Monday, October 12, 2009

Pesto and Salad Dressing

All weekend I kept telling myself I needed to harvest the basil and make some pesto. The Genovese, purple, and Thai varieties were all beginning to bloom, though not the spicy globe basil--it was just getting bigger.  Since I didn't get to it over the weekend, I harvested a basket full when I got home after work today and whipped up a big batch of the rich, cheesy, garlicky green stuff.
Here's the recipe I've been using for about 20 years.  I pack the finished pesto into 1/2 cup plastic containers for the freezer, for a taste of summer even in midwinter.

Basil Pesto (makes 1 to 1 1/3 cups or so; I double, triple, or quadruple the recipe if there's enough basil)
2 cups fresh basil leaves, stripped from the tougher stems and firmly packed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T. pine nuts (traditional) or walnuts (an acceptable substitute with just a slightly different flavor)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup + 2 T. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (I've also used Asiago, with good results)

Put everything in the food processor and process until it's the consistency you want. I like it finely chopped or ground, but still with little chunks of cheese, etc. visible.  The pesto will keep its color better if you don't over-process it.

Pesto has uses beyond just tossing it into hot pasta.  It's good spread on bread (my daughter loves that) or on a bagel, over a thin schmear of cream cheese.  It's also a nice addition to an omelet filling, and I love grilled cheese sandwiches with pesto and sliced tomato.

We were out of salad dressing so I made some of that, too.  I don't really like very many bottled dressings, but that's not a problem. This homemade vinaigrette is as easy as they come, tastes great (I like my dressing a bit tart rather than oily), AND it only has 9 calories per tablespoon.  I've adapted the recipe from one in Julee Rosso's wonderful Fresh Start cookbook; I often make it with white balsamic vinegar instead of the dark variety, for a lighter, somewhat fruitier (but not sweet) flavor.  I usually double the recipe and since it has such a high proportion of vinegar, it keeps well without refrigeration. As Julee Rosso says, "Don't worry about the hot water--it works."

House Dressing (makes about 3/4 cup)
2 tsp. finely minced or pressed garlic
1 T. sugar
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (white or dark, or some of each)
1/4 cup hot water
pinch of salt
pepper to taste

Just pour it all into the blender and blend well, then decant into a clean bottle or jar. Store at room temperature; shake before using.

Bon appetit!


  1. The pesto sounds especially delicious! Think I'll try both recipes!