If I had to choose one component of a dish that can separate a good meal from a great meal, I think of sauces. Sauces can add many different flavors, textures and color, more than any other single component in cooking. There are simple sauces, which are made from the natural juices of whatever you are cooking. There are very complicated sauces that require many hours of simmering, careful attention and care to perfect the balance of flavors and consistency desired in the finished sauce.
I think that is what I fell in love with about food and cooking. I can study food for the rest of my life and not run out of material to learn about sauces. With any sauce that you choose, just as in life, there are natural principles that you must understand and follow. Even if the recipe does not go into why you are doing each step and in what order the steps come in, it is imperative that they be followed as listed. With my "Classical French" education I am partial to the more complicated and heavy sauces, but it seems that the trend today is away from heavy cream and butter to lighter, more health conscious dishes.
My favorite way to add flavor to any dish while keeping it healthy, is the addition of herbs. One great thing about herbs, you can add herbs without adding calories or fat. For those on a diet to lose weight or if you are on a sodium restricted diet, adding herbs can add much needed flavor and excitement to your food. Basil would have to be my favorite herb of all and the main ingredient in the sauce I want to share with you, pesto.
Today pesto is pretty common and even comes pre-made at the grocery store. But you should really try making it at home instead of buying it in a jar or tube. It's amazing how different (and much better I might add) the taste is when you make it fresh. Basil is also fun and easy to grow at home and much less expensive.
The term pesto does not exclusively mean the traditional basil pesto as in the recipe I offer. It just means paste, so there are a wide variety of ingredients you can blend together into a pesto. My second recipe Sun-dried Tomato Basil Pesto is an example. Experiment with the different ones you come across in recipes.
Pesto, any pesto, can be used in so many different ways. Some of my favorites are; topping for fish (my 3rd recipe), stuffed inside of a chicken breast, coating for any kind of pasta, to flavor risotto, to flavor soups, to coat summer vegetables grilled or sauted, in place of traditional pizza sauce, added to cream cheese or mayo to make spread and even to mashed potatoes. There are many more as well and pesto is delicious hot or cold.
As I mention in the pesto recipes, usually you need a food processor or blender to make the pesto. However, before these appliances existed people used a mortar and pestle to make pesto. If you have one, try making the pesto with it. If you don't know what a mortar and pestle are then Google it.
My wife and I recently had a baby and I read everything I could about the foods I could make that would provide the best nutrition for her and our growing baby. One fun recipe I ran across was a twist on the traditional pesto. It substituted arugula and sunflower seeds for the basil and pine nuts. It was amazing and provided many much-needed vitamins and minerals. Arugula contains the vitamins A, C & K and is a good source of Iron also. Sunflower seeds are a source of polyunsaturated fat, folic acid and vitamin E. Other fun facts:
Herbs with antioxidant properties: Basil, Cilantro, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon and Thyme.
Substituting fresh herbs for dried herbs in a recipe: 1 tsp. dried = 1 tbsp. fresh.
I hope this has been informative and helpful. Enjoy the 3 recipes and thank you.