Monday, July 4, 2011

Summer sauces -- pesto and salmorejo

I love pesto. I eat it on pasta, with eggs, on a mozzarella panino...the list goes on. I had a hard time finding good pesto while abroad the last two summers; if not made correctly, it can be tasteless and oily. Last June, before I went away for the summer, my friend asked me to make batches of it so she could freeze it and have it while I was gone. Pesto will last 1 week in the refrigerator and months in the freezer, so make it in the summer and you'll enjoy it during the long, cold winter.

Here's my recipe, which I always double; one batch is never enough:

~2 cups basil, tightly packed
~1 large clove garlic
~1/4 cup pine nuts
~about 1/2 cup good olive oil, depending on how smooth you like your pesto
~1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
~salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse the basil, garlic and pine nuts until smooth. Once smooth and while still pulsing, drizzle in the olive oil. Remove and add the salt, pepper and Parmesan.

A word about cleaning basil: I just read somewhere that washing basil with water causes it to become tasteless. Instead of soaking it, the article suggested, one should rub it clean with a soft towel. I'm not entirely convinced that it's true that basil loses its flavor if soaked, and when making a large batch of pesto which requires almost a whole bunch of basil, I can imagine standing at the sink rubbing it clean until Thanksgiving. This is my method:

Put the basil leaves in a colander, and put the colander in a larger bowl. Fill the colander with water, enough so you can swish the leaves around in the water. Remove the colander and feel for sand in the bowl. When you can't feel any sand, the basil is clean. Use a salad spinner to dry the basil.

Now on to the salmorejo. I first had this years ago in Madrid and I've been making it ever since. It's so light and refreshing, and so lovely with eggs or simply with a crusty bread, that I always have a batch or two on hand. Of course, it's best in the summer when the tomatoes are in season and sweet.

~1 pint grape tomatoes
~1 clove garlic
~2 tablespoons stale bread, soaked with water and squeezed well
~2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
~1/3 cup good olive oil
~salt to taste

Combine the tomatoes, garlic and bread in the food processor until smooth. Add the vinegar. Pulse again and drizzle in the olive oil, but do not pulse more than necessary as the salmorejo will get gooey. Remove and add the salt. Serve with crusty bread...buon appetito!

My history geek moment: The word pesto comes from the Italian pestare, meaning "to pound." Pesto originated in Genoa, Italy.


  1. Made some Solmorejo tonight & it was delicious! Love the recipe!