"The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be your medicine."
- Hippocrates

July 16, 2010

Fresh Basil Pesto and Tomato Brushetta

When I first cut out eating dairy, I had a few moments of mourning for all my former favourites that were now off-limits. But, happily, as I've come to discover, there's ALMOST ALWAYS a comparable (or better) version of these foods available without meat, eggs or dairy.

One of my former favourites is basil pesto - with it's creamy texture made from fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and most importantly - the cheese! Well, when I tried this recipe I was shocked... it was the perfect pesto! The creamy, buttery texture is thanks to the blended cashew nuts! And there's a great fresh flavour that's achieved by the basil-lemon combination too!

As a side-dish, jazz up your garlic bread routine by making simple, yet oh-so-yummy and fresh, brushetta! I got this recipe a long time ago while dining with the chef at a former restaurant in Halifax. He told me the secret ingredient to good brushetta - balsamic vinegar! Ok, maybe it's not so secret, but it was certainly news to me at the time! Below is my rough version of what he served us that night.

Take advantage of the summer produce at it's peak - find fresh basil and tomatoes at your local farmer's market, or even better, your own garden!

Lemony Cashew-Basil Pesto
Serves 3-4

1 large clove garlic
3 to 3 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 tsp dry mustard
3/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp water
1 cup + 1-2 tbsp raw cashews
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves and tender stems
1/2 to 3/4 lb (225g-340g) dry pasta of choice
olive oil for finishing

- In a food processor, combine garlic, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, oil, and water, and puree until fairly smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add cashews and basil and puree until smooth, again, scraping down bowl.
- Toss cooked pasta with pesto. If it's too dry, add some water, 1 tbsp at a time.
- Season with additional salt and fresh pepper, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

This recipe is from Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink & Be Vegan: Everyday Vegan Recipes Worth Celebrating

Make a double batch of this pesto and freeze it for another meal. Just lightly spray an ice cube tray with oil,
fill each compartment with pesto, then put in the freezer until completely frozen. Once frozen, remove squares from tray and store in a freezer bag (for about 6 months). A serving for two people would be 3-4 squares, depending on how much pesto you like.

Other great uses for pesto:
- Pesto is delicious as a sandwich spread and as a layer in an appetizer dip.
- Pesto mixed with olive oil makes a fabulous salad dressing, especially for pasta salads. It can be stirred into rice or mashed potatoes, or mixed into hot vegetables.
- Make pesto pizza by spreading pesto on pizza crust instead of tomato sauce. Cover with sun dried tomatoes, other veggies and/or crushed pine nuts - OR - drop a few dollops of pesto right on top of the tomato sauce!

Fresh Tomato-Basil Brushetta
Serves 4-6

2 large ripe tomatoes (or 4 Roma tomatoes), diced into small cubes
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh basil (depending on your affinity for basil), chopped finely
1 1/2 tbsp red onion, chopped very finely
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (toast at 400 for about 5 min - tossing frequently)
salt and fresh pepper to taste

- Toast pine nuts.
- Toss all ingredients together in a bowl.
- Serve on toasted crusty bread (or garlic bread), either cold on the side with a spoon or warmed up slightly in the oven until heated through.