Cooking Basics: Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto Ingredients
This is an important recipe to have memorized.  If you know the basic formula, you can make a pesto with just about any green/oil/nut/hard cheese.  It’s a great way to dress up a simple pasta salad, a plain filet of fish, or even boiled potatoes for a spin on potato salad.  When it’s a pasta-only kinda day around here, pesto somehow makes me feel better about not trying harder to dish out variety.  I think, “At least Olive is eating something green and different on top of her pasta.”  While that may be the dinner equivalent to justifying nutella as a “healthy” snack, I’m sticking with calling pesto healthy.  In moderation.  The stuff is mostly olive oil.  But I think if it’s used as a garnish, it’s just fine  and a little goes a long way, anyway!
Pesto

So here is your Cooking Basic for the week –

Basil Pesto
makes about a cup and a half

3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put everything except the oil in a food processor and turn it on.  While it’s whirring around, gradually drizzle in the olive oil through the open chute of the processor lid.  Let it process for about 30 seconds and then open and taste for salt and pepper.  I end up putting about a teaspoon of kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh cracked pepper to mine.  Pesto will keep on the counter for about a week or in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.  The top of the pesto will turn brown, but it can simply be scraped off before use.  Pressing a sheet of plastic wrap on its surface helps with the oxidization, too.

Basil Pesto Tortellini

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Soft-Boiled Egg

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Poached Egg

Grits, Polenta, Cornmeal – whatever you call it and however you prepare it, it can take on many forms and flavors.  To us, slow-cooked grits is about as comfy as comfort food gets.  When done right, grits can be amazing.  Too often, people associate grits with the translucent, gel-like, flavorless substance they encounter at cheap breakfast houses the world over.  I often say that if you don’t like a particular food, you might have just had a bad version. I was this way with grits, apple pie, turnips, pork chops, just to name a few.  When I had a GOOD bowl of cheesy, smooth grits, I was hooked.  When I had an apple pie that was distinctly apple and had a good, buttery crust and wasn’t watery, I understood the appeal.  Sometimes you just have to give a dish a few tries before putting it in the “dislike” category.

This recipe for grits is one of my favorites, so far.  This basic, creamy grit recipe stays the same – just the toppings change.  This makes it one of the easiest weeknight meals to prepare because the grits cook for about an hour, which you inadvertently stir while you’re doing other things.  Then, when it’s time for dinner, you just spoon out helpings, add toppings of choice, and dig in.  I honestly think that it’s a healthy meal, too, because the grits are cooked with chicken stock and you don’t even have to add cheese for amazing depth of flavor, if you use good grits.  I use Lamb’s stone ground grits, (you can find these at United) and they are amazing.  Just a little seasoning and they are perfect.  So, the indulgence level is up to you with this beautiful, blank canvas!

I found a recipe for an olive pesto on this beautiful blog, and with the poached egg, she had me sold.  Only, I didn’t poach mine, I did a pretty fool-proof method of soft boiling the eggs, letting them cool, and then carefully peeling them.  Not so fresh eggs work best with this method.  I will post my own pesto recipe on this blog, soon, as I’ve made it quite frequently and it’s one of those things, like guacamole, that you should just know how to do and do well.  And by “well” I mean, keep it pure and simple!

Cheesy Grits with Poached Egg and Olive Pesto

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Soft Boiled Egg*

For the Polenta:
2 cups stone ground grits (do NOT use instant grits)
8 cups water/chicken stock (I did half and half)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, or any other hard cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Get the water and/or chicken stock boiling on the stove.  Gradually whisk in the grits, careful to break up all the clumps.  Lower the water to a simmer and stir, occasionally, for about an hour.  You can test to see if they need more cooking by tasting a bit for crunchiness.  Shouldn’t be too crunchy – think of it like cooking rice.  Stir in the cheese till it melts and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Cover and set the burner on low and get on with your toppings.

For the Pesto:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup green olives, coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh oregano or marjoram (I discovered they are wickedly similar)
1/4 cup fresh thyme, coarsely chopped

Put all this stuff in a blender, food processor, or tall cup with an immersion blender and pulse till chunky and well combined.

For the Eggs:
1 egg per person, room temp (To make them room temp quickly, simply put them in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes)
a big ol’ pot of water
tablespoon of white vinegar
salt

Get a big pot boiling with water and salt it and add the vinegar.  Carefully lower the eggs into the boiling water.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Remove from the water and let them sit in lukewarm water till cool enough to handle.  Veeeerrrrrry carefully peel the eggs and set aside.

Assemble!

Spoon grits into each bowl (they may need to be stirred a bit from sitting there.  They form a skin, but it’s okay, it stirs back up just great) and top with a poached egg, a spoon of pesto and extra pepper.

*adapted from thekitchn.com