Friday, February 03, 2012

Spicy Basil & Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Dear foodies,

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 Pesto
Yield - 1 cup
Prep time -15mins
  • 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
  1. 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. 
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!

 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 ?

10 thoughts:

shobs said...

Hey Priya.
I a dropping in here after a long time. I was telling a friend last week about you and your blog. He was telling me how to make pesto sauce. And hey presto you are talking about it too. This sounds interesting. But perhaps I should start off making sun-dried tomatoes first. Plenty of tomatoes farm-fresh at home and basil grows so much that we cut them down. Does it matter if it is Krishna Tulasi or should it be the green one only? we have Krishna Tulasi only.

Anu Menon said...

I remember buying pesto for the first time from costco and although i kept it in the fridge it went bad in a few weeks... :( fresh and homemade is always the best way to go

chinmayie said...

Love this pesto. Chilies and sun dried tomatoes will only make already great pesto better!! Beautiful photos as well :)

VineelaSiva said...

I mostly buy the pesto sauce from costco.Home made tastes good.Love to try.

Nagalakshmi V said...

absolutely love your pics. great job with the lighting.

Swati Sapna said...

The pictures are fantastic! the pesto looks absolutely fresh, inviting and seems like it packs a punch!

Sharmilee! :) said...

Homemade pesto is always best..looks very tempting. And as usual fabulous click :)

Priya V said...

Shobs, Hello! Home made sun-dried tomatoes will surely trump my store bought ones. This pesto is made with Italian Basil and I'm not sure if Krishna Tulasi could be substituted. The flavor of Tulasi from what I remember is much more stronger in flavor compared to Italian basil. Since you have access to all the other ingredients you could try a small batch and see if you enjoy the flavor. Do let me know how it turns out if you make it, would love to know.

Anu, That must have been a looot of pesto :( When I don't get fresh basil I buy pesto from TJ's. It's a much smaller container but stores well for a long time.

Chinmayie, yes! it surely did. I found that I was buying sun-dried tomato pesto too often from the store and decided to just combine it with my regular version of pesto.

Vineela, I wish costco also sold huge bunches of fresh basil as well :)

Nags, thank you for mentioning lighting because I struggled to get it right and also changed my usual set up for this one.

Swati, I used just two little thai red chillies for this one and it still made it really hot! I'm scared to try the red curry paste I made with them now :))

Sharmilee, thank you, I used the pesto to make puff pastry 'little hearts' and they turned out great. But I messed up my camera this weekend, and nothing I could do at home helped :( Need to take to the camera store, I hope its not broke.

Sunshine And Smile said...

wow .. we both sure do love pesto! You will be surprised looking at my recent post :)
Love that bottle .. olive oil bottle. Awsm prop!

Naveena Sukumaran said...

Great site and greater pics. Keep it up!

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