Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Playdates Past: Lemon Balm Pesto


We took a few days off to celebrate Mother's Day with our families. While we're on break, we're revisiting some favorite recipes from the archives. We'll be back with something fresh in a few days! This is one of my favorites from last summer.

Classic basil pesto has long been one of my favorite ways to dress up a simple pasta dish. Who doesn't love the bright flavors of summery basil beautifully blended with Parmesan, olive oil, and garlic?

Everyone else in my family, apparently.

But that hasn't stopped me. I work basil into much of my summer cooking, but more often than not my pesto features other flavors my boys enjoy more. Begin by thinking of it as green sauce and then start playing. Experiment with mint, cilantro, parsley, sage, lemon thyme -- keep going, you can think of more. Try them alone or in combination. Incorporating spinach is a nice way to get some extra-good veggies into your kids. As for nuts, try walnuts, pistachio, pumpkin seed, or leave the nuts out entirely.

090813_CPE_pesto_2090813_CPE_pesto_3It's easy to get snobby about pesto, insisting everything must be hand-chopped and that you must grate fresh Parmesan and use a lovely olive oil and mash it together by hand. But I find it easier to be practical and remember that I'm cooking for preschoolers, and a husband who eats like a preschooler. I use the Parmesan in the green can for family meals and mix everything up in the food processor. And I always make way more than I need, freezing leftovers in an ice cube tray for a quick and easy taste of summer all year long.

Lemon balm pesto has become our hands-down favorite. Our favorite preparation involves tossing the pesto with Trader Joe's tri-color ribbon pasta; a cup of shredded, cooked chicken; and a cup or so of halved cherry tomatoes from the garden. It's a rare no-complaints dinner for our family -- and the boys' friends devoured it at our playdate. Every single child, however, rejected the pan-roasted green beans I served with it. Can't win them all.

Lemon Balm Pesto

You can add pine nuts or walnuts if you wish. I sometimes throw in a bit of lemon verbena for an even sunnier taste.

3-5 cloves garlic (more or less depending on taste), peeled
3 cups packed lemon balm leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil (or more)
a squeeze of lemon
6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
pepper to taste

Rinse lemon balm well. Pat dry with a kitchen towel or paper towels and remove leaves.
Set up food processor (you could also use a blender). With machine running, drop in garlic cloves and continue running until garlic is minced.
Add lemon balm leaves and salt to food processor. Process until finely chopped. While machine is still running, slowly pour in olive oil and add a squeeze of lemon. Adjust olive oil according to your preference.
Add Parmesan cheese and process briefly. Add pepper and more salt as desired.

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