This week I’m taking a detour from my usual posts that I typically tag as #self #motivational #creativity. I want to share another side of me; the one that passionately loves food.
There’s one recipe in my collection that gets more requests than any other, and it’s the one food my children dig into the moment they come home to visit (because there’s always a jar in the refrigerator).
It’s not brownies, or cookies, or pies… It’s pesto.
Here’s proof… Within 5 minutes of my daughter’s arrival after a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, she’s making a sandwich with pesto, tomatoes, and fresh basil. She didn’t ask if there was a jar in the fridge, she just knew.
The authentic recipe for pesto was created in the 16th century, and the word “pesto” comes from “pestare,” meaning to pound or crush. It’s traditionally a blend of basil, garlic, cheese, and pine nuts crushed in a mortar and pestle.
My version of the recipe has changed over the years, but I’ve never forgotten that first delectable taste of pesto that I had on a trip to Italy so long ago. I was 16 years old when I left home to tour with a musical show, and I was fortunate enough to travel to Italy to perform.
I had no idea food could taste so fresh! I’d come from a childhood of canned vegetables and meatloaf. I’d never seen anything as beautiful as the food markets set up on the cobblestone streets. I learned that Italians bought food daily… the freshest. They ate what was in season and purchased directly from vendors at the local market. Everyone seemed to know each other and enjoyed conversations and sampling food right from the carts.
It was so different than the huge chest freezer in the garage at my childhood home, stuffed with a side of beef that had been cut up, wrapped, and stored. Our fruits and vegetables sat together in the pantry… canned peas, fruit cocktail, and Campbell’s tomato soup.
You can imagine the sensory explosion when I first tasted homemade sauces, pasta, and freshly picked vegetables! Especially the pesto.
You can create so many simple and delicious recipes from that one emerald green sauce of deliciousness, but my favorite is grabbing a dollop of it right out of the food processor and eating it with a chunk of sourdough bread.
Pesto is my signature recipe, and here’s what I know for sure… it just makes people happy.
I’m not sure exactly why it is so memorable, but I do know I get asked for the recipe more than any other. Perhaps it’s one of those things that industry has not been able to create successfully in a jar or a tub on the grocery shelf. It should never be cooked or canned because the fresh taste comes from the garden. It smells like summer.
So here’s the motivational part…Everyone should have a signature dish, or a signature something.
It’s that thing that people remember or relate to as unique to you… and when they think about it, they smile.
I know what I write lives on in books and publications. People know me as a “writer,” but there is the other part of me that loves giving people food and making them happy. Whenever I remember my grandmother, I recall the fall months when she made applesauce and apple pies. When she’d visit, I’d come home from school, and the smell of cooking apples wafted through the house. Such a happy memory.
I also think of my grandmother’s signature necklace. Her name was Pearl, and she always wore her strand of pearls around her neck. When I see someone wearing a pearl necklace, it reminds me of her… and it makes me smile.
A signature doesn’t have to be something you do; it can be something associated with you as uniquely yours or your style. You’ll find people commenting on it, or striking up a conversation about it.
Can you think what your signature might be?
Maybe it’s the unique way you arrange cut flowers from your garden in a vase on your kitchen table, or the way you make a cappuccino when someone stops by your home in the late morning.
Perhaps it’s a necklace you wear that always evokes a compliment, cookies you bake for office meetings or the way you hand-write thank-you notes to people. Today, I just made a big batch of pesto, and my kitchen is fragrant with basil and fruity olive oil.
I usually buy basil (the large bunches) at the grocery store year-round, but when fresh basil is at its summer peak, I go to farmer’s markets. And while you’re there, look for a vendor who sells semolina pasta and long baguettes of fresh bread for tonight’s dinner.
The recipe below will make 2–4 jars, but I make double and triple batches following a trip to the farmer’s market. The sauce heightens in flavor 6 to 8 hours after you make it, but I’ve made it even an hour before serving, and it’s delish.
If I’m not using it right away, I freeze it in small mason jars and always have it on hand to give as a hostess gift along with a sleeve of pasta and a crusty baguette tied together with a wide red ribbon.
Here’s the recipe:
Live Life with Abundance… and Pesto!
1–2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups raw pecans
1 or 2 huge bunches of basil, stems removed (see picture above)
3/4 cup Grated Parmesan (you can go cheap or expensive. Both give good results)
1 1/4 to 2 cups olive oil (you’ll be adding until you have the consistency you want)
Put the garlic in a large bowl of a food processor and pulse until chopped. Add pecans and do a few pulses until they are small chunks. Then, stuff the bowl with fresh basil up to the top of the rim. Do a few more on/off turns until blended and but still lumpy.
Add Parmesan, then the Olive Oil (start with 1 1/4 cups). Use the On/off method, pulsing gently until the pesto reaches desired consistency, adding more olive oil if necessary. The pecans should still be grainy. It’s important not to puree like baby food. This ruins the flavor and texture! It will thicken a bit after you put it in jars, but you can always thin with a bit of olive oil when it’s time to serve.
Spoon into 8 or 16 oz. glass mason jars, leaving about a half-inch. Then, drizzle the top with olive oil to seal (this keeps it from turning brown). Screw on the lid and store in the refrigerator up to a week, or freeze up to 6 months. I usually freeze it all until I need it, then defrost on the counter a few hours before serving.
You can also click here for your free downloadable pesto recipe.
Oh, joy! What can you do with it?
- Smear on hot crusty bread instead of butter
- Toss pesto with hot, cooked pasta and a little olive oil and the salted water you cooked the pasta in. Top with lots of Parmesan cheese and accent with slivers of fresh basil. Serve with a salad and baguette.
- For a creamy sauce… mix pesto with cream and a little of the pasta water in a sauté pan and toss with hot, cooked pasta. Add a few halved cherry tomatoes for color
- Top grilled chicken or salmon and finish under the broiler until the pesto starts to brown.
- Spread it on Paninnis (Italian grilled sandwiches)
- Spread it on a pizza crust and add your favorite toppings
- Dip with pita chips (I thin it with a little olive oil for dipping)
- Top garlic bread and toast it under the broiler
- Toss with hot roasted or steamed vegetables. Add a poached egg and you have a perfect meal.
- Make a quick summer pasta salad by tossing cooked pasta with pesto and olive oil (to taste). Add chopped fresh tomatoes, green onions, raw zucchini, Kalamata olives. Garnish with chopped fresh basil.
- Great appetizer! Roast baby potatoes and cut off the top, mush the potato a little and add a dollop of pesto and dash of sour cream
- Eat it out of the jar with a spoon… my favorite
I’ll leave you with this recipe… freshly cooked pasta blended with spiralized zucchini noodles tossed with Pesto, prosciutto, and sauteed cherry tomatoes. Enjoy!
This post was previously published on Sandy Peckinpah and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Sandy Peckinpah