Creative Cookery



 

BASIL PESTO (ITALIAN)

Basil's coming on full force, so Mary insisted that I make a bowl of pesto the other night from a batch of leaves she pinched off to keep 'em from going to seed. No problem! The onset of pesto season, like the onset of tomato season, is a sure sign that summer has arrived in all its glory.

I used our standard recipe, more or less, which is sort of an evolutionary outgrowth of the recipe in Marcella Hazan's _Classic Italian Cookbook_, but I gave this year's first batch a couple of twists that I think make for a more mellow and rich-flavored potion. First, I toasted the pine nuts to a rich golden brown, a trick I've used before. Second, I applied a modification that I've been using in hummus and baba ganouj -- sauteed the garlic in oil rather than using it raw -- and I think this made a huge difference in creating the best pesto I've made yet. It took away that hot, raw-garlic flavor, and by infusing the oil with garlic, really heightened the good, mellow cooked-garlic flavor that seemed to pull the whole thing together. I'm doing this 'un again!

Here's how:

Pick enough basil leaves to fill two cups, loosely packed, and dump them into the Cuisinart bowl (steel blade). Add 1 teaspoon salt.

Whack two or three garlic cloves into thin slices and cook them in 1/4 cup olive oil until they're soft and golden and the aroma of cooking garlic fills the room. Take off heat and let it cool down a little.

While you're waiting, toast about 2 tablespoons pine nuts in a dry iron skillet, stirring and tossing occasionally so they don't burn. You want them to get nice golden brown color on both sides without approaching dark-brown or black. Pull them off heat before it's too late and dump them into the Cuisinart bowl with the basil and salt.

When you've got all these parts assembled, fire up the Cuisinart and start grinding. Pour the oil and garlic in through the feed tube, a little at a time. When you've put it all in, take a look. If it's still a little dry, either add more oil (gooood) or a little water (holds down the fat content) until the texture's just right. Then process in 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and set it aside.

Cook pasta for two (we went with spaghetti). When it's al dente, drain the pasta, catching part of the cooking water in a cup. Stir a little of this pasta water (1 or 2 tablespoons) into the pesto, then serve it on the pasta.

It was greeeeeaaaaat ...