Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spinach-Basil Pesto

  Summertime, especially here in the south, brings the hot, sunny days, slows the blood in our veins, and brings on a hunger for lighter, brighter flavors.  Pesto hits the spot with its fragrant herbs, toasted nuts, and luscious olive oil.  You can serve this versatile sauce on pasta, as a spread, or mix with mayo for sandwiches.  This recipe takes advantage of both spinach and basil for this particular version of pesto.   

Spinach-Basil Pesto

1 1/2 cups baby spinach
3/4 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup walnut pieces
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped into 3-4 pieces each
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Special equipment - food processor

  To begin, toast the walnut pieces.  This is an easy process that really brings out the flavor of the nuts.  Take a small skillet and bring the heat up to medium.  Toss in the nuts.  No oil, no cooking spray - just the nuts.  Give them an occasional shake and take them off the heat as soon as you smell the walnuts. This will only take a couple of minutes.  Toasting brings the oils to the forefront and brings a much more complex taste to the nuts. 

  Set up the food processor and dump in the spinach, basil, toasted walnuts, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice, lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Pulse until the mixture is nearly smooth, taking the time to stop and scrape down the sides with a spatula a time or two. At this point, drizzle the rest of the olive oil in as the processor is churning.  Once all the oil is added, stop the processor, stir in the grated cheese and serve.

  When I serve it on pasta, I normally use a thin spaghetti or angel hair.  The pesto will loosen up a bit when you add it to hot noodles, but if you want the sauce a tad more loose, add a little olive oil when you are stirring the sauce together with the pasta.  Of course, extra cheese on top isn't going to hurt anything, either.

  To store the leftovers, there are a couple of options.  If you plan on using all the pesto in the next few days, drizzle a little olive oil on the top, cover and stash in the refrigerator.  If you plan on more long term storage in the freezer, skip adding in the Parmesan before freezing.  Spoon into an ice cube tray and into a heavy-duty freezer bag once the cubes are solid.  Add in the cheese when you thaw the sauce for use.

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