Monday, October 5, 2009
A few weeks ago, I wanted to try a new recipe that uses fresh basil and mint. I thought it would be fun to make a basil and mint pesto first, and then have some of the pesto in the freezer to play with later. There is a Vietnamese market around the corner from me that has huge bunches of herbs for 40 or 50 cents so I headed over there. These bunches are at least twice the size of the ones you find at the supermarket, and they have often have multiple varieties of each one, which is fun. I picked up one bunch of each and headed home. However, when I started to make my pesto, I discovered that what I thought was mint was a mystery herb, something I had never seen before. After much angst and googling, I found out that I had brought home lemon balm. I went with it, made basil-lemon balm pesto, added it to my dish, and was really happy with it. Serendipity!
Fast forward to a couple of days ago: The supermarket had basil and mint on sale, displayed side-by-side. I took it as encouragement to try my original idea. The resulting basil and mint pesto was also delicious. I now have a choice of pesto in my freezer.
Now I think that using two herbs is the way to go in pesto; it creates a more subtle, complex flavor than using basil alone. Some other herbs that would be delicious are cilantro, tarragon, arugula or parsley. I can even envision using some of the stronger ones like thyme or oregano, but in that case I'd probably replace half of that second herb with something mild like baby spinach or parsley. Some day I might even do a crazy combination like cilantro + arugula. I bet it would be delicious.
This pesto sauce is based on the one at Simply Recipes. This blog's version makes a small quantity, so that you can have multiple flavors on hand. Some people like to freeze their pesto in ice cube trays and transfer it into containers later. However, I just save mine in small jars (like caper or artichoke heart jars). It's not hard to slice some frozen pesto from the top of the jar with a knife. (What else is a vegetarian going to use her steak knives for?)
3 tablespoons pine nuts (or walnuts)
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh mint, lemon balm or other mild herb
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
Toast pine nuts (or walnuts) on a tray in a toaster oven, using the same setting you would for medium toast. Remove from toaster oven immediately. You can also toast them in a dry skillet. Remove from heat when they just start to become golden and fragrant.
Pulse nuts briefly in food processor. Add herbs and garlic and process until well combined. Pour olive oil slowly into the running food processor. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process again until well blended. Add salt to taste.
Makes about 1/2 cup.