Robust and rubicund, this sundried tomato pesto pays homage to Simon and Garfunkel and is my answer to never having enough basil for pesto through the dreary days of winter.
Gather ye all herbs while ye may, Old Thyme still a flyin’! (With apologies to a certain 17th century poet).
Flecked through with a medley of bright green herbs, flavored with the mild nuttiness of pignola and a tang of parmesan cheese, it makes its way through the crooks and crannies of any small pasta. To reach a higher flavor bar, toss together with roasted cauliflower florets caramelized around the edges (fancy phrase for burned bits) to bring out the natural sweetness.
- Begin by disassembling a head of cauliflower with a few judicious cuts from the bottom end and breaking up the rest into approximately similar sized florets. Don’t slice through with a knife. That’s so gauche! I mean, this arboreal creation has been obliging enough to provide you with natural branch points that fall apart into elegant bite sized floral ornaments. My toes curl in disdain when brash celebrity cooks on Food Network slice willy nilly through the head while making inane conversation. Now that you have thoughtfully dismembered the cauliflower, drizzle the florets with olive oil, and use your fingers to toss together with salt and pepper in a baking dish.
- Bake in a preheated oven set to 425˚F.
They are done when a heavenly aroma fills your kitchen. Of course, you will want to check on them once, and give them a toss with a pair of tongs. I’m guessing about 15-20 minutes to perfection? This is how they look.
The secret to roasting vegetables is to crank up the temperature so they do not slowly descend into steamy mush. Of course, you could also burn them at that searing high temperature. High risk goes hand in (oven) mitt with high reward, in cooking as with research. So be warned!
- Proceed to bring a pot of water to boil. I chose chiocciole, a pasta with ridges and holes. Any kind will do.
- While the pasta is cooking, make the pesto. Using a food processor, blend together your assortment of herbs, about a cup of sundried tomatoes in oil and a couple of cloves of garlic. If you only have the dry version of the tomatoes, presoak them in hot water for about half an hour.
- Add about a cup of grated good quality parmesan cheese. Go on, roll those R’s and sing out those G’s: say Parmigiano Reggiano, you’ve watched Giada DeLaurentis, haven’t you?
- Add a handful of pine nuts too. Sometimes I use walnuts.
- Blend together. If you would like it thinner, you can drizzle in some more olive oil. I used a ladle of hot pasta water.
- Drain the pasta and toss with sundried tomato pesto.
- Gently fold in cauliflower florets. Top with more grated parmesan and decorate with fried sage leaves. Did I forget to mention that last step? They sort of tended to explode in the hot oil (I used a bare tablespoon of olive oil), so I may not have done it right. They did change aroma and become more sage-y, so that was good.
This quick and delicious pesto is also chock full of antioxidant, antimicrobial goodness. Did you know that the terpenoid phenols in plant essential oils kill fungal pathogens while promoting survival of our own cells? Carvacrol, thymol and eugenol..lovely words that roll off your tongue as beautifully as Parmigiano Reggiano! Check out this paper in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.