Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pesto Perfection

I realize a lot of people are over pesto because it was used (overused!) on so many restaurant menus for so long. But used correctly, and taking advantage of the different flavors that are widely available today, pesto can be absolutely invaluable to a busy home cook. A little goes a long way, so pesto is also a cost effective way to add a spark to other dishes easily. I usually have classic basil pesto and sun-dried tomato pesto on hand because both are available at virtually every grocery store in America, thanks to Classico. Additionally, I find specialty flavors like roasted red pepper and artichoke at Italian markets and Whole Foods.

No matter what kind of pesto you like, it's easy to add a little to basic dishes to jazz them up. Try some of these tips to get a lot of flavor with almost zero effort!
  • Add 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato pesto to any packaged noodle dish like Knorr Pasta Sides Alfredo or PastaRoni Angel Hair Primavera. This also works with refrigerated alfredo sauce.
  • Thin pesto with an equal amount of very hot water. Brush on chicken, pork, steaks, fish, shrimp or vegetables on the grill.
  • Thin pesto with an equal amount of extra virgin olive oil - about 1 tablespoon of each - and toss over hot cooked veggies. Very good on zucchini, summer squash, grilled eggplant and asparagus.
  • Blend a teaspoon or two of your favorite pesto with plain or veggie cream cheese to build a better bagel.
  • Spray a whole wheat tortilla with no-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with garlic powder. Bake until crispy (you might need to poke it with a fork during baking.) Spread with one wedge Laughing Cow Light Herb & Garlic Spreadable Cheese, top with pesto and, if desired, a little shredded mozzarella or grated Parmesan. Return to the oven for a few minutes until melted and bubbly. Perfect in the toaster oven!
  • Whisk a couple of teaspoons pesto into two large eggs and 2 tablespoons milk or 1/4 cup Egg Beaters. Spray a 8-10 inch skillet with no-stick spray and heat over medium high heat. Pour in eggs, cook a few minutes until the bottom is set, flip over and finish cooking. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, roll up and enjoy a cross between a French omelette and an Italian frittata.
  • Spread a little of any variety of pesto on crescent roll dough and sprinkle with grated Parmesan before rolling and baking.
  • For an easy pesto pizza, spread a Boboli pizza shell with pesto, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and top with mozzarella cheese. Top basil pesto with fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomato pesto with fresh basil leaves and spinach, and red pepper pesto with fresh spinach and black olives. Top with more mozzarella and bake according to shell package directions.
  • Of course, classic pasta with pesto is always easy with jarred pesto. The mistake most people make when using pesto on pasta is using too much pesto! For 1/2 pound pasta, cook pasta and - this is KEY - before you drain the pasta, save 1 cup of the cooking water! Return drained pasta to pot, add a few tablespoons pesto and 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Mix well to combine, allowing the hot water to dilute the pesto and help it coat the pasta evenly. Add pesto and water until it tastes right to you. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

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