Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Passion For Pesto

I was pregnant with our first daughter and nearing the end of my allowed time for plane travel so my husband, Mark, and I flew to southern California for a brief visit with his lifelong friend, Carrie, and her (then) husband. 

As dinnertime approached, they picked huge handfuls of basil from their tiny garden, gathered pine nuts, fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and grated Parmesan, and measured everything into a food processor. They cooked spaghetti and added a large dollop of pesto to each plateful. The brilliant green color of this unusual sauce seemed quite odd for food, but the intense, multi-layered flavor immediately stole our hearts and tastebuds.

That was almost 26 years ago. Early in our marriage, Mark and I never served spaghetti without pesto - even after our young daughters began to eat 'regular food.' In fact, I never made a red sauce for our spaghetti until one of the girls came home from eating dinner at a friend's house and mildly complained about how odd it was to have red sauce, rather than pesto, with pasta.

Our love of pesto has continued through the decades. Each summer, I fill our freezer with as much of this lovely stuff as possible with basil from our small garden. And each winter, usually sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I mournfully serve our last bit of frozen, garden-fresh pesto before I begin to purchase packaged basil to carry us through until the next growing season. (The winter light in our house doesn't seem quite strong enough to sustain healthy basil plants.)

Today, I satisfied my pesto craving again and made a small batch for dinner. Paired with whole grain pasta, some cooked chicken, and a green salad, we can dream of summer as we make our way through winter.

Simple Pesto Sauce

2 cups fresh basil leaves with stems removed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated/shredded Parmesan cheese
3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of pine nuts or walnuts
       (VOE - we generally use walnuts because we 
                                 always have them on hand)
freshly ground pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in food processor and puree. Serve 1-2 tablespoons per plate of pasta. Cooked chicken, shrimp, or tuna can add flavor and 'bulk' to your meal.

VOE - Pesto freezes, thaws, and re-freezes exceptionally well. Fill an ice cube tray with the sauce and you'll have an instant flavor boost available for all of your favorite dishes.

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