January 28, 2021

A la Carte: Add Flavor to ‘Everything’ with Chile Crisp, Basil Pesto

I have written two recipes for today’s column. The recipe for chile crisp is from a writer, who always has a jar of it in his refrigerator. He puts it on everything from “eggs, guacamole [and] pizza.” It does seems spicy, so if you make it, try a little less than a quarter cup of red pepper flakes, although I like spicy, especially for breakfast.

The other recipe is the basil pesto I have made for decades. I use it in all my red sauce recipes, often in stews and love it by itself for pasta. I don’t have a garden this year, but friends are giving me big handfuls of basil and my pals on the board of education gave me a gift certificate for superb olive oil at Capizzano in Pawcatuck. I have a bag of pine nuts in the freezer. My food processor does all the rest.

Chile Crisp

From ‘Bon Appetit,’ August, 2019

4 small shallots, thinly sliced
cloves from 2 heads of garlic (yes, heads of garlic)
6 star anise pods
2 cinnamon sticks
1 and one-half cups vegetable oil
2 inch knob of ginger
one-quarter cup red pepper flakes
2 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

Yield: 2 cups

In a medium saucepan, toss shallots and garlic over medium heat along with star anise pods and cinnamon sticks and vegetable olil. Cook, reducing heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer and swirling pan occasionally until shallot and garlic are browned and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes (it is important to go slow.)

Peel and very finely chop ginger. Mix in a medium bowl with red pepper flakes, soy sauce and sugar. Strain shallot mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into ginger mixture. Let shallots and garlic cool in sieve (they will crisp further.) Add to sauce.

Advance preparation: chili crisp can be made one month ahead. Cover and chill.

Making basil pesto. Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Pesto alla Genovese

(from ‘365 Ways to Cook Pasta’ by Marie Simmons, Harper Collins, New York, 1988)

I triple or quadruple (or more) and freeze pesto in small zipper plastic bags. The pesto will last for more than a year and will thaw in minutes.

Yield: 1 cup or enough for 1 pound of pasta

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pignoli (pine nuts)*
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated armesan cheese**

Finely chop basil, nuts, garlic and salt in a food processor. With processor still running, add oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until mixture is thoroughly blended. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese.

Freeze in tiny freezer bags. When ready to use, you can thaw the pesto in freezer bag between your two hands.

*Pine nuts are very expensive but worth it. However, walnuts can be used. The flavor will be different but still tasty.

**Please do not use the grated cheese that comes in those containers that sit on the supermarket shelf. You cannot believe what a difference fresh, high-quality cheese makes. A good supermarket will grate Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for you (I have them grate Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano together, which drives purists crazy) and you can store the cheese in an air-tight container in your refrigerator or freezer. Even better, buy a small chunk and grate it yourself as you need it.

About the Author: Lee White, a local resident, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for the Times and Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 


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