Land of Leftovers

As the season progresses, I'm finding my garden producing so much basil that -- for a moment -- I wasn't sure what to do with it all. Then, the answer came like a blaze of lightening across the sky: Pesto!!! This tangy sauce is for more than pasta, my friends. Pesto can add texture to your favorite vegetable dish, color to simple spreads and flavor to just about anything!

Your basic pesto recipe consists of fresh basil and olive oil. Of course, what makes it grand is the amount of variation found in this old Italian favorite. It can be made with or without pine nuts or walnuts -- toasted or untoasted. A small amount of parsley can always be added to take a little edge off of the sweetness. Parmesan cheese -- or a combination of your favorites -- can also find its way into pesto. And, when it comes to measuring, you'll find many cooks using pinches of this and bunches of that. It's all in the mixing!

As for mixing, there are those who would insist that a mortar and pestle are the only proper tools for making pesto; and this is the method I use when making small amounts for one meal. However, when you're making pesto for large crowds or to freeze, a food processor or blender can be your best friend!

Because too much pesto can be a bad thing, I freeze my batches in small jars and use a spoon to scoop out the amount I want. That way, I can return the rest of my pesto to the freezer, where it will keep for about 6 months.

The recipes included in this article use the pesto recipe that is provided on page 2. However, feel free to make variations and use them instead. If you have a special recipe, feel free to share it with me too!

And now, here are the specials of the house this month:

Pesto

  • 4 c. packed fresh basil leaves
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2/3 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 c. virgin olive oil
  • 1 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 c. grated Romano cheese
  • 4 T. unsalted butter

Combine the basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, salt, pepper and oil in a blender or food processor. Blend to a smooth puree, stopping once or twice to scrape the sides of the container with a spatula.

Transfer the basil mixture to a large bowl and beat the grated cheeses and butter in by hand. You can also use the blender or food processor to blend the cheeses and butter into the pesto, but I think that finishing it by hand gives it a better texture and still saves you the time with processing the leaves and oil.

To freeze the pesto, fill small jars to within 1 inch of the top. Carefully push a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface to prevent a dark layer from forming on the top. Seal the jar tightly and freeze up to 6 months.

To use only part of the pesto, remove the jar from the freezer and run cool water over the top portion of it. Remove the lid and, using a metal spoon, scoop out the desired amount of pesto. Promptly return the unused portion to the freezer.

  • Yields: makes enough sauce for 2 lbs. of pasta
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Pesto-Stuffed Chicken

Serve this juicy chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and a green salad and you've got a great meal.
  • 1 roasting chicken (6-7 lbs.)
  • 3/4 c. pesto
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 T. oil

Prepare grill with a drip pan over medium-low coals (or preheat oven to 325 degrees).

Remove the giblets from the chicken cavity; reserve them for another use. Loosen the skin over the breast of the chicken by pushing your fingers between the skin and the meat. Do not loosen the skin over the wings and drumsticks. Using a spatula, spread the pesto under the loosened skin. Massage the skin to evenly spread the pesto.

Combine the lemon juice and oil in a small bowl. Brush over the chicken. Insert a meat thermometer into the center of the thickest past of the thigh, making sure not to touch the bone. Tie the legs together with wet kitchen string and tuck the wings under the back.

To grill, place chicken, breast side up, on grid directly over drip pan. Grill on a covered grill for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the thermometer registers 185 degrees.

To oven roast, place chicken, breast side up, in a covered roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the thermometer registers 185 degrees.

Transfer the chicken to a carving board. Cover it with foil for 15 minutes. Remove the foil, carve and serve.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Pesto Rice

This bright rice dish makes the perfect accompaniment to fish or pork dishes.
  • 1 1/2 c. mixed long-grain and wild rice
  • 1/2 c. pesto
  • 1/4 c. pine nuts

Place the rice in a saucepan with enough water to cover it. Bring the rice to a boil and cook it according to the package directions. Drain well and toss with the pesto. Keep warm.

Toast the pine nuts under a broiler for 2-3 minutes or until golden. Sprinkle over the warm rice and serve.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Pesto-Glazed Potatoes

Next time you have steak or a marinated roast, consider replacing mashed potatoes with these delicious spuds.
  • 1 lb. baby potatoes
  • 3 T. pesto

Place the potatoes, unpeeled, in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and immediately add the pesto. Stir until the potatoes are evenly coated. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Pesto Cream Soup

With cool weather making itself at home, enjoy this creamy soup with roasted vegetable sandwiches.
  • 4 T. margarine
  • 4 onions, chopped
  • 7 c. chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 c. pesto
  • 2 c. low fat cream cheese
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 2 T. skim milk

Melt the margarine in a stockpot and add the onions. Fry for 2 minutes, then cover and turn heat to low. Allow the onions to cook gently for 5 minutes, then remove the lid.

Add the broth and pesto to the stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Spoon the cream cheese into the soup and beat until it is well mixed. Mix the cornstarch with the milk, then stir into the soup, stirring constantly, until thickened.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Pesto-Bean Spread

This spicy spread is great slathered on rolls for sandwiches and burgers or as a light dipping sauce for pita bread and raw veggies.
  • 1 (15 oz.) can white kidney beans, drained
  • 3 T. pesto
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth and well mixed. Serve chilled or at room temperature at a spread or dip.

This spread is great layered with thinly sliced turkey and grated monteray jack cheese inside two flour tortillas. Simply bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes and you've got a healthy snack or light lunch.

  • Yields: about 1 cup
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

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