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Published March 05, 2013, 11:40 PM

The Lost Italian: Pesto recipe soothes summer cravings

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

By: Tony and Sarah Nasello, INFORUM

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 will bring some sunshine to your plate, regardless of the weather.

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 such as 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 – 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, brushing each slice with olive oil and baking at 350 degrees 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.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Crostini

Serves: 4 to 6

Pesto

2 cups dehydrated, or oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 tablespoons pine nuts

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

If you are using dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes, soak them in warm water for 30 minutes to rehydrate them before using. Strain and use.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, except the olive oil, and mix until well blended. While the machine is running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until a smooth consistency is achieved. Add the salt and adjust as desired.

To store the pesto, place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to two months.

Crostini

12 crostini

12 slices fresh mozzarella

12 large basil leaves

Sun-dried tomato pesto

Place a slice of fresh mozzarella on each crostini, top it with a leaf of basil and finish with a heaping dollop of the sun-dried tomato pesto.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by

Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple own Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and live in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them

at dine@sarellos.com.

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