Sunday, May 1, 2011

Basil Pesto: Summer in a Jar

What a weekend! From a hard, quick run after work Friday to watching the Royal Wedding that night with a dear friend, to a long afternoon walk around Brooklyn today, it's been a great weekend for being outside, enjoying the spring flowers -- and thinking about summer.

In celebration of the sun and (finally) dry weather, I'm sharing a couple of my secrets to putting together simple yet delicious appetizers. I'll kick it off with my menu from Friday. Now, the evening was meant to be super casual and low-key -- nibbles and cocktails for two girls. With a bottle of bubbly, we munched on carrot sticks and creamy hummus and olive oil flatbread thins served with cream cheese and hot pepper jelly from Foster's Market -- one of my favorite combinations. As a surprise, my friend also brought over little phyllo triangles filled with a nutty mushroom risotto. So good. So simple. For a small gathering, don't sweat the apps. Serve two, one with veggies, both with a bit of protein (and a whole lot of flavor). For last-minute entertaining, these kinds of snacks are your friend.

Another thing I love to rely on when entertaining is fresh pesto. Nothing screams summer more to me than a pesto made with fresh basil.

In the summer, I always have a jar in the fridge, made homemade nearly weekly. As I don't (yet) have a basil plant, I've been relying on other herbs to make pestos -- cilantro or parsley. I love pesto on toasts with ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes, a sandwich with basil, mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes. Pesto tossed with whole-wheat pasta. Pesto spread on tortillas then garnished with pine nuts, raisins, and Parmigiano and baked. It's also really good in a ham and Swiss sandwich. So simple, so good.

What's your favorite way to serve fresh pesto?

Basil Pesto

4 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, cut into slices
1/3 cup pine nuts (also known as pignoli nuts)
About 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor, chop the basil leaves until in about ¼-inch pieces. Add the cheese, pine nuts, and a large pinch of salt. Pulse again until all the nuts and cheese are ground well. With the processor running, add the olive oil until the pesto is the consistency you prefer. I like a thick pesto for spreading on sandwiches and toast, but I’ll add more oil to thin the pesto out for tossing with pasta. Season to taste.

Makes about 2 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes

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