May 20, 2015

Make your own pesto

Homemade pesto can be scooped into a jar and kept in the fridge or poured into baggies and frozen for later use.

Homemade pesto can be scooped into a jar and kept in the fridge or poured into baggies and frozen for later use.

There are some packaged foods that don’t come anywhere close to tasting like the real thing. Pesto is one of those foods. The versatile sauce comes in dry packets and refrigerated jars, but none of them compare to fresh-made pesto. Looking to make some for yourself? Use the flavor profile skills you’ve learned in Texas culinary schools and these tips:

Grow your own basil
While store-bought basil works perfectly fine for pesto, growing your own allows you to ensure that it hasn’t been treated with fertilizers or other chemicals. Plus, you can easily hop out to your garden or window box to grab some fresh basil whenever you have the urge to make pesto.

Use toasted pine nuts
You known that nutty, buttery sweetness in the best pesto you ever tasted? It’s probably from pine nuts. The best way to get the full flavor of these tiny seeds is by toasting then. Add a little bit of olive oil to a frying pan and add the pine nuts once the oil has heated up. You’ll want to keep an eye on them the entire time they’re cooking as they can go from raw to burnt in the blink of an eye. Once they are golden brown, add the pine nuts to your food processor and continue gathering your other pesto ingredients.

Try fresh olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is just one version of this viscous substance. It should be bright green or pale yellow and have a slightly fruity taste. It has low acidity and does a great job of holding the cheese, pine nuts and basil together to form the sauce. Similarly to the basil, you can use prepackaged olive oil, but there is a better option. Go to your local co-op or healthy foods market. They will likely have a giant container of the oil that is super fresh. You’ll need to bring your own container so be sure to have a mason jar or other sealable container handy.

Choose your cheese
For the most flavorful pesto, you’ll want to use both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Fiore Sardo. Yes, the first version is parmesan, but it’s a special version – the original. This cheese has to come from the Reggiano area of Italy, where it is used as collateral for loans at some banks. The cheese can be found at grocery stores and specialty Italian markets as well. It is likely in the deli section where you’ll have to ask for an amount by pound. While you’re there you can also pick up Pecorino Fiore Sardo. Avoid the Pecorino Romano version as it is saltier and sharper. The milder version is better suited for pesto.

Have the right attitude
As silly as it seems, some Italians believe that the attitude you have while you make pesto will affect the taste. The preferred mental state to be in is enthusiastic. You should also use your common sense and some elbow grease while making the sauce. The best way to tell if it’s ready? Take a spoonful and taste.

Enjoy
If you have a massive garden full of basil, consider making a large batch of pesto. You can dole it out into small baggies and freeze them to use throughout the year. Add it to freshly-made pasta or bread and enjoy. To make an incredible sandwich, spread pesto on half a loaf of ciabatta bread. Add mozzarella coins, slices of your favorite tomato variety (tiny grape tomatoes hold a lot of flavor but beef tomatoes are much larger and cover more bread acreage). Sprinkle with olive oil and diced, toasted garlic. Slide the sandwich into a baking sheet and into the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In seven minutes you’ll have a heavenly meal that’s good at any time of day or night.