While I was in the desert, Austin received a whole lot of rain, and since I’ve returned home, we’ve had a few more rainy days. All this rain means my basil plants couldn’t be happier. Happy basil means pesto. I found a slightly different approach to basil pesto in Martha Stewart's Healthy Quick Cook. That version uses roasted garlic and rough-cut basil leaves with very little olive oil. I went that route, sort of, for a lighter style of pesto. Rather than rough cutting, I tossed everything into a food processor, and I had some pine nuts on hand, so I added them as well. Also in that book, this light pesto is used on grilled portobellos topped with a cherry tomato salad with more roasted garlic and shavings of parmigiano reggiano. I’ve made a few versions of portobello pizzas before, and one of my favorites involved hummus and a thick slab of feta. The portobello pizzas shown here were much lighter but just as flavorful. It’s amazing how substantial a portobello seems although it’s all vegetable, and roasted garlic and parmigiano add great depth and interest.
Because this book is devoted to healthy dishes, very little oil is used in the recipes. Now, ordinarily, when I roast garlic, I cut off the tops of the bulbs, pour olive oil over them, and add salt and pepper. This time, I skipped the oil on the garlic and just added a small pinch of salt and some crushed red pepper flakes. I wrapped the garlic in parchment and foil and roasted it for about 40 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, I squeezed the soft garlic from the bulbs. It’s just as delicious without the oil. Some of that was used in the basil pesto, and the rest was used in the cherry tomato salad. Thyme leaves and chopped cherry tomatoes were added to the mashed, roasted garlic and a scant tablespoon of olive oil, and it was tossed to combine. I used some locally grown portobellos that were lightly brushed with oil and seasoned before being grilled for four minutes per side. They were then topped with the cherry tomato and roasted garlic salad, they got a drizzle of basil pesto, and shaved parmigiano reggiano was set on top of each.
Admittedly, I don’t always cook with light and healthy in mind, but a dish like this is a great reminder than you don’t always need as much oil in a recipe as you might think. This certainly didn’t taste like diet food. It was also a reminder that with ingredients like homegrown basil, fresh, local tomatoes and portobellos, and great cheese, you don’t need to embellish them much. And, with this way of cooking, my bottle of olive oil will last a little longer.