Tuesday, January 8, 2008

pesto, at last!

after a long hiatus, i return, with some excellent news.

since i lived in florence, i have searched long and hard to find a good, simple basil pesto. living in italy, the best foods i had were surprisingly the simplest ones: generic brand pesto from the supermarket, panna cotta that my host mother made from about three ingredients, and basic caprese sandwiches from any street vender. oddly, even when eating at expensive, "authentic" italian restaurants or markets here in the states, nothing has really compared, especially on the pesto front. seriously, american pesto is just GROSS by comparison to the real stuff. i was sad, and was starting to give up hope on ever finding a wonderful, garlicky, light, crunchy pesto again.

until now.

i decided to try the pesto recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, the reader's digest live longer cookbook. i was wary, at first, since their version eliminates a lot of the unhealthy (read: delicious) oil from a basic pesto. however, i am pleased to report that this version is AMAZING, and in fact much better than the oilier alternative (oilternative?).

the only hangup in preparing this lies with your equipment. see, my roommate has a blender. i didn't know this blender didn't work until i had already poured all of the ingredients into it. after fiddling with it for a good half hour, i carefully poured the contents into a pyrex and called a friend who lives in the same complex as i do. after a bit of phone tag, he replied: "yes! i have a blender! come use it!" i got there. no blender. whoops. track down friend's roommate, who reports blender is broken. apparently there was a terrible blender-breaking scourge that swept the complex over break. soooo, we went to albertson's, where i bought an 8-speed blender for $25. it did not really work well, at all. blades were dull as all get out. basically, you may not even want to bother with "smoothie makers" or "drink mixer" type blenders. i spent a good 15 minutes pulsing the thing, stopping to smush the basil leaves around after every pulse to try to get the blades to actually cut them. it was certainly edible at the end, just a pain. so the moral of this very long story? either a) use a FOOD PROCESSOR or blender with VERY VERY SHARP BLADES, not your standard smoothie mixer, or b) cut up the basil really well before attempting to blend.

also, this recipe will leave you with leaves in your teeth. sorry. probably some very garlicky breath, too.

still, delicious, and very easy to prepare! overall cost is fairly low, too.

so, without further ado:

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth, preferably with low sodium
6 large cloves of garlic (recipe says slice first; i HIGHLY recommend CHOPPING)
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves (this winds up to be two of those little flat plastic packets you buy in the market; again, recommend chopping it up first)
2 tablespoons toasted walnuts (again...chop if your blender sucks...i "toasted" mine by sticking them on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes)
1/3 cup lowfat (1%) cottage cheese (recipe says "no salt added"; i couldn't find that)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

in a small skillet, bring the stock and garlic to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 4 minutes or until the garlic is tender.

transfer stock/garlic to a food processor or blender and add basil, walnuts, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. whirl until smooth (about 30 seconds...yeah right).

add oil, blend for another 10 seconds (no clue why this is separate, i just did them all at once :D)

serve!

this amount, which the book estimates to be 1 cup, worked perfectly with one whole bag of penne; the recipe says it should be used for 1 pound of pasta. either way, it made four very hearty servings.

per 1/4 cup serving, it has 98 calories, 1g saturated fat, 7g total fat, 5g protein, 5g carbs, 2g fiber, 224mg sodium, and 3mg cholesterol. woo!

and, for those playing along at home, i paired it with some roasted garlic and asiago focaccia and a baby green salad with dried cranberries, candied pecans, bleu cheese and raspberry vinaigrette. stellar. :)

oh, and if you try it out, please let me know how it goes!

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