Look at this. Basil, handful of nuts and cheese, a little bit of garlic, olive oil, and salt & pepper. These humble ingredients are all you need to convert a humdrum pasta dish into something homemade and worthy of savoring.
Ok, you're telling me that pesto recipes are everywhere, right? In fact, just today, I came across this Whole Foods recipe for arugula-parsley pesto via Twitter. So why am I posting yet another pesto recipe? Well, a friend and classmate lamented to me this afternoon that no one in our generation would ever learn how to cook. I contested this, pointing to myself as an example, but then, I remembered: It was only a year ago that I was still scared of the kitchen. The kitchen was for mothers and chefs and experienced cooks, not for ignorant twenty-somethings like me.
For years, I could follow a recipe religiously and hope for a successful result, but I couldn't go into a grocery store and know what staples to buy. I knew how to dice an onion, but I couldn't make a proper stir fry. Even while living in San Francisco-food heaven-for four years, I looked at my friend P in envy, wondering how she could take Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food and churn out one casual yet mouthwatering dish after another. On weeknights!
As for me, I poked my way through the dark, hoping that trying one discrete recipe after another would turn me into a cook. But it wasn't until early this year, when I had a kitchen all to myself and a determination to blog, that I started playing around. I started with recipes involving lots of stock, lemons, herbs, and wine. Pretty soon it became second nature to pick these ingredients up each time I went to the store. Then for a while I went through a phase where I made the same thing, over and over again: oatmeal with egg for breakfast, beef stew.
Even during those repetitive cycles, I was learning more about myself-what I liked to eat, my preference for single-pot meals. Lately, I've been craving Asian food, so my counter is littered with ginger and garlic. I am also taking out that new mandoline, discovering the utility of my Kitchenaid mixer, and actually putting my food processor to use.
But it's not about the equipment. It's about breaking assumptions and barriers. Let's start with my friend who sighed. To him, I say: A meal does not have to be an equally portioned plate of protein, starch, and vegetables. Sometimes it's a bowl of noodles, or couscous with scallions and veggies.
Nor does cooking need to be a to-do list item. Ironically, while I believe in cooking, I also believe that when you don't feel like cooking, you shouldn't. Don't cook! Eat something prepared, even junk.
I know some people view cooking as a matter of health and cost-it often is for me, too-but I also view it as a form of mindfulness. I cook to the extent that it excites me or calms me. When I don't feel like cooking, the act stresses me out. I eat instant noodles instead, or a plain bowl of rice with some soy sauce. It works out perfectly, because soon I get so overwhelmed with work that I need cooking as an outlet, and/or I become so disgusted with Jack in the Box that I crave healthy, homemade food as an antidote. See? You don't need to force it. Eventually, you'll come back full circle.
Mindfulness. That's the message I impart. And to dispel any false assumptions, I am still awkward in the kitchen. I still ask stupid questions and learn things a so-called foodie would probably never admit not knowing, like what it means to braise something.
The point is that I am willing to learn and try to learn, little by little, every day. If you can take that approach to food, focusing more on the exploration and less on any fixed goal (like "learning to cook"), then you will learn, and you will have a good time while doing it.
On that note, I'm ready to share this pesto recipe. If you've read this far, I admire you for your attention span!
All of the ingredients but the oil goes into a food processor.
While the processor is on, slowly drizzle in the oil.
Process using the pulse function, until you start to see a paste forming.
And pulse until the sauce is the consistency you desire. Mine's a little chunky, but I'm okay with that.
Add some kale, some grass fed beef, and you're done. Homemade meal. No, I did not eat all that food.
Recipe from Winner Celebration Party (I don't recall when I first learned how to make pesto. The ratio is so basic, you won't really need a recipe after one or two tries)
- About 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
- A small handful of nuts (about 1/4-1/3 cup, depending on the type of nut, I say)
- 1/2 cup grated cheese (Parmesan is standard, I used Gruyere-Swiss, though it was a bit soft)
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
- Salt and pepper, to taste
A note on ingredients: The measurements above are just approximations, but this is the ratio I remember learning right after college. Within reason, you can probably tweak the measurements and still have a delicious result. As for nuts, pine nuts are standard, but you can substitute walnuts or probably other nuts as well. But to let you know, I've only tried the first two I mentioned.
- Combine everything in a food processor, except the olive oil.
- Turn on your food processor, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil while the machine is going.
- Process until the sauce has reached the smoothness of your choice.
Pesto comes in a variety of forms-I've used cilantro instead of basil, walnuts (as shown here) instead of pine nuts, and different kinds of cheeses. It's hard to go wrong, so long as you have the right ratio of ingredients. In fact, even the ratio itself can be tweaked, as you can see below. My general rule of thumb is (in order of smallest measure to largest): nuts > cheese & oil > basil.
You can use pesto on cooked pasta, obviously, or on anything else your heart desires-meat, toast, vegetables, etc. As for storage, keep pesto in the fridge or freeze it. A former roommate taught me the trick of freezing the pesto in a sandwich-sized ziploc bag. Squeeze out the extra air, and store flat in the freezer. When you need to use the pesto, just break off a chunk and drop it straight into the pot. Let it warm up, then add your pasta. Toss and serve.