Monday, August 30, 2010

Making Herb Pastes and Pestos

Pesto is a concoction that most people know about and many people make and enjoy. I thought in these harvest days I would share a traditional pesto recipe and share some pesto storage and usage tips. But first I want to share something that is made similar to pesto but is much more versatile as well as an excellent way to preserve fresh herb tastes for cooking that is lost in other preservation methods -- Herb pastes.

Herb Paste

Start with clean dry herbs and sterile wide-mouth jars of several sizes. Recycled jars are fine and some can be as small as baby food. You use the same general proportions of herbs and oils used for pesto (1/3 cup oil to 2 cups fresh herbs). Place oil and herbs in a blender and chop until you have a smooth paste, scraping down the sides as needed until all the bits of herbs are coated with oil. Use as little oil as necessary to accomplish this. I usually hand chop the herbs with a chef knife before putting them in the blender to speed up the process. The best oils for a paste are the most bland, corn oil, safflower, sunflower rather than olive oil.

Place the mixture immediately into jars, stir to remove air bubbles. Drizzle enough oil on top to cover and seal the herbs from air. Then add a teaspoon of vinegar to the oil. If you are using a metal lid, place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the jar before screwing on the lid. Label and date. Refrigerate for use within a week or freeze for several months. Always keep open jars in the refrigerator.

How to use

An herb paste is a highly concentrated form of the herb and when using you should start with small amounts and gradually increase to get the flavor you want. They can be floated in soups, added to dressings for salads (the macerated herbs make the most flavor-filled dressings and vinaigrettes you can imagine.) You can also add the paste to sauces, gravies, and marinades. It can be a baste for meat and fish, used as a final added flavor over hot vegetables or even placed in your skillet to sauté meats or vegetables. You can even use basil paste to create a winter-time pesto.

Dressing Recipes for Herb Paste

Salad Dressing with Herbs Paste
¼ cup Olive oil
3 Tbsp Lemon juice
2 tsp Herb paste, or half a defrosted cube

Mix all ingredients together well in a bowl. Add a little sweetener, such as honey or agave, if desired.

Creamy Salad Dressing with Herb Paste
2 Tbls Mayo
2 tsp Lemon juice
1 to 2 tsp Herb paste

Mix together. This is great on salads and all vegetables.

Now let’s talk about Pesto

When making Pesto the herbs must be clean and DRY. The jars sterile and dry. And you must eliminate air bubbles in the finished pesto before storing to keep the color from turning. Then seal the jars with a layer of oil and vinegar.

Here is a traditional pesto recipe

This can be used on any pasta, but crinkly rotini (rotelle) is really good as it absorbs and holds the sauce so well.

6 Tbls. olive oil

3 Tbls. herbal vinegar (lemon, basil or garlic)

3 Tbls. pine nuts, blanched almonds or walnuts

2 large cloves garlic, sliced

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1-1/2 cups fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup oregano leaves

1/4 cup garlic chives, trimmed to 1-inch pieces (optional)

1 cup parmesan cheese (or 1/2 cup parm and 1/2 cup Romano)

1 pound cooked & drained pasta

Place items in a blender in this order: oil, herb vinegar, nuts, garlic, salt & pepper and cayenne. Add herbs, and then blend all together until smooth and creamy, wiping down the sides of the blender at least once with a rubber spatula. Pour mixture into a 3 cup bowl and stir in the cheese. Drain the pasta and immediately stir the pesto into it while it is still hot, then serve.

To freeze pesto

Pack the pesto down firmly in sterilized jars, getting rid of any air bubbles. Drizzle enough oil on top to cover and seal the herbs. Then add a teaspoon of vinegar to the oil. If you are using a metal lid, place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the jar before screwing on the lid. Label and date the jar, then freeze. Use the pesto within 3 to10 months.

And by the way, you can make a Basil Paste then freeze it and use it to create a basil pesto several months after the fresh harvest with minimal loss of flavor.

To learn more about the concept of herbal pastes check out these publications:

Southern Herb Growing by Madelene Hill and Gwen Barclay (Shearer Publishing, Fredericksburg, TX, 1987)

The Basil Book by Marilyn Hampstead

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...