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Pesto and beans

February 21, 2010

Basil is without a doubt my favourite herb. Big statement, considering my newfound love affair with rosemary, and the giddy feelings I get when I spot a large splodge of chives. This year I planted about six batches, and still, I find myself checking up on them weekly to see if there is finally enough to make a large enough batch of pesto to justify the use of the food processor. Fortunately, impatience can be a virtue.

Note: not all the cheese pictured was used (only about half)

I finally tried Donna Hay’s “rough chop” method, but of course got a little carried away, so the end result was similar to a ground pesto (I had to use my new mortar and pestle, but obviously if you don’t have one…I will obsessively let you know how you can achieve similar flavour sensation). As you can see, I may have added some flat parsley and oregano to the mix, and if you’re short on basil, now you know how to satiate your pesto craving regardless.

I also tried Antonio Tahhan’s advice of blanching the herbs in boiling water, then plunging straight into cold water, to keep the greens from going brown. I left them in the hot water a little long but other than the leaves that started browning in the hot water, this advice is a real winner. The shot above shows the greens after being blanched. I’ve added a few details in the method to ease the process and give you some “herb stock” after too. Yes. I do love them that much.

So, now you can make pesto with whatever green herbs (or strong salad greens like rocket or arugula), any sharp, hard, strong cheese, any oil, and nuts or not. Add copious amounts of garlic. Or not. Makes pretty much any amount you want!

Pesto

“Must include” list
Potential herbs:
Basil
Arugula/rocket
Oregano
Herbs I’d use as part of a mixture of herbs, not on their own:
Flat parsley
Sage
Mint
Pretty much any other leafy herb (ie, not woody herbs like thyme or rosemary)
Potential oils:
Extra virgin olive oil
Hazelnut oil
Walnut oil
Plain cooking oil (use strong herbs or garlic or good cheese if going this route)
Potential zing-adders:
Garlic
Lemon zest and gentle squeeze of juice
Chilli powder or flakes or good quality sauce/oil
Good quality olives, hand-pitted
A teeny bit of truffle oil

Optional extras list:
Potential cheeses:
Good quality, freshly grated parmesan
Mature, hard gouda, freshly grated (cow or goat)
A strong (usually well aged), hard cheese – ask the people at the cheese shop for advice if you want to experiment
Potential nuts:
Pine nuts
Walnuts
Pistachios
Almonds
Pecans
Macadamias

In mine I used a large handful of flat parsley, basil, and oregano, some parmesan, fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt. In terms of quantities, the following is a rough ratio guide:

4 parts herbs (uncooked)
3 parts oil
2 parts cheese
2 parts nuts
1 part garlic
only a pinch or two of the other zing additions, or half a part of olives

First off, put a kettle of water on to boil. Place herbs in a sievve or metal colander. Prepare a pot large enough to fit the colander by filling it 3/4 full with cold water. Prepare another pot or bowl large enough to fit the colander, add just boiled water, fill halfway. Plunge herbs into hot water until herbs begin to wilt (push them into the hot water a little), about 5-10 seconds. Immediately remove from hot water, place colander straight into cold water, and place pot of cold water into fridge or freezer. Retain hot water (it will be nicely fragrant), let cool on side.

Prep all other ingredients (crush and peel garlic, finely grate cheese, toast/peel nuts*). Remove herbs from cold water. Give herbs a gentle squeeze to remove excess water. Retain cold water, set aside. Chop herbs finely with garlic and nuts if using. This is easiest (and safest) if you place both hands on top of the knife, and rock back and forth with some force over the herbs and garlic, moving along and then scraping the edges back into the centre. Once chopped finely enough for your liking, dump everything in a bowl or mortar and pestle: the herbs, nuts, garlic, oil, everything.

* Place nuts on an oven tray and bake for 5 minutes at 180C until slightly darkened in colour. Transfer nuts onto a cold plate to cool. If using hazelnuts, you may want to remove the skins by rubbing nuts (ahem) in a tea towel.

Grind with the mortar and pestle and pound a little, or use a wooden spoon and pound and squeeze the pesto against the edge of the bowl to release flavours. Add salt 1/4 tsp at a time as you combine ingredients. Store in an airtight container for no more than 2 weeks.

Pesto Beans

I added some of my pesto to some white beans (canned cannellini beans, but you can use any white beans), fresh chopped tomatoes (my first ones of the season!), pepper, a little drizzle of balsamic, and some extra olive oil. There was also some brine from some fabulous garlic olives which had some balsamic in there somewhere. But this isn’t strictly needed. I imagine this would make a damn good dip if mushed up a little, especially with some roasted red peppers, or a few sundried tomatoes added in. The soft beans mellow out the intense flavour of the pesto so well. Of course you could use pasta instead or as well.

There is something just magical about red, gold and green. Later I added some mild salad leaves from the garden to make it a stand alone salad, serving some fresh crusty bread alongside for dinner. A lovely end to the first properly hot summer day in ages.

Frankly I cannot wait to schmear some pesto on the rest of that bread tomorrow morning for breakfast and wow my POLS class with my garlic aura. Let me know about your pesto goodness people!

PS. I am going to attempt to make pakoras from The Natty Cook. This could be interesting!

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