2013-06-07 / Columns

There are many ways to cook with pesto

By Connie Wendell
Special contributor

I love cooking with fresh herbs. It really makes a huge difference with anything I’m cooking. However, I don’t like the prices of fresh herbs in the stores.

The Cooking on Purpose solution is to grow your own. I have an herb garden and with this recent heat, it’s doing great. There is still plenty of time for you to start one, just plant the seeds directly into your garden now and they will be up in a flash. I’ve included some great recipes all with fresh herbs. You can dry the herbs and use them all winter – they are great.

Classic pesto

1/3 to ½ cup olive oil; 2 cups firmly packed basil leaves; ½ cup pine nuts or walnuts; ½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese; 3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered; ¼ teaspoon salt; and ground black pepper.

In a food processor or blender, combine 1/3 cup olive oil, basil, nuts, cheese, garlic and salt. Cover and process or blend until nearly smooth, stopping and scraping sides as necessary and adding olive oil until desired consistency. Add black pepper to taste.

If not using right away, divide into three portions. Place each portion in a small, air tight container and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Makes about ¾ cup pesto.

Toss ½ cup pesto with 4 cups hot cooked pasta. Delish.

Cilantro pesto

1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded; 1 large bunch fresh cilantro leaves, stems removed, about 2 cups; ½ cup loosely packed basil; ¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves; 2 large cloves garlic; ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil; ¼ cup water; 1 to 2 tablespoons lime juice; and ½ teaspoon sea salt.

In a food processor or blender, place the pepper, cilantro, basil, mint and garlic. Cover and process or blend with several on-off turns or pulses until finely chopped. With processor running, gradually add oil and water. Stir in lime juice and salt.

Makes 1 cup.

Grilled pesto chicken

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling; 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 2 ¼ pounds); salt and pepper to taste; 1 cup pesto; 2 zucchini, thinly sliced; 4 plum tomatoes, chopped; and 8 scallions, trimmed.

Preheat a gas grill to medium. Cut four 12-inch long sheets of heavy duty foil. Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil into the center of each sheet.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Lay 1 piece of chicken in the center of each sheet and spread 1 tablespoon pesto on top.

Mound one-quarter of the zucchini, tomatoes and scallions over each chicken breast. Dollop 3 tablespoons pesto over each mound. Fold the foil over the chicken and vegetables, pinch the edges to seal.

Cover and grill the packets over indirect heat for 25 minutes. Remove from the grill and open carefully.

Serves four.

Pesto biscuits

2 cups flour; 3 tablespoons buttermilk powder or nonfat dry milk powder; 2 teaspoons baking powder; ½ teaspoons baking soda; ¼ teaspoon salt; 1/3 cup butter-flavored shortening or regular shortening; 2 tablespoons pesto; and 2/3 cup water.

In a large bowl stir together flour, buttermilk powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With a pastry blender, cut in shortening and pesto until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center; add water all at once. Stir just until dough clings together.

Turn out on a lightly floured surface. Knead gently for 10 to 12 strokes. Roll or pat to ½-inch thickness. Cutwitha2½inchbiscuitcutter,dippingcutterin flour between cuts. Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Makes 10-12 biscuits.

Layered pesto spread

8 ounces goat cheese; 1 (8-ounce package) cream cheese, softened; ¼ cup pesto; ½ cup snipped basil leaves; 2 cup chopped roasted sweet red peppers; ¼ cup tomato paste; ¼ cup snipped dried tomatoes (not oil packed); and toasted Italian bread slices.

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving enough excess hang over the sides to cover finished spread. To help keep the wrap in place while spreading, tape down the sides.

In a food processor or blender, combine goat cheese and cream cheese. Cover and process or blend until smooth; divide mixture into three equal portions (a generous ½ cup each).

To one portion of cheese mixture stir in the pesto; spread in bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle snipped basil on top. Spoon another portion of cheese mixture over basil and spread carefully. Top with ½ cup chopped roasted red pepper. Stir tomato paste and dried tomatoes into remaining portion of cheese mixture. Spoon into pan and spread carefully. Cover with plastic and chill at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

To serve, fold back plastic wrap and invert onto a small serving platter. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Serve spread with bread slices, crackers and/ or pears. Garnish with red pepper strips and small basil leaves. Makes 16 servings.

If you try any of these great recipes, you’ll know what a difference fresh herbs make.

Until next time, keep Cooking on Purpose.

Connie S. Wendell can be reached at cookingonpurpose@yahoo.com.

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