Mint-Basil Pesto

August 25, 2009

As for the garden of mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits, as the taste stirs up our appetite for meat.
~Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD)

This is a little follow up from an earlier pesto post…a variation on a theme.

A perennial flowering herb, mint (genus Mentha) belongs to the family Lamiaceae. Decidedly aromatic, with bright zest on the front end and a cool finish, mint is a culinary one man band—used fresh, but also in sauces, teas, beverages, cocktails, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice creams.

In Greek mythology, Minthe was a beautiful naiad (river nymph) who was obsessively charmed by Hades, the stern ruler of the Underworld and husband of the goddess Persephone. Minthe and Hades succumbed to their carnal urges and engaged in an illicit—but far from discreet—affair. The spurned wife took revenge on her husband’s mistress by savagely kicking Minthe repeatedly, transforming her into a pungently sweet mint plant. With each blow from Persephone’s foot, the plant countered by releasing her delightful aroma.

A garden caveat: the root growth of mint is aggressive, vigorous and expansive. Left to its own devices, mint will spread quickly and become a Medusa-like nuisance, so consider planting the starters in a can or bucket first before introducing it to your garden.

A beloved summer aside, mint-basil pesto mates especially well with grilled lamb, chicken and fish.

MINT-BASIL PESTO

2 C fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 C fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 C pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted
Pinch of sea salt

1/4 C parmigiano-reggiano, grated
1/4 C pecorino-romano, grated

1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the mint, basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process in pulses into a paste. Add the olive oil and process further until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the cheeses and add more oil if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

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