Friday, October 5, 2012

Green Pesto

Grilled Vegetable Platter with 3 sauces: Olive Tapenade, Green Pesto and Mushroom Pâté
Yes, it's fall! We love this time of year, with the leaves changing, the chimneys coming alive with smoke and a chill in the air. Wait a second... this is San Francisco, and October is feeling very different than your typical fall moment. Any month of the year, cold foggy nights and gray sweater weather can dominate. But for a few magical days, it is hot day and night, everyone is smiling and tan in their shorts and this metropolis by the bay actually feels like California.

This moment in early October is actually the glorious peak of produce. Sure, the winter squashes, apples and roots of fall are beginning to be harvested, but with the heat and sunshine of Indian Summer of the past few months, the final tomatoes, peppers, squashes and other summer crops are ripening to perfection. One of my favorite summer crops is basil. The California sun encourages the plants to grow into wild bushes as tall as a child, with leaves and flowers bursting open with their sweet summery aroma. Soon these bushes with dry up and fade away with the rest of the season's bounty, but for now they are exploding, and gardeners with basil plants in their gardens are giving the herbs away.
Ashley in front of the buffet table
What could be better than fresh basil pesto? When you have more basil than you know what to do with, look no further. Make a big batch of pesto and put it on everything. If you can't manage to finish it in a day or two like us, then freeze it for the colder months ahead. Many people have expressed surprise that we can make such a delicious vegan pesto. The truth of the matter is that the small bit of cheese in most pesto recipes is a supporting player. The star of any pesto recipe is the herbs. In this recipe, I combine basil and parsley, which gives it a bright green color rich with chlorophyll and a herbal edge to basil's peppery sweetness. Marry those herbs with garlic and lemon and the nuttiness of toasted walnuts and you can't go wrong.  Don't delay. Get some basil! Make pesto today.

Baked Penne with Pesto
Green Pesto
This recipe makes a big batch of pesto, halve it if you want. But a lot of pesto is not a bad thing.
2 bunches basil, washed and leaves removed from stems
1 bunch parsley, washed and leaves removed from stems
1 head garlic (about 8 cloves), peeled and left whole
1/2 cup walnuts
juice of 2 lemons (or to taste)
zest of lemons for lemony pesto (optional)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (or to taste)
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
sea salt, to taste
cold water, as needed to make pesto

First, toast the walnuts. You can use a 325-degree oven and baking sheet (it should take about eight minutes) or a pan on the stovetop over medium heat. You want them to darken in color slightly and release their nutty aroma. Watch closely and don't use too much heat; they burn easily. Next, use a dry pan over medium heat to toast the whole garlic cloves. They will brown lightly on one side, then flip them and brown the other. Do not burn, but a little speck of black here or there is no big deal. This sweetens and mellows the flavor of the garlic. If you love garlicky pesto, leave a clove or two raw. Once walnuts and garlic are cooled, begin to load ingredients into a dry bowl of a blender or food processor. Start by chopping the walnuts and garlic finely. Then add all the herbs, stuffing to fill the machine. Add a splash of water to get the machine working. Pulse to purée the herbs, stopping to push down the sides with a spatula and adding water as needed to chop all herbs finely. Next, add the lemon juice, salt and optional nutritional yeast. Pulse again to combine, and then stream in olive oil with machine running to emulsify. Taste and re-season as needed.

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