Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Light Pesto: The Miracle of Basil

If fresh basil was a person, it’d be George Clooney, Olivier Martinez, and that dude from Under the Tuscan Sun rolled into one beautiful, musk-scented studmuffin. I’d date it. I’d marry it. I’d trail it from junior high class to junior high class, silently willing it to notice me, until, in a fit of pubescent insanity, I dropped a love letter in its locker.

If fresh basil was a drug, I’d be Keith Richards, Keith Moon, and Stevie Nicks rolled up into one mega-burnout. (Hopefully with Stevie’s hair.) I’d smoke it, apply it to brightly-colored stamps, ingest it in ways that couldn’t be printed in an Ozzy Osbourne memoir, much less a family-friendly blog. (Ooo...scary.)

If fresh basil was free and abundant all year around, I’d put it on pasta. I’d put it in bread. I’d put it in ice cream, cheesecake, and breakfast cereal. I’d mix it with peanut butter and make PB and J and B sandwiches. I’d have grillz made of it, so every time I licked, chewed, or breathed, fresh basil would infuse me with pungent green goodness.

Alas, fresh basil is none of these things, so I must be contented with the occasional tomato sauce, pasta salad, and scrumptious, delectable pesto.

Made with basil, garlic, parmesan, some sort of nut, and an inground pool’s worth of olive oil, pesto’s calorie and fat content is usually meteoric (i.e. 230 calories, 21 grams of fat per ¼ cup). Yet, there is a way to lighten the load considerably.

This recipe, courtesy of Weight Watchers, is a nice stand-in for the butt-conscious. First, it replaces most of the olive oil with chicken broth, cutting the fat by about 60%. Second, the abundance of fresh basil gives it a clean, earthy taste (if those even go together), meaning you won’t miss the absent oil. Finally, the lighter consistency doesn’t sit heavily in the tummy area, giving you more time to soliloquize about fresh basil. If Ebert was here, a thumb up would be forthcoming.

A word of caution about the garlic, though – two raw cloves go a LONG way. If you’re concerned about your breath/makeout potential, use a single one.

Light Pesto Sauce
4 servings – scant ¼ c each
Adapted from Weight Watchers.

2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 cups basil leaves, fresh
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (or homemade broth)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 medium garlic clove(s), peeled (depending on how much you like garlic)
1/2 tsp table salt

1) Over medium heat, toast pine nuts in a small pan for about 3 minutes. Toss frequently so they won't burn.

2) Pour pine nuts into a food processor. Add basil, broth, cheese, oil, garlic and salt. Process until it's the smoothness and thickness of your liking. If you like, let it stand overnight for melding/thickening purposes. (It’s better the next day. – Kris)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
104 calories, 8.8 g fat, $0.83

2 Tbsp pine nuts: 135 calories, 13.7 g fat, $1.00
2 cups basil leaves, fresh: 23 calories, 0.5 g fat, $1.48
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken stock: 43 calories, 1.4 g fat, $0.12
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese: 83 calories, 5.5 g fat, $0.52
1 Tbsp olive oil: 120 calories, 14 g fat, $0.08
2 medium garlic clove(s): 10 calories, 0 g fat, $0.10
1/2 tsp table salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 414 calories, 35 g fat, $3.31
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 104 calories, 8.8 g fat, $0.83

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Anonymous said...

Second try came out delicious. Definitely toast the nuts! **Add the broth as you go to desired consistency or may come out too watery (this time I dissolved a chicken broth cube in a little hot water, figuring could add more water if needed). I made a few changes to lower fat and increase fiber: subbed parmesan cheese for fat free parmesan grated topping, replaced pine nuts with chopped plain almonds, and added canned water chestnuts for more low cal fat-free fiber-filled nutty flavor. Even though I can't eat garlic, it came out very flavorful without it.

Anonymous said...

Love the recipe...and really love the writing of this piece! You might consider writing a column for a newspaper...or something! Perhaps you already have a good outlet for your talent! Hope so! Cheers!