classic pesto

July 7, 2010 § 8 Comments


I’m starting to suspect that aioli (garlic mayonnaise, for the uninitiated) makes everything taste better. When I go out to eat, if I see a dish that comes with aioli, I’ll pretty much order it no matter what it is. Fries with aioli? Yes please! Frog legs with aioli? Ehh…. I might do that too. Given this minor obsession, it was only natural then that I would try to make it in my own kitchen. You see, then I could eat aioli with every meal, possibly excluding my breakfast cereal.


Well, it turns out that making aioli is hard. Three attempts later, I’ve wasted two lemons, countless egg yolks, and more olive oil than I care to think about. My poor food processor nearly burnt out during my neurotically slow drizzling of olive oil, which somehow must not have been neurotic enough. I still haven’t given up – if anything I’m now obstinately determined to conquer aioli – but I figured I’d comfort myself with something a little less finicky before the whole endeavour got too depressing.


So, basil’s answer to aioli: homemade pesto. And a tasty one it is, plus it doesn’t come with the raw egg concerns – always a bonus, although I figure I’ve probably already developed an immunity through my massive cookie dough intake. Pesto is lovely in its own right, straightforward to make, and super versatile: I like it best on pasta, grilled vegetables, and sandwiches. I don’t think it could quite entice me to order frog legs, but I can’t rule it out.



Classic Pesto
A tip I learned from my dad: I find that a little block of pesto is just the right amount for a single serving, so I freeze pesto in ice cube trays, then pop them out once they’re hard and transfer to a freezer bag. Then it’s easy to grab as many cubes as you need, microwave on low, and whisk in a little more oil if needed.

    2 cups basil
    2 cloves garlic
    2 tbsp pine nuts
    1/3 cup olive oil plus more as desired (I use 1/2 cup)
    1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    Salt to taste

In a small dry skillet, toast pine nuts over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden, about 5 minutes.

If you don’t want to use raw garlic, toast the unpeeled cloves in the same skillet until slightly darkened, about 7 minutes. (I prefer to use the raw garlic.) Peel and mince the garlic cloves.

Combine basil, garlic, nuts, and oil in a food processor and process until well blended, scraping down sides if needed. Add more oil to thin to desired consistency. If freezing, do so before adding cheese – if not, stir cheese into pesto. Taste for seasoning, you will probably need to add a pinch of salt.

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caponata

November 25, 2009 § 1 Comment

I was minding my own business in the grocery store, attempting to stock up on vast quantities of chocolate and heavy cream, when the eggplants called to me. They were purple and shiny and cuter than any vegetable should be. Naturally, I immediately purchased one, and it was only once I got home that two things occurred to me: one, I had never bought an eggplant before! What a momentous occasion. And two, I had absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Luckily, the internet came to the rescue, as it generally does. Several sites mentioned ‘caponata’, which I’d never heard of, but sounded delicious: tomatoes, onions, and eggplant all sautéed together into a warm and flavourful stew-like spread. And as an extra selling point, the name sounds all exotic even though I secretly know it’s really easy. Now of course, it would have been better if I had gotten my lazy self out the door to buy fresh basil, but it is cold and I am a wimp. So I made do with dried and it was yummy all the same. I was also mildly intimidated by the massive pile of eggplant chunks that this unassuming vegetable yielded, but it turns out they all cook down and it really does turn into a more reasonable quantity of food.

As for what to do with it: I spooned this while still piping hot onto toast, but it would be even better on baguette with goat cheese, and I suspect it would make a good pasta topping as well, maybe with extra tomatoes and sprinkled with Parmesan and pine nuts. Basically the idea is: caponata + carbs = some kind of delicious.

Please excuse the ugly photos – I was in a rush and just snapped a couple. To compensate: I present this picture of what happens when you leave eggplants alone with my roommate.

Caponata – adapted from Epicurious

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1 1/2-pound eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil or 3/4 teaspoon dried (fresh is probably much better)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add eggplant, and onion, and sauté 10 minutes. Add garlic and continue to sauté until eggplant is soft and brown, about 5 more minutes. Add diced tomatoes with juice, then red wine vinegar – if using dried basil, add here as well. Cover and simmer until eggplant and onion are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Season caponata to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in fresh basil, if using. Transfer caponata to serving bowl. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Notes: This recipe takes a lot of salt, I needed to add quite a bit. The vinegar flavour was also fairly pronounced, which I enjoyed, but if you’re not big vinegar fan you might want to start with less.

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