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Monday, August 20, 2007

Pesto, Pistou...and some Olive Oil

This is great for beginners and professionals alike. It is easy, adds to most meals, especially the spaghetti or pasta meals, and takes all of 10 minutes to prepare. The only thing is you have to remember to purchase the ingredients beforehand, but well worth the place for them on your shopping list.

Yesterday, after my late afternoon daily run in Valley of the Cross, I came home full of sweat and endorphins while Rainbow, my Golden Retriever was totally out of it, as I had added a bit to the run. After awhile of course, my stomach went into high gear screaming out, "feed me, feed me". Now I will admit swimming laps makes you want to eat a horse, but running also sets in motion that "hunger bell", albeit on a lower sensitivity level.

So after showering, I began to scrounge in the fridge. It was just me and I wanted nothing fancy. I was about to gravitate to my favorite meal in the whole world, which is tuna with mayo and some cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce (no bread - wheat crackers). Sophisticated huh? Then my eye caught the eggs, and I decided it is time for an omelet or sunny side up eggs. Since I rarely indulge in this dish, (I am not an egg person), I figured what the hell.

As I was closing the fridge door, my eye also spied a bottle of Pesto I recently purchased. I happen to love the smell of Pesto and I love its taste, so it was a no-brainer for me to use pesto in the omelet.

But before we get to the omelet, let us look at Pesto and how you can easily, with no gargantuan effort make this in your house, to your exact taste.

There is no secret that a quick search on the Internet will bring up quite a few recipes on how to make Pesto, and Wikipedia has an excellent piece on it. But in true Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen style, we will go through this step by step and some of the different variations of Pesto as well. We are going to use only fresh ingredients here - no packaged ones, no cheating.

Basic Pesto, or sometimes called Pistou, has three major ingredients.

  1. Basil
  2. Garlic
  3. Olive Oil

The trick in making Pesto is the combination of Basil and Garlic. The basil must be crushed well and the garlic cloves must be ground well as well. Fresh basil leaves when crushed give off an aromatic scent. They should be green and fresh. The garlic must be ground in a grinder, electric garlic grinder or in a hand held manual garlic grinder. The amount of garlic you use is based on your taste buds.

Now the olive oil. It really should be the best quality olive oil you can find, which is extra virgin olive oil. Though we covered this before, it is important to define the varying grades of olive oil. The following "titles" are officially recognized and it is against the law in many areas to label Pure Olive Oil as say, Extra virgin olive oil.
  1. Extra-virgin olive oil - comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity with excellent taste. Acidity is the real factor here and is used to judge all gradations of olive oil. No additives or refined oil are allowed in extra-virgin olive oil.
  2. Virgin olive oil - has an acidity less than 2%. Again, no additives or refined oil are allowed in extra-virgin olive oil.
  3. Pure olive oil - Without the virgin or extra-virgin label are most often a blend of refined olive oil and either virgin or extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Olive oil is a blend of virgin oil and refined oil, containing no more than 1.5% acidity.
  5. Olive-pomace oil is a blend of refined pomace olive oil and possibly some virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but it may not be called olive oil. Olive-pomace oil is rarely found in a grocery store; it is often used for certain kinds of cooking in restaurants. So if you are an olive oil aficionado and you see a restaurant claiming they cook in "olive oil" chances are it is this type of olive oil.
The type of olive oil used in your Pesto should be Extra Virgin. It is expensive, no doubt about it, but it is well worth it for taste. Most of the commercial brands do not use Extra Virgin Olive oil nor even Virgin olive oil as it makes the commercial product too expensive.

Pesto, no and's, if's or but's about it, should be refrigerated if not used. Do not leave it out of the fridge otherwise it will spoil very swiftly. It can last for a week or more in the fridge.

The amount of olive oil you use in your pesto, is also determined by taste. Make sure you do not use too much. Basil and garlic should not be swimming in it, but it should be seen and tasted.


Now once we have the basic ingredients let us move on to the more common variations of true pesto. Most people will tell you that "true Pesto" requires at least one more ingredient, which is pine nuts or walnuts or even cashews. (most common is pine nuts where you can find them.)

Pine Nuts



These obviously, must also be ground and then placed in the mixture.

So now a decent Pesto recipe would be as follows:
  1. 2 cups fresh basil leaves crushed and ground
  2. 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  3. 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts ground
  4. 3 medium sized garlic cloves, ground well
The next two ingredients to round off our pesto would be:
  1. Salt to taste
  2. Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Now we have the basics of a full pesto dish. Not many ingredients, and certainly fairly easy to make.

Now we come to the cheeses. Adding cheese into the pesto mixture at this point does two things:
  1. It will keep fresh and in the fridge for a much shorter period of time
  2. In terms of kosher, you have just made it a "milk" or "chalavei" (Hebrew) or "milchig" (Yiddish) dish. So be forewarned.
The two normative type of cheeses usually added to Pesto are:
  1. Romano
  2. Parmesan


In keeping with our recipe above if you wish to add this you should add 1/2 cup of either cheese (to your taste) freshly grated. (I always save the cheese to be added later when I know which dish I am going to use the pesto with.)

From here on you can get creative. Some common additions are sun-dried tomatoes, or red bell peppers (giving pesto a red-green color).

But basically there you have the Pesto. Not too difficult, a great thing to keep around, and also a great way to brag "home-made pesto" served with your dishes. It may take a couple of times to get 100% right, but well worth it.


I am going to leave this at a two star for difficulty. I think it is fairly easy to make, does not take much concentration, and requires 5-10 minutes of your time in the kitchen. It is great to make while chatting on the phone, going bonkers with the kids playing the music at levels that will destroy your eardrums, or just when you are in a mood to mess around in the kitchen. The one drawback is you have to get the ingredients mostly fresh and the extra virgin olive oil is not cheap.

2 Fire Comments - Click To Post A Comment:

Thistlemoon said...

Pesto is a much have, at least in my kitchen!

Welcome to The Foodie Blogroll!

Steve said...

Hey, that's just not fair! The pesto looks great, and you have all of those beautiful food ingredients lovingly pictured on this page with a great recipe. It's half an hour until lunch, my stomach is growling, and I am working in an office building.