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Restaurant Style Pesto

fyoulady Jun 6, 2007 11:06 AM

I absolutly love pesto and I eat it on everything. Everytime I eat it at a restaurant it is totally delicious. When I buy it in the store its horrible (and seriously, Ive tried every kind I have found on the market.) Its always either too nutty (and the nuts are not chopped up enough) or WAYYYY too much oil and just gross. Ya know that icky BROWN pesto?! Eew
The pesto I prefer is more green and smooth and they serve it EVERYWHERE so WHY dont they sell it in the store?!?!?!
Ok so Ive given up, Im going to stop being lazy and attempt to make my own. This may sound really lame but I NEED HELP because I really dont have a knack for cooking, ya know? Anyway, some help would be appreciated because I have no skills, and honestly, guys like girls with skills ;). Thanks!

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  1. MagnumWino RE: fyoulady Jun 6, 2007 11:23 AM

    I make my own pesto all the time in the summer with basil grown in my garden. Short of growing your own, which I highly recommend, try to buy the highest quality basil you can find. So the ingredients I use are basil (of course), pine nuts, a high quality extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, and either grated Pecorino Romano or Parmaggiano-Reggiano cheese. I'll tell you now that I do not measure any of the ingredients, I add and taste as I go. Put a nice bunch of basil into your food processor or blender, drizzle some olive oil, add a handful of pine nuts, a handful of grated cheese a couple of pinches of salt, careful with the salt though. Turn the blender on then drizzle in more olive oil to get to the consistency you want, either like a paste or more loose like a salsa. Then just keep tasting and adding the ingredients as you go, until you get the perfect taste you are looking for. I'm sorry about not giving you exact measurements, but I cook like an Italian, we don't measure stuff!! Taste as you go. The outcome will be spectacular! Good luck!! I really recommend growing your own basil, it's insanely easy and is the best basil you can get. Even if you don't have the room or the inclination for a garden, plant some seeds in a few pots or buy a flat of basil already started at your local nursery, and it will grow in no time. When the basil gets to about 5"or 6" high, start pinching off the top leaves and keep doing that as the plants grow, it will allow the basil to grow nice and bushy. You will then be in pesto heaven! Then you can either put the excess pesto you won't be using for awhile in mason jars (top off with olive oil before screwing the lid on), and store in the freezer, or, fill and ice-cube tray with the pesto and store it that way.

    4 Replies
    1. re: MagnumWino
      m
      mojoeater RE: MagnumWino Jun 6, 2007 11:26 AM

      Be sure to toast the pinenuts first! A slight browning really brings out the flavor.

      1. re: MagnumWino
        NeNePie RE: MagnumWino Jun 7, 2007 05:31 PM

        No garlic in your recipe?

        1. re: NeNePie
          MagnumWino RE: NeNePie Jun 7, 2007 06:32 PM

          NeNePie, my bad, see my reply to funkymonkey, below. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

        2. re: MagnumWino
          Funwithfood RE: MagnumWino Jun 8, 2007 08:25 PM

          I'm known for great pesto (made it with 50 packed cups fresh basil last summer--remember my contest!).

          Genovese Basil is best (less anise flavor), garlic cloves, *roasted* pine nuts, virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, bit of lemon juice. Having extra of each ingredient on hand is *imperative* for making great pesto IMO...if it tastes "too green", add more pine nuts, too bland add more Parm, etc.

        3. funkymonkey RE: fyoulady Jun 6, 2007 11:25 AM

          if you think you don't have a knack for cooking, you're going to change your mind big time once you try your own pesto. it's crazy easy and you really can't mess it up. if you put in too much salt or garlic, you can add more basil and olive oil. just taste and adjust if you think you've somehow screwed it up.

          first off, do you have a food processor or a blender? a hand blender would work as well. you can go old school and use a mortar and pestle, but that's not the kind of thing most people have hanging around.

          here's a basic recipe, but use this as a guideline. make it, taste it, and add more of whatever you think is missing. i tend to add a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice, because i think it adds a nice brightness. also, keep in mind that the quality of your ingredients will determine the deliciousness of your pesto: use good olive oil, parmeggiano reggiano, and fresh pine nuts (ones that have been sitting around start to smell stale).

          Toast 1/3 cup pine nuts (put them in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until they're fragrant and slightly colored. this'll just take a few minutes. keep a close on them so they don't burn)

          In blender or food processor, combine the nuts, 4 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (from about 3 large bunches), 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup olive oil, and 1 tsp salt. Blend until it becomes a nice creamy paste. Add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and give it another quick whiz in the blender.

          That's it! The biggest pain in the butt is pulling the leaves off the basil stems. You can go ahead and make it in large quantities and freeze it, but don't add the cheese if you do that; wait until you use it before you add the cheese.

          good luck and let us know how you fare!

          funkymonkey
          http://thebestbite.blogspot.com/

          5 Replies
          1. re: funkymonkey
            MagnumWino RE: funkymonkey Jun 6, 2007 11:34 AM

            Ooohhh, I knew I forgot something, the GARLIC! Thanks funkymonkey.

            1. re: MagnumWino
              funkymonkey RE: MagnumWino Jun 6, 2007 11:49 AM

              no problem!

              also, i just made an interesting and refreshing variation on this, a mint pesto with toasted almonds (no cheese). it was a great sauce for lamb and i think it'll be interesting on pasta, maybe with some sugar snaps or asparagus and lemon. i think the mint experience will be my next blog post, when i have a chance.

              just wanted to let fyoulady know that she's not limited to basil, because i bet once she gets a-pesto-ing, she'll want to experiment. and there's loads of room in the food processor for experimentation.

              funkmonkey
              http://thebestbite.blogspot.com/

              1. re: funkymonkey
                pilotgirl210 RE: funkymonkey Jun 6, 2007 12:09 PM

                I grow my own basil and make my own pesto each season, too, and the only thing I would add to the comments above is that if you spoon the pesto into ice cube trays to freeze, be sure you spray the trays with vegetable spray first! The first time I made it I failed to do that and ohhhhhh, what a mess digging it out of the trays. Now they pop right out. After the cubes are frozen, I wrap them well and put them in freezer resealable bags. I keep a baby food jar in the fridge, into which I've thawed a couple of pesto *cubes* and topped with EVOO. When I run out of pesto, I just dip into the freezer for more.

                1. re: funkymonkey
                  Jennalynn RE: funkymonkey Jun 8, 2007 08:36 PM

                  I make a variation using cilantro and no cheese... add a little squeeze of lemon.

              2. re: funkymonkey
                Megiac RE: funkymonkey Jun 6, 2007 04:49 PM

                I would change this just a bit to say stir in the parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of softened butter by hand.

                The deal with pesto is that the basil turns brown when exposed to air for too long, so it is best to make it shortly before tossing wiht your cooked pasta.

              3. oakjoan RE: fyoulady Jun 6, 2007 12:14 PM

                Well, I see that you've gotten lots of good advice from the answers to yur post. A couple of thoughts: FIRST, make sure you don't just put the entire basil bunch, stems and all, into your food processor/blender!!!!

                Second, from Marcella Hazan, a famously great Italian cookbook author, comes this advice: make the pesto in the food proc/blender, but process ONLY the basil leaves, garlic, oil, and pine nuts first. Don't put in the cheese! Whether you grate it by hand or by machine, do it separately and add to the basil garlic mix BY HAND.

                I didn't think this would make a difference, but it did. The pest was much less sticky and gummy from all that processing. It just takes a minute to add by hand, but try it, you'll like it.

                1. v
                  valerie RE: fyoulady Jun 6, 2007 12:28 PM

                  Another vote for making your own. It's that easy. I use a Cuisinart Mini-Prep and then add the cheese. It's worth the $25 even if you only use it for pesto. And I roughly follow Marcella Hazan's recipe, but now I don't even look at the recipe and just go by taste and eyeballing the amounts. You really can't go wrong.

                  The store bought stuff tastes horrible to me now (not sure it ever tasted good!).

                  1. fyoulady RE: fyoulady Jun 6, 2007 12:34 PM

                    Thank you all so much! THERE IS HOPE!!

                    1. l
                      lisaf RE: fyoulady Jun 6, 2007 04:34 PM

                      Another tip is to make big batches and freeze in an icecube tray. Each cube is about enough for a serving of pasta, so thaw as needed. I've never tried the store bought stuff. It's so easy to make your own, especially if you own a Cuisinart. If not you can use a blender too.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: lisaf
                        sgwood415 RE: lisaf Jun 6, 2007 05:33 PM

                        And fresh pesto doesn't really keep well, so the store stuff is pretty rank.

                      2. sgwood415 RE: fyoulady Jun 6, 2007 05:32 PM

                        A great pesto trick is to add a little baby spinach in with the basil. It'll give your pesto a beautiful green color.

                        I picked up this trick from a show about an award winning pesto place in Carmel, CA.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: sgwood415
                          QueenB RE: sgwood415 Jun 7, 2007 05:35 PM

                          I saw the same trick on ATK the other week. It helps to keep the pesto from turning that brown color.

                          1. re: sgwood415
                            l
                            lisaf RE: sgwood415 Jun 8, 2007 01:44 PM

                            It also helps stretch your basil. My recipe is very flavorful:

                            Ingredients:
                            1/2 cup chopped basil
                            1/4 cup chopped parsley
                            1 Tbsp chopped marjoram
                            1/2 cup spinach leaves (or more basil if you have extra)
                            1 1/2 Tbsp garlic
                            1/2 cup celery with leaves
                            1/2 cup olive oil
                            1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
                            1/2 cup toasted walnuts
                            1/2 cup toasted pinenuts
                            1 1/2 tsp salt
                            3/4 cup good quality parmesan or romano cheese (optional)

                            Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.
                            Mince until mixture is creamy. Use immediately or freeze, cover with a thin layer of olive oil.

                            Personally, I like to freeze in an icecube tray and put into freezer ziplocks. Then you can thaw 2-3 cubes as needed.

                            1. re: lisaf
                              l
                              lorijoboo RE: lisaf Jun 8, 2007 09:16 PM

                              if you blanche the basil for a few second in boiling water before you put it in the food processor it will stay green. Don't throw out the water. Cook the pasta in the basil flavored water for a even greater experience.

                              1. re: lorijoboo
                                c
                                cupcake RE: lorijoboo Jun 8, 2007 10:10 PM

                                Thank you all so much from me as well!!

                          2. Tom P RE: fyoulady Jun 9, 2007 09:44 AM

                            There is little I can add to all the wonderful posts here, save two things: If you must buy pesto from the store, Costco's Kirkland Brand Pesto is the best store bought I have found. In a pinch, give it a try. It is beautifully green and tastes good. My favorite thing to do with it is to pour it over a wedge of Brie, torch the whole thing in the microwave for about a minute and serve it with crackers. People lose their minds over it.

                            Secondly, many restaurants add butter to pesto to make it ever richer and creamier. While I love the pure version best, sometimes it is a nice change to add some melted butter to the pesto. It might give you the restaurant taste you enjoy.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Tom P
                              t
                              Texchef RE: Tom P Jun 9, 2007 10:48 AM

                              The Brie with pesto sounds great! I'll try it sometime. I agree with Oakjoan about putting the cheese in last after you're done with the food processor. Also, if you get into making pesto yourself you can experiment with other nuts besides pine nuts... pecans or walnuts work well too. I personally would never add butter to pesto. If you use a good quality of extra virgin olive oil you would never need butter. And I highly recommend growing your own basil. I think anyone can do it. Then you have fresh basil for adding to salads, topping pizza and pasta and something green and beautiful that you've grown for yourself. Who knows? Maybe you'll get inspired to start cooking more and in no time you'll be giving advice on Chowhound!

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