Green bean salad with pesto
I’ve got basil in the garden at the moment, and with a glut made pesto for the first time in maybe 15 years. I’d forgotten how simple it is to make. More than that, though, I was surprised to find it was one of the best pastas I had eaten in years.
A few weeks later I tried to repeat the experience with supermarket basil, and it was incomparable. Completely flat, with none of the perfume. No amount of seasoning could lift it, either.
It takes a few minutes to make pesto. What I liked was the fact that all I needed was one saucepan to cook the pasta, a colander to drain it, a stick blender to make the pesto, and a bowl to mix it through. It’s difficult to think of a dish so easy with such a reward, particularly a pasta dish.
Basil pesto should be a tautology, but unfortunately it is not. Mutant pestos, made with rocket or other greens, have somehow appeared. Cashew nuts have been added, disastrously. Or macadamias. And all this has ended up in bottles, the flavour lost on the production line, if it was ever there.
I think this was why it had been so long since I had eaten pesto. It had been lost along the way to these crude indignities. But I am glad to have it back.
This recipe will make more than you will need, which is where, and only where, you are permitted to be inventive. Don’t change the pesto itself – you mustn’t – but you can change where it goes.
I wouldn’t get too creative with where it goes, though. I like pesto tossed with beans, as per this recipe. Or a small amount over tomatoes. I just had pesto on a chicken sandwich I bought for lunch, and it wasn’t good. I think that might be endemic to Australia: just because something has a texture that allows it to be spread over bread, doesn’t mean it should be.
Purists believe pesto should only be made using a mortar and pestle. If you had time, and a big enough pestle, I’d say give it a bash. Literally. The pounding bruises the leaves more, and as such releases more oil and flavour. But for ease and time, I’ve been just as satisfied with results from a blender.
Green bean salad with pesto
– 30g parmesan cheese, grated
– 30g pine nuts, toasted
– 2 big handfuls basil leaves (about 2 bunches of basil), washed and dried
– 100ml extra virgin olive oil
– 2 very thin slices sourdough bread
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 240g green beans, stem-end trimmed
– ½ lemon
Place the parmesan, pine nuts, basil and extra virgin olive oil into a blender or food processor and pulse until it forms a paste, stopping to push down the basil leaves as necessary.
Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Brush the slices of bread with two tablespoons of olive oil and bake them on a tray in the oven for about five minutes, or until they are crisp. Remove from the oven and break the toasted bread into large shards. Set aside.
Half fill a large bowl with cold water and add two handfuls of ice cubes. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, tip in the beans and cook until just tender, about one to two minutes. With a slotted spoon, lift out the beans and immerse in the iced water. When the beans are cool, strain them from the water and pat dry.
Slice the beans in half lengthways and mix them with three generous tablespoons of pesto, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprinkle of salt.
Place the salad on a serving plate or platter and arrange the shards of bread among the beans.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 20, 2016 as "Basil fealty". Subscribe here.