I was recently talking with friend and photographer Ron Goldman about another one of his passions – growing organic tomatoes, herbs, peppers and baby lettuces in his huge greenhouse. Ron has been growing organic heirloom tomatoes and other varieties, from cherry to beefsteak, for some 21 years. This man knows tomatoes! The lucky consumers are restaurants and farmers markets in the Washington state area. He was kind enough to share his recipe for Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto. It’s earthy, rich and versatile.
The original recipe was shared with him by a shopper at a farmers market. He created his recipe from that conversation and I’ve made my tweaks, so this recipe has gone through several revisions. As I love the rich, concentrated flavor and deep red color of sun dried tomatoes and the sweet-licorice taste of basil, I couldn’t wait to try it.
Once considered gourmet and exotic, today sun dried tomatoes are a mainstream ingredient. They are readily available in both oil-packed and plain, dried versions (which need to be rehydrated in boiling water). They are good things to keep in your pantry.
Making a pesto is a great way to showcase the earthy richness and sweet depth of sun-dried tomatoes. Sun dried tomato pesto is incredibly versatile. What I said in my earlier “Power of Pesto” post holds true for the sun dried version as well. Pesto can transform ordinary dishes into something special in a flash, a handy trick for today’s busy cooks.
Three things I’ve done recently with this recipe: stuffed chicken breasts for dinner, made appetizers for a party, and created Panini sandwiches for a quick and satisfying lunch.
Recipe Ideas for Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
Stuffed Chicken Breast – slit a pocket in a boneless, skinless chicken breast being careful not to cut all of the way through. Place 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons (depending on the size of the chicken breast) of the pesto inside. In a hot sauté pan, brown the chicken breasts in a little olive oil, then finish in a 375 degree oven until they reach 160-165 degrees on a digital thermometer. It will only take a few minutes. Remove chicken from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes. You’ll have rich, sun-dried tomato stuffed chicken to enjoy for dinner.
Appetizers- slice up a fresh baguette and use the pesto as a spread. You can toast or grill the slices a bit first (brushed with a little olive oil) if you’d like more texture and crunch.
What I do to make them a bit fancier: Toasted Stars. Using a 2 3/4″ star cookie cutter, cut stars out of sliced bread, brush with a little olive oil mixed with Penzeys granulated garlic and toast them in a 325 degree oven on a rimmed baking sheet until just golden. Then using a #60 round squeeze disher, I create perfect mounds of pesto on top of the stars and garnish with chopped parsley and extra shredded Parmesan cheese.
Panini Sandwiches – spread pesto on your bread of choice. Cracked wheat sourdough and Ciabatta rolls work well. Add sliced deli turkey or leftover chicken sliced thin, maybe a slice of Swiss cheese, a few fresh basil leaves. Brush the top sparingly with a combination of equal amounts of olive oil, melted butter and a little granulated garlic. This is a mixture I always keep in the fridge, just microwave for 30 seconds. Place the sandwich on a hot Panini grill and toast until golden and crispy.
Other ideas – toss a few tablespoons with hot, whole grain penne and a little half and half or milk and you have a creamy, flavor-packed pasta side dish. Top with simple sautéed chicken breast or grilled jumbo shrimp for a more substantial main course. Ron likes to spread his on a pizza crust and make homemade pizza. I also like to swirl mine into risotto for an unbeatable sun-dried tomato risotto.
Basil – You can buy large containers of fresh basil leaves in most grocery store produce sections. The recipe calls for 1 cup of packed leaves which is about 3 ounces total after you’ve removed the stems.
Nuts – Ron uses walnuts for his pesto; I use pine nuts. Both work. Sometimes I purchase the already toasted nuts and sometimes I toast my own, but buy American or Italian nuts. SOme cheap imports could leave a metallic taste in your mouth (see link to an article below).
If you have raw nuts, toast them yourself. Toasting intensifies their flavor. To toast walnuts or pine nuts pre-heat an oven to 300 degrees. Scatter the nuts on a rimmed metal baking sheet and place in the oven for about 20-30 minutes. Shake the pan once in awhile. You’ll just start to smell them when they are ready. Keep a close eye on them as nuts burn easily due to their high oil content. If you don’t have time to toast the nuts the pesto still has an incredible flavor.
Garlic – if you don’t have fresh on hand (perish the thought!) you can use the ready-to-go kind in a jar. You can always have that in the pantry, then refrigerate after opening.
Heat – Ron uses red pepper flakes. Mine was not handy so I used a pinch of cayenne pepper instead.
Sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil – I discovered that the 8.5 ounce jar of sun-dried tomatoes at Trader Joes has almost the right amount of oil for the recipe packed with the tomatoes. If you like it a bit more “wet” you can add a little more oil, another 2-4 tablespoons is good.
Some recipes make your mouth water just reading the ingredient list. This is one of them. Ron tells me it freezes well, although it has not lasted long enough around my house to worry about that!
Sun Dried Tomato Basil Pesto (Toasted Stars)
A versatile and easy recipe that holds well in the refrigerator and even freezes. Use atop crackers or crostini for an appetizer, add to a sandwich, stuff chicken breasts, or toss with hot pasta. For the Toasted Stars, see notes in the post above. You’ll need a 2 3/4″ star cookie cutter, bread slices to cut out the stars and a little olive oil and granulated garlic.
Yield: about 1 3/4 cups
- 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 cup toasted pine nuts (American or Italian)
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced fine
- Juice of 1 small lemon (about 3-4 tablespoons)
- Pinch of red pepper flakes or Cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- Olive oil, as needed
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (about 4 1/2 ounces)
- In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse basil, sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper until blended and chopped fine. Add cheese and pulse again until well combined. If desired, add more olive oil. Pulse until smooth as you desire.
- Refrigerate or freeze (in small containers or ice cube trays)
For the Toasted Star appetizer: Use a 2 3/4″ steel cookie cutter to cut stars out of sliced bread. I can get 2 stars out of each slice. Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. Brush the stars with a combination of a little olive oil and granulated garlic, then bake a few minutes until golden on a baking sheet. Cool and top with the pesto. For great presentation use a small tool called a disher. It looks like a mini-ice cream scooper. I use the #60 size disher for this appetizer. You can bake the stars ahead of time and assemble just before serving.
Other links of interest:
Pine Nut Mouth syndrome from cheap imported pine nuts, article ABC News Good Morning America
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