Stu­dents sub­mit­ted recipes fea­tur­ing Prince Ed­ward Is­land foods, and win­ning en­tries were compiled in a cook­book avail­able from Women’s In­sti­tute at its pro­vin­cial of­fice and at pub­lic events.

Now em­ployed in the restau­rant busi­ness, Con­nor is an avid cook. He demon­strated his recipe for Parsnip Chips and of­fered sam­ples of his pesto as part of the cook­ing pre­sen­ta­tions at last Satur­day’s Cra­paud Ex­hi­bi­tion.

Con­nor’s pesto, spread on crack­ers, was a big hit with the au­di­ence. A cre­ative de­par­ture from clas­sic basil pesto, his con­tains pump­kin seeds in­stead of pine nuts, and fresh pars­ley in­stead of basil, although I did hear him say that he some­times adds other herbs that he has on hand.

Con­nor’s Pesto

Adapted from “Women’s In­sti­tute Is­land Prod­uct Cook­ing Con­test Cook­book” salt 125 mL (1/2 cup) hulled green pump­kin seeds 75 mL (5 tbsp) olive oil 15 mL (1 tbsp) pa­prika 250 mL (1 cup) fresh pars­ley 2 green onions 25 mL (2 tbsp) lemon juice 1 clove gar­lic Heat 45 mL (3 tbsp) of the olive oil, 5 mL (1 tsp) salt and 125 mL (1/2 cup) of pump­kin seeds. Cook un­til seeds brown. Let cool and add 125 mL (½ cup) wa­ter, pars­ley, pa­prika, green onion, lemon juice, seeds, oil and gar­lic to food pro­ces­sor, and puree. Add salt to taste.

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