WICKWOOD INN
Saugatuck, Michigan

 


Perfect Basil Pesto Continued

With, my first bite, the lasagna’s flavors exploded in my mouth. While sitting in my chair I did one of my little dances I do when I really love the taste of something. WOW! What was this? Could this possibly be the pesto I’d ignored for all of these years? Of course I knew that Pesto was a sauce that originated in Liguria and here we were in Genoa, its largest city. I also long knew that the name meant "to pound, bruise or crush" from the Latin root word "pestare," but what was this ethereal pesto that I was tasting, as if for the first time?

Once home, after many fabulous meals in Casablanca, Fez, Tunisia, Madeira, Malta Barcelona, Sicily, Gibraltar, The Canary Islands, Rome, Nice, Venice and at sea, I simply couldn’t get the flavor of that simple Pesto Lasagna from Genoa out of my mind. I decided to chase that taste. Of course I knew that I was up against centuries of  Italian tradition plus pure heirloom Genovese basil, olive oil, probably only six weeks old, garlic grown at a local nearby farm and possibly even handmade fresh pasta  - all contributing to the extraordinary flavor of that Pesto Lasagna now so firmly embedded in my mind.

     
"Pesto is the quiche of the 80’s." --- Nora Ephron

I've often said I cook in my head first then in the kitchen. I also know that the simpler the recipe, the more critical it is to have superb ingredients. But here I was in a small village in Michigan surrounded by mountains of winter snow. No Genovese basil here. I decided to focus on the "to pound or to crush" part of Pesto’s lineage. Luckily I had a mortar and pestle, that ancient tool that has been left unimproved by modern technology, which I’d "schlepped" home from the South of France years before. Made of beautiful olive wood, I had always thought of it as more of a kitchen sculpture than a piece of equipment.

In it, I crushed and pounded my usual Pesto recipe (however, with no walnuts on hand, my normal nut of choice, I substituted hazelnuts, toasted of course). Awkwardly handling the pestle as if it were a baseball bat, I struggled to incorporate all of the ingredients, gradually pounding them into a still slightly chunky paste. I stuck my finger in for a taste. Instantly I did my little dance! Could the hazelnuts have made such a difference?

     
"You walk into a restaurant, that’s all you hear: pesto, pesto, pesto.
Where was pesto ten years ago?"  --- George Costanza

I decided to make another batch using my regular food processor method and the hazelnuts. Tasted side by side there was absolutely no comparison! One was the familiar smooth green glob I’d ignored for years.

The other, made with the same mortar and pestle used by the Romans, was slightly chunky with an uneven texture. It tasted of each of its ingredients, intense and simultaneously clear and complex, yet loaded with nuance and sunshine. Its flavors sparkled! It was superb! I vowed to always make pesto this way and to eat it every day for the rest of my life. I implore you to do the same.

     
"Looks may be deceiving. It’s eating that’s believing." --- James Thurber

From that day on using my mortar and pestle has become an intricate part of my cooking. It is used almost daily for making all sorts of things; various kinds of pesto, crushing spices and seeds, aioli, mayonnaise, gremolata, smashing olives, grinding nuts, anchovies, or capers ... well, you get my drift.

Of course there is no end to the kinds of "Pesto" one can make ... using basil, parsley, tarragon, arugula, cilantro, mint, sage, sorrel, dill, sun dried tomatoes, capers, broccoli, olives, peas, artichokes, pistachios, red peppers, mushrooms, spinach, roasted garlic, or smoothing beans of all kinds. The only limit is your imagination.

Nor, for the ways that it can make simple dishes absolutely sing by combining it with potatoes, fish, sandwiches, tomatoes, eggplant, pasta, pizza, rice and grains, breads, poultry, stews, soups, or to jazz up just about any vegetable.

 

PERFECT PESTO
"Pesto" means "to make a paste" and once Americans fell in love with the classic pesto, we’ve all taken it to heart and let our imaginations run wild! Using the traditional pounding method we often change the ingredients, first using different herbs: basil, parsley, tarragon, mint, oregano and arugula and spinach, then hazelnuts, macadamias, walnuts, or sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds, vary the oils and cheeses, then sometimes pushing the envelope even further to include, roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, chipotle, artichokes, kalamata olives, sweet peas, or ginger. There are no rules. These new pestos simply dazzle everything they touch. You’ll feel like a very rich cook when you have a stash of pesto.

 

PERFECT BASIL PESTO

As Farmer’s Markets reap their harvest, large bouquets of cut basil will appear. Take advantage of the season to make a stash of Basil Hazelnut Pesto to last all winter long. We make huge batches of this, always using the mortar and pestle and it stays bright green and fresh tasting all year long. We don’t add Parmigiano Reggiano to the pesto now, instead we add it when we're preparing a dish and sometimes we "sweeten" it with a little unsalted butter as a finish.

At each of our recent Cooking Classes, we've made a batch of this Pesto in our food processor and then one by hand in a mortar and pestle. We passed the tastes around and there was no question which was the favorite!!!!  Everybody was astounded at the difference. Hands down, the classic technique won every time. The mortar and pestle makes all of the difference and is definitely here to stay.

And, so while it takes a little more energy, just go into your Zen mode and pound away with your mortar and pestle. One taste is all it will take.

• ½ teaspoon sea salt
• 6 large cloves of garlic coarsely chopped
• ½ cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
• 2 cups fresh basil, leaves only, roughly torn
• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
• Freshly ground white or black pepper to taste

"Trust your work. And never hope more than you work."
                                                                                                 --- Rita Mae Brown

1. Place salt and garlic in a large mortar crushing garlic with pestle. Add hazelnuts and pound to a paste.
2. Add ¼ of the basil along with the
¼ of the olive oil and continue to gently pound the ingredients until combined. Repeat until all ingredients are incorporated into a chunky paste. Add more olive oil depending on the thickness desired. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed.
3. Place in plastic container and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. You can store in refrigerator for up to 6 months, if after each use you top with a film of olive oil.

 

ROASTED TOMATO BRUSCHETTA

When just picked, vine-ripened, bright red, organic, heirloom, still-warm-from-the-sun tomatoes are not at hand, we cheat. Roasting tomatoes sweetens and intensifies them. They simply brighten bruschetta so that it can be served year round on warm crostini. Sometimes we use only roasted tomatoes, sometimes we add fresh tomatoes to the Bruschetta. We’ve also been known to serve Bruschetta warm by placing a leaf of basil, a slice of mozzarella atop and broiling it for a moment or two. Serves twelve to sixteen depending on how generously you top the crostini.

• 12 plum tomatoes, roasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped (Recipe below)
• 4 plum tomatoes, diced
• 3 tablespoons of pesto, homemade or store bought
• 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar, good quality
• 4 tablespoons olive oil
• ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Mix all ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl at least 2 hours prior to serving to allow flavors to blend. Leave at room temperature until ready to serve. Just prior to serving, toast best quality country bread slices, and top with Bruschetta. Enjoy.

 

ROASTED PLUM TOMATOES

Caramelized roast tomatoes have a myriad of uses. Here, we describe our basic technique and once you’ve tried it and tasted the tomatoes, you’ll adapt the quantity to fill your needs. Then, in all likelihood you'll have plum tomatoes ripening on the windowsill year round as we do, ready for roasting.

• Plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
• Olive oil
• Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Dried thyme, Dried rosemary or Italian herbs

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line shallow baking sheet with foil. Spread tomatoes evenly on baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle sea salt and pepper evenly over tomatoes. Crush herbs between the palms of your hands and sprinkle tomatoes lightly. Roast for 1-1 ½ hours depending on size of tomato and desired juiciness, checking every 10 minutes during the last half hour. If too much juice remains in tomato- use the back of a spoon to press down on the surface of the tomato slightly releasing the juice and then allow to air dry until perfect.

2. For a tomato with a texture similar to a sun-dried tomato, quarter the tomatoes, oil and season as in Step One. Roast the tomatoes 1¼ hour and; let them rest in an oven heated by a pilot light; or on top of an oven that is periodically heated or as we do atop our Garland’s broiler/griddle until they’ve air dried further with gentle heat, anywhere from 4 hours to 2 days depending on your preference. If not using immediately, place in a bag with a little olive oil and refrigerate.

 

 
Wickwood's Pesto S
eason Specials
Indian Summer 2010

September 6th through October 31st

Mid-Week Rates begin at $225

Weekend Rates begin at $285

With our Complimentary Evening Wine & Hors d'ouevres Buffet, Champagne Brunch and Afternoon and Late Night Sweets

"In Saugatuck, the top place to stay is Wickwood, an elegant B&B ..."
--- Chicago Tribune, August 1, 2010

Reservations 800.385.1174
 

 

Make Pesto Pronto!!
 



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510 Butler Street, PO Box 1019 • Saugatuck, Michigan 49453-1019

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