Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Pesto Fit

I spent most of Friday night and Saturday morning fretting over how good the pesto was from Farm 255. I knew it would turn into a self-esteem issue if I didn't figure out how to make pesto like they do. The Carnivore promised to ask them for their recipe on Monday, but I couldn't wait that long.

I picked every last leaf of basil out of my garden, down to the point where I'm now afraid the plants won't even bother to produce anymore, and dragged some of my cookbooks out to the front porch. I've never made my own pesto before, but I knew there was no way I'd be able to go back to eating pesto out of a jar after the sauce I tasted at the restaurant Friday night. I had a general idea of the ingredients that go into typical pesto recipes: basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic; and even though I didn't know the secret ingredient that went into Farm's recipe, I remembered detecting a taste of lemon juice.

I tried my Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, but only found odd pesto recipes (garlic scape pesto? - way out of my league right now). I found the jackpot recipe in The Joy of Gardening Cookbook by Janet Ballantyne, one my mother had given me right off of her own bookshelf, after much whining and gnashing of teeth on my end. With a few minor adaptations, I ended up with this:

  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (including a pinch of parsley)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of 1 and a half lemons
  1. Combine everything except for 1 Tbs olive oil in a food processor and process to make a thick paste.
  2. Transfer pesto into a container and smooth out the top. Cover with a thin coating of olive oil.

It took a while and a great many taste tests before The Carnivore and I both agreed that not only did we love the pesto, but that it was close to what we had at the restaurant. For dinner Saturday night, I served the pesto over whole-wheat fettucine, along with a baguette and a seasoned olive oil dipping sauce. Interestingly, the flavors in the pesto seemed overwhelming when eaten as a main dish pasta sauce, so I'm now thinking I need to cut down on the lemon (maybe the acidity is what made it so cloying?). Fat Baby loved it the way it was, and The Carnivore ate two helpings, so maybe I'm just obsessing. Again.

Regardless, I became fascinated with the concept of making my own pesto. Who, after all, wouldn't rather make their own than buy it in a jar with preservatives added to give it shelf life? The Joy of Gardening Cookbook, which I am now reading cover-to-cover, is chock-full of information about using the bounty from the garden, and most importantly, living off the land year-round. According to the cookbook, pesto will keep in the freezer for a year. Obviously, the mathmetician in me was doing the calculations all weekend in order to estimate how much basil I will need to plant next year in order to freeze my own pesto to last until the following summer's harvest.

The Carnivore called me from work on Monday morning to say he had procured Farm 255's pesto recipe from me. I preened most of the day, sure that I had duplicated their recipe perfectly.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Now I have to wait another month or so until my basil plants produce again so that I can attempt the restaurant's recipe. It will still be nearly impossible to duplicate it to the letter since, according to chef's own recipe, they mix "basil, cilantro, mint, etc" until they get 6 Tbs of the mixed herbs. It is rare that I get a recipe that actually includes "etc" in the list of ingredients, and I must say I am immensely intimidated by that.

1 comment:

Meredith said...

I haven't had the pesto at Farm, but when I made mine I added sprigs and pinches of peppermint, chocolate mint, fresh oregano, thyme, & cilantro - turned out great!