Making pesto can be a slightly messy job. Making two separate batches of pesto is a very messy job--especially since I was trying to get them both out on the table at the same time. I was reminded once again that I am incapable of toasting pine nuts on the stove without completely forgetting what I am doing and burning them.
I decided to try the blanching experiment first, since it was superhandy to use the same boiling water for blanching the basil and then cooking the pasta. The first thing I noticed was that a quick blanch did turn the basil nice and green. The second thing I noticed was that two cups of raw basil, blanched down into a handful, went through the blender really quickly and smoothly (unlike raw basil, which you have to kind of push into the blades until it really gets going).
I finished the blanched basil recipe and started on the Fruit-Fresh powder version. I used the exact same basic recipe for both, but this time, instead of blanching the basil, I added it to the blender raw and put in a teaspoon of Fruit-Fresh. While in the blender, and after moving them both to jars, they were both a bright and vivid green, and I couldn't tell a difference.
But then I took two bowls of whole wheat pasta and mixed a different pesto into each bowl, and right away I saw a major difference. And I mean major. The Fruit-Fresh Pesto turned dark brown.
And the blanched pesto? It's totally counterintuitive, and unless I saw it with my own eyes I never would have believed it. But blanching the basil was the clear winner. That pesto remained a bright, vivid green.
But now the true test was before us. The taste test! Some letter writers had shuddered at the idea of blanching basil, and insisted that it would ruin the taste. My husband, who is a--shall we say--skeptic, and who knows how impressed I am with visual stimuli, decided that I had to do a blind tasting. I closed my eyes, and he turned my plate all around so I didn't know which pesto I was eating first.
Right away I noticed a chemical taste to the one I first tasted. Foiled again, my husband confessed that yes, it was the brown pesto. The blanched pesto tasted smooth, yummy and just like Mom's great pesto, only greener! The true test results--as you can see in the picture--is that BOTH kids (ages 12 and 3) refused to finish the Fruit-Fresh Pesto, and devoured all the blanched pesto.
And now I am a complete convert to the basil blanching method of pesto.
Eve's plate tells the story. All that's left of the really green stuff is some cheese. The kids wouldn't eat the brown stuff, and frankly, it left a bad taste in my mouth all night long.
Maria's Very Green Pesto
2 cups washed basil leaves
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
1 large bowl of ice water for blanching
1 pound whole wheat pasta (we like rotini)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
½ cup grated romano cheese
1. Start a pot of water boiling (for pasta and blanching the basil). Use a pot that's big enough for a colander to fit inside.
2. Pinch the leaves of basil off the stems, if necessary; rinse, and put into a colander.
3. Toast the pine nuts on the stovetop until golden brown, try not to burn them.
4. Fill a big bowl with ice water.
5. When the water is at a good boil, dip the colander with basil into the boiling water for about 10 seconds. Stir constantly to make sure all the basil gets evenly blanched. Remove and let the water keep boiling.
6. Immediately dip the colander full of basil into the ice water. Stir to cool the basil quickly and evenly, them remove.
7. Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water.
8. Put the drained and blanched basil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, toasted pine nuts, and garlic into a blender (I use a Vita-Mix). Blend until smooth.
9. If you are going to freeze the sauce, put this mixture into a jar, cover with a layer of olive oil, add a lid and freeze. You can add the cheese later when you heat it up.
10. If you are going to serve immediately, add the cheese to the sauce and mix together. Then add the pesto sauce to the pasta, mix, and serve!
For more from Maria Rodale, go to Maria's Farm Country Kitchen.