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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Not my first rodeo: fall garden pesto roundup

    A bloop of my revamped pesto mixed with mayo on a pork loin sandwich with a slab of melted mozz.
    Three pestos, from the top: Basil w/pistachio and Asiago, Red pepper w/raisin and almonds and Thai Peanut Pesto
    Egg bites with red pepper pesto and cheddar cheese curds.
    Bulgarian Adjika courtesy of jetsetter, Milton Moore.

    I’ve been busy in my garden for a couple weeks, gathering the last of the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and basil for sauces, pickles and pesto. In years past, my basil crop has always been disappointing and I end up with a case of basil envy. I see photos on the internet of lush hedges of basil just exploding with leaves, while my own basil plants look like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Spindly and sad.

    This year, with the purchase of a greenhouse and utilizing a hydroponic growing rack, I got the basil crop from hell. WAY more basil than I knew what to do with. Genovese & Thai basil plants that were bushy and beautiful. The only plant that didn’t make it was the Lettuce Leaf basil, which I potted and left outside for the season. The insects feasted on that guy. Remind me to ask the beetles how delicious it was, because I didn’t get to taste any.

    I branched out a bit this year from my standard basil pesto and replaced the pine nuts with roasted pistachios and substituted Asiago for the Parmesan. I’m also not adding quite as much olive oil during the final blending in the food processor. This leaves the final product more granular and less emulsified; it’s like paste with more texture and less saucy. (BTW, Pesto is not the Italian word for paste, according to my lousy research assistant, Chat GPT.)

    Pesto, it’s not just for pasta anymore

    Don’t get caught up in imagining a bowl of pasta tossed with pesto. Think of pesto as an all purpose pow-pow right in the tastebuds by using it in dips, soups, breads, stir-fry, rice, marinades, salad dressings and pizza. Especially pizza. C’mon, most of the pizza you eat already has olive oil, garlic, cheese and basil in the sauce already. Think of pesto as a pizza sauce minus the tomatoes.

    After making my big batch of Italian-style pesto, I moved on to process its licorice-y cousin, Thai Basil. I had something in mind like a Thai Peanut sauce, minus the coconut milk. So I played around with adding ground, unsweetened coconut (Bob’s Red Mill) and came up with the recipe you see below. The final product is perfect for tossing into stir fried chicken, pork or seafood with rice. And yes, noodles.

    While looking back through my recipe database, I came across yet another pesto recipe that I had sketched out two years ago but never tested. This one looked really odd, but since I was in a pesto frame of mind and I had extra red peppers from the garden, I gave it a whirl. Red Pepper, Golden Raisin, Almond & Parmesan Pesto. Yes, that title is a mouthful, but the final result was also a DEE-licious mouthful of flavor. Definitely my favorite of the 2023 pesto rodeo.

    Basil, Pistachio & Asiago Pesto

    2 cups packed fresh basil (approx 50g)

    1/2 cup roasted pistachios

    1 tsp kosher salt (to taste)

    1 Tbsp lemon juice

    2 cloves fresh garlic

    1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese (approx 50g)

    1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

    1/4 to 1/3 cups olive oil

    Add basil, pistachios, salt, lemon juice, garlic, cheese and red pepper flakes to food processor and pulse till the ingredients are minced or finely ground.

    With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the mix is as smooth (or chunky) as you like.

    Place in containers, topped with a little olive oil to stop the top from darkening. Seal containers and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

    Thai Peanut Pesto

    2 cups packed Thai basil (approx 50g)

    75g salted peanuts (cocktail peanuts, not Spanish or Planters)

    3 cloves garlic

    2 tsp chopped ginger

    1/3 cup shredded fine unsweetened coconut (Bob’s Red Mill)

    1 fresh jalapeño, cored and seeded

    2 Tbsp sugar or light brown sugar

    2 tsp lime juice

    2 tsp sesame oil

    1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

    2-4 Tbsp water at the end

    Salt to taste

    Add basil, peanuts, garlic, ginger, coconut, jalapeño, sugar, lime juice and sesame oil to food processor and pulse till the ingredients are minced or finely ground.

    Add the peanut butter and process through until fully mixed. With the food processor running, drizzle in the water until the mix is as smooth (or chunky) as you like. Salt to taste. Place in containers, topped with a little olive oil to stop the top from darkening. Seal containers and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

    Red Pep & Raisin Pesto

    3/4 cup golden raisins

    1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

    3/4 cup roasted red pepper (halved, cored and broiled till skin is charred.)

    2 cloves garlic

    1/2 cup roasted salted almonds (I used Blue Diamond, right out of the bag)

    2 Tbsp fresh parsley

    1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

    1/2 cup grated parmesan (50g)

    1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

    1/4 tsp black pepper

    1/4 cup olive oil

    Soak raisins in warmed white balsamic vinegar for one hour to soften.

    Add raisins with the remaining vinegar into the food processor along with the red pepper, garlic, almonds, parsley, red pepper flakes, Parmesan and S&P. Pulse till the ingredients are minced or finely ground.

    With the food processor running, drizzle the olive oil into the mix until fully blended; approximately one minute. Place in containers, topped with a little olive oil to stop the top from darkening. Seal containers and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

    And in the words of my lousy research assistant, Chat GPT, “Remember, making pesto is an art, not a science! Feel free to tweak recipes to suit your taste preferences.” OK, Chat, thanks for that.

    Upcoming and Ongoing

    I’m still recruiting local folks (in SE CT) to sample new recipes. If you would like to be on my food jury, email me at the address below and I’ll give you the details.

    Rich Swanson is a local cook who has had numerous wins in nationally sponsored recipe contests. He is also the layout specialist here at The Day.

    Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Rich Swanson can be reached at TheSurlyTable@gmail.com

    Bonus Recipe for Online Subscribers

    My old Day colleague, Milt, brought me a jar of store bought Adjika from Bulgaria last year. I didn’t actually know that it was Adjika from the label, because I can’t read Bulgarian Cyrillic. But a quick sniff and a taste and some Googling provided answers.

    Adjika is a vibrant and spicy condiment that hails from the Caucasus region. It has a complex flavor profile from a rich blend of red peppers, garlic, herbs and spices. In texture, it can range anywhere from a paste to a salsa. The regional and personal variations are numerous. The commercial brand Milt gave me was heavy with red pepper, parsley, celery, cilantro, chilies and garlic with a light tomato and vinegar base. Like pesto, they use it in soups, as a marinade, in dips ... in literally anything they need a savory spike in flavor. As I looked through the recipes available online, I saw a few that included carrots, walnuts and plums. Here’s my take on Adjika, utilizing produce, herbs and spices I had on hand.

    Swanny’s Adjika

    2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored

    2 Red or yellow fresh peppers

    2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and cored

    1/2 lb carrots, peeled

    2 big stalks celery

    1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

    1 tsp ground coriander

    1 8oz can Rotel

    12 cloves garlic, peeled

    3 Tbsp Tomato paste

    1/2 cup olive oil

    2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

    1 Tbsp Sugar

    1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Salt

    In a food processor, mince apples, peppers, jalapeños, celery, Rotel in food processor in batches and place them into wide saute pan. Heat pan on medium-low heat through on medium-low, stirring occasionally until fairly dry but not browned, approximately 20 minutes. Mix in coriander and cayenne.

    Blend garlic, tomato paste, olive oil, vinegar, sugar and salt in processor and then stir into the cooked veggie mix. Continue to heat the mix gently until all the veggies are softened. Place in 1 cup containers and refrigerate or freeze.

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