Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Warm weather always seems to signal different things to different people when it comes to food. Some look to sunny days as open season for barbecue--hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad in obscene quantities, washed down with ice cold beer and capped off with sweet, juicy wedges of ruby watermelon. For others it's sitting at a sidewalk cafe in the shadow of a beach umbrella sipping on iced tea and margaritas. And for many of my friends it has often meant the return of fresh summer basil, and with it the caprese salad, that mirror of the Italian flag, made up of jewel-toned tomatoes, perfect white rounds of mozzarella and fresh summer basil, not to mention more pesto than anyone should ever consume. In pasta salad, on steak, in soup and even as a dip, pesto and basil are everywhere, perfuming the air and getting stuck in our teeth.

But as I've mentioned before, I'm not a basil lover. Sure, it's nice here and there, tucked into a salad, folded into a pasta, and even wrinkled atop a pizza, but I find the pure and original pesto a bit overwhelming in massive quantities. I do however, love the texture and balance of pesto inspired recipes, especially since they're so easy to make, and virtually cooking free. Last week, as I read through the food section in the New York Times I was very happy to see that someone else was making use of delicious pea sprouts. Melissa Clark, one of my favorite food writers, details how after a long, overdose-inspired sabbatical from pesto, she was reinvigorated with an urge to pestify, or what I call making pesto out of everything in your kitchen (see her article here). Although her original transformative experience came with a silky and luxe kale pesto, she eventually played around with pea shoots and other herbs, ultimately eliminating the basil altogether (as if I wasn't already a fan).

I made her recipe to the letter, with the exception of using a little water in place of some oil. This might seem like a health move, but actually, it's a common touch to pesto that's left out of most recipes. The truth is that often times your olive oil (assuming that you're using a good quality extra virgin olive oil) can overpower your lovely fresh herbs. Its main purpose other than flavor is to thin out the sauce and allow it to process smoothly, so adding a little bit of water in place of say, a few drops of olive oil is always a good rule of thumb. I do this for quite a few sauces and dips that require olive oil to be streamed in while processing or blending, and I've found that when talking to chefs, they do the same in order to keep flavors balanced while thinning out a sauce (the same thing goes for using stock in a sauce--if there's enough flavor, you just need to do some thinning out, switch to a bit of water). It also helps the sauce from becoming overly oily in texture and separating. Here's her recipe unadulterated, since it was so delicious, but I highly suggest playing around with other ingredients and pestifying for yourself. It's a great way to use the wonderful fresh herbs and veggies of spring and summer without cooking their flavor away.

Melissa Clark's Pea Shoot Pesto

adapted from The New York Times

3/4 cup pine nuts

3 cups pea shoots
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

2 cloves garlic, chopped

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor with the exception of the olive oil. Pulse and slowly stream in olive oil until desired consistency is reached. If it's too thick, thin out with water, a few drops at a time. Enjoy!


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