Keepin’ things simple this week. I can’t argue with the freshness that a deep green basil pesto gives everything, but its intense red twin of sundried tomato is pretty sublime, too. A spoonful of this stuff is like sweetened condensed tomato; a drop of it in your risotto while it’s cooking is like not really needing to reach for stock instead of water. Spread on bread or baked on pizza it’ll make your mouth tingle. A drizzle will make any bowl of soup shine. There is such a thing as too much flavor, and that can come easily if you don’t watch it with sundried tomato pesto.
I’ve been making my share of sauces and spreads lately, to seal up and use in a multitude of ways. It began with the pear chutney, which I’ve coated peas and potatoes with, stirred into steamed rice, and scooped up with bread. Sick of it, I passed the rest of the tub to the freezer for now. But I’m still in love with the method: make one tasty, fresh and healthy homemade condiment, and see how many places it’ll take you throughout the week.
Chances are, you won’t grow bored too fast. I’ll be slathering this pesto on pastas as a quick no-brainer meal for some time yet. Sauces like these that keep relatively well are great for making by the big batch; I’ve seen Martha Stewart advocate freezing individual meal-size portions of basil pesto in an ice cube tray, then taking one out to thaw as needed on TV (some have recommended this for stocks, too). Wouldn’t be a bad idea here, either.
The first use I put this pesto to was a room temperature brown rice pilaf, with fresh apples and almonds (shown at top). Crunchy, chewy, salty and sweet, I liked this, but imagine you could invent your own pilaf or pasta just as well. I just really like long-grain brown rice right now, so nutty and flavorful. With a little water or extra oil to thin it up, this sundried tomato pesto might make a wonderful marinade or addition to classic sauces like mayonnaise and buerre blanc, for a jolt of extra flavor rather than more fat.
Sundried Tomato Pesto
(makes about 1 cup)
2 cups sundried tomatoes (soak in warm water for 20 minutes if using the very dried kind and drain)
zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic
1-2 small shallots
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar (or slightly more to taste)
handful of fresh basil leaves, parsley, or both
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
Chop the sundried tomatoes into pieces no larger than a quarter (for optimum food processor-friendliness). Chop the garlic, shallots and fresh herbs. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor except for the oil and pulse until even in coarseness, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Drizzle in the olive oil and continue pulsing until a paste-like consistency. (You may want to use less if using the oil-packed type of sundried tomatoes.) Store refrigerated for up to one week or much longer in the freezer.
(for 1 cup/many servings of pesto)
2 cups sundried tomatoes (at $3.99/lb): $2.00
2 tablespoons pine nuts ($3.99/2.5 oz package): $0.80
1 lemon: $0.33
handful fresh basil (at $3.50/bunch): $1.25
1/2 cup olive oil: $1.50
2 garlic cloves, 1 shallot, 1 tsp Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper: $0.50
Five brownie points: It’s not really a food in its own, but as far as sauces go, you could do a lot worse. Rather than butter or animal fat, this one has mostly heart-healthy olive oil. One might not guess that the process of drying all-natural tomatoes in the sun would result in so much extra sodium, sugars and calories, but it does. That’s why it can and should be used in minimal portions. But like their fresh forebears, sundried tomatoes are still packed with Vitamin C, potassium and lycopene, and adding fresh herbs and lemon only increases these points.
Four maple leaves: It’s a make-ahead sealer-upper that relies little on fresh or seasonal ingredients. I was able to find sundried tomatoes in my regular grocery store and they were fairly cheap; that said, I have little idea where or how they were made but it wouldn’t have been organic. Someday I’ll have to take up drying fruit, maybe when they’re in excess in the summer.