“There was a farmer had a sauce and pesto was its name-oh, P-E-S-T-O, P-E-S-T-O, P-E-S-T-O. And pesto was its name-oh.” Bet you can guess the topic of this week’s column: children’s songs. No, not really. The subject is pesto, because I’m in kind of a pesto mood. I’ve been using pesto quite a bit lately as I continue to play with a new concept for my restaurant.
Speaking of my restaurant, things are finally starting to move along. Watch this space for more.
And now back to pesto. I read this quotation in some foodie publication: “Pesto is like a fresh taste of summer in your mouth.” I don’t think I could say it any better, because at the end of the day, pesto is all about the quality and freshness of the raw ingredients.
While many people believe pesto is a specific recipe—and requires a precise list of specific ingredients—they are, of course, incorrect! Think of pesto as more of a technique. The name, derived from the Italian pestare, literally means to pound or paste. No ingredient list there! True, we have come to accept a basil-based regional recipe, Pesto alla Genovese, as the standard. But it needn’t always be that way. Indeed, it shouldn’t. Don’t be a lemming! You’re a way better cook than that. Let’s use a little creativity with this sauce.
The best place to begin this creative process is the local farmers market. What’s green, fresh, vibrant and flavorful? That’s what we’re looking for. Nothing specific. Herbs and greens are good; tomatoes, even better. I often throw a bunch of stuff together that will really taste great with super-premium extra-virgin olive oil, crazy expensive grana cheese and some love. This may include arugula, carrot tops, tender baby spinach, lemon or orange zest and almonds or pecans. Have a little fun for a change. Try this arugula pesto recipe if you still need a little guidance.
CHEF BILL’S ARUGULA PESTO
• 1 garlic clove, finely minced
• 1/2 cup walnuts
• 1 lemon, zest and juice
• 3 Tbsp. grated parmesan
• 3 oz. olive oil
• 1 oz. canola oil
• 1/2 bag baby arugula
• Salt and pepper to taste
1. Toast the walnuts in a pan, roughly chop.
2. Put walnuts in a food processer and pulse until they’re very small and even (not dust).
3. Add the arugula, garlic, lemon zest and cheese. Pulse a couple of times to chop up the arugula.
4. Slowly pour in the oils and the lemon juice until it starts to become smooth. Add salt and pepper. Taste, adjust seasoning and blend until a fairly smooth mixture is achieved. Add more olive oil if necessary.