Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cilantro Mint Pesto

Ah, the laziness of summer. We can just wander out to the garden, gather a few fresh and abundant herbs, boil some water, push some buttons, and make a fabulously savory and satisfying dish. Really, that’s barely an exaggeration when this perky pesto made from the cilantro and mint I have growing in the back yard is involved.

This pesto is from a recipe I used to make ages ago that I got from CookingLight Magazine. That publication provided most of my lesson plans back then as I was teaching myself to cook. The ingredients and dishes are interesting, and the recipes are well-written, and I used to follow them exactly. This pesto was part of a recipe with penne pasta, chicken, and cherry tomatoes, and when I recorded it as a good one, I recorded that whole dish.

I hadn’t made this pesto in forever, though not for any reason I can possibly fathom. I’ve had an unreasonably huge patch of mint for years, and cilantro is easy to come by, especially right now in my garden. No excuses this year. And after being reminded of just how delicious this really is, no clue about why I’ve been the kind of lazy dunderhead who isn’t making this all the time.

The cilantro and mint form a curious combination that isn’t dominated by either herb. The savory cilantro, one of my favorite things ever, just gets a bit of a blanket of minty vapor that makes it even better. Overall, the duo is a wonderful blend, savory and verdant, fragrant and lip-smackingly delicious.

That herbal powerhouse is even further enhanced by a punch of heat from a chile pepper (your choice of variety, or leave it out if you don’t like the spicy), and some mellow acidity from a splash of sherry vinegar. Like other herb pestos, this one gets a foundation of nuts (pecans), Parmesan cheese and good olive oil. There’s plenty of salt as well, which I like, but if you’re salt-sensitive, you could hold some back.

You could toss this pesto with pasta and cherry tomatoes, like I did recently, or you could add cooked chicken, like in the inspiration dish I mentioned above. I also think you could add roasted peppers, olives, black beans, or corn. This pesto could be used as a sauce on a rustic pizza or a thin layer could accompany the cheese in a quesadilla. You could also play around with the ratios of the herbs and chiles. I know I will, now that I’m totally unafraid to deviate from even a well-written recipe. Especially in these relaxed days of summer when I’m too lazy to even make proper measurements!

Spicy Cilantro Mint Pesto
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light, Jan/Feb 2005

1 ½ cups fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
½ cup mint
1/3 Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
¼ cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon coarse (kosher) salt
2 medium-size garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium-size chile pepper, chopped
2 tsp sherry vinegar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ olive oil

1. Combine all the ingredients except the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is a well-ground paste, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally.

2. While processing, slowly add the olive oil through the opening in the top of the processor lid. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Makes about 1 cup pesto.

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