Chef, cookbook author, restaurateur, and winemaker—there’s not a lot of the Napa Valley culinary lifestyle scene untouched by Michael Chiarello. He ties together his varied interests in a lifestyle brand called NapaStyle. From his iconic Tra Vigne restaurant in the 1980s to his current Bottega, he has helped define wine country cuisine.
Today, Chiarello shares a pesto recipe with blanched basil that makes a colorful sidekick to a challenging yet highly rewarding pesto arancini recipe that happens to be a great way to put leftover risotto to use. Take it away, Chef…
This pesto recipe leads to a pesto that is vibrant in color as well as flavor. Powdered vitamin C—also called ascorbic acid—is my secret for keeping pesto a fresh, appetizing green. The herbs go in boiling water and then straight into an ice bath, so I like to use a large sieve or colander to transfer all the herbs in one smooth move. Pesto freezes well, so when basil is abundant, make a few batches to keep in your freezer for up to a month.
- 3 cups Fresh Basil leaves, lightly packed
- 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly packed
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted (see Chef’s Note, below)
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon powdered ascorbic acid
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Set up a large bowl of ice water.
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.
- Place the basil and parsley leaves in a sieve or colander that fits inside the pan. Lower the sieve full of herbs into the boiling water and use a spoon to push the leaves under so the herbs cook evenly.
- Blanch for 15 seconds, then transfer the sieve to the ice bath to stop the cooking process.
- Let the herbs cool in the ice bath for 10 seconds. Remove the sieve, let drain, and then squeeze any water that you can from the herbs.
- Transfer them to a cutting board and coarsely chop.
- In a blender, purée the herbs with the oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, pepper, and ascorbic acid until well blended and somewhat smooth.
- Add the cheese, whir for a second or so to mix.
- Transfer the pesto to a bowl; taste and adjust the seasoning.
CHEF’ S NOTE: Toast pine nuts in a small dry skillet over low heat, shaking the pan frequently. Heat for just 1 to 2 minutes; as soon as you smell the fragrance of the pine nuts, slide the nuts out of the pan and onto a plate so they don’t burn.