Project Wonderful

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Toasted Sesame Seed Lemon Basil Pesto

I love pesto. That amazing emulsion of purred basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese is delicious on so many different kinds of foods. It originates in the Liguria region of Genoa Italy - the word Pesto comes from the Italian "pesta" which means to pound or crush. The original method of making pesto was to use a mortar and pestle. Thankfully the modern invention of the food processor makes this a simple process.

And if you don't have basil, you can make a pesto sauce with just about any greens you have. See my recipe for roasted carrot grilled cheese with carrot top pesto that I made up last year. Fantastic!

The ancient Romans ate a paste called moretum, which was made by crushing cheese, garlic and herbs together. Basil, the main ingredient of modern pesto, likely originated in India and was first domesticated there. Basil took the firmest root in the regions of Liguria, Italy and Provence, France. The Ligurians around Genoa took the dish and adapted it, using a combination of basil, crushed garlic, grated hard cheese (a mix of parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino or just one of the two), and pine nuts with a little olive oil to form pesto. - Wikipedia.

So before the dog days of Summer start wreaking havoc on your plants, now is the perfect time to start reaping the fruits of your gardening labor. Here is my standard go-to recipe:

1-2  large handfuls of basil leaves, washed and dried.
1/2 cup sesame seeds, shelled and toasted.
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 pinches of coarse sea salt
4-6 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

We grow a couple varieties of basil on the back porch. 
The afternoon sun is a little harsh, but we shade the plants and water them daily and they survive just fine.

That tall one in the middle is lemon basil and has an amazing lemony taste. It works great in my recipe. 

I cut a few of the branches off and plucked only the best leaves.
Anything that had spots or was a little yellow was discarded.
You could probably use them if you wanted, but I wanted to make this the absolute best tasting pesto I could, so I got picky. Plus there's still a lot of basil growing so I don't have to worry about running out. 

Plucked, washed and spin dried, the leaves are ready for the food processor.
This is about one good sized handful of leaves and makes about two cups of finished sauce.
Dont forget to use the flowers! Normally we pluck the flowers from the plant to help promote leaf growth, but occasionally a few buds remain. These have a great taste to them and work well in the sauce.

I didnt have any pine nuts and didnt feel like taking out a second mortgage to buy some
(seriously, those little buggers are crazy expensive!) so I used sunflower seeds instead.
You could also use blanched almonds, cashews or even peanuts if you wanted.
Each will give a slightly different taste, but any oily nut will work.
This is maybe half a cup of seeds. You can use more or less, depending on the flavor you like.

Toast the seeds in a large pan, stirring frequently. You can toast them to whatever level of toastiness you like, but the longer they toast, the stronger the flavor - until they become bitter.
This was after about 5 minutes on medium low heat. 

Here's a trick: pull the seeds out of the pan just BEFORE you think they're ready and transfer them to a cool plate.
They will continue to cook slightly while they're cooling.
Make sure they are completely cool before adding them to the processor.

Now the fun begins! Add the leaves, the nuts, about two pinches of coarse salt and a couple tablespoons of good quality olive oil to the processor and pulse everything till it starts combining.
Once it's combined, turn the processor on 
and drizzle in the olive oil as it's running.
You will probably need to scrape down the sides of the food processor once or twice during this process.

During the first scrape down, I add 3 cloves of peeled garlic and about a cup and a half of shaved Parmesan cheese and run the processor one more time until everything is blended together.
The longer you run the processor, the finer the texture it will become.
Personally I like mine a little chunky, but you can make this as smooth as baby food if you want.

The great thing about this sauce is that you really cant screw it up too bad. More olive oil will make it thinner, less will make it thicker. Either way, it's still awesome.

You could also add a squirt or two of lemon juice to help make the flavor even more bold. 

And there you have it: toasted sesame seed lemon basil pesto.
Essentially a pile of yummy green goo that can be used on grilled chicken,
topped on potatoes, corn on the cob, mixed in with pasta and shrimp,
or just smeared onto chunks of hearty bread and eaten with a good bottle of wine. 


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