Saturday, December 8, 2012

Spinach & Basil (Nut free) Pesto

This time of year always seems to be the busiest, doesn't it? Between end of year projects that need finishing up, holiday preparations & all the holiday celebrations themselves, sometimes it seems like we are always go-go-go-ing! I don't know why but this time of year always makes me think of pesto. Maybe its the green? In any case, this would be a great item to take to a get-together, party or pot luck. Its very festive and by virtue of being nut-free is a great dish to share with people who may have nut allergies!

This recipe is an easy prep-- especially if you have a food processor. You can still do it in a blender, but it might take a few batches (those leaves are very fluffy!) You will be amazed at how quick it really is AND you will have enough leftovers in the freezer for SEVERAL meals. Plus, have you seen the prices for premade pesto??? Do those people think its made out of gold or something?? Sheesh!

Now, I know traditionalists would argue that a pesto isn't really a pesto without the nuts (either pine nuts or walnuts or something) but I've found that the nuts aren't really necessary for a great pesto-y flavor. In removing them from the recipe, the costs are cut DRAMATICALLY and as mentioned above, many of us have family members & friends with nut allergies. This is a painless way to make a great dish that everyone can eat!

Recipe: Spinach & Basil (Nut free) Pesto
(makes approx. 6, 4 oz servings)

6 oz. baby spinach leaves
4 oz. fresh basil leaves (stems and flowers removed)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic (2 1/2 Tbs jarred crushed)
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1) Add leaves, cheese, garlic and salt to work bowl of food processor. Pour in 1/4 cup of your olive oil.
2) Whirl mixture until nearly smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
3) Pour remaining olive oil into the mixture, while processing, until completely smooth.
4) Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
5) Package pesto in 4 oz tupperwares, jars or plastic baggies & freeze for future use! Each 4 oz package will cover 8-16 oz of pasta depending on how pesto-y you want your dish!

Things to do with your pesto:

1) Use it as a pizza sauce on a homemade pizza. Just spread over prepared crust and top with cheese and toppings as usual. Makes for a nice change of an everyday food!

2) Mix a little with mayonnaise for a sandwich spread that will perk up the boring-est of chicken or turkey sandwiches! Add in a little tomato, sliced mozzerella or provolone and its even better. For total insanity, try grilling your sandwich or cooking it in a panini press!

3) Toss with cooked pasta (I particularly like penne). My preferred mix is about 4 oz of pesto to 12 oz of pasta. Be sure to leave a small amount of cooking water  (like 2 Tbs max!) to help spread the pesto evenly. If you forget to save some water, you can also use milk or cream for a richer dish!

Here is my favorite wintertime pasta dish, its very hearty and with your ready made pesto, it will come together in a flash!

Recipe: Penne with Shrimp & Cherry Tomatoes

12 oz penne pasta
4 oz prepared pesto
1 pint cherry (or grape or miniature plum) tomatoes, sliced lengthwise (see tip below)
1 lb peeled & cooked shrimp

1) Cook pasta as directed on package.
2) Defrost pesto (if frozen)
3) Slice tomatoes-- here is a trick I got from watching the Rachel Ray show-- use 2 deli tub lids (I had yogurt & sour cream, I think?) Put your tomatoes on one lid (edge up) and place the other lid over the tomatoes edge down. Holding the lid firmly (but not squashing the tomatoes) run your knife in the slot between the 2 lids. Voila! Lots of evenly sliced tomatoes, all done at the same time!

4) Cook or defrost precooked shrimp as necessary.
5) Drain pasta (remember to reserve cooking water or use milk/cream).
6) Toss pasta, shrimp, tomatoes and pesto together. Make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed and warmed throughout.
7) Serve with crusty bread and grated parmesan!

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