Pesto Perfection

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Come with me on a little journey to my culinary past.

It was a beautiful summer evening, in the year of the basil trees. My high school BFF, C, and her now-husband were visiting, and in an act of classic gender division, the men went off golfing and C and I stayed home to fix dinner and gossip over multiple glasses of wine. Because basil was so plentiful, we decided to make my mother-in-law’s pesto, a simple recipe that calls for basil, olive oil, parmesan and pine nuts. As we cooked and chatted, we munched on the extra pine nuts. Eventually the guys came home, we had a delicious dinner, enjoyed the rest of the weekend visit and woke up to a Monday morning that was not unlike all the Mondays that had come before it. Except for the fact that my breakfast tasted like copper and acid in my mouth. And so did my lunch. And my dinner. And all of my meals the following day. I had hit my head the week before and after a couple days of food tasting like pennies, D started to worry that something might be seriously wrong. After a bit of Internet sleuthing and a call to C to discover that she too had been tasting pennies for days, we learned of a condition called pine mouth, wherein consuming pine nuts can leave a metallic taste in your month for multiple weeks! It was brutal, but it taught me a very important lesson: never ever make a recipe that uses pine nuts. I have since substituted walnuts into that particular pesto recipe.

When I first decided to start this blog, I purchased an amazing cookbook called Cooking From The Farmer’s Market (at some point I’ll do a larger review, but I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seasonal cooking. It’s fantastic!). My most recent batch of pesto was a combination of the recipe I’ve been using for a few years now, and a new recipe I got from this book. One of my favorite things about pesto is that you can make so many different varieties. I’ve made kale pesto in the past. I’ve seen recipes for pestos that use chard, dandelion greens, sun dried tomatoes. There are so many options. Cooking From The Farmer’s Market uses arugula and mint in its recipe, but I ended up using basil instead because I didn’t have any arugula at the time. I also added in some walnuts just because I like a little bit of crunch and a slightly nutty flavor. That’s what is so great about pesto: once you have a basic recipe to work from, you can be as inventive as you want with the flavors. You can vary the greens and the seasonings. You can make it thicker or thinner. More cheesy or more oily. Whatever suits your mood and your tastes. It’s a great dish to keep experimenting with until you find the pesto that is perfect for you.

~C.

Arugula-Mint Pesto

Ingredients

5 cups of packed arugula (or basil)

3/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 shaved aged hard cheese such as Parmesan

2 cloves of garlic

Zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 Tbsp lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lb pasta of your choice

Preparation

In a blender or food processor, combine arugula, mint, olive oil, cheese, garlic, lemon, zest and salt and pepper to taste.

Blend until smooth. 

Stir in 1 Tbsp of lemon juice. 

Taste and adjust seasoning. 

Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Cook pasta and reserve a bit of the pasta cooking water. 

Toss the pesto with the pasta. 

Thin out with small amount of pasta water if needed. 

Taste and season with salt, pepper and the additional 1 Tbsp of lemon juice. 

Sprinkle with cheese and serve right away. 

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