Monday, 8 June 2009

Pesto in Winter

The bloke requested a pasta, and I thought of doing a pesto pasta with green olives and chunks of smoked chicken. And I thought - now, if only I could get some nice pesto, that would be great. Supermarket brands tend not to use the premium ingredients that make for a really good pesto. Cheap oils, and no pinenuts: it's not right. And I haven't got to the market in a while. Damn. But hang on - I could make some, couldn't I? It's not exactly hard.

I have done this before, but not in ages, so I went to look for a recipe. And the horse's mouth is surely Il Cucchiaio Argento. So I checked there and got the proportions - cutely, the recipe asks for 25 basil leaves. I weighed my 25 basil leaves and decided I needed to triple everything for the amount of basil I had on hand. I was actually a little short on a couple of things, but decided that it wouldn't matter. Here's how I made mine.

Recipe: Classic Basil Pesto
75 g basil leaves
100g pine nuts
150g parmesan
3 cloves (30g) purple garlic
200ml olive oil

Chop garlic and cheese roughly. Pulse in food processor to crumb.
Add pine nuts and basil, pulse further.
Add oil in a thin stream while motor is running, and continue until it all comes together in a rough paste.
Store in the fridge with a layer of extra oil on top to keep airtight.

Notes: Makes about 3 cups. Perfect Italiano parmesan was the cheese here again. And the basil was two supermarket bunches, the oil from Lowanna Paddock, and the topping oil for the stored batch was sunflower because the pesto used the last of the olive oil.

It's come out a lot lighter green than the ones I mostly buy, and I do prefer the more herby version to this one. When I do another batch, I will not use this recipe but experiment to find my own taste. That will mean less cheese and more basil. But it's not bad at all.

It's been very cold today, and I got rained on when I was unpacking the shopping from the car. All the food magazines are full of slow cooked casseroles and hot puddings now. Pesto, like basil, is usually a summer ingredient. But the basil was grown in Australia, so it's not like I bought Chilean asparagus or US cherries.

This got me thinking on the question of local eating. Obviously it's a good thing ecologically, because it saves on transport expenses - all those greenhouse gasses. I try to buy local, or at least Australian, for most things. But although I believe that our habits are important, I have exceptions. And when I eat in restaurants, I don't ask. I am no purist, and I haven't really got this thought through and planned out fully.

The only non-Australian ingredient in the pesto is the pine nuts, which was a mix of two packets. One said that the nuts were from China, the other that they were packed in Australia from non-specific imported ingredients. I'm fairly sure they were Chinese, too. European pine nuts are longer and thinner. And I don't think we grow any commercially in Australia. One could try bunya nuts, perhaps - Ironbark in Manuka does a bunya nut pesto sometimes.

Chocolate is clearly one of my exceptions - I don't think we even grow cacao here. And spices are an honourable exception, I think. Historically the spice trade has always been important. Like tea, coffee and cocoa, spices are small, high value goods. I do like to use some local spices, but I am never going to feel bad about a few sticks of Sri Lankan cinnamon or Tahitian vanilla.

For coffee, I strongly prefer to buy either Australian or fair trade. I've only recently started paying attention to tea and chocolate. I've been drinking Twinings for years without thought, and buying the best Dutch-processed cocoa. Is it fair trade? Almost certainly not.

Recently I've cooked frozen cranberries, which are all imported from the US. I don't know if anyone grows them here - they are a cool climate wetland crop, and I imagine such conditions would not be too easy to find here. Cool we can do. Wet, not so much. Cranberry sauces and drinks and dried cranberries are all imported, as far as I have seen.

I usually don't buy non-Australian fresh produce any more. I'm glad things are now labelled at the supermarket, so I can avoid accidentally buying end-season US grapes at the beginning of our season. I'm not always 100% sure of the origins - I must remember to ask at Saigon grocery when I next see a pomelo.

I do buy the occasional premium charcuterie or dairy product - I had some French truffled brie for my birthday one year. But we do make excellent cheeses and preserved meats in Australia, so I keep the imports for exceptions.


Rhonda said...

Macdamia nuts make a great alternative to pine nuts in pesto! Well worth trying.

Cath said...

Ooh, and you could use macadamia oil, too. Interesting.

Pumpkin-eater said...

Walnuts and almonds both make a decent pesto.

When it comes to local food all the fresh produce I buy is Australian and sometimes Canberran, like you say it's pretty easy to avoid imported stuff. I buy Australian legumes, nuts and dried fruit. I buy fair trade coffee, tea and cocoa. The biggest category of imported stuff I buy is probably Asian noodles, spices, sauces, and other preserves. The origin of my food is something I am aware of, it is not something that I have the time to get obsessive about.

jess101things said...

Hi there, I've used macadamia nuts in pesto and turned out fine. Still prefer fresh pine nuts however because they have a distinct bitter and oily taste that adds something to the pesto. Macadamia's are pretty bland but good crunch texture.

Great blog btw. Enjoy reading your frequent updates;-)

Cath said...

Thank you. I do like the classic basil & pine nut best, but variety can be fun too. What I really don't like are those cheap supermarket brands that use cashews, or even peanuts, and light flavourless oils.

infoaddict said...

You can buy local truffles now ;)

Being the permaculture (well, attempts thereof) type, I'm constantly having debates in my head about local food vs. ecological soundness of food. For eg, consider rice. It grows naturally and well in really wet places - most of which are overseas, so importing the stuff incurs "food miles".

However, growing it locally to decrease "food miles" increases the use of water, which is a resource Australia isn't rich in (and never has been). Furthermore, by reducing our importation of rice, we adversely affect the economic stability of those countries - not very fair trade, really.

Then there's the theory that eating vegetarian is healthier for the planet because of the methane generated by "livestock". I DO wish these American concepts would be revised for Australian agricultural practice!! But rather than rant about gross generalisations, I'll just ask someone to measure the methane output, water use, and pasturing requirements of the native kangaroo, as compared to the requirements of intensively-farmed monocultures of rice, soy, and legumes, and draw one's own conclusions about where best to get one's protein without completely buggering up the local ecosystem ...

And now, it's time for kangabangas with homegrown mashed potato (and everything else bought but hey, one has to start somewhere ... ).