pesto change-o…

Even after making my stacked Caprese salad, I still had plenty of fresh basil on hand. So what to do all the basil? Make pesto, of course…

Making pesto is actually quite simple and quick. Aside from the obvious basil, you only need a few ingredients: olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmaggiano-Reggiano cheese (the Americanized parmesan.) Traditionally prepared with a mortar and pestle (where the word “pesto” comes from), a food processor can do the job in less than two minutes.

The nice thing about pesto is its freshness. It is not heated nor is it cooked. When combined with warm pasta, the cheese melts and thicken the sauce. The pine nuts get toasted before adding them to the mixture and that’s pretty much all the cooking you will need to do.

You can also blanch the garlic slightly in hot olive oil to temper its harshness. Since I love the full-on intensity of fresh garlic, I leave it in it’s fresh, raw state. Just make sure you have plenty of breath mints at the ready!

Pesto originated from Genoa, Italy and did not become popular here in the U.S. until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. With the onset of California cuisine, pesto reached it’s star status during those years. In fact, everybody’s favorite Seinfeld. curmudgeon, George Costanza, even compared the cool factor of pesto to Seattle’s all-of-a-sudden popularity!

Categorized as a salsa crudo. or raw sauce, pesto is just a mixture of crushed herbs and garlic. For that matter, any combination of herbs and nuts mixed into a paste can be called a pesto. I have made an Asian-inspired pesto using cilantro and used mint on another dish to brighten up the sauce.

Although you can make a huge batch and freeze for later use, as with all things, pesto is at its best when prepared fresh. Pesto can be used with any type of pasta, even with ravioli.

Another good use for pesto is as a marinade. I love marinating shrimp in pesto for about an hour and then throwing them on the grill. It also goes well with pizzas, vegetable dips, and even as a table sauce for meats and seafood.

But the best way I enjoy pesto is with linguine. This whole dinner took less than ten minutes to make—the pasta taking the longest. It’s amazing how something that tastes so complex and full of flavor be so easy to prepare!

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