Friday, 29 May 2015

Basil Pesto Bash

More adventures in pasta! This time, another classic: basil pesto, based on a version of this recipe, which I pared down to the basics.

I was told that pine nuts was the way to go, even if it burned a hole or two in my pocket. But the recipe with cashews was also fine, the nuts imparting a rich, creamy and nuttier feel to the mix. And no "pine mouth", either.

Plus, cashews are cheaper and can be used for other things without much apprehension. Pine nuts? You'd probably measure it by the gram for salads and stuff.

Roasting the cashews and garlic (unpeeled) for colour, aroma and
flavour. The garlic was easier to peel afterwards.

This batch was officially my third. This time, I made extra to store and see how long it lasts before the colour becomes unappetising. I'm thinking three days but I hope to finish the lot in five or six.

A simple list: basil, cashews, garlic and olive oil. I'll only stir in the powdered Parmesan and more oil before digging in. Odd, how I didn't attempt this before the bolognaise.

The first time, I'd used one of those fancy hand-cranked choppers. It, a.k.a. Batch Zero, didn't turn out well. It wasn't even pesto-y. All fresh ingredients.

The next couple of times, I made something better with the blender. But the pitcher was tall and ingredients so few, the blades simply tossed the stuff to one side and ended up blending air instead.

So it was pulse-stir-pulse-stir with a bamboo chopstick, stirring and mashing the basil leaves before adding oil and pulse-shake the blender-pulse-shake the blender until done.

I would've done the job in half the time or less with a pestle and mortar.

Forgot to grab an Instagrammable shot of the pesto in the jar.
Still nice to look at, though.

The results were pretty much what I'd wanted: something pasty but not gooey, with still recognisable bits of basil or cashew. Versions #1 and #2 were a tad spicy from the extra garlic, but that was minor.

For Batch #3, I used three bags of basil (from Jaya Grocer), washed but not dried. I only discarded the main stems, not those on the leaves (mostly). The cashews and five cloves of garlic (unpeeled) were tossed in a hot pan for a bit to roast, like this other pesto recipe.

I decided to add some crushed, unroasted cashews and a fresh garlic clove later. While blending, I didn't use too much olive oil, maybe less than 100ml in total.

It turned out better and not so garlicky - darn, should've added an extra clove or two. Also, the crushed but not pulverised cashews added more texture and character - in hindsight, a good idea. It all went in a jar that went into the fridge.

Next: dinnertime! While the pasta (by now demoted to condiment by the greatness of pesto and SHEER HUNGER) boils in adequately salted water, I just spoon out a portion of pesto into a bowl and mix in the cheese and more olive oil. Add a bit extra you can swipe with a finger afterwards; it's fun and yummy.

I drain the pasta and, when it's still hot, toss it well in the cold pesto. No need to oil the pasta further.

Delicious and addictive. A pity it won't stay green (enough) and fragrant
for long. Can't keep this for more than five or six days after all.

Delicious. And addictive. I've had basil pesto linguine for three days and I'm still not bored. But basil is a herb and you know what they say about herbs, right?

Whether one bag or three, it's still a bitch to make with a blender. I also plan to add lemon juice in the future. But nothing more, perhaps. I like this recipe and I don't want to mess around with it too much. Next time, maybe I can make things easier by using more basil and shredding the leaves into finer bits.

And mint. Would be interesting with mint. Three to five good-sized leaves for a three-bag batch. Not too much; mint can be overpowering. Just enough to add that mountain-fresh zing. But no chilli. Makan kaki Melody once seasoned a batch of my basil pesto with chilli flakes, the HERETIC.

And I think I just pared the list of restaurants I go to by another fifth.

...Well, of course pesto has non-pasta applications, just as there are different kinds of pesto, like the laksa pesto I had (so it's been done elsewhere). I recently had a chicken pesto pizza, and I've thought of stirring it into fried rice or using it as a condiment for fried or grilled chicken. It would depend on what the pesto is made of.

Nope, still not messing around too much with the basic recipe.

If you're making for friends, do ask whether any of them have nut allergies - yes, even for pine nuts. Anaphylaxis is no joke. Alternatively, you can omit the nuts and add more cheese.


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