Friday, June 6, 2008

Ghosts in the pesto

A short and bouncy tale from the Land of Before (aka, New York City, 2006):

Two years ago in Manhattan, on a 100 degree summer evening when the buildings seemed to become oases and then melt before us, Dori, Rebecca, and I were on a food trek. These things start and end with no plans. But you see, they have never failed to yield some of the Greats in our food pursuits in our fine city. Among the best, and the one my mind returns to often, was a dinner at Bouley Test Kitchen where we were served blanched asparagus with a parsley pesto.

This dish is the phantom I will chase for all my days. Never again has asparagus been so pleasing on a plate, like ten willowy bright green columns. Every tiny leaf intact at the tips. Peeled ever so gently at the same height of circumference around the stalk. The sauce is a haunting apparition each time asparagus appears before me: I can still feel it on my tounge, completely processed and refined in a processor, light, bouncy, full of citrus and something sweet along side something earthy.

I have my suspicions about this "pesto". No question it was parsley that took the center stage but having attempted several versions of this now, parsley (from my own patch, from the organic market) does not alone provide the punch that dish possessed. Fifty seconds of research and twelve minutes of sitting back in my chair with my assumptions for company leads me to two possibilities after last night's little pesto adventure: First, some of the parsley pesto recipes you will find on the internet include basil. I did not taste basil in that Bouley dish (Dori and Becca will have to confirm this). Therefore, in these trials I continue to avoid adding basil because the best part about the pesto was that it was an unexpected hit and basil would have been noticeable, expected, and played. Secondly, after buzzing walnuts into last nights remarkably pleasant (but still miles off the mark) pesto, I don't believe there were pignoli or walnuts in the thing. It may have been something more difficult to pinpoint because we might not recognize it, having little experience with this particular class of Potential Suspects.

In future trip-and-falls through the Bouley recreation forest of fervor, I will try my hand with alternative oils: Avocado and pistachio. I will also have to think about the brightness again, here I used a Reims Chardonnay Vinegar to bring the pesto up but it occurs to me now, some interesting thing might occur with a sweet citrus: meyer lemon?

In the meantime, this pesto, straight out of the garden behind the house, is fabulous. Without the vinegar, I used it to grill corn going into the corn, poblano, and cohita grilled salad. With the sweet vinegar, it went (of course) over the roasted asparagus (I was too caught up with Life to deal with blanching). This makes about a cup and a half and will keep in the fridge for a few days. You will use it all over the place and it is a more cost-effective alternative than a basil pesto in these lean times.

Parsley Pesto
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Use this mixture to marinate veggies on the grill, dress your pasta, pasta, potato, and bean salads, or to use as a bread dip. Add a good, sweetly pleasant vinegar and use it as a dressing for salad or grilled or roasted veggies. I am certain you can find a thousand other uses beyond these...

1 cup parsley, leaves only, stems discarded
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons grated fresh parmiganno regianno
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon good quality honey
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Into the bowl of the food processor, place the parsley, walnuts, lemon zest, garlic, and parmiganno. Process until all ingredients are in tiny pieces. Add the honey, salt, and pepper. With the machine running, begin to slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream until it is completely combined and the mixture is smooth.

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