Friday 26 July 2013

Basil Pesto with Spaghetti and Zucchini


Basil is my favourite herb if I were forced to choose one, and pesto is definitely my favourite use of it.

Pesto is always amazing tossed with freshly cooked pasta, but equally delicious with boiled new potatoes, spread on some grilled flatbread or crostini, used as a base for pizza, oooh, in a grilled cheese ... hmm, I'm seeing a trend here.  Pesto is pretty good with breads and starches.  But it's equally delicious brushed on grilled meats, tossed with shrimp or even green beans.

Okay, so I've established that it's a versatile sauce (paste).  Here I've used it in the most traditional way, tossed with some pasta and I've added some julienne cut zucchini strips (or at least the best julienne I can manage, maybe more like thin strips).

For the basil recipe, I've always thought of so many cups of "packed basil".  I know how I pack a cup full, but it's not always obvious to anyone else.  So I took what I originally considered 2 cups of packed basil and stuffed it into one measuring cup as tightly as seemed reasonable considering it kept popping back up due to its freshness.  I ended up with slightly less than one cup.  But even at that, it takes a lot of basil leaves to make it happen ... I tore leaves off about 20 plants; this batch is just 5 or 6 of them.

As for pine nuts, oy, are they ever expensive!  And I've recently read about PNS - Pine Nut Syndrome.  I am NOT kidding.  They can apparently cause "taste disturbances" for a few days or up to a few weeks where everything you eat will taste bitter or even metallic.  What is the world coming to?!  I've never experienced this, and hope to enjoy many more pine nut dishes in my lifetime. But the term pesto simply refers to a paste and can be made in many ways such as an equally delicious combination of arugula and walnuts replacing the basil and pine nuts.  So fear not PNS sufferers ... there are other options!

Basil Pesto
1 very tightly packed cup of basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
4 Tbsp olive oil
Lemon Juice
1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Combine pine nuts and garlic in food processor and pulse or blend into small bits.  Add basil leaves and do the same.  Slowly stream in the olive oil while blending which will allow the paste to form.  Add a squeeze of lemon juice.  This should result in a loose paste; if needed, add more oil.  Turn into a bowl and mix in parmesan cheese and salt to taste.  If you want to freeze or otherwise store the pesto, do not add the cheese or salt - add it when ready to use.  Makes 1 cup.

Zucchini Pasta - 2 servings
1/2 cup basil pesto
2 medium zucchini (one yellow, one green if possible)
2 garlic cloves
2 servings pasta cooked plus some cooking water
Parmesan Cheese

Prepare pasta.  Cut zucchini into julienne slices. When pasta is almost ready, heat shallow pan, add some olive oil.  Add zucchini slices and garlic at the same time.  Toss quickly until zucchini is slightly wilted (just a minute or two).  Add cooked pasta and basil pesto and toss with the zucchini.  Add pasta water as needed to make it a bit saucy.  Season to taste with S&P.  Top with parmesan.

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