As we get closer to the day we pick up food from the CSA, it gets a bit harder to figure out what we’ll be having for dinner, as the amount of fresh produce dwindles (we rarely buy produce from the grocery store). We were puzzling over this last Sunday, looking in our fridge and cupboard, thinking about what we’ve had lately (we like to avoid having the same staples too often in a row), and then looking back in the fridge. There wasn’t much, and it was tempting just to do something like order up a pizza. Then, all we’d have to do is select the topping and we’d have a mediocre pizza in 45-60 minutes. Well, from the title of the post, you can tell we didn’t order pizza; instead, we scratched out a quick batch of pesto.
When you’re desperate for something quick and easy, don’t forget about making pesto. It doesn’t have to be made from basil, or have pine nuts, or garlic, olive oil, or even Parmesan cheese. Over the years, we’ve changed each and every ingredient from the traditional standard of basil pesto, and each and every time we made a good pesto. The important thing to remember is that pesto basically means ‘pounded,’ and comes from the same root word as pestle, as in mortar and pestle, the traditional tools used to combine the ingredients. Everything else, including ingredients, is mutable.
The real keys to making good pesto is to use good olive oil and good cheese. Both are going to add a bunch of flavor, so you want those two things to taste good. The pine nuts are very traditional, but we find that walnuts work nearly as well. The nutmeg is not even close to a usual pesto ingredient, but it goes well with spinach, so why not add a bit?
Procedure in detail:
De-germ garlic. We remove the germ (the little sprout in the middle of the clove) from garlic for just about everything. It has a slightly stronger, and harsher, taste than the rest of the garlic, so out it goes (it really ends up in our “stock tank,” which holds various vegetable scraps that we use for making stock once a week).
Toast nuts. Regardless of the type of nut you’re using, toast them. We just place them in a small skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes (for pine nuts; a few minutes longer for other nuts) and they taste so much more nutty.
Process. Place the garlic, nutmeg, spinach, pine nuts, and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to get everything chopped. If you put the spinach leaves in whole, you might have to move them around (while the processor is off, obviously) to feed them into the blades.
Add oil. With the processor running, drizzle in oil through the feed chute, and let process until you have a smooth paste.
Season. Taste the pesto; now’s your chance to add salt and pepper, more cheese, more oil, or whatever else you think it needs. Pulse to mix, and taste to confirm that your pesto is the best ever.
Pack. Place in an appropriate container until ready to use.
We thought this pesto would be bland since it used spinach instead of basil. We were wrong. It’s a very good pesto, both on pasta, as we show above, or spread on a piece of bread (think bruschetta here). And, since the hardest part of making pesto, especially if you use a food processor, is the clean-up afterward, this is an automatic (well, nearly automatic) five stars.