Project Pesto

Read on only if you are a fan of pesto.

My first experience with pesto has got to be that one fall evening when I was a freshman at UMich wolfing down a plate of pasta at… yes fellow Wolverines, you got it right – Za’s! The unofficial b-school canteen was one of my fellow Singaporeans (ok, and 99% of the kids at UofM) favourite place for a quick meal. This Italian food joint serves up a delicious variety of paninis, pizzas, pastas, salads and sandwiches that diners can customize, a refreshing concept in a college town brimming full with pizzerias and run-of-the-mill sandwich joints (cue Jimmy John’s – yeuck). In case you’re wondering where Za’s got its name from, well, word has it that Za’s = “what people call pizza when they have the munchies”. As to what munchies actually mean, well, click on the link to find out.

I digress.

Wiki moment:Pesto (Italian pronunciation: [ˈpesto], Genoese: [ˈpestu]) is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy (pesto genovese),and traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil, and European pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese), and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk).

Looks gross but tastes otherwise :)

Today, to commemorate those wonderful memories I have of my favourite pasta dish at Za’s, I decided to make the pesto sauce itself from scratch. It was rewarding! I then went on to create 2 other dishes for lunch, which mum wolfed down in between mouthing “i like the green sauce” and picking on the pesto spread smeared on top the baked salmon.

Some pointers:

  • Get pine nuts from Mustafa. Cheapest I could find thus far in Singapore.
  • The most expensive ingredient was the basil leaves. Let me know where to get cheap ones. I got mine for $2.65/30g at Cold Storage.
  • Watch out for the pine nuts, they burn easily. My first batch turned carcinogenic within 3 minutes on medium heat. Yeeks.

Here are the recipes:

Classic Pesto Sauce from Baking Illustrated

Serving: 3/4 cup (enough to cook a pasta dish for 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • 2 packed cups of fresh basil leaves (thats about 60g)
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts (or almonds/walnuts)
  • 7 tbsp of oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp salt

Method:

  1. Toast the pine nuts over low heat for 3-4 minutes. Don’t burn it. Turn off the heat once you are done.
  2. At the same time, you could also toast the 3 cloves of garlic for 3-4 minutes till it is slightly burnt. Then, peel the garlic and give it a rough chop.
  3. Wash the basil leaves thoroughly and spin/dab it dry. We don’t want watery pesto sauce!
  4. Place the basil leaves into a zip-lock bag and bash it up using a rolling pin (or something heavy and unbreakable). Good therapy.
  5. Using a food processor or blender, blend the oil + nuts + garlic + basil leaves using the pulsing method.
  6. Once done, toss in the cheese and salt (season to your own liking)

Pesto Pasta with Shitake, Shrimps and Cherry Tomatoes by Valeebelly

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 5  shrimps, shelled and sliced into half
  • 4 shitake mushrooms (i bought Emperor Shitake mushrooms grown locally)
  • 7 heaped tbsp of pesto sauce (adjust to your own liking)
  • 150g of cherry tomatoes, halved (Sakura cherry tomatoes are grown without using pesticides)
  • spaghetti/or any pasta of your choice

Method:

  1. Saute the garlic in 1 tbsp of olive oil from your bottle of pesto sauce
  2. Once fragrant, add in the cherry tomatoes. Toss it about for 1 min or so using low medium heat
  3. Throw in the mushrooms and shrimps. Fry for 2-3 minutes
  4. Stir in the pesto sauce, turn up the fire to medium
  5. Throw in the spaghetti and toss it with the other ingredients and sauce. Make sure that they are all well-mixed.
  6. Serve with some pine nuts as garnishing.

Baked Salmon with Pesto wrapped in Foil by Wiffy (who got it from Jamie Oliver)

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 salmon fillet (about 200g)
  • fast to cook assorted vegetables (i used cherry tomatoes)
  • half lemon
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 heaped tablespoon green pesto

Method:

  • Turn on the oven to 200 dC
  • Season the salmon fillet lightly with salt and pepper
  • Partially cook it. I pan-fried mine for a minute on each side
  • Arrange the vegetables on a large foil and place the salmon fillet on top of it.
  • Spread the green pesto mixture over the salmon
  • Squeeze half a lemon worth of juice over it
  • Make a ‘foil package’. For more details, refer to Wiffy’s link.
  • Throw the foil package into the oven and let it bake for 12-15 minutes
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