Friday, November 6, 2015

Sage-Walnut Pesto

It’s autumn. Before the freeze, those of us with herb gardens are wondering what we’re gonna do with our lovely herbs, because we sure don’t want to lose them, and they’re so perishable!

Sage is a special question for me. I grow it every year, partly because it overwinters and comes back for free in the spring, but mostly because it’s de rigueur to have sage in one’s herb garden. But I don’t cook with sage very much. It’s strong, and it doesn’t figure into many of the cuisines I tend to cook. (Honestly, I’d do much better to have a private supply of cilantro and fenugreek!)

The main things I can think of to do with sage are: 1) poultry; 2) brown sugar–winter squash concoctions; and 3) frying the leaves and using them as a garnish.

“Why don’t you dry them?” —I usually back away from drying herbs, because no matter what, they always taste like straw. Yes, I have a dehydrator, and I agree that drying one’s own is much better than buying it pre-desiccated. But it still loses so much in the process. (Parsley is an exception: Dried, it can still be used as a visual garnish, and since it retains respectable vitamin content, it can go into grilled cheese sandwiches or scrambled eggs as an easy nutrient booster.) But most herbs? Like everything else, it’s just sad to dry them.

Fresh or old, dried sage always tastes old.

But if you can get your fresh herbs melded with oil, they tend to freeze okay. And frozen pesto is great to have on hand, because when you use it, you can make some pretty humdrum foods into something you’d have to pay $6.60 or even $8.80 for in a New York restaurant.

This is based on a recipe I found on the Internet, but I’ve tripled the quantities, plus increased the amount of sage compared to parsley, since I usually have more of the former that I want to use up. So feel free to adjust the ratio of sage to parsley, even to the point where there’s much more parsley than sage. (This isn’t exactly rocket science.)

Sage-Walnut Pesto

1/4 cup parsley
3/4 cup fresh sage leaves
3 garlic cloves
2-3 teaspoons salt (to taste)
3 cups walnuts (English/Persian walnuts this time, not black walnuts)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Put the walnuts in a food processor, first, by themselves, and pulse/grind until you obtain a rather coarse, meal-like texture. Then dump that into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Then, put the rest of the ingredients in the processor, and process until it’s well-blended (puréed).

Then pour it into the ground walnuts and stir to combine. It will seem rather dry, for pesto. It should make about 3 cups of pesto.

Pack into two or three 1-quart freezer zip bags and flatten to about 1/3 inch thick; as you do so, squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can (air causes freezer burn). Freeze the bag flat on a cookie sheet for easy storage. To use, open the bag and break off the amount you need (be careful, since you probably don’t want to tear the bag). It will thaw quickly in a bowl.

Note #1: If you are using it to stuff, say, chicken breasts, you might just leave the pesto frozen as flat little chunks, since it handles better that way. Why not?

Note #2: I suppose you could use pecans instead of walnuts . . . but then it would be “sage-pecan pesto,” eh?

Note #3: I don’t know how your food processor works, but with mine, I kinda have to pre-chop the herbs, and press the garlic, before I process it. Maybe my blades are getting dull; it’s an old machine. Anyway, be advised . . .

Using Sage-Walnut Pesto

This probably isn’t the kind of pesto you’d put on pasta or use as a spread on sandwiches or pizza. It’s rather crumbly. And its flavors don’t seem to go with stereotypical “Italian” or “Mediterranean” dishes. However, here are some things I’ve done with it, and gotten good reviews:

Filling for stuffed chicken or turkey breasts. Great for chilly evenings. Not great if you don’t like sage. (But then, if you don’t like sage, why are you reading this?) Cut a pocket into chicken breasts, or pound them to about 1/2 inch thick (sprinkle water on the chicken, put it in a large resealable bag and don’t seal it all the way, or put it between layers of plastic wrap, and then pound with a rolling pin, say, or an empty wine bottle). Put a big bunch of the sage-walnut pesto into the pocket, or wrap it in the pounded chicken, and then tie with butcher’s twine or fix it closed with toothpicks. Oil it, brown it, and cook however you want—covered with foil in the oven, or in a heavy, lidded pan on the stovetop. Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Sage-walnut turkey pan meatloaf. Make a meatloaf mixture out of a pound of ground turkey, 1 beaten egg, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/2 to 1 cup sage-walnut pesto, and some sautéed-and-cooled chopped shallots and mushrooms, plus salt, pepper, and a jot or two of Worcestershire sauce. Shape into big oval hamburgers about 1 inch thick and pan-fry in olive oil about 6 minutes per side, set aside and keep warm. Then, melt a few tablespoons of butter in the pan drippings, and make a roux with a few tablespoons flour. Add about 2 cups of chicken stock and whisk to make a gravy, and season it with poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. Pour over the patties. Again, mashed potatoes are a good accompaniment.

Sage-walnut turkey meatballs. Make like the pan meatloaf above, only shape into flattened meatballs. Sauté until done. Use in pita sandwiches or tortilla wraps, with mayo, lettuce, fresh tomatoes, sliced onion. Or, go all “Thanksgiving” with it and fill the sandwich with some leftover dressing, cranberries, and cooked sweet potatoes. Or, dip into plain yogurt as an appetizer or light lunch.

Use your imagination—poultry always goes well with sage, but I’ll bet this would be great mixed with sweet potatoes or winter squash, stuffed into large pasta shells or ravioli, and served with a brown butter sauce. I think it would be a great addition to a bread- or cornbread-based stuffing recipe—use it like you would dried sage, only expect it to taste much fresher and stronger, with a slight crunch from the nuts.

I’m sure you can think of more ideas!

No comments: