In yesterday's blog I shared my recipe for Walnut, Parsley and Arugula Pesto and my basic formula for making any pesto. Today, I experimented in the kitchen with using Manchego cheese with Basil and Pecans. I think the result was quite delish.
If you have not used Manchego cheese before, I recommend giving it a try. It is one of my favorite cheeses. Manchego is a sheep's milk cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain. It should be aged for at least two months in the local caves. Aged Manchego is a great substitute for Pecorino Romano. I also love to serve it ini the traditional style on a cheese plate with quince paste. Manchego cheese is delicious paired with a Spanish sherry but can also go well with Oregon Pinot Noir or a Spanish Rioja.
As with other cheese, the flavor and texture changes as the cheese ages.
Semi Curado: Young cheese aged around 3 months are supple and moist. The flavor is fruity, grass, hay with a tangy note.
Curado: Aged for 6 months acquires a caramel and nutty flavor. It has distinct acidity as well.
Viejo: Aged for a year and becomes crumbly in texture with a butterscotch color. It has a sweet, lingering taste.
I thought I'd share the process step by step of how I made the pesto today as a follow up from yesterday's blog.
Step 1: Destem your herbs and put them into your food process or blender.
Step 2: If you are using block cheese such as I did, cut into small chunks and add to the basil. The harder the cheese, the smaller the chunks should be so your food processor does not have to work too hard.
Step 3: Add the nuts to the top. You can use either whole or already chopped nuts.
The pecans add a rich, buttery flavor to the pesto which I thought was a nice contrast to the salty, nutty Manchego and fresh flavor of the basil.
Step 4: Add any other ingredients that you are using. I added lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic and a bit of Worcestershire sauce.
Worcestershire sauce may seem like an odd addition to a pesto. However, I took this idea from making Caesar dressing where I add Worcestershire for a bit of salty and rich flavor.
Worcestershire sauce typically has vinegar, molasses, anchovies, salt, garlic and other ingredients. I like the complexity it adds to my pestos.
Step 5: Blend all the ingredients in the food process until combined.
This will take a minute or two. I usually process in 30 second intervals so I can check the consistency and push down any ingredients that are stuck on the edges.
At this point, you will still see all the main ingredients and they will look like a thick paste.
Step 6: Stream in the olive oil. This is where you own personal preferences start to play in as well as your planned use for the pesto.
For a pesto that you are going to use to coat a pasta, you may want to add more olive oil so the pesto is a bit more fluid in order to toss your hot pasta in.
If you want to use it as a sandwich spread or a spread for crackers, then I leave it a bit thicker. Most of the time, this is what I do. I can always add more olive oil later but I can't take it out.
Step 7: Once you have the desired consistency, I season with salt. I do this a little at a time. Processing after each addition.
After combining the salt, taste your pesto. Repeat until you get the right level of salt in the pesto.
Adding salt is important as the pesto will be bland if you don't. Salt is a flavor enhancer when used in moderation. It helps bring out the brightness in the herbs along with the lemon juice. Since I add Worcestershire sauce, I don't need to add as much salt. The cheese adds some saltiness as well and is going to vary depending on the type of cheese you use. The amount of salt will also vary a bit depending upon the herb you use.
If you taste your pesto before you add any salt and then again after you add a bit of salt to it, you will taste the difference for yourself.
Start to finish, you can make a pesto in 10 minutes! It is a super fast way to use up fresh herbs from your garden or excess herbs in your fridge.
It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 7 days or freeze it! You can freeze in ice cube trays and then pop out and put in a freezer bag for a pre-measured adder for soups and pasta sauces or just allow to thaw and toss over pasta. You can also freeze in plastic or glass freezer-proof containers. When you defrost frozen pesto, it will have slightly darker color than fresh but it will still taste delicious.