There are some combinations that should be natural. Garlic and lemon. Sweet and tart. Cool and creamy.
Others are subtle. Not the first things you think of, but once hit upon become instant perfect pairings.
This was the case with this pesto. I have to start with stating that I absolutely ADORE artichoke. I love it almost any way except for canned or pickled. I love the flavor of it. I love the fact that you have to work for each delightful morsel, scraping and pulling with your teeth (this is hearty due to my love of food that puts up a fight). But most of all I love the way that artichoke changes the flavor of other foods.
And while not every food agrees with this change, in this pesto it is sheer magic.
I am sure that it is not just me, but every time that I eat artichoke, no matter how much garlic I drown it in, I am left with a sweet sensation that tingle on my tongue long after bringing out the natural sweetness in almost anything that comes after.
Food eaten after artichoke, especially cheeses or desserts just plain taste better (alas the same does not hold true for wine).
I have spent a long time perfecting different artichoke recipes. With Trader Joe’s frozen artichoke hearts it is easy to add artichoke to many a common dish. But I have to admit that I never thought of adding it to sweet basil to produce a pesto.
But having been given the idea, I now can’t image how I ever ate pesto without artichoke. Combined with basil, the artichokes tame the herbs bitter edge, bringing out the shining sweet flavor that whispers of indolent summer days even in the depth of winter (not that winter accounts for much in Southern California).
Replacing a lot of the oil, the artichoke lends substance and creaminess to the pesto, bringing cohesion to the disparate flavor notes. Garlic. Pine Nuts. And Basil.
Not sharp or stinging like the pesto made at the peak of summer with a tangy biting Pecorino Romano and garden bright, astringent basil; this pesto is mellow. Something to be savored slowly.
It coasts pasta beautifully, though in and of itself being somewhat dull. Presentation wise, it will win no awards, becoming a dull drab green over the slight tinge of yellow in the noodles. But that is not important. The first bite will make you forget the shabby appearance, making you crave another delicate bite.
It is particularly good with shrimp, cooked until they are just pink and tossed with the pesto until it is warmed through. Upon my first discovery of the recipe I spent a good week solid playing with variations on the theme, eating it nightly for dinner. And I am still not tired of it.
A definite keeper of a recipe!
And to think I almost three away the flimsy two page newsletter it came in!
Shame on me!
Artichoke & Basil Pesto
Adapted from: The American Institute for Cancer Research Winter Newsletter
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (preferably unfiltered)
3 cups loose packed fresh basil leaves (I cheated with frozen)
1 cup frozen artichoke hearts
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 Tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ teaspoon lemon zest
Salt and Pepper to taste
Water or vegetable broth to thin
Add all ingredients except broth into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. If the paste is too thick, thin with a little broth. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve over just cooked pasta, chicken, shrimp, or vegetables. DO NOT cook.
Store leftovers in the freezer.