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Mini-prep Pesto

September 2nd, 2011
Basil plant leaves.

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I recently bought a small food processor. I chose the KitchenAid Chef Series 3-cup Food chopper. My full size food processor broke 2 years ago, and I wasn’t going to replace it — but there are just enough times that I want a chopper that I finally broke down and decided to get a small one.

One of the things I wanted it for was to make pesto. I love pesto. I make it throughout the summer, but in September of every year, when my basil plants are at their most lush and flavorful, I make tons of it — some to eat fresh and some to freeze. I won’t lie. Frozen pesto is not as good as fresh pesto — but in the middle of winter, when fresh basil is impossible to come by, frozen pesto tastes like summer. But I needed a food processor.  I’m not willing to do that much chopping by hand, and as much as I would love to have a giant mortar and pestle like Julia Child’s, I have no place to store such a thing.

I had to experiment a bit before I figured out the right proportions of the ingredients for my small chopper. It wasn’t quite as simple as cutting my standard recipe in half. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps I don’t measure accurately in small amounts. Perhaps my chopper extracts more moisture from the herbs. I don’t know. What I do know is that this pesto is delicious!

When I make this, I measure the herbs and oil by volume, and everything else by weight. It’s easier when you are dealing with such small amounts to do as much as possible by weight. I give both the volume and weight measurements in the list below.

When I’m making pesto to freeze, I set up everything assembly-line style.  I measure the herbs into one bowl and the nuts, cheese, and garlic into  a second bowl.  I set out pairs of bowls all over the kitchen until I run out of one of the ingredients.  I measure the pepper and oil directly into the chopper.  To freeze, put each batch of pesto in a small plastic bag (I use the small snack size bags). Squeeze out all the air and seal. It’s important to get all the air out — air is what makes pesto turn brown. Thaw and serve over pasta OR slice a chunk off and use it to finish pork chops — just put it on the chop after the last time you turn it and let it melt.

Mini-Prep Pesto

slightly less than ¼ cup (0.7 ounces) nuts
1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered
¼ cup (coincidentally, also 0.7 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup loosely packed fresh herbs
3 ounces (by volume) extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Notes on ingredients:

  • I don’t like pesto made only with basil.  For herbs, I usually use ½ cup basil and ½ cup other herbs and braising greens. I’ve used everything from sage, thyme, oregano and chives to mustards, bok choy, beet greens and chards. I also like 100% arugula pesto, and 100% sage pesto.  You can use basil only, if you prefer, but don’t hesitate to experiment.  To me, loosely packed means that when you stick your finger in the cup on top of the herbs, there’s a little give and the herbs aren’t crushed into the cup.
  • For nuts, I usually use cashews. Pine nuts are nice, but are somewhat mild.  I prefer the flavor of cashews (plus they are less expensive and easier to find). Peanuts don’t work well.  Some people like walnuts (especially with arugula), but I don’t like them myself.
  • If I am eating the pesto right away, I use the best olive oil I can put my hands on. If I’m going to freeze the pesto, I use grocery store olive oil.  You can experiment with other oils (walnut, hazelnut, etc.) but I always come back to extra virgin olive oil.
  • If the nuts are salted, I don’t add extra salt. I like lots of freshly ground pepper.
  • Buy good cheese for this.  It’s worth it.  Don’t buy the pre-grated stuff in the bag.  Spend a few minutes grating the cheese yourself.

Put the nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese in the mini-prep. Pulse several times until the mixture is the texture of small pebbles. Add the herbs, and pulse until they are all chopped fine. Add the olive oil and pulse one more time to combine.

Serve over pasta. I like to cook up about 6-8 ounces of thin spaghetti.

You can find a version of the recipe suitable for printing here.