Pesto Formula

My Charles Dickens thesis paper permitting, I am hoping to post another recipe later today, but I decided to do a quick blog for now on pesto! I made pesto spaghetti squash last night and instagrammed it and facebooked it and got some recipe requests, so I figured it would be silly not to share in our main forum!

Despite the fact that one of my first posts ever for Little Red Kitchen was foolproof marinara sauce, it’s actually not my favorite sauce.  While it’s a classic staple, my favorite is pesto!  Herbaceous, a little nutty, a little cheesy…when that luscious green sauce hits a pound of bowtie noodles…oh man, just hand me a fork and back away slowly.

I want to share a basic pesto recipe, but something great about it is its versatility.  Like a lot of cooking, making pesto is formulaic; get the ratio down of herbs to nuts to cheese to oil, and you can do (almost) anything!  So that being said, here is the framework of pesto:

2 cups basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Step 1:
Toast the garlic cloves in a pan over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and the skins have started to turn spotty brown.  Remove from pan, cool slightly, and remove skins.  then place the nuts in the same pan and toast for about 5 minutes, until they have started to color and toast slightly.  BE CAREFUL not to burn them! Most nuts are gross when they burn.  Remove from pan and let cool.

Step 2:
Throw basil, garlic, nuts, and olive oil in a food processor and process until smooth.  You can drizzle the oil in too if you like, but I find both methods emulsify just fine.  Pour into small bowl and stir in the cheese, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss with warm pasta and consume!

Simple! Easy! Yummy! But if you switch things up, you can potentially find a combo you like even better.  Last night I used:

2 cups basil leaves and 2 tbsp. parsley leaves
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup grated asiago cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

By making this recipe I discovered that I actually much prefer the walnuts.  Their nutty, buttery profile stands up much better than pine nuts to the strong flavors of garlic and fresh herbs.  The parsley adds a nice peppery little compliment to the basil.  And the asiago is a subtle change.  It’s got that nutty, sharp profile, which you definitely need in a pesto sauce.

Some other changes I’d recommend trying? Half basil and half arugula.  Almonds instead of pine nuts.  Genuine sheep’s milk pecorino romano.  And heck, you don’t even have to use traditional pasta.  Try spaghetti squash, like I did, or use it as a sandwich spread, or spread on top of tomato slices for an appetizer.  Really, you can’t lose. :) (P.S. to cook up a spaghetti squash of your own, check out our recipe here!)



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