A Match Made In Summer Eating Heaven
Homemade basil pesto & tomato pizza (my easy dough recipe is here)
When we're young and naive and clueless in the kitchen, we naturally look to those who are older and more knowledgeable for guidance and advice. And like certain traumatic experiences on the childhood playground or the junior high school dance floor, some of what we're told ends up sticking with us for life.
Garlic salt is a waste of money because half of what you're paying for is plain old salt; buy pure garlic powder instead.
Bad water makes bad coffee.
Overripe bananas will always give you the best tasting banana bread.
And fresh tomatoes should never, ever be put on a pizza because they'll make it soggy.
To this day I wonder why anyone would purchase garlic salt instead of garlic powder or granulated garlic. When it comes to coffee, I'm borderline obsessive regarding every aspect of its preparation, and most people would probably run away screaming if they saw the scary black bananas I often use when baking.
But it took many years of deprivation before I realized that whole thing about not putting fresh tomatoes on pizza was positively flat out wrong.
A freshly picked, vine-ripened tomato from the garden is, for many people, the epitome of summer eating. For me, it's a tie between tomatoes and fresh basil pesto. When combined, these two symbols of summer become much more than the sum of their parts, and never more so than on a homemade pizza.
Like a hunk of old-fashioned devil's food cake, a salad of freshly picked lettuce, or a perfectly grilled steak, a pizza topped with basil pesto and big slices of orange tomatoes is one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see on a plate. And of course leftover pizza of any kind is one of life's truly great inventions.
For the 8-inch pizza pictured above, I spread a thick layer of pesto on the dough, covered it with slices of fresh mozzarella, added slices (not halves) of sweet, fat cherry tomatoes, then sprinkled on some coarsely grated pecorino romano.
For a second pizza, I completely covered the pesto with a layer of chopped Roma tomatoes and then added the cheese. I cooked them both at 500 degrees on a hot baking stone on the lowest rack of the oven until the crust was golden and the cheese was bubbly and starting to brown. You'll find my simple and straightforward pizza dough recipe here.
If your chopped tomatoes are really juicy, you can put them in a colander or strainer and let some of the water drain out before putting them on your pizza. I did this with the Romas as an experiment, but they were so meaty it didn't make much of a difference.
If you don't have the patience to make yourself a mid-summer pizza (or the desire to turn your kitchen into a blazing inferno in the process), the next best thing to do with your pesto and tomatoes is to combine them into a pie. I created this easy and popular Savory Tomato Pesto Pie recipe last summer, and it really is worth turning on the oven for.*
But if neither pizza nor pie are an option, toss a pile of chopped tomatoes with some pesto, stir in a can of garbanzo beans (rinse them first)**, sprinkle on some freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano, and in less than two minutes you'll not only be digging into a scrumptious and healthy salad, but you'll also have saved yourself from simply gobbling up all of your precious homemade pesto with a spoon.
Basil has proven to be one of the few no-fail crops in my Missouri kitchen garden, and despite making and freezing enough pesto each summer to last me through the rest of the year, I still always end up with more basil than I can use.
This spring, however, I somehow forgot to start any basil seeds. I also forgot to order any. And then I forgot to plant the partial packets of old seeds I found after a frantic, late June search through my highly unorganized seed stash.
I've become so absentminded lately that I'm starting to wonder if my body has been taken over by a pod person who only lets my real mind out maybe once or twice a week.
Thanks to the generosity of a couple of fellow gardeners—including a city friend whose tiny garden I usually supply with seedlings—and an agonizing several minutes during which I eventually talked myself into plunking down four bucks for a potted basil plant at the supermarket, I now have a small but respectable patch of basil flourishing in the garden.
I made my first batch of pesto last week, and there's already enough basil for another one. A dozen kinds of ripe tomatoes cover every flat surface in the kitchen. Things are getting back to normal in my culinary universe.
So what's your favorite way to enjoy pesto and tomatoes? And what's the best—or worst—kitchen or cooking tip you've been given? I need to know if I've been missing out on anything else as good as fresh tomatoes on homemade pizza.
Update: This was the first year I grew purple basil, which makes fantastic, albeit slightly odd looking pesto. For other ideas for using purple basil, along with a super easy white bean pesto spread recipe, check out this post. And Farmgirl Fare readers offer up more wonderful ways to enjoy purple basil here.
At last! Beautiful basil in my kitchen garden.
Farmgirl Susan's Lower Fat, Full Flavor Basil Pesto
Basil pesto recipes abound, but this one is different than most: it calls for almonds and tomatoes, and a relatively small amount of olive oil. I love olive oil as much as the next person, but some pesto recipes call for 2 cups of basil and 1 cup of olive oil. They taste sublime (how could they not?), but personally I'd rather consume all those extra calories in a piece of pie, and my recipe lets you do just that.
The idea of using almonds came from a pesto recipe I found in The Sonoma Diet, a delicious cookbook for anyone who loves good food, even if you aren't trying to lose weight. I don't care for pine nuts, but I'd never thought to use almonds in pesto, and I was thrilled with the results. I like using roasted and salted almonds.
The tomatoes are my own addition. They give the pesto a subtle new flavor while thinning it out. I love the strong, salty taste (and lower price) of pecorino romano and always keep some around, but real parmigiano reggiano can of course be substituted.
Makes about 1½ cups
1/2 cup (about 2½ ounces) raw or roasted and salted whole almonds
4 ounces fresh basil leaves (about 4 cups packed, but it's best if you weigh it; I love my Oxo 11-pound digital scale)
3 to 6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese (or parmesan)
10 ounces fresh tomatoes (about 3 smallish) any kind, quartered
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more if desired
If using raw almonds, spread them on a baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil and place in a 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes; a toaster oven works great for this, especially in summer (I adore my Oster Toaster Convection Oven and use it daily all year round).
Process the almonds and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the basil, pecorino romano, tomatoes, and salt and process until thoroughly combined and the consistency you like. Alternatively, you can use a gigantic mortar and pestle if you're trying to build up your arm muscles.
With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil through the chute. Add more salt to taste if necessary and more olive oil if desired. This pesto will keep several days in the fridge, or you can freeze it. Cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil to keep it from discoloring if that sort of thing bothers you.
*Last week I was surprised to discover that my Savory Tomato Pesto Pie post, which I had completely forgotten I'd begun by saying "Sometimes it's good to be alone in the kitchen," was published almost one year to the day before my recent review of Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant. By the way, have you divulged what you eat when you find yourself alone in the kitchen yet? The ever growing list we're compiling is truly fascinating. So do tell!
© FarmgirlFare.com, the pesto slathered foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.