By Jane Ward
Special to the Times
Speak of pesto and most people think of fragrant basil pesto, or pesto Genovese. But the word "pesto" comes from an Italian verb meaning "to crush," referring to the process of crushing basil leaves, pine nuts, and garlic together in a mortar and pestle rather than to specific ingredients. In Liguria, a pesto would have been made with the produce at hand: basil. But what if you have an abundance of different but still tender-leaved herbs or greens; could you still make a pesto?
Of course you could. Not a classic Ligurian pesto, rather a different pesto that will be equally delicious, a pesto that is not classically Italian but remains Italian in spirit as it encourages you to use what ingredients are at hand and in season.
Recently, when our CSA farm handed out bunches of arugula instead of bunches of basil, I wanted to do something with the greens other than toss them into a salad. So I tried the peppery leaves in a pesto and it was delicious. This recipe is based on my family's very simple recipe for pesto Genovese. Although I have substituted arugula and added a few ingredients, the pesto is still delicious tossed with pasta. Also give it a try spooned over grilled chicken.
4 or 5 generous cups of arugula leaves, washed and dried (around 6 or so ounces, if you have a kitchen scale)
1/2 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat side of the knife
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes (the oil-packed variety)
Juice of half a lemon
Generous pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Fit the bowl of a food processor with the metal chopping blade. Add to the bowl the arugula, pine nuts, and garlic. Cover and process the ingredients until they are somewhat coarsely chopped but evenly distributed.
2. Remove the cover and add to the bowl the sun-dried tomatoes, lemon juice, pinch of salt, and a generous grinding of black pepper. Cover and process the ingredients until all are well chopped and blended.
3. With the motor running, pour the olive oil down the feed tube in a slow steady stream. Use as much of the oil as needed to reach the desired consistency. For use in spooning over chicken, use less oil; to make a pasta sauce, use slightly more. Once you have reached your desired consistency, remove the lid and add the grated cheese. Pulse once or twice to combine. Makes about 1¬ cups.
Pesto freezes well.
To freeze the recipe in batches: Before adding the cheese, divide the pesto between 3 small freezer containers. Frozen pesto will stay fresh tasting for about 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before using and stir in the grated cheese right before serving in your favorite recipe.
Recipe courtesy of Jane Ward, author and blogger of Food & Fiction, 2012.