Use fresh herbs to create tasty pesto spread
Every year at planting time I visit the greenhouses and pick through all the little baby herbs to find just the perfect ones to bring home to plant. Each year I gently slip them into a new location and each year at this time when I want fresh cil...
Every year at planting time I visit the greenhouses and pick through all the little baby herbs to find just the perfect ones to bring home to plant.
Each year I gently slip them into a new location and each year at this time when I want fresh cilantro to make salsa with garden-fresh tomatoes from the farmers' market, or aromatic basil to toss into pasta, or sprigs of fresh rosemary to float in a pitcher of lemonade - it's always the same thing. I go out to my puny little herbs that look like they have some kind of growth-stunt virus and I get a little teary-eyed. While others have huge bushy basil plants and rosemary growing as big as a shrub, my little midgets have nearly nothing for me to harvest. Oh, I wish I had a green thumb.
This year, though, I must have picked a lodging place that was more to my little herbs' liking. I've actually cut sprigs of lemon basil, Italian basil and spicy globe basil, and with some Thai basil that I picked up at the store I had just enough to make pesto for a favorite summer spread. I even clipped enough flat-leaf parsley from my own two plants to add more Italian flavor.
Roasted Garlic Pesto begins with a whole head, or bulb, of garlic. Using roasted garlic eliminates the sharp flavor of raw garlic that some find distasteful. Whenever I turn on the oven to roast garlic, I always roast at least a few bulbs at a time. The creamy, sweet garlic keeps well in the refrigerator. Once you have it on hand, you'll find yourself stirring it into sauce, dressing, vinaigrette, mixing it with mayonnaise for a sandwich spread, blending it into sour cream to top baked potatoes or making Creamy Brie and Roasted Garlic Pesto Spread over and over again.
I make pesto in my food processor, but if you don't have one, just pull out your best chopping knife and get started. I'm sure in Italy there are still many who use their own hand-power when creating their beloved green basil sauce.
The aromatic pesto is layered with a very creamy cheese mixture that offers the slight nutty flavor of Brie, the pleasing sweet tang of cream cheese and the smooth richness of a little whipped cream. Flavors develop and meld together as they rest in the refrigerator all day or overnight. Surround the molded spread on a platter with your favorite crackers or some crostini. My favorite go-along is multigrain pita chips that I just recently discovered.
Creamy Brie and Roasted Garlic Pesto Spread will keep well sealed up tight in the refrigerator. It's a great make-ahead, no-fuss punchy little summer treat, and spread on a pita chip, it's a delicious little mouthful.
Oh, you lucky ones with the bushy basil plants, count your leafy blessings.
Creamy Brie and Roasted Garlic Pesto Spread
1 whole garlic bulb
1 cup packed fresh basil sprigs
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
4 to 6 ounces fully ripened Brie cheese with rind removed, softened
½ cup whipping cream, whipped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove any of the loose papery skin from the garlic bulb, leaving the cloves intact. Use a sharp knife to cut about ¼ inch from the top of the bulb, removing the tips. Place garlic, cut side up, on a square of aluminum foil. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the top of the garlic, allowing the oil to seep into the bulb. Bring the corners of the aluminum foil together and wrap the garlic tightly. Place the foil package in a small oven-safe dish. Roast in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until garlic is very soft when lightly squeezed. Remove from oven, unwrap and allow to cool.
Remove and discard basil leaves from stems. Wash leaves and drain well. Position knife blade in work bowl of food processor. Add basil leaves and process until finely chopped. Squeeze roasted garlic from the bulb. It will be a creamy paste-like consistency. Add roasted garlic, Parmesan cheese, parsley, pine nuts and black pepper. Process until mixture is very finely chopped. With processor running, pour olive oil through food chute in a slow, steady stream, processing until combined. Set pesto aside.
Combine cream cheese and Brie in a medium-sized bowl. Beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth. Fold in whipped cream.
Line a 3-cup bowl with plastic wrap, leaving excess plastic wrap around edges. Spread ½ cup of cheese mixture in prepared bowl. Spread one-third of pesto over cheese mixture. Repeat layers twice. Top with remaining cheese mixture. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.
Unmold onto a serving platter. Carefully peel off plastic wrap. Serve with crackers.
Tips from the cook
--To toast pine nuts, place them in a single layer in a small skillet over medium heat. Stir until golden. Immediately transfer to a small dish to cool. Experiment with other kinds of nuts in this pesto, such as almonds, macadamias or walnuts.
--I used my salad spinner to dry the fresh basil and parsley after I had washed it.
--Brie is a soft, creamy cheese with a nutty flavor. The white moldy rind is edible, giving a very earthy enhancement to the cheese.
--Pop one or two prepared garlic bulbs in the oven whenever you have it heated up for another use.
--Roasted Garlic Pesto is also good stirred into potato salad and pasta or drizzled over grilled meat and fish.
--If you're sharing this with olive lovers, try stirring some chopped black olives into the pesto before layering.