We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Michelle's Basil Pesto

by Michelle

   I planned to name this post Eat, Pray, Love Pesto. In the end, I decided against jumping on the marketing orgy surrounding the highly anticipated movie's release (... or did I?). I will be at the movies later today superimposing my own desire for adventures in Italy, India and Bali, over those of Elizabeth Gilbert's recorded experiences in her popular book. And, yes, engaging in a passionate love affair with Javier Bardem is part of my fantastical daydream thanks to the excellent taste of the film's casting director. 
   Way back when, I visited Italy during my 19th year. I bought expensive leather pants in Firenza, sipped a Bellini at Harry's Bar in Venezia and ate stracciatella gelato on the famed Spanish Steps in Roma after throwing three coins into the Trevi fountain. After reading, Ms. Gilbert's much loved book, I fervently wished I had visited Napoli to gorge on amazing pizza. Thankfully, we make pretty tasty pizza at home, so I can tide myself over until my three wishes are granted to return to the country that oozes exquisite taste in all things edible (and non-edible).  
   I suppose that is one of the reasons I love cooking at home. I can get a glimpse of other cultures from my own kitchen, experimenting with flavors from around the globe until I can set foot in the streets of Mumbai or peddle a rented bike around Bali.

After I returned from my three month tour of Europe, I joined a hi-tech rep firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona. One of the partners, who definitely enjoyed the finer things in life, asked me, shortly after I joined the company, what I knew about wine and seafood. Not much, I said. To which he replied, that will change. And so it did. The firm entertained out of town visitors often and I found myself dining in the very best restaurants, trying new foods and learning about wine under Harry's tutelage.
   The very first time I tried pesto, naturally I was with Harry, in a restaurant very similar to that in the movie "Big Night". In other words, very traditional, with a waiter that was actually Italian speaking with a heavy, charming accent. The first bite was heaven, but by the last few bites, my impression was that the dish was heavy. The flavors got a little bogged down because of the liberal use of olive oil.
   Over the years, I experimented with ratios until I found a combination of garlic, oil and lemon that worked for my palette. Pesto is now a mostly guilt free pleasure that is easy to make and store. Elegant enough for company and simple enough for weekday dinners. My daughter loves it and she refused to eat anything green for years. Pesto was the gateway herb to the magical land of greens.
   I often whip up a batch on a Sunday afternoon, storing it in the refrigerator, in preparation for an easy pasta dinner at the end of a hectic work day. The pasta works well on its own or as a foil for fish, shellfish, or chicken. Sometimes I include additional vegetables, like carrots and green peas. Other times not, but I find myself consistently garnishing a bowl of pesto pasta with sliced marinated tomatoes. I like the fresh element. However you choose to serve it, I think you'll enjoy it too.

Michelle's Lighter Basil Pesto

   This pesto is lighter than its traditional counterpart and is superb tossed with a pound of linguini, sautéed vegetables and poached shrimp. Garnish with halved cherry or pear tomatoes marinated in balsamic vinegar, sea salt, cracked black pepper and a small spill of extra-virgen olive oil. Instead of adding pinenuts to the pesto with the rest of the ingredients, I prefer to sprinkle the finished dish with lightly toasted pinenuts or walnuts for an added crunch.
   Use the pesto as a flavor booster for spreading on sandwiches, dressing a pizza crust, swirling into soups, or embellishing a simple marinara.

4 ounces fresh basil leaves (about 3 cups, packed)
6-9 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper freshly ground
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)

1. Using the steel blade in a food processor, mince garlic by dropping each clove through the feedtube while the machine is running. Scrape down sides of bowl and add freshly washed, dried and destemmed basil leaves. Process until minced. Scrape down sides of bowl again. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
2. Transfer to jar with lid and cover until ready to use, or refrigerate for up to a week, applying plastic wrap or a thin film of olive oil directly on the surface. If you plan on freezing the pesto, mix-in the grated cheese after the sauce is defrosted. Yield: About 1 cup

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