High Summer is upon us, for me that means Pesto several times a week. The garlic crop is in and basil has been going on. Yeah I have been faking it up to now with garlic curl pesto and even arugula pesto, which were great, but there is nothing like those Georgian Crystal cloves. Being that I am interested in food where haute cuisine meets peasant food meets locally produced food, how do I reconcile some Pesto’s mystifying and costly ingredients?The traditional recipe of Pesto:
- Basil leaves — A Bunch
- Garlic — A humongous Georgian Crystal Clove or 2 (enough to keep vampires at bay)
- Parmesan Cheese — A nice handful
- Pine Nuts — your other handful
- Olive Oil — Enough to liquefy the whole thing, but only that much, because that is plenty
- You can optionally add fresh ground pepper and some parsley too.
ground it all up with mortar and pestle to pasty consistency(sticks well to pasta). Mix well with steaming pasta. Of course a mortar and pestle would be ridiculous to use when we all have cheap Chinese made gadgets. I use a stick blender, most commonly used is a food processor.This will be delicious but how does it satisfy the meets peasant food meets locally produced food matrix? For a simpler matrix we will say all the ingredients are haute cuisine leave that out.
Why Peasant Food?
The whole world is going broke, so I figure start living like a peasant, then as the worldwide economy continues its downward spiral and catches up to you(if it hasn’t already), you will already be living like a peasant, so no big deal. Peasant Food can be quite good and if you have a couple good meals a day, how bad could things be? If local food is marketing to well off people more than about changing the culture of food I am less sanguine.
It may be local in Italy, but it isn’t here and it costs about $20 per pound! The subtle flavors of Parmesan get lost among the strong flavors of garlic and basil anyways. Any inexpensive white cheese like mozzarella or Monterey Jack will satisfyingly impart the flavor, texture and mouthfeel of cheese and add some salt to the pesto to improve the flavor. We have some local artisan cheese makers. You can get hard goat cheese, in the Parmesan style at the Bend Farmer’s Market.
Made in China. Need I say more. The most expensive nut in the world. Mediterranean Pine Nuts cost $35 a pound and the Chinese ones are close to $20. In Italy they commonally use walnuts too in Pesto. Walnuts make a great tasting pesto. They are no worse than Pine Nuts, just different. Now that Fields Farm is selling Oregon Tilth certified organic walnuts this a no brainer. Switching to the more reasonable and equally worthy Walnut, I have not bought pine nuts in a few years, but when I did I was not about to mash such a pricey item up to get lost within the other strong flavors. I’d sprinkle them on top.
Olive Oil is anything but local. A major worldwide commodity, subject to the marketing sleights of hand such as “Packed In Italy ” prominent on the front label while “Contains oils from Spain, Greece and Italy” on the back only visible with a magnifier. I suspect Olive Oil is somewhere between fantasies of it and Fukishima cooling pool liquid. A recent investigation of another worldwide food commodity, Honey, revealed that the Honey sold in Big Box stores is not even identifiable as such being that it is missing part or all of its unique fingerprint of pollen. Trader Joes was the only local Box store to have real Honey.
You can get 3 of the 5 ingredients for pesto from Fields Farm. That is why it occurred to me to write this. If you are a local food purist, you have to do this somehow without Olive Oil. Otherwise to make this an affordable everyday food use mass market cheese. For more authenticity and quality you can use a local craft hard cheese. Use local walnuts.
More About Pesto
RadiatoreRadiatore Pasta is great for Pesto. The Pesto gets stuck in all those little fins.Pesto is also a great pizza topping, add it after cooking and forget the cheese since its already on the Pizza, just plop it on I have been unsuccessful try to apply it gracefully with a squirt bottle. You would have to thin it with a lot more olive oil and that would change the taste. I had a pizza the other night with pesto, sliced eggplant and anchovies.Serve Pesto-Pasta with a piece of chicken, pork chop or tuna or salmon steak simply with some kosher salt sprinkled on and a lemon wedge to squeeze on it, a salad and a bottle of crisp white wine.Cilantro Pesto. I had a glut of cilantro so I experimented. As with the arugula pesto I tried the difference was more subtle than I expected. The herb or green in Pesto is only one part of it. That being said there nothing better than basil for pesto and nothing better than cilantro for salsa(I have tried basil in salsa too!).