Pesto is one of the reasons I'm in love with Italian cuisine. A dollop of this green concoction has the ability to lift a mundane dish to something sensational. It could be pasta, a slice of fresh toasted bread, puff pastry, or roasted veggies, everything it touches is golden. The jar bought stuff doesn't even come close to the potency of fresh pesto. I also like using basil leaves in pasta dishes and when making marinara sauce at home. Since buying the leaves isn't always easy keeping both availability & cost in mind I've tried growing basil... multiple times. Sadly for me it always ends in failure,I buy them lush and full of life but just in a few weeks I manage to bid adieu to them. Even now there is a frail branch holding onto its last signs of life...I'm blaming the cold weather for it this time, sigh.
Thankfully, I found a huge bunch of basil for great price at the farmer's market this week. And I was also saving a stash of pine nuts for just this occasion. Pesto comes from the word 'pestare' which means to pound or crush, so by no means is pesto limited to basil alone. Just like chutney isn't the sweet mango stuff that's sold in jars! This recipe for pesto calls for red chilli peppers & sun-dried tomatoes that add a tart and spicy zing to it. Fresh pesto is very potent and a little bit goes a long way. As an added bonus it stores beautifully and can be frozen as well.
Being a very simple dish with few ingredients, the quality of each affects the final taste of the dish. Olive oil brings the ingredients together and adds flavor to the pesto. This time I picked up a olive oil from Greece at a Middle Eastern store and love the grassy and peppery notes it has. Unfortunately for me, I found that fresh baked bread dipped in this oil is addictive...
Spicy Basil & Sun-dried Tomato PestoYield - 1 cupPrep time -15minsIngredients
- 1 bunch - Basil, washed & dried
- 2 cloves - Garlic
- 1/4 cup - Sun-dried Tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 2 - Red chilli peppers
- 1/4 cup - Pine nuts or Walnuts or a combination, toasted
- 1/2 cup - Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)
- 2-3 Tbsp - extra virgin Olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
Note: -To store, transfer the pesto into a clean jar, smooth out the top with a spatula and cover with a thin layer of olive oil before refrigerating. You could also freeze pesto in ice cube trays to get a longer shelf life. - Use sun-dried tomatoes not packed in oil or water for this if available. - You can use toasted walnuts or almonds in place of pine nuts. - I add cheese only if I plan to use up the whole batch immediately. When storing for later I prefer to add cheese when I prepare the final dish.- Cilantro instead of basil also makes for a really potent pesto here!
- In the bowl of a food processor, add lightly crushed garlic cloves, sun-dried tomatoes, red chillies, pine nuts and pulse a few times. Add basil leaves next and stream in olive oil to help out the blades, as needed, while continuing to pulse the ingredients until it reaches the consistency you like. Stir in parmesan cheese, if using, and taste before adding salt & pepper.
If you are prepping for a game day party this weekend then this pesto will serve you well. Spread it on thawed puff pastry and roll into pinwheels before baking them for the perfect snack. Use it instead of marinara sauce on your favorite pizza dough or flatbread. A dollop of pesto stirred into mayo or greek yogurt makes a great dip for fries and veggies. This pesto is also fabulous stirred into warm pasta, quinoa, farro or any whole grain. Its great with roasted veggies or as a spread for panini's & sandwiches as well. All I'm saying is you won't run out of uses for this condiment.
This pesto is part of my plan to stock my pantry & fridge with condiments and spice pastes that will help me make a quick week night meal. Any suggestions ?