Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pesto for Quida

This pesto and pasta is for Quida. She can’t eat dairy, so I made a special pesto without cheese. For texture, I used breadcrumbs. The pasta is a multi-whole grain penne. For additional flavor (which I am always in pursuit of), I added some beautiful orange sun dried tomatoes, pitted kalamati olives and fresh basil, and for a kick, some dried chili flakes.

I made two versions, one with the traditional parmesan cheese (I like cheese) and one with the breadcrumbs. The one with the cheese came out lighter in color with a richer flavor. But the one without the cheese, really brought out all the original flavors of the basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. It is pesto in all its glory.
I used 3 ounces of basil from the herb section at the store (4 3/4 ounce packages) for the 2 recipes. So I suggest just using 2 packages unless you want to make more pesto to freeze. I suggest if you want to freeze the pesto, put it in ice cube trays and freeze them. Then when they are frozen, put them in small zip lock bags and then in to freezer bags. Be sure to label your freezer bags as there is nothing more frustrating than trying to figure out what all the freezer bags in your freezer are supposed to contain!

I also (from a tip I just heard on Melinda Lee yesterday) shocked the basil in boiling water for almost a minute then removed it to a bowl of cold water. Since I don't have a freezer that has ice, I used the frozen peas to cool off the water. I was planning to use the peas in the recipe anyway, so this was a way to defrost the peas while shocking the basil. The basil will seem very small after being shocked, but it retains all the flavor and the shocking helps keep the basil green (basil tends to turn darker in color after being processed).


2 packages of 3/4 ounce fresh basil

1 1/2 ounces pine nuts, toasted

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons dried bread crumbs (I used Italian)

1/3 cup very good extra virgin olive oil

After shocking the basil, drain and squeeze out excess water. Place in a food processor. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over moderate heat until they just turn light brown and release their scent. Add to food processor. Add garlic and breadcrumbs and a pinch of sea salt. Process until all is broken down and fine, then with the food processor running, add the olive oil to make the sauce. Taste for salt.


Heat a large pot of water and and 3 healthy pinches of sea salt. Bring to a boil and add 2 dry cups of penne pasta. Cook until the recommended time on the package. I used an 8 whole grain pasta which recommended that I cook it for 9 minutes. At 9 minutes, I tasted one piece of pasta and it had a raw flavor to it. I continued to cook it, and tasted at each minute. It was finally at al dente (to the tooth) at 13 minutes. So pasta varies and you just have to monitor it. You don't want to overcook the pasta and have it limp, but you do want to cook it until it no longer tastes like dried wheat.

Drain the pasta in a colander over a bowl so you can save the pasta water to thin the sauce as necessary. Place the pesto into a large serving bowl and layer the paste over the pesto. Incorporate the pesto and the pasta. If the pesto is sticky and doesn't incorporate well with the pasta, add a small amount (like 1/3 cup) of the pasta water. Drizzle a little evo (extra virgin olive oil), to loosen up the sauce. At this point you can add 1/3 cup of the defrosted peas, 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped kalamati olives and 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped sun dried tomatoes (I used orange tomatoes), or any other topping that you wish (such as artichoke hearts, hearts of palm or whatever strikes your fancy). I also added some fresh oregano leaves to the pasta and a small pinch of red chili pepper flakes for a little zip. Serve the pasta at room temperature or refrigerate and take on a picnic.

The second version of the pasta is the traditional version, which omits the breadcrumbs, but uses 1/3 cup of fresh grated parmesan instead. Follow all the steps for the pesto above using the cheese in place of the breadcrumbs. I used only 2 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs in the first recipe as opposed to this one with 1/3 cup of cheese, because I didn't want the breadcrumbs to over power the flavor of the basil. I just wanted them for a little texture.

2 cups cooked penne pasta

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped kalamati olives (pitted)

2 tablespoods coarsely chopped sun dried tomatoes

1 teaspoon fresh torn basil leaves

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 small pinch of red chili pepper flakes

September 8, 2008: Just a quick update on this recipe. It really does not require you to "shock" the basil. The shocking process helps maintain a bright green look to the pesto sauce, but it does not effect the flavor at all. I made this recipe yesterday with some variations. I did not shock the basil. I used 3 cloves of roasted garlic that I had lying around (I like to roast the whole head and keep the roasted head of garlic in a sandwich bag in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for quick use in recipes), and I used some packaged grated four cheese mixture instead of parmesan cheese and it really worked out well. So feel free to change the recipes to your tastes, or to use what you have on hand. I always love to experiment with recipes.