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playing around with pesto

This summer, as the markets started filling up with all the wonderful veggies, fruits and herbs, I brought home for the very first time a pot (yes! they actually sell the herbs directly in the pots these days, it’s taking “freshness” to the next level, I must say) of leafy, aromatic, vibrant green Basil.

herb pots - basil, parsley and mint

I have seen Giada De Laurentis on TV, going crazy for this one particular herb. She uses it practically in all of her recipes, savory and sweet too! I have had basil in several concoctions before, but never really handled it myself. Talking of basil, what’s the first thing that jumps right at you? For me, it’s the good ol’ pesto! Naturally, that was my first experiment with it.

 

I followed the renowned chef’s recipe step-by-step.

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup (about) extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

In a blender, pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper until finely chopped. With the blender still running, gradually add enough oil to form a smooth and thick consistency. Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl and stir in 1/2 cup of cheese. Season the pesto with more salt and pepper, to taste.

The result was an intensely aromatic and very flavorful chutney-like concoction! I decided to play around with it……

Italian Chutney Sandwich

Yes, that’s what I made first with the pesto, which looked and felt just like our very own desi coriander-coconut chutney.  Smothered with generous amounts of pesto and stuffed with grilled chicken and crunchy grilled vegetables, this hearty sandwich is now a lunchtime favorite!

Serves 2

4 individual ciabatta/olive rolls or 1 large loaf of ciabatta

basil pesto

2 portobello mushrooms

1 zucchini, cut at diagonals into 1/2 cm slices

1 small Japanese eggplant or 1/2 regular medium eggplant, cut at diagonals into 1/2 cm slices

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2-3 tbsp EVOO (Rachel Ray’s abbreviation for Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

salt

fresh ground black pepper

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle the oil and sprinkle salt & pepper over the chicken breasts, eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms. One after another, grill the chicken breasts, eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms until they are tender and grill marks appear. Cool completely.

Slice the ciabatta bread in half and spread both sides with pesto. On the bottom slice, stack the grilled veggies and chicken breast pieces. Sprinkle some more fresh ground black pepper and place the top half of the ciabatta.

Alternatively, you can use any of your other favorite vegies, fresh mozeralla cheese slices, prosciutto slices, etc. and have your sandwich your way. Don’t forget the key ingredient, Pesto!

Primavera Pizza

In summer, the vegetables are definitely more flavorful than the rest of the year.  With all the fresh vegetables that are suddenly available, you see a lot of “primavera” around you in restaurants, cafes, etc. Pasta Primavera is the most common dish made by tossing all the vegetables with pasta. But another dish that is equally popular is the Primavera Pizza. Smothered with the pesto as a base sauce, loaded with summer veggies, topped with oooey gooey cheese and a little meat factor (the hubby has to have it in every meal!), every slice is a triangle of paradise!

Serves 2

15oz. store-bought whole wheat pizza dough

basil pesto

1 portobello mushrooms

1 zucchini, cut at diagonals into 1/2 cm slices

1 small Japanese eggplant or 1/2 regular medium eggplant, cut at diagonals into 1/2 cm slices

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 small red onion, sliced

1/2 green pepper, sliced

2 jarred roasted red peppers

2-3 tbsp EVOO (Rachel Ray’s abbreviation for Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

salt

fresh ground black pepper

1 cup (1/2 packet) Sargento Reduced Fat Mozeralla shredded cheese

Grill the chicken and vegetables as in the above recipe and cut into thin, long slices.

Preheat oven to 425 deg F.

Roll out the pizza dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/2-inch thick and transfer it to a pizza or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread the pesto, top it with the chicken, onion and green pepper on one half of the pizza and roeasted vegetables on the other half and finally sprinkle the cheese.

Bake on the bottom rack for about 18 – 20 minutes till the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown.

Take it out of the oven and season with black pepper. Cut it into slices and serve hot with some ice cold beer.

*Recommended Heineken Premium Light beer


Pesto, Pasta & Peas

Pasta dinners are the quickest and the easiest and pesto makes a perfect no-cooking sauce. I toss hot cooked fetuccini in the pesto and throw in some green peas. The peas look like little beads entagled in the fetuccini ribbons, drenched in the pesto sauce. This elegant pasta dish is not only a treat for your eyes but also for your tastebuds!

Serves 2

1/2 pound (i.e. 1/2 packet) of fetuccini ( or other types like rotini, bow ties, fusilli etc that allow the pesto to get in and coat well)

1/4 cup frozen green peas, defrosted

3-4 tbsp basil pesto

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

salt

freshly ground black pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (tender but still firm to the bite), stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/4 cup of the pasta water to add to the pasta later, if needed.

In a mixing bowl,  add the hot pasta and the peas to the pesto and toss well to coat evenly. Add the required quantity of reserved liquid for desired moisture level. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Serve warm with garlic bread or on a side of vegetables, meat or fish.

Summer Vegetables Au Pistou

So, what else did I do with the pesto, still holding it’s wholesome goodness and sitting in the refrigerator for over 2 weeks? Eureka! I had some zucchini, and red pepper also hanging in the refrigerator along with the pesto. I just sautéed the vegetables in the pesto and look what I got?!

Serves 2

1 zucchini, cut into quarter slices

1/2 red pepper, cut into thin strips

2-3 tbsp basil pesto

salt

freshly ground black pepper

In a small frying pan or skillet on medium heat, warm the pesto and add the vegetables. Sauté for 3-4 minutes and season with some salt and pepper. Serve hot as a side dish with pasta, meats or fish or make an elegant bruschetta topping!

You may add other vegetables like asparagus, green beans, summer squash or yellow onions. Chicken tenderloins or shrimps would definitely kick it up a notch!

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