My garden is looking a little weary these days. The trees are losing their summer coat and covering the ground with crispy foliage. One area of vibrancy, however, is the section dedicated to herbs, still bright and green. But even herbs have their season, so it’s time to harvest the last of my basil, cilantro and mint to make room for sage, parsley and rosemary.
When I teach cooking classes, I try to incorporate at least one sauce which makes a dish really pop. What has become my signature recipe is pesto. Not your classic Genovese style, but one that compliments the meal we are creating. It could be Mexican with pumpkin seed and cilantro; Mediterranean with mint and pistachio; or American with walnut and arugula.
The varieties of pesto combinations are endless. In addition to the herbs and nuts or seeds, try to mix it up by using a variety of oils and adding spices like cumin or ginger. You can use tasty greens such as: arugula, watercress, kale, and even carrot tops when given the right seasoning. Pine nuts can be expensive and are usually imported from China. Try other nuts or seeds like almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower or pumpkin seeds. And the herbs are endless from basil and cilantro to mint and parsley.
My basic foundation for pestos includes a couple different ingredients. The first is a salt substitute called miso. Miso is a fermented soybean paste which can be added to any sauce or soup. Miso is a wonderful digestive aid which also includes many vitamins and minerals. So I treat it like a “booster food.” Plus, it adds a creamy component to the pesto. And for my ultimate trade secret (I’ve won contests with this:) — a heavy hit of lemon. It makes the sauce come alive!
There are only four more farmers’ markets remaining, so grab your squashes, potatoes, pasta, beef and fish and whip up a fresh batch of the “sauce.”
Here are just two of my favorite pesto combo’s. You can add spinach to any of your recipes — it’s fairly mild and increases the volume. These can also be frozen for future use. Put small amounts in an ice cube tray and pop them out when ready to use. A little dab’ll do ya.
Cilantro Pumpkin Seed Pesto (use with squash, tacos, pork, veggies)
1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds 2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves 5 Tbs. olive oil 3 Tbs. fresh lemon or lime juice 1 garlic clove 1/2 tsp chili flakes 1/4 tsp. salt or 1 tsp organic miso to taste 1/4 cup water Spread the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant and just beginning to turn golden at the edges, 8 to 10 minutes.
In a food processor, combine the pumpkin seeds, cilantro, 4 Tbs. of the olive oil, the lime juice, garlic, chili, the 1/4 tsp. salt and the water and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Kale, Almond, Orange Pesto (use with fish, pasta, steak, veggies)
2 cups chopped kale, stems removed 2 cups spinach 1-2 cloves garlic 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese 1/4 cup toasted, slivered almonds 1 tsp. orange zest (can also use a bit of the juice, if desired) 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the kale and cook for 1 minute. Immediately drain and dunk into ice-cold water to halt the cooking. Drain and wring out any excess water.
In a food processor, combine the kale, spinach, garlic, cheese, zest and almonds. Pulse to combine. While the machine is running, stream in the olive oil, adding a little more until you reach your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste, and pulse to combine again.