Basil, Spinach and Arugula Pesto

In my opinion, as a bit of a foodie, the best pesto that I have ever had came from my mother. During the appropriate months, she grows an abundance of organic basil in her back yard which receives plenty of sunlight. She makes basil in such large amounts that she takes the remainder of what she doesn’t use, freezes it in ice cube trays and uses it later. The taste and flavor of these melted pesto ice cubes are almost identical to that of fresh.

Many people make pesto from fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, cheeses and sometimes butter. The basil is raw, as is the garlic, resulting in a pungent and delicious taste. However Executive Chef, Vincent Chircio of Vai in Manhattan briefly blanches the essential greens — basil or chervil, spinach and arugula — until they become bright green and tender. He then plunges the vegetables into an ice bath, drains and squeezes them dry, and then blends them with garlic confit, hazelnuts and ricotta salata.

The result? Less pungent, but still delicious. Asked why he makes a cooked, rather than raw, pesto, he said, “I prefer it cooked. It seems more palatable, it keeps its color better, it emulsifies better, it coats the pasta a little bit better.” The swift blanching of the vegetables barely diminishes the freshness, he said, and by simmering the garlic in olive oil, the garlic confit adds both a mellowness and creaminess. Here’s his recipe:

Basil, Spinach and Arugula Pesto

Yield 2 servings / 1 hour make time

Time 1 hour

For the garlic confit:
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, or as needed
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • For the pesto:
  • 4 ounces basil or chervil
  • 2 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 ounces baby arugula
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground
  • 1/4 cup ricotta salata, grated
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • 1. For the garlic confit. Heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a small pan over low heat until warm. Add garlic cloves and cook until very soft, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic cloves, reserving both cloves and oil.
  • 2. For the pesto: Have a large bowl of ice water ready. In a small pot over high heat, bring 4 cups of water to a boil, and blanch basil or chervil until tender, about 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and transfer to ice water. Place spinach and arugula in boiling water until bright green and tender, about a minute. Drain well and transfer to ice water. When greens are well chilled, drain well, place in a kitchen towel, and squeeze as hard as possible to remove excess moisture.
  • 3. In a blender, combine half the garlic cloves, half of the garlic cooking oil, half of the blanched greens (basil or chervil, spinach, and arugula), half of the hazelnuts and half of the ricotta salata. Blend five minutes.
  • 4. Add the remaining garlic cloves, garlic cooking oil, blanched greens, hazelnuts and ricotta salata. Blend, adding 1/4 cup additional olive oil, or more as needed, for two to five minutes, to make a thick but pourable pesto. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Blend one minute more. If desired, serve over hot linguini or other pasta.

via NY Times