The groundhog didn’t see his shadow last month, and March has come barreling in like a lion. If you believe in the folklore, these harbingers of good weather mean that things can only get better. But, we have to be honest…we are itching for summer to arrive. Sunshine, swimming, biking, flowers, and of course, tomatoes.
There is nothing like the taste of a garden-grown tomato, and the hybrid versions we find in our local grocery stores in winter just can’t compare. But, there’s an easy way to infuse your winter culinary creations with the flavor essence we so enjoy from tomatoes, and our recipe for Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Crostini will bring some sunshine to your plate, regardless of the weather outside.
A staple in the Mediterranean diet, we love sun-dried tomatoes for their year-round tomato taste. Several years ago we visited Tony’s relatives in Sicily and I was delighted to watch his aunt, Zia Pinuccia, make her own sun-dried tomatoes from the scraps leftover after straining her homemade tomato sauce. She took the scraps, laid them on sheet pans and then set them out to bake in the hot sun all day. They were unbelievably delicious. I tried replicating this feat once back home in Fargo, but…yeah, it just wasn’t the same.
Pesto originated in the city of Genoa, in the Northern Italian region of Liguria. Many of us are familiar with pesto in its traditional form, known today as pesto alla Genovese, which consists of basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil. However, pesto has as many variations as your imagination will allow, and we love to be creative with different flavors.
There are five key ingredients to making a pesto:
1. A main flavor ingredient – typically an herb, like basil; however we are using sun-dried tomatoes for this recipe.
2. Nuts – pine nuts are often used for their wonderful flavor, but we have also used pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and even chestnuts.
3. Cheese – grated cheeses like parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino romano, and asiago work well.
4. Garlic – This is a must, so don’t be shy. Go for the garlic.
5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – this is essential, so find the very best quality you can afford. TJ Maxx in Fargo often has a great, affordably-priced selection .
Tony enjoys working with pesto not only for its versatility, but also because it is quick and easy to make. This is a “no-cook” sauce, which means once it’s made it’s ready to use. Toss some pesto with pasta in a sauté pan for a quick meal, serve it as a spread on a sandwich or appetizers, or as a dip for parties.
For this recipe, we are serving the pesto atop crostini, which is an Italian word meaning “little toasts.” You can make your own crostini by cutting a loaf of good, crusty bread into rounds, brush each slice with olive oil and bake at 350’F until golden brown. Or, you can find pre-made crostini at your local bakery or grocery store. Breadsmith in Fargo makes wonderful crostini.
We top our crostini with fresh mozzarella cheese, a large leaf of fresh basil, and a generous dollop of the sun-dried tomato pesto. Smooth, sweet and milky, fresh mozzarella has a delicate, creamy texture and is a great partner with fresh or sun-dried tomatoes. Once assembly is complete, you’ll have a beautiful platter of appetizers, proudly displaying the colors of the Italian flag.
This post is the full copy of our column from the March 6, 2013 edition of The Forum which you can subscribe to daily or find online at InForum. Our column appears in the SheSays section every Wednesday, and you can also access past columns right here on the blog.