From an episode of Seinfeld
[Setting: A restaurant]
(Jerry, George, and Elaine are all eating at an Italian restaurant. George hasn’t eaten anything)
ELAINE: Do you want some of mine?
JERRY: Take some of mine.
GEORGE: Why do I get pesto? Why do I think I’ll like it? I keep trying to like it, like I have to like it.
JERRY: Who said you have to like it?
GEORGE: Everybody likes pesto. You walk into a restaurant, that’s all you hear – pesto, pesto, pesto.
JERRY: I don’t like pesto.
GEORGE: Where was pesto 10 years ago?
JERRY: Elaine is having a “houseguest.” She’s picking him up at the airport tonight.
GEORGE: A guy?
ELAINE: (Slightly embarrassed) Yes, a guy.
JERRY: He’s from a.. Yakima, right?
JERRY: Everybody’s moving to Seattle.
GEORGE: It’s the pesto of cities.
i don’t care what anyone says, i love pesto. this year i’ve been experimenting with making lots of different pestos, mainly because i have had bumper crops of herbs in the garden. i made the classic basil pesto but with walnuts because, although they add a wonderful creaminess, the price of pine nuts is ridiculous.
a few years ago i planted one little tarragon plant that has now become the monster that took over my garden. i’ve been cutting, digging and giving it away as well as using it to flavor roasted chicken and in pickling vegetables but the damn thing never seems to get any smaller. finally, i cut about two feet off the top of the plant, which is now about five feet high, and that resulted in about 5 packed cups of tarragon. so, into a pesto it went along with some parsley, basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, walnuts, olive oil and juice from a half of a lemon. when i tasted my creation soon after making it, i was a little worried because the walnut taste was quite pronounced and there seemed to be a distinct flavor of grass. but after letting it sit for about an hour the flavors came together and it was simply delicious.
c and i do not eat a lot of pasta so we are enjoying pesto on grilled chicken or fish, as a spread on bread or as a dip for various vegetables, and as a substitute for mayo on a sandwich. because of that, i use less olive oil than would normally be called for which allows the pesto to emulsify better. if i want to use this same pesto on pasta, i just add more olive oil. i also discovered that mixing one part pesto with one part softened cream cheese makes a wonderfully delicious spread. you can also mix pesto into hummus or soups or any other spread you can imagine.
since we are up on the tail end of the gardening season, i used up all the basil in the garden to make one last basil pesto. this time i used pistachios, which made for a softer flavor and a texture close to a pesto made with pine nuts. and once again, the flavor was much better after sitting for some time.
the classic way of making pesto is with a mortar and pestle, of which i have many being married to a pharmacist and all… but not the right kind for making pesto. like most people, i use the food processor. so one day, i was all geared up to make one pesto and my food processor quit working. out came my trusty blender and i discovered that a blender pesto is much smoother and creamier than food processor pesto, but you have to be careful that you don’t overblend.
i don’t use recipes for pesto, just ratios and if you memorize the ratio, you can be completely creative in making pestos out of anything that sounds appealing.
2 – 3 parts herb to 1/2 part oil, 1/4 part cheese, ¼ part nuts, 2 cloves of garlic, juice of ½ a lemon (if using herbs other than all basil) and salt.
And you can easily make pesto vegan by just leaving out the cheese (although you have to add more salt to compensate)
regardless of which device i use, here’s my process for making pesto:
roughly chop the nuts in the processor first and set aside. chop the garlic by hand. grate the cheese. process the herbs in the processor with the olive oil until halfway to the final texture. add the nuts, garlic and cheese and continue to process. add more oil if necessary to achieve the texture you want. tightly cover the mixture and set aside for an hour.
the combinations are endless.
and after the summer is long gone you can still evoke the memory of lazy summer nights and the perfumed air of a thriving garden.