Saturday, April 17, 2010

Presto Pesto

Herbs are amazing. They are flavorful, colorful, aromatic, medicinal, hardy and a myriad other things. Along with spices, they are likely what some would consider the most essential thing to tasty cuisine and life would be quite dull without them.

My personal amazement of herbs stems (no pun intended) from today's dinner experience. I planted a goodly amount of basil and flat leaf parsley last year and suffice it to say.. you can only have basil with tomatos or in a tomato sauce so many times before you're either really tired of it or not feeling so well. So I began experimenting with pestos, a fresh and herbaceous alternative to other heavier style sauces, and good on more than pasta to boot.

ANYway, back to the point. I get home today, it's 7 o'clock and Everyone is HUNGRY. What to do?!  Waste money on mediocre fare and feel bloated and guilty for several reasons afterwards? Not a chance, I'm way to practical for that, tired or not. I take a quick mental stock of things that are edible both inside and outside of the house at this point, as I was just in the garden the other day.

Parsley. It did not escape my notice that some of last year's parsley managed to hang on through this year's intense snow storms and is coming back strongly, if somewhat weathered in texture.

Cheese. I splurged on some nice chunks of semi-expensive but very tasty cheese a week or two ago. Parmesan, Romano, Asiago. Mmm. A little goes a long way on the good stuff and it actually gets melty unlike the saw dust in the green lidded containers (I know you know what brand I'm talking about).

Walnuts. I keep these on hand all the time in the freezer because I use them in my favorite bread regularly as well as desserts.

Chives. One amazing little chive plant soldiered its way thru the winter in a planter up closer to the house along with some lavender plants and bits of thyme and mint. It had quite a number of long, lovely succulent looking.. whaddayacallem, chive stems? I'll have to look that up later. These lend an enjoyable oniony flavor without all the flesh and intensity and trouble of cooking an actual onion. So, snip snip, off they went with me to the kitchen.

Before I knew it, I had all the makings of a tasty pesto in my possession and to town I went, rinsing, snipping, chopping and grating. It took me all of 30-45 minutes which is really very fast for the way I cook. So fast, in fact, that when I announced from the kitchen that it was "Dinner time!", the reply that came was, "That was fast." A rare statement indeed.

I also procured a few random rainbow swiss chard leaves. I sure wish these had been more plentiful. Wilted in a touch of butter in an iron skillet with a lid on top made them a lovely counter point to the salty flavors in the pesto.

So here's how it came together:

About 1 cup unchopped Italian flat leaf parsley, stemless.
Approx 1 cup toasted walnuts (mine came diced already) toast in a skillet, stirring often on medium heat until fragrant, remove from heat immediately
Pinch of kosher salt or to taste (remember you will be adding the salty pasta water and cheese later)
Pepper to taste
Enough olive oil to make the parsley and walnuts mix smoothly in the food processor, I used maybe up to 1/2 a cup.
Grind all this up in the food processor adding oil as you go.

Approx 1/2 cup or so of a nice cheese (parmesan is traditional) as mentioned above. (I'm not sure which was which, I forgot to label them) I used the small hole side of the grater to grate it, but not a microplane.

Around 7 or 8 chives that were roughly 6-8 inches long and about half the size of a chopstick in diameter, roughly chopped into 1/4 inch lengths or so. Add these to your noodles once you've put the pesto and cheese in, then mix it all together.

Whatever amount of pasta you want and whatever shape. I used thin spaghetti. I always get Barilla Plus brand, it's more satisfying and doesn't taste nasty like whole wheat. Don't forget to salt your pasta water. I've been told the water should taste like salty ocean water, but I know there's more accurate measurments out there somewhere. I usually just guess. Reserve 1/2 to 3/4 cup of your cooked pasta water. It is somewhat starchy and salty and will be useful to make your pesto and cheese into a natural sauce once you've added it all to the noodles. Start by adding it only a bit at a time until it gets kind of creamy looking.  This works best if the water is still nicely hot too.

Plate and top with another sprinkle of cheeeeeeeese and enjoy.

I wish I had taken a picture. It was very pretty, but hunger wins out over creativity sometimes. I'm sure I'll be making it again though, so I'll try to snap one then.

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